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Oct 30 2012

No one wants to hear the whiny sound of a female voice

Australian broadcast journalist Tracey Spicer wrote an open letter to Mr Misogynist to thank him for all he’s taught her over the years.

There was the sage advice

from a radio boss during a job interview some years ago.

He put it simply yet eloquently: ”There’s a reason why you don’t hear women on  commercial talkback radio,” he said. ”No one wants to hear the whiny sound of  a female voice. Us blokes get enough nagging at home!”

Yeeah. And blokes are the only people who listen to radio, and all of them “get nagging at home,” and all female voices are whiny, and and and.

On another occasion,

”Anyway Trace. You’re getting a bit long in the tooth. Why don’t you give  some of the younger girls an opportunity?”

Suddenly, all the lights went on. And it was so bright – it made your light  look like a limp insipid flicker.

This is difficult for me to put into words but if I had to, it would sound a  bit like this: Fuck you.

Fuck you, you misogynist bully with your archaic beliefs…

There are, predictably, comments saying that’s not misogyny. Yes it is. It’s contemptuous and dismissive, and that’s misogyny.

The letter went viral.

 

 

26 comments

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  1. 1
    Anthony K

    There are, predictably, comments saying that’s not misogyny.

    Armed with dictionaries, I’m sure, the social incompetent’s best resource guide to human behaviour.

    “Accessing…whrrr. Bizzt. Clink! Misogyny means ‘hatred of women’. I do not fully comprehend this human emotion called ‘hatred’, but my logic banks tell me that this does not fit the definition of hatred. Whrrr. Bizzt. Clink!”

  2. 2
    oolon

    Whiney voices, I saw @tkingdoll retweet someone pointing out how few female voices are used in film/movie trailers. I remembered the Emma Thomson one ‘Stranger than Fiction’ as I’d seen it recently… But then looking for others, pretty much invisible! Its always that geezer with the overly dramatic voice.

    Got me looking into the psychology of why we treat different voices differently. There is a paper on peoples reactions to male voices and both women and men trust deep male voices more than any other.

    Anyway only point is that I’d not really noticed before – but now taking note of every advert and trailer. Although the trailers are a bit predictable. We seem to have good female representation on the news in the UK, although pretty much all the ‘heavyweight’ political reporters are male.

  3. 3
    somerandom

    I’m not sure if the first comment is supposed to be mocking the article or if the commenter didn’t understand it: “Good on you Tracey, you are still a good looking chick”. Either way, it sort of makes the article’s point…

    Btw, did you stop quoting right where “intellect of a pygmy, and tiny dick” was about to come up because you too think it’s unfortunately expressed?

  4. 4
    unbound

    The usual rationalizations. I’m not a hateful person, therefore I can’t be saying anything hateful.

    See the same thing on facebook. Someone posts all kinds of hateful things, but then tells everyone else to watch their hateful comments. Face -> desk.

  5. 5
    callistcat

    I remember a radio DJ saying he learned in school that you shouldn’t play songs with female vocalists back to back because “people don’t like to hear that.”

  6. 6
    Ophelia Benson

    some random: yes. I don’t want harassers commenting on my genitals, so I don’t think women should comment on men’s genitals. I had a hard time deciding what to do with that bit. It seemed more honest to leave it and disagree with it, but it also seemed more tedious, so I decided to omit it. (I think the pygmy intellect comment is all right, given the stupid remark that prompted it.)

  7. 7
    dexitroboper

    BTW, Tracy Spicer’s letter was originally part of the Women Of Letters project.

  8. 8
    veronicaabbass

    Margaret Atwood wrote a story entitled “Uncles,” included in her second volume of short stories Wilderness Tips, that addresses the male’s treatment of women who work in the media. This article discusses the story better than I can: http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/article/1115603–mallick-why-columnists-should-confess

  9. 9
    AsqJames

    @oolon

    We seem to have good female representation on the news in the UK, although pretty much all the ‘heavyweight’ political reporters are male.

