Zek Evets tries to figure out why a man’s passionate speech seems to always be interpreted as yelling.
This is a problem which has lately begun to annoy the ever-loving kosher crap out of me. I’ll be talking to someone, always a woman, and we’ll disagree on something. She’ll state her points; I’ll state mine. But the infuriating thing is: as soon as I start raising my voice to be heard, change my intonation, or even show a smidgen of emotion, she will say, “stop yelling.”
It doesn’t matter if what I said was right. Doesn’t matter if it was true. Doesn’t even matter that she wasn’t listening so how could she tell I was yelling. All that matters is that I was yelling. I yelled, therefore I am wrong. And now I must be quiet.
It’s a tactic which has insidiously begun to worm its way into my every behavior. I don’t raise my voice in a crowded room. I consciously lower my volume, even amidst celebration or defeat. I overthink and overanalyze my tone constantly.
But here’s the thing. I never actually yell. Every time a woman has told me I was yelling—especially ex-girlfriends—I wasn’t. I was disagreeing. I was being honest. I was being… open. Either it was raising my voice to be heard over her shouting, changing my tone to meet a feeling of attack, or just showing my emotional investment in the conversation. Sure as ice melts, she’ll say, “stop yelling.”
Funny enough, someone telling me to stop yelling when I’m not yelling is EXACTLY the type of thing to make me want to yell. End result: a gotcha moment. I yelled once, post-provocation, thus I was yelling the whole time. Go figure.
But why does this keep happening? I have a theory. (We’re all theorists, so I’ve learned.) It’s because in our world, social niceties have been largely defined historically by women. From Ms. Manners to Ask Amy, women dominate the conversation on polite conversation between mixed gender groups.
And I think I’m on to something here, because I’ve never had this happen with a man. No guy has ever told me to stop yelling, especially when I never was in the first place. This isn’t to say it couldn’t happen to me, or doesn’t happen to other people. I hear women often get it from men to “stop screaming” or “stop screeching.” I’m just saying. Broad brush strokes here.
So why does the male voice elicit such strong reactions from women? Why is my voice heard as a yell, especially when it’s not? Are male voices scary? Or is it something about a man’s voice when he disagrees with you? Are we harsh sounding or something? Is it that our vocal chords and women’s ears are biologically predisposed to naturally conflict so that women hear us yelling when we’re not? I’ve got a million possibilities but it’s a bitch to find even one that makes sense.
I do wonder if it isn’t something else though. I wonder if it’s just another instance of men being unable to show emotion. Another instance of men being demonized as capable of random violence or instilling fear in others.
And it’s not just something that plays out among pale faces. I distinctly remember a musician friend of mine (yes, he’s Black and no, that doesn’t mean I’m not racist) who was talking to this open-mic host about sign-ups. She told him that even though he’d signed-up earlier than everyone, she wondered if she could move him to a different slot during the night — one where the crowd is vastly thinned out. He said no, and she kept pushing him, ad her voice kept going up. Eventually he said firmly, “no.” What’d she say? “Stop yelling at me.” His reply was perfect, “Stop projecting.”
Bam! Right there is my theory. It’s not that we’re yelling. It’s that others are projecting their own insecurities and fears onto our perfectly normal voice until the script is so twisted we’ve gone from aggrieved status to villain.
(Side-note: that incident was also the time I first learned the saying, “a White woman’s tears are worth more than a Black man’s life.” But I digress.)
Anyhoo, back to my point. Guys, if someone is telling you to stop yelling STOP. Take a breath. Think back. Were you yelling? No? Good. Then tell them to stop projecting. Tell them that you’re allowed to have a voice and that it doesn’t exist to make them feel comfortable. Tell them what I tell them now: this isn’t yelling. This is me trying to talk to you. Try listening.