Many people have remarked on the inclination of some young women in the US to use “up-talk” in everyday speech.
You’ve heard this, I know. It’s that rising tone at the end of a sentence that turns an assertion into a question. So “I stand by what I said” becomes “I stand by what I said?” I have written about it here.
More recently, people are talking about the “vocal fry,” so called because the last word of an utterance is made to sound like bacon frying. The Kardashian sisters use the vocal fry a lot. Indeed, they’re seen to be largely responsible for its popularity. “I stand by what I saaaaid.” See this treatment by Faith Salie on CBS Sunday Morning.
Here’s Lake Bell (pictured) on both up-talk and the vocal fry. See the 1:34 mark of this Youtube clip. (Also, please, see Bell’s recent film In A World which is, among other things, an examination of how Americans talk. Very funny. Highly recommended.)
I assumed that both up-talking and the vocal fry were artifacts of a sexist culture that continues to diminish women by encouraging women to diminish themselves. Up-talking is clearly an act of self diminishment. But when I thought about the vocal fry a little more, I began to wonder whether if it couldn’t be seen as an effort to correct up-talking.
After all, up-talking makes us sound eager for other people’s approval. But the vocal fry makes it sound like we couldn’t care less. We believe what we’re saying. If people agree with us, fine. If they don’t, that’s fine too. The vocal fry could be read as an expression of self possession, a certain detachment, a confidence that banishes fear of disagreement or disapproval.
And this would make the vocal-fry an improvement on up-talking. This is not to say that the vocal fry doesn’t have problems of it’s own. The fry might be read as evidence of confidence but it doesn’t make us sound like a rocket scientist. It’s like we have over-corrected, going from over-eager to too blasé.
So how about this? We need a conference, organized by and for powerful women, who gather to define the problem, discover strategies to address the problem, and muster the resources necessary to launch a solution.
I am acting here in my capacity as someone who likes to think about how anthropology can make itself useful (aka “service anthropology”). So with this post my work is done. I’m happy to participate in the conference, but, really, organization should fall to someone else. Forgive my presumption, but Lake Bell has taken the leadership position, so I wondered if she isn’t the natural leader.
Presuming even further, I sat down with my wife Pam and friends Cheryl and Craig (Swanson) and we came up with this list of the kind of people who might be appointed to the organizing committee.
Joan Allen, actress
Paola Antonelli, Museum of Modern Art
Ric Beinstock, documentary filmmaker
Lake Bell, film maker
Carrie Brownstein, Sleater-Kinney, Portlandia
Wendy Clark, The Coca-Cola Company
Emma Cookson, BBH NY
Nancy F. Koehn, Harvard Business School
Leora Kornfeld, Schulich Business School
Nicole Maronian, M.D.
Indra Nooyi, The Pepsi-Cola Company
Shonda Rhimes, Scandal
Gillian Sankoff, linguist
Amy Schumer, comic
Marta Tellado, Ford Foundation
[None of these names is used by permission. I wanted merely to suggest the kind of people who might serve on the committee.]