Feminists are having a hissy fit on Twitter today because British supermarket Tesco has decided to replace the bitchy, bossy, barky woman’s voice from the self-checkout tellers.
I quite like using the self-checkout tellers at our local supermarket, but damn do I hate that fucking bitch with her snotty “please take your items, please take your items” 3 seconds after you’ve finished paying. And I am clearly not alone. Customers at Tesco describe the woman’s voice as “irritating”, “nagging” and “shouty” and they’re absolutely correct. I rarely get through a self-checkout without wanting to punch the sanctimonious, shrieky auto teller in her virtual face.
What is it with women and bitchy, stupid, frustrating, irritating vocal habits? Upspeak, or the habit of ending a sentence so it sounds like a question? Mostly women do it. Vocal fry, that tendency to make your voice annoyingly raspy and creaky at the end of sentences? Also something mostly women do.
Heh – I wrote upspeak there, and it’s just as annoying on the page as it is in person.
It’s no secret that all humans prefer men’s voices, especially when it comes to inspiring confidence, calmness, authority and competence. Even when leaders are women, we still like those women to speak in a lower register – squeaky, high-pitched grating voices are associated with being a scatter-brained nitwit. From a PLOS study examining the impact of vocal pitch on perceptions of leadership:
Regardless of social context, and regardless even of gender, the lower-pitched voice was deemed more authoritative than the higher. As in previous studies, men and women preferred female candidates with masculine voices.
Naturally, feminists think this is because patriarchy and sexism: we hate women so naturally we hate feminine voices. Highly unlikely to be the case, and far more likely that because vocal tones drop with age, lower voices suggest age and experience, for both men and women. Gee, age and experience are qualities we like in leaders? Who knew?
The bitchy Tesco voice is tapping into something other than perceptions of leadership qualities, though. No one is looking to supermarket tellers to provide leadership, but Tesco is switching the nagging fishwife out for a calmer, more pleasant male voice. This has to do with women’s tendency to prefer passive aggression, and our almost universal, instinctual dislike of passive aggression. Passive aggression, unlike direct aggression, is dishonest. It’s slimy and sneaky and cowardly, and it permits people to act aggressively without being held accountable.
Passive-aggressive behaviour is when someone expresses hostility indirectly. Rather than say they’re angry with you and explain why you’re an idiot, the passive-aggressive person will behave in ways that inconvenience, distress, discomfort or frustrate, but all of these behaviours taken in isolation are technically “fine”; they’re not obvious attacks on a person, but they can be very upsetting for the recipient.
And women are far more passive-aggressive than men, something researchers attribute to women being at the “low end of the power dynamic’ – women have to show their aggression passively, or they will be penalized. I call full bullshit on that. Women are not at the low end of the power dynamic, especially when they are confronting men. Aggressive men are always at fault – it’s enshrined in law that they are always at fault. It’s the Violence Against Women Act, after all. No, this purely about avoiding being held accountable for what amounts to shitty, immature behaviour.
People hate the Tesco woman because she’s behaving passive aggressively. “Unexpected item in the bagging area”, said in a bitchy voice, is a way of saying “what did you just put in the bagging area you idiot?” “Please take your items”, said in the same bitchy voice is a passive aggressive way of saying “hurry the fuck up and get the hell out of here, you’re holding up the line”. It really doesn’t matter if the bitchy voice is male or female. A man’s voice, using the same passive aggressive, bitchy tone would get, if anything, a more irritated reaction from customers. People don’t hate the Tesco computer because it’s female, they hate it because it’s bitchy.
Tesco is absolutely right to replace the bitch at the self-checkout. And since Tesco is also a business whose purpose is to generate profits, it makes sense to select the voice and tone most customers prefer: that means a pleasant, male voice. The only sexist thing about the Twitter reaction is feminists demanding that women have the right to be bitches and behave like children, even when those women aren’t even real!
When the biggest problem feminists can come up with is a supermarket replacing a bitchy computer voice with a pleasant one, who happens to be male, you know this is an ideology whose time is up.
I’ll take pleasant over bitchy any day. Says the judgy bitch.
Oh, the irony!
Lots of love,