2014-02-19

Is It Uptalk, Or Is It A Loaded Question?

The always-controversial Amanda Marcotte has an article at Slate.com, covering another article in The Atlantic, which tackles the most important social issue of our day: uptalk.

Uptalk? Is that thing? That some girls? And even some boys? Do with their voices? When they end each clause? As though it were a question? Even though it's not?

Clearly this is a crushingly important social trend that needs to be investigated, analyzed, re-analzyed, and otherwise gone-over with a fine-toothed comb. Because I write a blog, you can almost bet that the previous sentence was sarcasm, as almost assuredly will be the next sentence; but how can you be sure whether this one is or isn't?

Men and young boys have all kinds of vocal tics, but of course the interesting thing is that they fly under the radar. In The Atlantic, Jessica Lahey remarks, "If... baby voice is learned, it can be unlearned through practice, positive reinforcement, and more practice." She then goes on to quote one Katie Hurley, a psychotherapist who says that uptalk "can stem from low self-esteem or is used to seek attention from peers and/or adults."

Here's a brief aside, although I concede that it is possibly a cheap shot: How seriously should we take the self-esteem theories about uptalk when they come from someone who goes by "Katie," rather than "Kate" or "Katherine?" I'm not simply saying that because it makes a good "gotcha." I am legitimately curious why a manner of speaking, popular among young girls in North America, is appreciably different from calling oneself a more "cutesy" version of one's real name.

In a more rational universe, these would be the sort of ideas that would lead Amanda Marcotte to write her own critique of Lahey's article. Instead, Marcotte signs on to Lahey's thesis statement and pushes the point even further. Writing about a young girl who was successfully taught self-confidence through one of Lahey's uptalk interventions, Marcotte says:
The interventions that seem to have worked were more positive ones, such as public speaking lessons and teachers taking the time to actually listen to the girl. One wonders if the three year process would have shortened if the confidence-building had started earlier, instead of forcing the girl to go through a phase of having her uptalk and baby speak monitored heavily first.
In other words, if you want to teach a girl self-confidence, then go directly to the confidence-building, and skip the step where you criticize her for the way she talks. It's a fair point on an individual level, but both Lahey and Marcotte want us to believe that the way girls speak is emblematic of the fact that young girls in general supposedly lack self-esteem. (And, by implication, that boys do not.)

In truth, though, teenage girls have always lacked self-esteem, as have teenage boys. The teenage years are an emotionally tumultuous time in a person's life, in which we refine our sense of right and wrong and our ability to engage in abstract reasoning, but lack the neurological maturity required to consistently act according to our logic and beliefs. This is fact of neuroscience, not a byproduct of "the patriarchy."

And anyway, do we honestly believe that writing pages and pages of articles about how teenage girls all lack self-esteem is the right way to tackle that problem even if it were true? Would it raise your self-esteem if I were to show up at your doorstep early every morning with a declaration that through no fault of your own, you have been taught to feel bad about yourself?

This brings me back to what I was saying above. Boys also have all kinds of vocal tics. They also have funny little walks and displays of bravado that they learn and hone in their early years to compensate for a lack of self assurance. The primary difference between boys' tics and girls' tics is that we do not have an army of self-styled feminists who eagerly declare that every childish misstep a boy makes is emblematic of society's refusal to tolerate their self-esteem.

Boys don't tend to have self-esteem problems because boys are not pummeled with a daily narrative about how they feel bad about themselves, so it never occurs to them to think about it. To be sure, some boys do have self-esteem problems; but some do not. We don't analyze the issue sociologically, we analyze it psychologically, on an individual basis.

But when it comes to girls, and even grown women, we have sites like Double X and Jezebel eagerly informing us that women are addled by self-doubt and a lack of self-esteem, that it's been imposed upon them from above, and that there's nothing they can do about it other than engage in vocal fry and hate men.

Considering that, is there any wonder so many young girls end up with self-esteem problems?