    I’m not sure how good/bad it is compared to other countries, but it wasn’t that long ago that the BBC DG said there were “manifestly too few older women broadcasting on the BBC, especially in iconic roles and on iconic topical programmes.” Of course that was in the wake of losing at an age discrimination tribunal & he did sweet FA about it before he retired with his massive pension.

    We have had some fantastic female TV journalists/news readers/presenters, but can you imagine a single one who’d have been given their own current affairs show having declined to the sad wreck David Frost did before Breakfast With Frost was finally put out of its misery?

    Got me looking into the psychology of why we treat different voices differently. There is a paper on peoples reactions to male voices and both women and men trust deep male voices more than any other.

    I actually prefer the female voices on R4 (Alice Arnold, Charlotte Green, Corrie Corfield, Ritula Shah, etc). Maybe it’s ‘cos the prime slots on Today and PM (which seem to be mostly reserved for men) require a style/attitude which puts me off.

  10. 10
    oolon

    @AsqJames, Yeah the age discrimination stuff was pretty bad. You see John McCririck has been sacked and is blaming ageism… Don’t know about the ageist thing, he may be right, but the UK TV misogymeter took a dive when he was sacked!

  11. 11
    Ophelia Benson

    Clay Shirky has pointed out that when all authority is in male voices, male voices will seem like the voice of authority.

    In other words we need to have a lot more female voices of authority before we can even begin to decide whether or not they can sound like the voice of authority.

    Cutting against the attempt is the annoying fashion for women to talk in little baby voices. Blegh I hate that.

    Also the NPR practice of hiring only women with very “warm” voices for on air jobs. The warmer they sound the less like authority they sound, which I think is the goal. People are threatened by women who sound authoritative, so NPR obliges them by not having any (except Nina Totenberg, who would never be hired now).

  12. 12
    AsqJames

    I love that Clay Shirky line and agree on the authority front, but isn’t there (or at least shouldn’t there be) a difference between “authority” and “trust”?

    Maybe it’s a distinction without a difference, but from a news organisation, I want to have confidence that I’m being told the truth and that very few (if possible, no) salient information is being hidden. I don’t want to see journalists as people who hold some kind of authority over me like we’re both in the army and they’re senior officers.

    Does society think men are more likely than women to tell the truth?

  13. 13
    Ophelia Benson

    Hm. It’s not authority as in authoritarian, but authority as in knowing what you’re talking about. It was in that context that he said it.

    So no, not senior officers; just someone who knows about what she’s talking about. Not tentative. Not apologetic. Not cuddly. Not “warm.”

    Nina Totenberg. Kathleen Hall Jamieson. People like that.

    It is different from trust. For trust, the “warm” voices could be just the ticket. But I don’t want that – I don’t want them nurturing me. Some of them do it so obtrusively I really can’t listen to them. I don’t want it to be personal, or emotional. I want to get the sense that they know what they’re talking about.

  14. 14
    Paul W.

    Count me as one of the people who (reluctantly) finds the word “misogyny” problematic.

    I know what it means among feminists, and I agree that it’s real and serious and important, but I also understand why word the word sounds wrong to a lot of people when applied to things like blind privilege and insensitivity, and selfish male behavior that disadvantages women, which are largely emergent social problems as opposed to being mostly grounded in outright hatred of women in the individuals’ heads.

    The word looks like it means literal hatred of women specifically, and it’s often defined or applied in exactly that way, even by feminists who know the broader sense—the prototypical misogynist is somebody who literally hates women, and behaves in ways that disadvantage women as a fairly direct result of that strong animosity toward women. They literally hate women just as much as they act as if they do.

    But I think that the typical misogynist isn’t like that, or isn’t mostly. The typical misogynist is a privileged, insensitive boob who mostly honestly underestimates the realness and severity of problems that women face, often partly because he’s been duped by the minority of more deluded and/or truly hateful misogynists.

