The Duct Tape of Language Transcript

Megan Figueroa: Hi. Welcome to Vocal Fries podcast. A podcast about linguistic discrimination.

Carrie Gillon: I’m Carrie Gillon.

Megan: And I’m Megan Figueroa. What an episode, Carrie.

Carrie: Yes, this is a good one.

Megan: A crossover that has been talked about on Twitter for a while.

Carrie: Yes. People have been asking for this for a long time.

Megan: A long time and it’s happening.

Carrie: It finally happened. We got to talk about all kinds of things. Language and podcast related.

Megan: A little row at the end because we recorded it like, what? 24 hours after? All that shit.

Carrie: Yes, it was the next day. Before we get to that, we’re going to just talk a little bit about something that’s happening in Canada because why not?

Megan: You’re there.

Carrie: I’m here. It’s language related. Also, one of our listeners, Diego Diaz, sent it to us. Thank you. There’s a bilingualism bonus for federal employees.

Megan: Like financial bonus?

Carrie: Yeah. If you speak both English and French – the two official languages of Canada – you get an extra $800 a year, which isn’t really all that much but whatever. There is now this push to extend it to people who speak an indigenous language and either English or French.

Megan: But because only English and French are the official languages, they’re not going to extend it to speakers of indigenous languages. It’s one of those pieces of information that I want to say makes me speechless only because I’m not surprised. It’s like, I don’t know what to say besides, “This is so expected.”

Carrie: Yes, it is.

Megan: So frustrating.

Carrie: If you know anything about the history of Canada, like the bilingualism piece, Canada has sort of been bilingual the whole time. It’s a way to make peace because the British won this big battle between the British and the French. To keep the peace, they made French sort of like acceptable and also the Catholicism acceptable. But this has always been existing as part of Canada’s history. It’s never been perfect or anything. Then, became actually official in the ’60s, I think. There’s historical reasons for it. There it is. But as part of the truth and reconciliation process, we should be doing more for indigenous people and indigenous languages. This did come up from the union, the Public Service Alliance of Canada. They proposed creating an indigenous language allowance. If you use the language in the course of your work, you should be able to be compensated in some way and get this bonus. There’s apparently 500 or nearly 500 federal employees who speak an indigenous language on the job. This is discriminatory when you’re getting an allowance for one second language but not another.

Megan: I actually think that could be argued in court in the US. I know that’s not the US. But I’m like, “This actually might be a case in the US,” and it’s hard to make cases like this in the US.

Carrie: Yes. But there’s no official language. It’s just a different situation.

Megan: It is. But favoring one language over the other, it violates equal protection under the law and all this. I think there could be a case.

Carrie: But there’s no protection for language. There’s no protection for language in the US.

Megan: You would use it as like national origin or whatever. It’s also tricky. People have gotten around it. It just seems like this is really overt of a case.

Carrie: It’s bad. I don’t know if you heard about it, but our new governor-general is bilingual Inuit English. People were upset that she wasn’t also a French speaker.

Megan: That’s what they’re upset about?

Carrie: Yes. Because, again, in order to keep the peace, we’ve always had to have this like at the top levels of the federal government, some semblance of French and English co-equality. The French are definitely the minority. I feel like if he was a French Inuit bilingual speaker, there’d still be people who’d be upset. But it would feel slightly less fraught because the English is so dominant. I don’t know. French feels delicate and under threat. A part of me understands. But a part of me is also like, “She’s still bilingual, but she’d still count.” Shut the fuck up.

Megan: There’s no chance, right? They were just like-

Carrie: They said no now. I don’t know. You can always try again, right? It’s not like once they say no, it’s over. It’s just a policy.

Megan: No, you’re right. This is like just I’m going to cry. This is like the story of progress, right? It’s like people say, “No.” You’re like, “No, I’m going to try more.” Just a little harder of push next time.

Carrie: People are upset. There’s an NDP, New Democratic Party, member of parliament for Nunavut, Lori Idlout. She speaks Inuktitut, which is one of the many varieties of Inuit. She’s going to continue to try to persuade the treasury board to change this.

Megan: We can all just keep pushing on it. Not just Canada, but Canada definitely needs to do a definitely better job at protecting indigenous people and their languages. I remain ever hopeful.

