White Men Told Her To Talk Differently — But Here's Why She Refused

Just, like, cut it out.

Telling women what to do is, like, basically, a national pastime. 

People love dictating what women should eat, what they should weigh, whom they can sleep with (and how soon, and how often), whom they can love, and how to talk. Patterns that are common to women like uptalk (ending a statement with a tone that sounds like a question? you know?), using filler words such as "like" and "um," or qualifying statements with "just" are often described as indecisive or unprofessional. Young women especially are written off as frivolous for using typically feminine speech patterns.

Speech policing is an especially subtle form of sexism, and poet Melissa Lozada-Oliva calls it out beautifully in her piece "Like Totally Whatever," which she performed at the 2015 National Poetry Slam. 

"It's, like, maybe I'm always speaking in questions because I'm so used to being cut off," she says, explaining that stereotypically feminine speech patterns have developed in response to society's rejection of the notion that women can be assertive.

"It's, like, maybe this is a defense mechanism. Maybe everything girls do is evolution of defense mechanism," she continues. 

She also critiques people who say women don't sound confident when they speak, saying women speak in a way that allows them to express themselves safely in a hostile world.

Lozada-Oliva isn't the only one with a lot to say about how women talk though. The mechanics behind how we perceive speech may surprise you.

When discussing the stigma around uptalk in a Slate piece, anti-sexual violence activist Marybeth Seitz-Brown explains how speech patterns serve as a proxy for the people critics are targeting:

"It's easy to find these attitudes in any culture that devalues femininity and women. In Belfast English, stereotypical women's speech falls at the end of a sentence, while men's speech rises before it plateaus—basically, the men are uptalking. And yet Belfast women's speech is still perceived as more expressive or emotional, showing that it's not about their actual intonation at all: It's about whose mouth the speech is coming from."

The same could be said about speech patterns that are unique to black people or Southerners. Stereotypes about groups get projected onto the way they speak, which is why people often associate Southern English with a lack of education, regardless of what the speaker is actually saying. In the case of patterns associated with women, modes of speaking people like Lozada-Oliva say have evolved to embody men's expectations of femininity are devalued for doing so.

Hear Lozada-Oliva tell white dudes what's good here.