    And often said boob is more or less selfish in a way that disadvantages women specifically, not because he hates women, but because he’s sexually attracted to (some of) them, and because he exercises privilege he hasn’t thought much about—if he were gay, he’d treat disadvantaged men the same exploitative way, if he could. You could call that misanthropy, and misogyny because of its differential application to women in practice, but that’s not what the word sounds like it means.

    When I hear somebody being called a “misogynist,” it sounds to me—and I think to most people—like a claim that they actually personally hate women, or at least bear them some animosity as a group, as opposed to being insensitive to women’s issues due to blind privilege, and selfish in ways that disadvantage women due to the workings of patriarchy that they mostly don’t understand and wouldn’t approve of if they did.

    I used to be one of those privileged assholes to an extent (and maybe still am to some degree I don’t yet recognize), and I’m pretty sure that I never hated women, or even disliked them as a group, even a little bit. I was a bit of a selfish asshole who didn’t take women’s situations and interests sufficiently into account, but then I didn’t take other men’s interests sufficiently into account either. And in general, I have always liked women as a group a bit better than men as a group.

    Unless and until most people understand the broad sense of “misogyny” as a largely social phenomenon, not simply reducible to (a corresponding amount of) actual hatred at the individual, psychological level, calling your typical “misogynist” (in the broad sense) a misogynist will often seem like an unfair slur, both to the person being called a misogynist and to many bystanders.

    It would have seemed so to me back when I was more blindly stupid and privileged about such things than I think I am now, and it still seems unfair to simply call that ignorant, selfish young dupe of the patriarchy a “misogynist” without some caveats about what sense is meant.

  15. 15
    AsqJames

    Oh OK. I think I’m arguing splitting hairs over definitions rather than substance then. I don’t find a voice/person trustworthy if I think they don’t know anything about the subject under discussion. They don’t necessarily have to be an “authority” on it though. Science journalists don’t need to be Nobel prize winners or even be able to teach graduate level courses, but they do need to have a good grounding in under-grad science, know how to ask the right questions of the right people and they need to translate the answers for the lay audience.

    I hear female voices presenting shows and reading the news all the time that give me that confidence. And I don’t really think I’m more than a little bit special so I find it strange that media managers seem to think we could only respect and trust older males with deep voices and smart neck ties.

  16. 16
    NoxiousNan

    One of the things that first inpsired my feminism was the absolute consensus amongst my male friends in high school (35 years ago)that women just couldn’t sing rock. Women the likes of Janis Joplin and Anne Wilson were anomalies for women simply did not have powerful enough voices to make rock roll. I knew they were wrong, but didn’t have the language tools to fight it out and they had on their side a complete dearth of female voices in rock.

    They all need to be forced to listen to Sinead O’Connor’s Red Football at top volume.

  17. 17
    Ophelia Benson

    Asq – well that’s the thing. It’s what Shirky says – most voices of that kind are male, so people think that’s what voices of authority have to sound like. The more women who do it, the less true that will be. (Probably – unless everybody is just super stupid about it.)

  18. 18
    notsont

    @14
    You know, I know a lot of people who use terms like “nigger” “spick” “wet-back” “faggot”, and they will all deny that they are and be hurt if you call them a racist or a bigot. Men generally don’t hate women, I recognize that, they love women, like they love their car or their favorite “toy”. They think they are great and would love to take em for a ride, and when they are old and rusted? Well those pieces of crap can go right to the junkyard.

    I only know about the culture I grew up in but I doubt its much better elsewhere. Men grow up thinking girlfriends and wives are belongings, maybe that’s not really misogyny but its close enough.

  19. 19
    Josh, Official SpokesGay

    Men grow up thinking girlfriends and wives are belongings, maybe that’s not really misogyny but its close enough.

    Word. You’d almost think that was more important than debating how many sexists can dance on the head of a misogynist pin and how rapidly before they cut themselves.