Carrie: I feel like this was just brought up fairly recently as a thing that could happen. Even though they said no right now, I don’t feel like it’s a no forever. I think this is one of those things that can easily be moved. Especially since the amount is so small. They’re even talking about increasing it to $15,000 a year. But that’s such a tiny drop in the bucket. Even though Canada’s a much smaller budget than United States, it’s still. Anyway, because it’s such a small amount, I feel like it’ll be easier to convince. You might as well just do it. It’s a small thing. A small little thing you can do to be like, “Oh, yeah. Truth and reconciliation really does matter.”

Megan: You’ve been talking about it. I want to see that you mean it.

Carrie: This would be one one thing. It would not be a- There’s so many more things.

Megan: It’s so tiny.

Carrie: It is a tiny thing, but it would still matter.

Megan: But you said 500, right? 500 employees that this would affect?

Carrie: Yeah, or just under 500.

Megan: Do it. Do it Canada. Anyway, I hope everyone enjoys this episode. I think it’s fun.

Carrie: Yes, it’s so much fun. Since they were very excited to have Sarah Marshall on, who is a writer, podcaster, and media critic focused on setting straight our collective memory or at least getting to the bottom of why we believe and in turn define ourselves by popular narrative and myth. Why is the my line woman a staple of our news media? Why do we believe the serial killers are brilliant? How do we keep stumbling into all these Moral Panics? These are some of the questions that Propel Sarah forward. She’s the host of the popular modern history podcast, You’re Wrong About, which has been highlighted in The New Yorker, The Guardian, and Time Magazine. She’s also the co-host of The Feelings podcast about movies. You Are Good with Alex Steed, which has been praised by The Verge and The Bello Collective. Her writing has appeared in The Believer, BuzzFeed, and The True Crime Collection: Unspeakable Acts. She loves Portland, Oregon, Philly, and Las Vegas in that order. It has been rumored that she’s writing a book about the Satanic Panic. So, welcome.

Sarah Marshall: Hi.

Carrie: Thanks for being here. I think you started that rumor, right?

Sarah: I did. I got to get a shorter bio. It’s a lot of information.

Carrie: That’s okay.

Sarah: Listen. If I had all that to say about myself, I’d shout it from the mountain.

Carrie: Actually, I wouldn’t. I’d be very uncomfortable.

Sarah: It would be fun to shout it from a mountain. I should go literally shout something from a mountain. I should let go, climb, do a little hike on Mount Hood, then be like, “I was in Vanity Fair.”

Carrie: Please do.

Sarah: Well, I think that a lot of us could do some shouting off mountains right now and that might be very cathartic.

Carrie: Good for everybody. Something you’re proud of, something you’re angry about, just anything.

Sarah: Can I just say before we get really into it? Congratulations on your beautiful Vocal Fries.

Carrie: Thank you.

Sarah: I don’t think that we say that to each other. That’s beautiful. I’m so excited to be in this beautiful destigmatizing environment with you both.

Carrie: Speaking of destigmatizing, one of the things that you always defend is bimbos Why is it important for you to defend bimbos?

Sarah: Because bimbos need love. Bimbos are human. Bimbos have always been with us however we define them. I think, there’s two things that made me feel like bimbos were clearly very important. One was that 1987, I believe, was branded the year of the bimbo. Because of Fawn Hall, who was tangential to the Iran-Contra scandal. Jessica Hahn, who alleged that Jim Baker had raped her in a horrifying fashion and yet was remembered publicly for having a “tryst.” Donna Rice, who we have the photo up with Gary Hart, that helps torpedo his campaign for president. Thus, allowing George W. Bush to action. In each of these stories, it was like a hot young woman with like big hair and cute sort of business attire, was being seen as like the mastermind of these three stories. Each of which will only involve them tangentially. It was primarily about a powerful man, utterly and elaborately undermining himself and also America. Then also, I believe George Stephanopoulos called meeting to quash stories about Clinton and women when he was running for president. Initially called it, not Bimbo Patrol, but like something like that. It had the word Bimbo in it. I remember reading all this stuff and I was like, “Apparently people in the ’80s and ’90s talked like they were in a strip club owned by Jack Ruby.”

Carrie: I vaguely remember the ’80s and I will say, yes, that’s what it was like.

Sarah: That explains a lot. Everyone was resizing[?] the entire time. That made me realize that our country has blamed bimbos, that bimbos are the sort of witches of the ’80s and ’90s. As well as actual witches, of course. I guess bimbos are so important. There’s also this implication and works by men that like it’s because sort of intrinsically and moral to like, I don’t know. Wear stretch pants and a lot of eyeshadow. That’s just completely insane. That’s why.

