About a month ago I noticed several female friends sharing this article on social media. It’s about how using the word “just” makes people tune you out in the work place. And the people who use it most? Women. So all you ladies out there, cut that word out of your vocabulary if you want to be heard!
I got so annoyed seeing this. Sure, it was shared in the spirit of trying to help each other out. It came with comments like, “I had no idea how much I was holding myself back! I will need to work on this!” It was as if they had just learned that drinking soda was keeping them from losing weight.
The difference between this and hard sciences like food science is that, the way you talk and the way you’re heard is socio-cultural, meaning the society and culture you’re in influence how you speak and how people hear you. There are no absolutes. It’s completely based on culture. And the thing that pissed me off about this is that no one ever shames men for the way they speak, but they openly and comfortably shame women for their speech.
If you don’t believe me try this experiment:
1. Think of 5 annoying speech traits characteristic of women.
2. Think of 5 annoying speech traits characteristic of men.
I bet it was much easier for you to come up with the first list about women, than it was the second list about men. And I bet you also don’t realize that all the things you listed about women are also true of men, you just don’t pay attention to it. And the reason you didn’t notice is that in American culture, we think it’s not just okay, but our place, to tell women how they can speak. We do not do this to men.
So now I’m going to say: Shut up.
If you’re the one policing people in how they talk, shut up. It is not your place to tell other people how they can talk, just like it’s not your place to tell other people how they can dress, who they can hang out with, and what kind of job they can have. Speech, like so many other things, is a marker of our identity, and it’s not your place to tell another person how they should craft their own identity.
If I want to use the word “like” often in my speech, I should do that. And you should shut up.
If I want to use vocal fry, or have a creaky sound to my voice, I should be able to do that. And you should get used to it, and shut up.
If I feel the need to say I’m sorry to convey understanding and respect for another person, I should be free to comfortable do that. You should understand that without negative judgment, and shut up.
If I feel like having uptalk, or a rising intonation at the end of my sentences, I should just do it. You’ll learn to live with it, so shut up.
If I want to use the word, “just” as I’m making a point, I should go for it. Nike makes a ton of money off of that word, so, just shut up.
If you don’t want to use these parts of speech, that’s fine. You don’t have to. The way you talk is your choice, so you’re allowed to not use them. But the way I talk is my choice, and the way other people talk is their choice. I don’t get to tell them how they’re allowed to or supposed to talk. You don’t get to either.
But if you think you do, perhaps you should ask yourself why. Why do you think you get to tell other people how to talk? Why do you think you should be allowed to control what other people say? And, why do you only direct your control at women?
Instead of trying to tell other people that the way they talk is bad, you should try understanding what nuanced meaning they’re conveying. Because when you tell women- or anyone- how the way they speak is bad, you actually expose that you just don’t get it. It shows you have a limited understanding of and respect for the variety of identities that exist in the world, and that YOU are really the problem. And the more people try to control others without examining themselves first, the more intolerant we are as a society of differences. The less tolerant we are, the more problems we have.
So, enough with trying to tell women what they can or cannot say, and with “diagnosing” how they must feel (like they have no confidence) because of what you think you hear, and instead try harder to understand and appreciate the variety of styles you do hear. I guarantee the effort will broaden your horizons, deepen your understanding of other people, and get you respecting them for who they really are.