  20. 20
    clamboy

    Ms. Benson – thank you for addressing the subject of women presenters on NPR. Have you perceived, as I have, the ever greater number of instances of women presenters on NPR forming sentences as questions? Male presenters do it as well, but (again, this is my own experience) not as often. This may signal a change in what constitutes a “journalist’s voice” on NPR, but it is quite worrying, and part of the, hmmm, disempowerment(?) of female broadcasting voices.

  21. 21
    feedmybrain

    @oolon
    I think we’re ok for females but once they’re past a certain age… Who was the presenter that got slated for not dolling herself up on the history series on the BBC a few months ago?

  22. 22
    AsqJames

    @feedmybrain

    Mary Beard, but that case was a little different. She’s a Professor of Classics rather than a professional presenter, and she got the Meet The Romans gig on the strength of her knowledge and passion for the subject. The criticism came from outside of the BBC (the Telegraph I think).

    The BBC, quite rightly, defended her strongly at the time, but I do wonder what the long-term effects might be. Will future production teams take on board the arguments made in her favour and strong positive feedback, or will they just remember that there was some fuss made over having an older, grey haired woman presenter and look for a “safe pair of hands”?

    Incidentally, that was one case where they got a real authority in to do the job and most of the reviews & feedback seemed to recognise it and respond well. Maybe TV/radio shouldn’t be looking for people who look or sound like they know what they’re talking about, but actually do.

  23. 23
    Ophelia Benson

    clamboy – I haven’t, but that’s probably because I hardly ever listen to NPR news shows any more, because of all the warmth and cuddliness. If they do that – CURSES UPON THEM.

  24. 24
    Paul W.
    Men grow up thinking girlfriends and wives are belongings, maybe that’s not really misogyny but its close enough.

    Word. You’d almost think that was more important than debating how many sexists can dance on the head of a misogynist pin and how rapidly before they cut themselves.

    I guess that’s supposed to mean that I’m just splitting hairs and derailing from the more important issue of behavioral biases against women, irrespective of mere details of intent, which are no excuse for patterns of behavior that systematically disadvantage women.

    Sorry, but I think intent matters, and language matters, and it matters a whole hell of a lot whether the accusations you make are literally true on the obvious, straightforward interpretation of your statements.

    If they’re not, your opponents and many bystanders will think that you’re a paranoid kook who keeps making false accusations, and that will become the issue—whether you are slandering people, and whether you then justify/rationalize slandering people on the grounds that mere “details” of actual intent somehow don’t matter.

    Suppose, for example, that Rush Limbaugh is on one of his weird Obama-isn’t-really-black, Obama’s-an-Oreo rants, and he says:

    Obama likes murdering brown people, just because they’re brown.

    Now suppose that Limbaugh and his defenders keep saying that, over and over, and doubling down when called on it.

    Sometimes they justify it like this: Obama can get away with killing some innocent brown people with his ruthless drone strikes against terrorists. He knows some innocent people will die, and he knowingly chooses to do it, so that’s murder. He couldn’t get away with doing that to, say, white people in a Chicago suburb, but he can and does to brown foreigners, because he can get away with that, largely because Americans don’t care about brown foreigners. So he’s doing it to them in particular because he can. And he chooses to do it, so obviously he likes it better than the alternatives.

    Now you can see how maybe Obama “literally” (1) likes (2) murdering (3) brown people just (4) because he can. (And is thus “literally” a race traitor, if you consider “nonwhite” a basic racial category, and think that’s the kind of thing you should be loyal to.)

    So now the right wing can paint Obama as race traitor and a wanton murderer who apparently delights in killing brown people, specifically.

    It sounds like they’re saying that he prefers killing brown people in particular, and that he’s doing it because he enjoys it.

    In such a case, would you say that mere details of intent don’t matter?

    Would it be “dancing on heads of pins” to argue that it matters how people will inevitably interpret what seems like a straightforward statement, and whether that accusation is true?