Megan: I’m trying to think of who was the woman that was a bimbo in the media when I was coming up? I’m thinking Anna Nicole Smith? Like that would be right. In your estimation, someone who is thought of as a bimbo.

Sarah: Yeah. She was consistently in the media for 15 years. She look like Jayne Mansfield.

Megan: I mean, who is that?

Sarah: She was like a wonderful B movie star of the ’50s.

Megan: She looks exactly like her.

Sarah: Along the Jessica Rabbit blueprint.

Megan: Jessica Rabbit, yeah. [crosstalk] I was thinking of OG bimbos, of Betty Boop, too.

Sarah: I would say so.

Megan: Can you be with dark hair of bimbo?

Sarah: Yes, of course you can. I mean, look at James Bond movies. It’s always like I was watching. I was on a plane recently and I was like, “I’m going to watch GoldenEye.” I never saw that one when I was a tween and I was having my James Bond phase. I was like, “This explains so much about millennial men.” A great many of whom I now believe were like shaped sexually by the Famke Janssen character who’s like the Soviet. She kills with sex.

Carrie: Yes, I have.

Sarah: Who could forget?

Megan: I don’t remember almost anything from any of those movies because they’re so forgettable to me. But, yes. That’s something I will never forget. What’s a topic where I feel like I was wrong about because thinking about on top of so many things. So many. But I was thinking about Monica Lewinsky. She too would be portrayed as a bimbo, right? At least at the time or at least similarly to Donna Rice. I actually googled her and it’s a Daily Beast article that says Donna Rice is sad. My heart really goes out to want to-

Sarah: Oh, Donna. That’s lovely.

Megan: I was like under 10 years old when this was happening. Would she kind of reappear on Twitter? I mean, not that she hasn’t been living her life the entire time. I was like, I just never really gone back and updated my information about Monica Lewinsky. I was thinking about how just the whole How You’re Wrong About just reminds me of how I’m happy to go back and update my information. But so many people are not.

Sarah: It is like so many software updates. I feel like a lot of the cultural debate lately boils down in many ways to people being like, “You’re telling me I should do a software update? I’m not doing that.” It’s like, “I guess just leave your brain plugged in between 2:00 and 3:00 in the morning.”

Megan: That’s usually what we want to talk to you about. It’s like, why are people refusing to do these software updates? Especially, when the information comes from women. Like us, like you. For example on Twitter, you said, “Your regular say that Vocal Fry is code for a woman is talking and I don’t like it. Then, Alec Baldwin built his entire post 2,000 career on having vocal fry.” You know I’m right. Then finally, if we’re going to use the term at all, it needs to be applied to men who do it. I have never in my life seen this occur. At this point, it seems to me like a component of nearly every human voice in existence. But it’s only weaponized or even mentioned re-women. First of all, that’s our first episode encapsulated in three tweets. So like, yes. But every time we try to talk about vocal fry, we always get pushed back. Like, “No, it’s terrible. Oh, no. I also hated men.” Like they have never brought it up before, but of course, they claim that. Why is it that people are ignoring this software update of, “Hey, maybe vocal fry isn’t what you think it is. Maybe you should just stop worrying about it.”

Sarah: I do have a question about, because I saw so much pushback on the Alec Baldwin thing that I was like, “Does he have vocal fry or people just reflexively angry about this or do they have a point?” Do you think she does? I know they’re lying pilots, too. What we have here is a characteristic of speech that when men do it, i.e. Jack Donaghey, i.e. your pilot saying, “We’re about to make our final descent into the Denver metro area.” That makes them seem trustworthy and like they have gravitas because they’re like more masculine and we’re into it. When women do it, specifically in my understanding and this is a very poppy understanding so I would love to hear you correct me or bring me the nuance I need.

But my understanding is that we started talking about this suddenly like 15 years ago. It’s something that you see a lot in the voices of millennial women and often like to a significant extent. The argument there and the argument that has been made to me by many e-mailers. Some of them are older women, which is to me the most heartbreaking of all, because I don’t give a fuck what men think, is when you have vocal fry or when you use the word, lie, I get feedback about these to equal extents. No one will listen to you if you talk like that. You need to speak better and then people will listen to you. I’m like, “Thanks. I think people are listening to me.”

