There’s been a lot of static recently over the public flogging that women are taking for speech patterns known as vocal fry and up-speak. The criticisms have come from all corners—including from feminists. Many feel that women are devaluing themselves in the grown up world by sounding like 14-year-olds at the mall. Naomi Wolf’s recent plea for young women to re-claim their strong female voice was itself criticized for policing young women and denying them the right to speak how they please.
The critics of the critics, including cultural observers such as Ira Glass, say it’s unfair that only women are targeted for such speech shaming. And, as Glass does, many say regardless of gender, these aren’t speech “defects” that need to be corrected. They are expressions of one’s true self that should be respected.
It turns out that the ideas that—again, regardless of gender—authoritative, intelligent, verbal communication is needed in the modern world and that one should have not only a facility with language but also an ability to speak clearly and intelligibly is apparently generational. People older than 40 find these speech patterns annoying, distracting, even destructive. People under 40 don’t even notice them.
It’s like tattoos. Long the domain of bikers and sailors, a tattoo is no longer a “kiss of death” professionally. Tattoos are now just as likely to be found on dads—and moms—at Little League practice. People of a certain age and outlook tend to look askance at body art. People of a younger age don’t even notice.
In this 20th anniversary year of Clueless, it’s worth noting that the target audience for that movie is now the demographic that is running companies, making hiring decisions, and signing contracts.
What does all this mean in the world of business, for communicating with and relating to other professionals, for working with media and clients? For one thing, the upseakers, the vocal fryers, and the tattooed masses aren’t going anywhere. So, for those who find these generational traits and trends dismaying—it’s probably best if you try to look—and listen—beyond them and focus on the substance within. If that’s not possible, then start talking to your financial planner about retirement.
Each new generation brings something to the table that’s brighter, better, and more exciting than the one before. We just need the wisdom to see it.