    And oddly, such a criticism of Obama coming from the left wouldn’t be as surprising, and would likely be making some valid and important points—that the system is fucked up, and Americans are so nationalist, and racist in some sense, that Obama can get away with killing innocent people in foreign countries, especially if they’re brown, and that Obama himself is responsible, because he shouldn’t do that. He shouldn’t act as if he enjoys killing brown people in particular just because he can get away with killing those people, even if he’s actually doing it for other reasons.

    Still, anybody who says that “Obama likes killing brown people just because he can” is clearly slandering Obama, and really does sound like an extremist kook of some sort, because the obvious and straightforward interpretation is apparently false.

    And they shouldn’t be even a teeny bit surprised if the conversation then switches to the topic of whether they’re slandering Obama, and whether they’re paranoid kooks, instead of being about the clearly more important issues of American nationalism and racism, and Obama’s ruthlessly working within that system to the systematic detriment of brown foreign people.

    When you make accusations that are not literally true on the obvious and straightforward interpretation, you are derailing the argument from the get-go.

    People have the right not to engage the more important substance of what other people are really saying, if those people persist in slandering them on the way to saying it. They have every right to say stop right there and refuse to proceed until the slandering stops. Of course they do.

    I think that’s part of the problem with the continuing fallout from elevatorgate, and that it’s tragic—ambiguity in the term “misogyny” gives the other side a great excuse to focus on how they’re being “slandered” as actually hateful toward women specifically, and not to talk about the more important issues of whether they act as if they have special animus toward women, whether they really do or not.

    I think a minority of those guys really do have a deep and abiding animus toward women specifically, but you generally can’t prove it, and making unprovable accusations is problematic, even if they’re true—they can focus on what you can’t prove, and the real woman-hating minority can hide among the not-so-intentional sexist majority that’s upset about apparent slander from apparent extremists.

    I think a majority of those guys are mostly-unwitting sexists who find it easier to see how they’re being slandered on the obvious interpretation of “misogynist” than to see how they carelessly and selfishly act as if they had a special hatred for women. And some of them do have a sort of mild animus toward women, and more toward feminists, partly because of what they perceive as irresponsible accusations.

    It’s not hairsplitting or dancing on pinheads to worry about whether serious accusations that you make are literally true, and whether people can be expected to understand them in the particular mostly-behavioral sense that you mean them, or in some more malicious sense.

    The difference between “acting as if hateful” and “acting because hateful” may not matter to you, but it understandably matters to them.

    It is dancing on pinheads to justify not worrying about such details because they’re the bad guys anyhow, one way or the other—irrespective of whether they mean to be, and irrespective of whether they can be expected to understand what you’re actually accusing them of, given the way you choose to say it.

    Think about how accommodationists strawman New Atheists as being wanton and particularly malicious assholes, without worrying about “mere details” like what our actual motives and strategy are, and whether we’re being brutally honest for good reasons, or just brutal for the pure fun of beating people up.

    Accommodationists act as though our motives don’t matter, and if we “behave like” assholes, we must be assholes, because “intent is no excuse.”

    When it comes to accusations, intent obviously does matter a lot, and carelessness about intent tends to derail more important arguments.

    It takes some pretty fancy footwork to argue otherwise.

  25. 25
    Josh, Official SpokesGay

    Ms. Benson – thank you for addressing the subject of women presenters on NPR. Have you perceived, as I have, the ever greater number of instances of women presenters on NPR forming sentences as questions?

    YES. So much this. It’s way beyond grating. If they’re not engaging in upspeak and tentative statements in question-intonation-drag they’re cooing in your ear like they’re trying to soften your skin while you soak. Can’t stand it.

  26. 26
    Ophelia Benson

    Hahahahahaha – so right, and so well put.

    The cooing in your ear drives me right straight up the wall. There’s one at the local NPR station who is the cooingest of all and I cannot bear to hear her.

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