Carrie: It really is delivered with a benevolent ant’s wisdom or something.

Sarah: That’s the worst part. It’s basically like, there’s this unspoken belief being expressed, I think of listen, this is a situation. I had to alter the way I speak and present myself in order for my boss’s men, the people who pull the strings, etc. to take me seriously. Because I needed to prove that I wasn’t too much of a woman for people to believe me and listen to me and you need to do that too. I’m not saying I feel personally oppressed by this, but this is how oppression replicates itself by basically they like this. Essentially, I wouldn’t say positively motivated because the outcome and the thinking here is so negative in a general way. But it’s like, out of a sense of like, “No. Listen, this is the only way things can be. I have to tell you what to do.” That this information gets passed on. What’s so infuriating about it is it’s just like, it’s a total tautology. It’s like, why do speaking with vocal fry or saying like or using uptalk make you sound unintelligent and uneducated and unbelievable and annoying? Well, it’s because that’s how girls talk and girls are annoying and uneducated and unintelligent. We shouldn’t listen to them.

Carrie: It’s a trap. So, the interesting thing is that originally the very first time that anyone ever talked about what is called vocal fry by linguist called Creek, was in the ’30s. It was noted of upper class British men. It’s like this signifier of high status. That was what the way it was written about for first. Then, fast forward to around 2011. This study came out where they studied the voices of college-age women and college-age men. But they didn’t use any of the data from the men. They only looked at the women’s data and said, “Hey, look. They’re using vocal fry.” That study started this whole thing. People started to panic. “Oh no, women are using vocal fry.” So are the men.

But no one was picking up on it or caring. It just became this weird Moral Panic. “We’ve got it. We’ve got to stop the young women from using this.” Even though men were using it. Older men, young older women too. Yes, I would say millennial women use it quantitatively more. But like that’s not an on-off switch and people are still using it across the board, as you said. It’s actually not a feature, a particularly strong feature of women’s voices. It’s a little bit stronger in younger women than younger men, but not that much. The fact that we’re picking up on it, it’s only because we’re women that were even noticing it.

Sarah: I actually just read a study that came out in 2020 that did a like a literature review of all the studies that say like, “We’re going to look at varieties of English and see who really uses vocal fry more.” They could only find 10 studies that met their criteria. People aren’t even looking at this. We don’t even have data that is saying that women are using it more. We have sociolinguist and linguists have some idea of thinking about group effects. Millennial women fitting in with other millennial women and all this stuff. I’m probably using it little bit more. They’re things that could affect us. We don’t even have the research that’s been done that saying that women are using this more.

Carrie: And yet, that’s what we did. We just sort of like, “The women are doing something!” As if to like blame us for like on equal pay and salary disparities. They’re like, “We need to really figure out why women are getting paid less and it’s probably of vocal fry.”

Sarah: We would pay you the same amount if you weren’t so annoying.

Carrie: Exactly. We also have an episode about like, when we talked to Dr. and Alex D’Arcy about it. She sent this whole huge book on it, 800 Years of Like. She does show that men and women use like differently. There are some uses of like that basically only women use. There is a difference. We can actually in this case say, “Women are using like differently.”

Sarah: What are the likes that only women use?

Carrie: I think it’s the, is it the quoted ever known? It’s not the quoted of. I’m going to have to look this up, but it’s so cool. Like you think about like and I’m like, “Why would people be so dickish about it when it’s such a cool word?” Look at all the things it’s doing. It’s bunch of things.

Sarah: It’s like the duct tape of speech. It’s a word that can have. I mean, I’m sure you have like actual numbers on this. But I feel like it has about 10 uses of the word like.

Carrie: The one that women tend to use more than men is whatever, talk to her, you know, like, I get nervous. Those kind of cases. You just called a discourse marker but like what does that mean?

Sarah: Discourse marker. I love that. That sounds like a beer. The new like that’s sweeping the nation. Discourse marker.

Carrie: But then, the one that menus slightly more than women is the, “What’s called the discourse particle?” I know. I’m sorry. It was like boots we wore.

Sarah: Discourse particle. That’s an oatmeal stound, of course.

Carrie: It’s funny you say that because there is actually a brewery in Denver called [inaudible] and they have a linguist. Something called linguistics.

Sarah: Linguists need an IPA. They’re thinking hard. They need to cool down their hot brains.

