There’s nothing wrong with Melissa Lee being a woman

To borrow from The Sprout for a moment

One of these things is not like the other…

  • Racist
  • Dishonest
  • Stupid
  • Shrill

When Lee is described as any of the first three it is a comment on her behaviour. When people say “shrill” of someone they are simply attacking their gender: they are saying “she sounds like a woman” and semaphoring “that is unacceptable”. Apparently they think MPs shouldn’t sound like women.

Over the last few weeks and days more and more lefties are using “shrill” to describe Lee in blogs posts and comments. What do you mean? Would it be an adjective you would use about a male candidate? Why is it negative? And, more importantly, why is a bad thing to sound like a woman?

P.S. You could consider whether writing “looks slitty eyed” would be acceptable in place of “sounds shrill”

21 thoughts on “There’s nothing wrong with Melissa Lee being a woman

  1. Good call. Put the boot into Zaphod until he explains his point. I’ve attached a note to the comment to help him.

    captcha: peel discrimination

  2. lprent,

    Sadly it was Tigger (the comment above Zaphod) that made me write this (oh and Jordan of course, then a net search, then a certain amount of swearing). Zaphod just seems to think is-a-politician-with-breasts is a special category all in itself. It bothers me to see just how many of the left fill their discourse with unacknowledged sexism :(

  3. I can’t disagree with you that the left wing blogs have, on occassion, started to descend to the Kiwiblog levels of late. However, I can’t really see this as a good example.

    I simply took it to be a way of saying that she tends to yell in a high pitched voice. That relates to her being a woman only to the degree that females tend to have higher pitched voices than males. It might be that it is a bit of dog-whistling, but it seems such a commonly used term, that isn’t usually considered as sexist (although certainly insulting) that I can’t see that.

    The PS is also a bit silly. While replacing ‘stupid’ with ‘stupid, which is unusual for asians’ is racist, that hardly means calling her stupid is racist.

  4. BeShakey,

    It is perfectly natural to raise the pitch of ones voice when increasing volume (it’s to do with increase articulatory tract tension). I would expect that to be as true of, for example, Shearer and Norman as it is of Lee.

    So why do we only have a common criticism (and usable word) for the normal increase in pitch of women who are increasing their voice volume and pitch to be heard?

    The obvious answer is that we are more critical of women who pitch their voices to express emotion or passion, or to be heard over others. That is our perception of how women should be (and how men should be) colours our view of acceptable behaviour in women, and parliamentary candidates, so that we are critical of a woman for raising her voice but don’t even notice it in a man.

  5. BeShakey,

    The PS is also a bit silly. While replacing ’stupid’ with ’stupid, which is unusual for asians’ is racist, that hardly means calling her stupid is racist.

    I forgot to say “huh?” :) I am saying that when one uses a gender loaded criticism and thinks it’s ok it’s a useful exercise to consider if an equally racially loaded phrase would be acceptable. Sometimes we’re more blind to sexism than racism.

    The corners of Lee’s eyes are naturally more angular than Shearer’s, just as her voice is naturally higher pitched. Would it be ok to criticise her by saying that you didn’t like the way her looking “slitty eyed”? If not, why is it ok to say you don’t like her sounding “shrill”?

  6. Good point, Anita. I was going to blog about this, but realized that coming from a Nat it’d come off whiny and opportunistic/cynical.

    And your second-most recent comment in the thread is spot-on: society still has this internalized notion that women shouldn’t seek to be heard over men—because apparently women’s opinions are less valid than men’s—; hence, when a woman raises her voice (with the concomitant rise of pitch), she’s liable to be dismissed as shrill. It sucks.

    (Interestingly, I always thought that one of great gifts that Shipley and Clark shared as a politicians were fantastic, rich voices—enough undertone sitting beneath the fundamental that they never came across as “shrill”.)

  7. perhaps this may interest–

  8. Certain terms can have greater association with one sex than another. That does not mean they are sexist, they may just be more descriptive.

    Shrill can also imply that she is out of control and reverting to shouting. So purely descriptive.

    In which case it is no more sexist than using terms like bellowing or booming when referring to a man speaking.

  9. “Booming” suggests authority when referring to a man speaking; “bellowing” suggests anger. Neither carries negative connotation; “shrill” does.

    Example: “Harpies are shrill.”

  10. Shrill conveys anger especially when relating to public speaking. Words have many meanings. Long may that continue.

    Example: “Harpies are shrill.”

    Not a great example as Harpies sets up a negative image and shrill in context reinforces it.

  11. A good post Anita to question the use of the word.
    The person makes a humourous comment with an element of truth behind it, I’m sure the motorway will encourage some to further pastures for crime and other activities, and ‘the left’ goes into a frenzy. The whole thing is a joke and the reaction of the anti’s, left and others perhaps, really quite childish. I also noted that the lady in question didn’t apologise for the comment but for offending, as I viewed on TV3.
    I saw one report that the polls havn’t written her off as foolish left wing commentators would have you believe.

  12. jcuknz,

    Yeah, it seems to me that her comments weren’t the issue in themselves (someone from rich suburb unconsciously insulting about people from poor suburbs, film at eleven!!), it was the politically poor judgement as were her subsequent comments, which allowed her to be totally outplayed by her opponents.

    I would love it to imagine that her attitude to South Auckland was rare enough to be newsworthy, but in reality it’s the political incompetence of one of Key’s protégés that is the story.

  13. And of course “shrill” is a close cousin to “nagging”, which was used to great effect against Hillary Clinton in the US primaries not so long ago.

  14. Paul Krugman is quite famously shrill.

    Responding to this, Brad Delong with others (and a hat tip to Lovecraft), established the Ancient, Occult, and Hermetic Order of the Shrill. A typical page from it’s heyday, (or at least one chosen at random), is here .

    Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Krugman R’lyeh wagn’nagl fhtagn!

    None of which is to justify or contradict anything said here. A diversion is all.

    I like shrill though. I get shrill. There are things worth getting shrill about.

  15. People call call Melissa Lee shrill because it is an accurate description of her behaviour. I doubt people will stop using the term just because your PC antenna has got a bit skewed.

  16. Tom Semmens,

    It would also be accurate to call Lee “slanty eyed”. Would it be appropriate for someone to criticise for because they don’t like her “slanty eyed look”?

    Using a characteristic as a criticism is not a neutral statement, it attacks both the person criticised and all people sharing that characteristic.

  17. Tom,

    I doubt people will stop using the term just because your PC antenna has got a bit skewed.

    Whenever one finds oneself uncritically using the propaganda terms of one’s political enemies, one needs to take a long hard look at oneself.


  18. Seeing slights where there are none and trying to redefine language to confine debate to parameters you personally find comfortable is a pretty good, non hysterical definition of political correctness Lew.

    I think such posts just make you look silly and detracts from the authority of more sensible stuff, particularly Anita, who a great deal of the time makes a great deal of sense. It seems a pity to blow that with these occasional bits of idiocy.

  19. Tom,

    Seeing slights where there are none

    This is precisely the assertion in Anita’s post and made quite explicit in her post above: shrill is employed as a slight; whether you personally think it is one or not is irrelevant.


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