BREAKING: Men are now using uptalk, a vocal trope our culture has designated as the territory of dumb and ditzy women. This development apparently threatens the very institution of masculinity and, by extension, society as a whole.
Thus argues Renee Dale (jokingly!) (but not joking about the sexism part!) in a piece for GQ, entitled "When Did We All Start Talking Like Valley Girls?" Her argument, distilled into once sentence: "The last thing a woman ever wants to hear a man say is 'I want to fuck you?'"
The Man Who Speaks Like A Woman is is actually a topic that's already been grumpily opined upon and alarm-raised about to the extent that we're no longer beating a dead horse — what we are doing now is using a Ouija board to verbally berate the dead horse's wayward spirit. Each time the topic of men uptalking rears its ugly head, the finding (men are sounding less assertive! Like idiot unsure girly girls!) is greeted with some sort of disapproval or anger or mild panic.
This one is no exception. Like most alarmist "DANGER! MEN UPTALK!" pieces, it's roiling with casual sexism. Here is how the author profiles the typical female uptalker (bad), which she then compares to a Man (good):
If you're picturing a young, attractive girl-woman talking, forcing you to weigh whether you can tourniquet the blood trickling from your eardrums long enough to get her undressed, think again. Now it's your best friend doing it. Or worse: you. The fact is, men are now upspeaking, too.
Ugh, fuckin' ditzy-yet-hot girl-women. It's just horrible that you must endure all their literally torturous yammering for however long it takes to remove their clothing and then promptly intercourse them. Can you imagine the hell that would be unleashed upon this planet if your best friend (male, duh) started sounding like one of them? The horror!
From here, we project into the dystopian hellscape that is you and your bros talking like a specific subset of women:
Consider, just on a logistical level, what might happen if you started upspeaking some basic sentences... 'I think that's, like, too expensive?' If you have a partner with "different ideas about money," understand what she might do with this: treat you like the quavery schoolgirl you sound like and buy herself a fancy new bag. To put your plums in because you don't need them anymore.
If you start talking like a woman, you'll no longer be able to tell other women what to do! And then your woman will go out and buy a handbag (because ladies be shopping, as the Third Law of Gender Dynamics has it) and your testicles will spontaneously fall off your body.
Could we see this vocal change as something other than a harbinger of ruinous emasculation? A sign of change, maybe? Nope, says Dale: "The dialect has never shed its airhead baggage, and it never will." Huh. It's never shed its baggage in all thirty years of its existence as a pop culture thing. Better call it quits, this thing has been maligned for literally ever! "I'm sorry — wait, no, I'm not — upspeak is always fatal," Dale concludes. Um, like, maybe we think that way because we thoughtlessly accept erroneous cultural stereotypes that depict women — particularly young women — as weak and shallow? And then recirculate that misogynistic logic in the form of essays that detail the way in which speaking in a manner that's been coded as feminine causes men to sound like impotent, stupid idiots?
Two years ago, the New York Times ran a piece about the vocal patterns of young women, in which several linguists argued that teenaged girls use vocal embellishments in various sophisticated ways. A BBC report on one of the studies cited in the GQ piece notes that uptalk may be used to convey politeness or empathy. Another Times piece — this one on "like," which is the uptalker's verbal familiar — agrees with this assertion, noting that using the word "can be seen less as a matter of confidence than one of consideration":
"Like" often functions to acknowledge objection while underlining one's own point. To say, "This is, like, the only way to make it work," is to implicitly recognize that this news may be unwelcome to the hearer, and to soften the blow by offering one's suggestion discreetly swathed in a garb of hypothetical-ness.
Uptalking contains multitudes.
Furthermore, it's a known fact that the speech patterns of teen girls tend to eventually make their way into the general vernacular — so the men uptalking thing isn't a big surprise at all. Sadly, neither is the sexist commentary accompanying it.