Carrie: Yes, we really do. My brain is so hot. Thank you for noticing. Women’s use of like gets picked on. Men’s use of like doesn’t get picked on as much. What is this all coming down to? It’s pure sexism. Sexism has nothing to do with anything real in the world like you were saying, like it’s a tautology. Like these women who are trying to give you that this benevolent advice. They’re like, “Oh, that’s just the way the world is and you got to work with it.” In some in some ways, I can sort of understand it especially if they’re like boomer women. Like when they were coming up, like holy shit. The sexism they have to deal with was beyond. But I also still don’t understand it because like, “Okay, but you don’t have to accept it anymore.” We can try harder for a better thing where maybe we should just stop paying attention to the way that women talk. We just, that’s not allowed. Just stop it.

Sarah: I mean, I think any time you’re finding reasons to disqualify what somebody is saying because you’re like, “Ah, I don’t like the way they talk. It makes me think they’re stupid.” It’s like, “Okay. Maybe that’s about you and you need to think about that.”

Carrie: Well, do you feel like this- I mean, because like you said, you’re getting these e-mails. Do you think that this is a particular thing that people don’t want to let go of or update their information?

Sarah: I think that vocal fry functions effectively like a speeding ticket, where it’s like almost literally everyone does that. It’s kind of nice when you want to be like, “I don’t like listening to you because of this thing you do that everyone else does.” It’s a way of just being like, because I’ve gotten that kind of negative review a lot too. I get that there are some people who just like genuinely can’t handle certain aspects of speech. So like, those people exist but not in the numbers I’m seeing. What I tend to see is like, “I can’t stand listening to your show because your voice has vocal fry and it’s so grating.” It’s like, “I feel like my voice is like equally grating to anyone else’s voice.”

Like maybe, I don’t know. It’s hard to say. But I think the point is that most people involve some amount of vocal fry. And then, of course, also for women, there’s a damned if you do damned if you don’t component. Because I think, anecdotally, I suspect a lot of women maybe lean on it more than is natural to them because they have been trained to keep their voice in a lower register, because they’ve been told that no one wants to hear them talking their annoying high voice, which I have certainly gotten that feedback as well.

Carrie: Exactly. It is exactly that. We’re told to not use baby talk. But we also can’t use vocal fry. There’s like this tiny band in the middle which might be acceptable. But how can you actually get there? I actually, a couple of years ago, tried to find examples from pop culture of women not using vocal fry and it took me- I mean, it wasn’t like completely systematic. But it took me until cheers. Diane does not seem to have any vocal fry.

Sarah: Diane speaks like a theatrical actress all the time.

Carrie: No one talks like her. Unlike the other female characters on the show did.

Sarah: Because Carla doesn’t have time to avoid vocal fry all day long. She has excuse or whatever. Rebecca, I mean, you might look at Rebecca.

Megan: I feel like a broken record when I bring up Ira Glass. But he even like said that he doesn’t get the emails that you get. Carrie and I have been kind of exempt from this because our show is called Vocal Fries. We’ve said like, “Don’t be a fucking asshole about this thing.” Other than that, I know every single woman that’s a podcast host has dealt with us.

Sarah: If it’s not vocal fry, it’s something else. I feel like there’s just always going to be some contingent of people being like, “Ah, I can’t stand your voice. I cannot physically listen to your show.” I think this is also a symptom of people not feeling comfortable of just saying they don’t like something. Nobody wants to say like, “I don’t enjoy Iron Man.” They have to be like, “The Marvel movies are destroying cinema.” It’s like, “Okay, whatever.” It’s like, it’s not because I don’t like your show which is fine. I don’t want to make a show everyone likes, that would be impossible. The closer you got to it, the worse it would be. But also, it’s really funny to me that people feel the need to be like, “My body rejected your show.”

Carrie: This is what I don’t understand. There are voices I do not like to listen to and I won’t listen to those podcasts. But I don’t tell them that. Why do you feel that you need to have this information that I cannot listen to your voice? It doesn’t matter. Go listen to something else.

Sarah: It’s so true. It’s just like, if I eat something that I hate, I don’t like call the manufacturer.

Carrie: I mean, if there’s something in the bag that was dangerous, it’d be the only way that I would even remotely think about doing it.

Sarah: But if I’m like, “This is too salty.” I’m not like, “Your chips are so dangerously salty that my body couldn’t stand having them inside of it.”

Carrie: It triggered a true visceral reaction and I just need you to know that.

