On gendered speech patterns

Laura Waddell is a publisher and writer based in Glasgow, whose criticism, fiction and essays have appeared in the Guardian, the List, Scottish Review of Books, Independent, and several books.

Often all it takes to be a dangerous woman is to speak. A wealth of research on gendered speech patterns shows that sometimes the mere act of speaking, that is to voice opinions, to partake in society, to express the self, to take up aural space, to mouth any sound, is to be viewed as disruptive. In this inevitable way, in this simplest of ways, a woman embodying a voice is inherently dangerous – to the status quo. Speak up.

Research has shown that women are interrupted more often than men in conversation. [1]

Refuse to mind the gap. Harden your resolve. Refuse to bunch your words together to fit them in. Point out, when interrupted, that you haven’t yet finished what you are saying. Continue speaking regardless, watching the mouths of men moving, talking over you as though oblivious you’re still speaking. As though they are goldfish in a bowl of their devising, lips opening and closing in irregular rhythm to yours, thick glass between you and neither hearing the other. Blinking blandly they expect, upon beginning, that you will stop. So used to and certain of this, they do not notice you have not stopped, for a length of time that can only be described as odd. A length of time that reveals they are not, and were not listening to you in the first place. When their confusion subsides, and when you have finished what you are saying, possibly repeating for clarity, then others can take their rightful turn. Swim at your own pace. Let him eat fish food!

Research has shown that women speak less often in mixed gender groups. [2]

Refuse to allow the words of others to keep yours in parenthesis; be reflected in the minutes. Set the agenda; decide the key. You and your contributions are valid. Tack up on the wall, not on to the end. Choose any instrument that pleases you with its sound and feel; luxuriate in your range. You may agree or disagree with what other women are saying; support their right to speak, as it is your own right. On occasions you are dismissed or interrupted, but had not yet finished: change the subject back, and where your notes are reprised to greater acclaim, defend your credit. Pitch up. Pitch. Innovate. Alleviate the drone with your contributions: they are greater than grace notes. Polish your brass until it shines; pass the cloth to others only after you’re done with it. Whoever heard of an orchestra with just a tuba?

Research has shown that women are the primary innovators of language. [3]

Refuse to be curtailed in the mode of your expression. Avoid the strain of lifting your words higher, in attempt to carry them above obstacles. Bore through obstacles with your diamonds. But if skywards is your natural pitch, do not be dissuaded from flying. Fry your vocal in the oil of your choosing. Speak as you would speak uninterrupted. Refuse the legitimacy of others’ refusal to adapt. Do not allow the colourful shapes of your language to be put in the toybox by those who resist it. Do not be content to dot his Is and cross his Ts. If he speaks an I, let your O stream onwards around it. If he speaks an H, turn cogs with your K. Let his letters tumble onto the carpet until it’s his fair turn to pick them up and build with them. Your alphabet letters are magnetised, they will stick: spell with them what you wish.


[1] http://nytlive.nytimes.com/womenintheworld/2015/03/19/google-chief-blasted-for-repeatedly-interrupting-female-government-official

[2] http://io9.gizmodo.com/5944493/do-women-speak-less-when-when-there-are-more-men-around

[3] http://nytlive.nytimes.com/womenintheworld/2015/03/19/google-chief-blasted-for-repeatedlyinterrupting-female-government-official/