Literary Journalism
Comment 1

When Girls Meet World Who Cares How They Speak?

Yesterday I saw an article about Mr. Turner’s reappearance on the Boy Meets World spin-off, Girl Meets World. Any true BMW fan knows about the sequel, featuring cameos galore, but I wondered if any of us actually watched it. So I did – and despite the laugh track and unbearably cheesy tween acting, I saw a really beautiful show. I was lucky enough to grow up watching shows like Clarissa Explains it All, Sister Sister, and My So Called Life – all shows about women growing up, accepting their bodies and themselves, and finding their place in the world.

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I’m glad to see the tradition is being carried on with GMW. While it could do with a hell of a lot of diversification, it tackles other issues well. From Cory’s public takedown of his daughter’s cultural appropriation (which in itself is her attempt at finding who she is), to Topanga’s kick-ass lawyerly skills, to their daughter Riley and her bff Maya’s navigating of middle school (not very realistically of course, it is a Disney channel kids show) Girl Meets World tackles politically hot-button issues with the grace and ham-handed-ness of a great tween TV show.

It got me thinking about all the ways we give, or deny, women agency. It starts so young – what shows our parents let us watch, what conversations we have, the books we read and what we’re taught in school. I was lucky to go to a wildly diverse school, have a family that always held open conversations, and had unfettered access to all sorts of literature, art, and film. I’m also lucky enough to live in an age where the issues of women’s agency and rights are being constantly discussed in the media. But I often wonder, when is it too much?

There have recently been articles everywhere from Gawker to Guardian about the way women speak – uptalk, vocal fry, apologising, using the word ‘just’ – and how that impacts our lives. Most of the articles deem that in the end, women are taken less seriously because of how we speak. It is good to know, but the problem I have with these articles is they don’t address why women have evolved to speak this way. These are habits we have learned from society that we use to make ourselves less obtrusive, excuse our presence and opinions, and diminish our self confidence because there’s no way we could be as right or good as men.

The guardian comes close: “[T]oday’s women know they can do great things; what they doubt… is that they can speak well about those great things… Surely we older feminists have not completed our tasks if no one has taught this young woman that it was not her job to placate her elders.”

But why is it the job of older feminists? The argument is never spun around onto men. Why is it that women’s run-on sentences are being policed, when men’s speech isn’t. When women wander off topic, it’s confusing. When men do it, they’re being “tangential”. They have authority, they hold the floor, they can talk about whatever they like. Women have to stick to the point, lest men get lost in the waffle – because women only waffle.

Instead of penalising young women for uptalk, how about we reassure them from an early age that what they have to say is valid. In this same Guardian article, a male law partner is quoted as saying: “Their constant uptalk means I am constantly having to reassure them… It’s exhausting.” Well, sir, I’m sorry it’s so exhausting – but perhaps if society didn’t teach women that what we have to say is less important, going to be wrong, or not worth listening to then maybe you wouldn’t have to. But instead of saying that, you’re just going go waffle on about how exhausted you are having to listen. This is just another way of silencing women

I don’t mind that I stared this post talking about Girl Meets World. It’s a framing device – it’s a tangent – it’s a story that I’m using to explain how I got where I am, why I think what I do. It’s not waffle. Topanga taught me not to let myself be silenced. Now she’s around for a whole new generation of young women, teaching them to stand up for themselves, to point their fingers when they’re saying something important, not to let gender based thinking run our lives, to be true to our values, to be our own heroines, and not to be afraid to say what we think, however we say it.

1 Comment

  1. Love this! Well stated and oh so true, unfortunately. In the field of education, we would call it “assumed competence.” Men are assumed to be authorities on pretty much everything while women are frequently questioned even when they are well- educated on whatever topic. So frustrating!

    Like

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