Wise are those who examine
the content of what’s passing through their awareness
to discover those subtle,
of which we would otherwise be unaware.
(Reprinted in part from The Guardian – Young Women, Give Up Your Vocal Fry and Reclaim Your Strong Female Voice. By Naomi Wolf.)
The most empowered generation of women ever – today’s twentysomethings in North America and Britain – is being hobbled in some important ways by something as basic as how they use their voices. This demographic of women tends to have a distinctive speech pattern. Many commentators have noticed it, often with dismay. Time magazine devoted a column to the mannerism called vocal fry, noting a study that found that this speech pattern makes young women who use it sound less competent, less trustworthy, less educated and less hireable: “Think Britney Spears and the Kardashians.”
“Vocal fry” is that guttural growl at the back of the throat, as a Valley girl might sound if she had been shouting herself hoarse at a rave all night. The less charitable refer to it privately as painfully nasal, and to young women in conversation sounding like ducks quacking. “Vocal fry” has joined more traditional young-women voice mannerisms such as run-ons, breathiness and the dreaded question marks in sentences (known by linguists as uptalk) to undermine these women’s authority in newly distinctive ways. Slate notes that older men (ie those in power over young women) find it intensely annoying. One study by a “deeply annoyed” professor, found that young women use “uptalk” to seek to hold the floor.
Amy Giddon, director of corporate leadership at Barnard College’s Athena centre for leadership studies in New York, found in original research that “there is a disconnect between women’s confidence in their skills and abilities – which is often high – and their confidence in their ability to navigate the system to achieve the recognition and advancement they feel they deserve. Self-advocacy is a big part of this, and identified by many women in the study as the biggest barrier to their advancement.” In other words, today’s women know they can do great things; what they doubt – reasonably enough – is that they can speak well about those great things.
When you ask young women themselves what these destructive speech patterns mean to them, you get gender-political insights. “I know I use run-on sentences,” a 21-year-old intern at a university told me. “I do it because I am afraid of being interrupted.” No one has ever taught her techniques to refuse that inevitable interruption. “I am aware that I fill my sentences with question marks,” said a twentysomething who works in a research firm. “We do it when we speak to older people or people we see as authorities. It is to placate them. We don’t do it so much when we are by ourselves.”
What is heartbreaking about the current trend for undermining female voice is that this is the most transformational generation of young women ever. They have absorbed a feminist analysis, and are skilled at seeing intersectionality – the workings of race, class and gender. Unlike previous generations, they aren’t starting from zero. They know that they did not ask to be raped, that they can Slutwalk and Take Back the Night, Kickstarter their business ventures and shoot their own indie films on their phones – and that they deserve equal pay and access.
Which points to the deeper dynamic at play. It is because these young women are so empowered that our culture assigned them a socially appropriate mannerism that is certain to tangle their steps and trivialise their important messages to the world. We should not ask young women to put on fake voices or to alter essential parts of themselves. But in my experience of teaching voice to women for two decades, when a young woman is encouraged to own her power and is given basic skills in claiming her own voice then huge, good changes follow. “When my voice became stronger, people took me more seriously,” says Ally Tubis. “When people feel from your voice that you are confident, they will believe that you are smarter, and that you are better at what you do – even when you are saying the exact same thing.”
I went to a workshop called Developing Future Innovators. I went for three reasons: (1) We are innately creative beings and much of our education system has been teaching the creativity right out of our children, (2) our world desperately needs innovators to develop solutions to our mounting global problems, and (3) by teaching our youth to innovate, on a personal level they garner agency and are not victims of circumstance but rather empowered to create a life that works for themselves.
An innovator is not only someone who envisions, but someone who also creates a better world. Glen Tripp @GalileoLearning is not only an amazing innovator himself, but he is doing remarkable work at helping kids become innovators using a three-pronged approach.
First he works on Mindset — helping kids be visionaries and to believe in possibility, encouraging them to be courageous as they stretch themselves, focusing on being collaborative and appreciative of other’s ideas and expressions, teaching them determination to access perseverance, and guiding them to be reflective to improve themselves and their work.
Next he focuses on Knowledge — what do innovators need to understand? This element teaches kids to research, pick out key concepts and big ideas, use materials and tools as they test their ideas, and to develop empathy as they understand their audience and environment.
Lastly, he works on Process — developing processes to help innovators actually innovate; from identifying goals, to generating ideas, to design and then into the create-test-evaluate-redesign phase.
So how can we as parents and caregivers develop young innovators in our own homes?
- By allocating your child’s time in ways that develop their innovative toolkit. This can include traveling to new places, reading books from far off lands, to what programs they get involved in after-school (remember over-schdueling is a killer of innovation so chose wisely), to my favorite…carving out a space in your home, garage or yard that is dedicated to building and creating. A space filled with paint and markers, hot glue guns and duct tape, cardboard and pizza cutters, recycled materials, even a drill and saw would be good — items and tools that can be used to spark imagination and most of all allow your kids a chance to get dirty!
- By interacting with our kids in a manner that reinforces the Innovator Mindset. This is not praising their work, this is praising their behavior — compliment their dedication, their courageousness, their collaborative skills, how they turned an idea into a reality. This is not asking default questions, but asking reflective questions — who did you work with today, what was your vision for your project, tell me about it, what is and isn’t working in your design, what part was the most challenging, what part did you like best?
- By setting an example as an innovator yourself. Do you believe in possibility? Are you learning something new right now? Are you using victim language (I can’t, They never, It’s their fault, It’s not fair) instead of empowering words (I can, It’s my responsibility, I will put forth my best effort)? Kids, as we all know, learn so much from us, what supportive messages can you start sending today?
Lastly, I want to give you a few resources to check out. These are various programs and camps, workshop and projects to get your innovator juices flowing. Check out:
Today is the day when we pause to give a heartfelt thank you and prayer to the very special women in our lives who gave us the gift of life. Archangel Michael says, “Mothers are truly God’s co-creators and are to be revered.” So thank you moms all over the world for giving of yourselves, for your sacrifice, your guidance, your admiration, and your unconditional love. Your children are forever grateful. May you feel honored by your accomplishments that walk the earth and enjoy being celebrated on this glorious Mother’s Day. Amen.
“It is vitally important that you learn to trust your own inner guidance once more. A loving and grateful heart purifies the consciousness, and creates tranquility and peace of mind. It develops into a constant State of Being and not just an occasional practice.”