The Shrill Sound of Not Shutting Up 12

So I was just thinking this morning, about how back in my undergrad days I wrote a paper wherein I mentioned that use of the adjective shrill to describe a person can be generally considered a red flag for sexism. That class involved peer critiques, and I subsequently had a male classmate who took a lot of umbrage to that statement explain to me, in a very animated way, how I was totally wrong.

Because, yanno. Shrill just gets used to describe women more because our voices are higher pitched than men’s. So when we’re loud it’s even more high pitched. It’s just accurate.

Yeah, dude, you’re right. I don’t know what could possibly be sexist at all about implying that the very pitch of our voices is grating when we’re being loud, as in: saying things you don’t like. (Seriously, has anyone ever been described as shrill in a positive way?) And it gets applied to men too, so it can’t be sexist! (Because goodness knows, men have never been insulted by the implication that they act/sound like women.) I’m sure there is absolutely nothing demeaning about a strongly voiced fact or opinion being reduced, in effect, to nothing more than an annoying sound.

You know. It’s not what you’re saying. It’s just the way you’re saying it. Being all loud and stuff. It hurts my delicate ears. Can’t you be sweeter?

Of course, recollections like these don’t just float up out of the blue. My brain got wrenched in that direction last night thanks to Tangent Online’s special review of the Women Destroy Scifi issue of Lightspeed.

First off: oh my gosh the reviewer said nice things about my story, AAAAAAAAAAAAAA, (she screeched with shrill delight. Huh. Doesn’t really work, does it?)

Generally speaking, the reviews are solid; while I’ve disagreed with various reviewers from time to time, I think the site does yeoman’s work when it comes to sorting through the massive number of short stories out there. (With occasional notable exception.) Where it just gets kind of special is in the response to Christie Yant’s introduction, and then David Truesdale’s “closing thoughts,” which could be better titled Oh you silly lady writers, being all wrong about everything and stuff.

I’m not going to really wade into this. Natalie LuhrsAmal El-Mohtar, and E. Catherine Tobler already did an amazing job at their respective sites and you should go read those. I just want to point out one thing. In the entire special review, the word shrill gets used twice. (Emphasis in both quotes added by me.)

Once by Martha Burns:

In addition, the authors play with tropes regarding femininity and don’t worry that the decision makes one too much or not enough of a feminist. They do not have to worry that the project makes one shrill. Voila. And the stories work.

(Which is a very positive statement that, I think, acknowledges the historic use of the word.)

And then once by Dave Truesdale:

The sad thing, and this is something I can’t help but fear, is that the closer these hypothetical weary travelers get to the SF community down there in the plush valley, looking to find rest, refreshment, and perhaps a place to call home, what they will first hear wafting up on the wind from that village in the valley below are cries and exhortations that it is not a nice place to visit, much less to consider making it a home. The shrill cries of racism!, sexism!, and homophobia lives here!, Beware and stay away!, will drive the travelers away before the decent folk of the village have a chance to tell them how life really is, there in their village where all are welcome and the occasional ne’er-do-wells are shown the road out of town.

“Shrill cries” is pretty much the summation of Truesdale’s characterization of the various in-genre blow-ups of the last couple of years–which was at its most basic one of the major motivating forces for the existence of this anthology and its resounding success on Kickstarter. Apparently not only are we totally wrong, we’re incredibly loud and annoying while we’re at it. His poor, delicate ears.

Considering Ms. Burns had only just said that we “do not have to worry that the project makes one shrill…” Well.

Hopes: dashed. I love the smell of irony in the morning.

(Have I mentioned the Women Destroy Scifi issue of Lightspeed? Because you should totally go buy it.)

12 thoughts on “The Shrill Sound of Not Shutting Up

  1. Reply Rosemary Warner Jun 4,2014 10:00

    I am very very sorry but seeing this post juxtaposed against an advert for Do Shut Up, Mr Simms made me giggle.

  2. Reply embrodski Jun 4,2014 10:13

    This is exactly why SF needed women-destroyage in the first place. You rock, keep fighting the good fight!

  3. Reply Andrew Barton (@ActsofAndrewB) Jun 4,2014 11:00

    “The shrill cries of racism!, sexism!, and homophobia lives here!, Beware and stay away!, will drive the travelers away before the decent folk of the village have a chance to tell them how life really is, there in their village where all are welcome and the occasional ne’er-do-wells are shown the road out of town.”

    That’s funny, because when I was first becoming aware of the actual SF community, the first cries I heard from the road had more to do with how “the Young” are wrecking science fiction and acting in a professional manner is censorship and how disagreeing with an old hand makes you a liberal fascist. There were times when I seriously considered just walking the other way.

  4. Reply Alyc Jun 4,2014 12:04

    I recently got into an argument over the word ‘strident,’ when I complained that twice in one week I’d seen it used to negatively describe women’s voices when they were being too outspoken and opinionated in ways the (male) speakers didn’t agree with. People were trying to assure me that, no, strident isn’t a word that gets used in a sexist way. Shyeah. Right.

    • Reply Rachael Jun 4,2014 12:13

      I think it’s less common than shrill, but yeah, I agree with you. Seems part and parcel of getting attacked for our looks; also get attacked for how we sound. Wish there was a way to do a bulk data analysis to find incidents of word usage…

  5. Reply Gary Farber Jun 4,2014 16:37

    “and E. Catherine Tobler already did an amazing job at their respective sites and you should go read those.”

    The piece you link to at Tobler’s site is by Elise, not E. Catherine Tobler.

  6. Reply Gary Farber Jun 5,2014 19:26

    Ah, thanks for clarification; I confuse easily.

  7. Reply Tasha Turner Jun 6,2014 12:30

    Yay to great review on your story. I have to get to my eCopy of WDSF and read and review it. The good news is I know I can’t do worse reviews than have been done so my nervousness about reviewing essays/flash fiction for the first time is gone. :D

    Some great rebuttals to the sexist editorial comments. It’s nice of them to prove the need for issues like WDSF. Just think we still have the horror and fantasy issues to look forward to.

  8. Pingback: A Link to a Cool Magazine Issue with some Diversity Links (Dumping Days) | The Open Window

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