Sarah: Just speaking about it in these terms, I grew up with a dad who was just constantly finding things about my voice to explain why he was physically incapable of listening to me say anything. I do take this personally because this is not just something that happens in the public sphere or in a person’s relationship with their audience. This is something that I know, from personal experiences, used to silence girls and women and anybody with a voice who people deem unlistenable to for whatever reason. They feel like that this is something that happens in the personal sphere as well.

Carrie: That’s way more toxic, for sure. The public have that kind of gives permission to people to do it in their private lives as well.

Sarah: Because I mean, it can be like, “You’re never going to be a weather person with that voice.”

Megan: Well, I was told in my Ph.D. program that if I didn’t get rid of my vocal fry, I was going to be taken seriously at conferences or duty talks. This is from a linguist.

Carrie: He really should have known that. You really should have known better.

Megan: Thinking about all of this that’s like at work, do you feel that your expertise has been ignored in some way? Can you like untangle it from people saying things like, “I can’t listen to you”?

Sarah: I’m very entitled about my work. I feel like if people don’t get it, my attitude is just like, “Okay, fuck off. Go do something you enjoy.” When I was in academia, I feel like this was my first exposure to this world which I think was very helpful because that is effectively very similar. I was in English departments and consistently was aware of the fact that the men in my cohort felt their opinions to be somehow intrinsically more serious than whatever women were talking about. Not all the men. Not even necessarily most of them. But like enough men, that it was a real pattern and also why, looking back at my mentors, I only worked closely with women. I never had a male professor who I worked closely whether who mentored me really. I wasn’t aggressively choosing that for myself.

It was just what made sense and that was also a case of really thoroughly advised and appreciated as serious by the mentors that I had, which I think who always wanted to talk about pop culture and tabloids and scandals of the 90s, and to connect to that. To like captivity narratives, or the declaration of independence. I consistently had professors who were like, “Yes, of course. Reality TV is like the declaration of independence. But now, tell me why in a seminar paper.” I think people may be from outside imagine that I could be me as sort of more advanced with regards to like passive aggressiveness in gender. But I remember my experience of men in humanities academia being that they were like still very stressed by the idea that all these women had all these opinions. I think we’re finding ways to kind of consistently just deny that they were serious enough to like admit into the conversation in their heads.

Megan: I agree. I’m thinking about how like any sort of reference to pop culture is somehow then like me like a woman’s topic as if it’s not serious. It’s like so infuriating when pop culture is a reflection of everything that is going on in our societies. It’s really playing out right now.

Sarah: I mean, look at what happened to people who didn’t think it was important to study reality TV. We just had a reality TV presidency and people were caught by surprise, because they’re like, “Nothing so unserious could possibly take place. Not in the White House.”

Megan: That overrides with Tila Tequila, do you remember? Tila Tequila and how she became a Nazi?

Sarah: She sure did.

Megan: It’s like, why are we surprised by this? This is just another person in our country. Like, of course, this could happen. Of course, she could have Nazi sympathy. It’s like, look at our country.

Sarah: Look at how many Nazis there are. It’s a numbers game. But it’s like, you have this many Nazis in this world as reality TV stars. There’s going to be some overlap.

Megan: There is. It’s true. Then we call it guilty pleasure, right? Or some people do. I’ve stopped using that.

Sarah: Yeah, it’s weird language.

Megan: I know I never watched The Apprentice. In retrospect, I kind of wish I had so that I could actually understand what the appeal of Trump was. Because I still don’t get it. Well, he talk voices that annoy me. It’s his. It’s like stabbing me in the ear drum.

Sarah: But like ornately with different little stubby tools. I effectively stopped listening to NPR during his presidency because I was like, “They’re going to have to play him talking like about every 20 minutes and I just don’t want him in my kitchen. Like, that’s how he wins.”

Carrie: Yeah, that’s true.

Megan: Absolutely. I’m right there with you. I stopped listening to NPR like on my drive. It’s like, he’s the president. They’re going to have to take clips of [crosstalk]. I can’t do it.

Carrie: It’s interesting that like, there’s lots of things that people made fun of him for. But his voice was not one of them.

Sarah: That is funny because his voice is like…

Carrie: Really strange.

Sarah: It’s really strange. I always really enjoyed and continue to enjoy a Seth Meyers impression of Trump. But it doesn’t really sound like Trump is more like a sort of like adult Cartman.


