Social Media: Um…Talk Like a Girl?

Women are all too aware that how they say things can be just as important as what they say, whether in a meeting, giving a speech, or when presenting information via YouTube, a podcast, or the other multi-media forms that are part of the growing world of social media. There is a double-standard in the hyperattention to a woman’s appearance, mannerisms, and voice in the media and workplace, but until we have true gender equality, women do not want to distract from an important message because of the way it is delivered.

Some of the vocal pitfalls people are paying attention to (perhaps too much?) and which are better avoided by anyone:

A Soft-Spoken Voice: Some people may be naturally more soft-spoken, but when trying to capture attention or convey a message, its importance will be not be given as much value as if it were relayed with a strong, steady voice. This is a skill that can be learned with practice, or lessons in public speaking. It is not always easy for everyone (of either gender), but there is social conditioning that women should be less aggressive and speak in a more mild-mannered voice than men.  As social media communication expands, it is increasingly important that women speak with the same authority that they carry in their subject matter.

Up-talking: Is the speech pattern of ending sentences as if they were questions when they are not. This has been said to  convey youth and uncertainty, and can lead the audience to question your expertise and confidence. As pointed out in this video, it can be particularly undermining to up-talk when introducing yourself.

Valley Girlish: This doesn’t need much of an introduction. Um, like, it isn’t difficult to um, know, why um, it is hard to, like , take someone, like seriously, who um, like, talks um, sorta like this.

Vocal Fry: Vocal Fry is a low-toned raspiness that many women in pop culture have acquired. You may feel inclined to hand over a cough drop, but research says many young women believe it makes them sound more educated and upwardly mobile. However, it should not be a huge surprise that vocal fry has been found to be damaging to credibility and job prospects when you realize Kim Kardashian is the fry-master. See this video from Duke University.

Feminist Naomi Wolfe, wrote an article recently encouraging women to abandon this growing vocal fry trend that has had an unsettling presence in the vernacular, in order to regain a strong voice, both literally and metaphorically.  This view has already been widely criticized as a way to devalue what women say, by finding yet another distraction from a woman’s ideas, as explained in more length by the blog language: a feminist guide.

This endless policing of women’s language—their voices, their intonation patterns, the words they use, their syntax—is uncomfortably similar to the way our culture polices women’s bodily appearance. Just as the media and the beauty industry continually invent new reasons for women to be self-conscious about their bodies, so magazine articles and radio programmes like the ones I’ve mentioned encourage a similar self-consciousness about our speech.

Regardless of your sociopolitical views on how much women should try to change any natural or acquired speech patterns, everyone can benefit by avoiding common habits that detract from the message of the speaker.  This video below is an entertaining exaggeration of how speech can be distracting to the audience you are working to engage.

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5 thoughts on “Social Media: Um…Talk Like a Girl?

  1. Jenna, this is great, thank you for posting! I didn’t know that “vocal fry” was an actual term, so this was very enlightening! I cant agree with you more – the way a person speaks often is just as important as what they say. I will definitely pay more attention to my voice, to make sure I don’t sound like that!

  2. Great post Jenna. Interesting choice of topic that kept me reading. The image you chose to feature was strong and eye-catching and the way you structured the post with bolding was very reader-friendly. The final video was an inspired choice – very entertaining but still informative. I had no idea about the vocal fry but now I seem to hear it everywhere!
    Nice work.

  3. Jenna, very interesting post! I never would have thought to write about this, but have heard discussions on vocal fry before. It was informative to have multiple “vocal pitfalls” bulleted, most of which I’d say are pretty well known, not that it would occur to me to think about them when recording myself. I remember in the crash course on campus when the teaching team told us that sound is the most important part of a video. Without good sound, people will stop watching whereas if the video isn’t great but the sound is fine, many people will continue to watch.

    For creators of videos, I think the biggest things to keep in mind are 1) to practice saying the script out loud and 2) to review the recording and re-record if necessary.

    Also great layout for the post. There was a good amount of text (enough to be informative and rich, but not enough to be repetitive or have a reader lose interest), nice image placement, and a plus for inclusion of a video example both funny and educational.

  4. Definitely an original topic selection. I certainly hope that vocal fry does not infest public health video production! Your other tips were very practical. With a little training anyone can make their voice a great messaging tool.

  5. I think these are practical things to consider for any video or media production you are doing. While many people are more aware of this when speaking in public I would guess that we are all less focused on this if on the radio, or doing other forms of media to share our message.

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