Megan: That’s real. People probably don’t tell you this enough just because you should hear it every second, you’re really good at metaphor.

Sarah: Thank you. That was what I was known for in grad school. It’s like, “Oops, Sarah’s doing a metaphor again. Here’s the windup and the pitch and the second pitch.”

Megan: But with Seth Meyers impression too, he does talk about how Trump often speaks very loudly. The other thing that the left-leaning people would make fun of Trump is that he doesn’t even speak English properly. We’ve talked about this on the show that I really hate when people say that, because who that ends up hurting our people that are people like my dad who speak Spanish first and foremost, or people that have an accent that people have decided is not as- talking about like when women are said to be less competent with vocal fry than people with Spanish influenced English are said to be less competent and salary and wages also reflect that. These kind of things are playing out. When people say Trump doesn’t speak English properly, that kind of message hurts everyone else and not him.

Sarah: I mean, really like anything about his appearance as sort of or just anything about sort of the way you experience him physically kind of distracts from the main criticism, which is that he’s a fascist with no conscience and no understanding of the sanctity of human life I would say. That’s like the main thing.

Megan: We should just call him a fascist every day.

Sarah: That’s right. I mean like, who cares if he’s orange? Many wonderful people are orange. But he’s a fascist. That’s what he has going for him.

Megan: Exactly. One of the things that you’d like to talk about is Moral Panics including the Satanic Panic.

Sarah: I do.

Megan: And so, I assume that you think we’re going through a Moral Panic right now. Is that correct?

Sarah: Yeah.

Megan: So you can sort of see the signs of of them? Maybe you can talk a little bit about like what Moral Panic are going through right now with the signs are? And then I’m going to ask you like if that’s frustrating that you can see it coming and it’s like not stopping it?

Sarah: Well. I mean, in a way but also I think that we’re all kind of suffering from the feeling at this point, that we have to consume all of the news and then it’s just like, “Oh my God. Fuck. Oh my God. There’s like 85 disasters.” It’s a very low estimate. “There’s 85 gigantic disasters happening in this country at any given second,” and which do I focus on, which do like- At this point, you could throw all of your energy into trying to change gun laws or into trying to make abortion accessible and you can just use all of your life force on that and be totally justified, or you could like somehow find a way to watch Ted Lasso and make biscuits and gravy and also care about stuff.

But this thing where it’s like, “Oh my God. This thing is happening. It’s so obvious. How can we stop it?” It’s like, “Yeah. There’s a lot of obvious disasters happening all around and we guessed at this point apparently.” This is one of the functions of having media the way that we do. We have to learn how to take in information. But also not feel obligated to take in all the information available to us, because there was a time when you can actually do that, which is insane. In my mother’s life time, in many people’s life time, there were three channels that anyone could get or for once there was PBS and you could watch all the news on all the channels. Recently, you can do that. Now, you really can’t. A lot of the news is lying. Speaking of Moral Panics, QAnon I think is basically the dragon of the Satanic Panic. Like, there’s a tiny little snooze like Pennywise.

He was just like, “I want go on my lair and have a little disco nap and then I’m going to wake up around 2016 and I’m going to slither out and start biting off kids arms.” It’s just like, I saw that. A lot of people saw that. A lot of people understood way before me that it never really went away. He was just napping. I think looking at especially, like, not just QAnon. But now the Moral Panic. Panic doesn’t quite describe this because this is so systematic and so calculated. But the Moral Panic and the war on queer people and trans people and trans kids in America, that is something that I think is adopting the mantle of fighting Satan because that’s always a good one. It always works. It’s just about who you want to take down at that time.

Megan: I’ve always struggled with the understanding, like, how do people get sucked into Satanic Panic in particular? Because I just, I guess, because I was never brought up with a religion. I just don’t have an understanding of what Satan even is. It just doesn’t fit into my world view. Always just like, “What? How do these people really?” I mean, I don’t believe in God so why would I believe in Satan?

Sarah: No, of course.

Megan: It’s just like, what about like Dante’s Inferno? I don’t understand what that thing is or in literature or whatever. But like to actually believe that that thing exists and is actually even maybe eviler than Dante’s Inferno? I don’t know. Anyway, I just always get it. I guess, somehow. How do people slide into this? But I understand there’s like a belief system that’s huge belief system that goes along with it. But anyway, so like the trans-panic. You’re right. It’s not even a panic. It is also, like it’s just very calculated. Does that mean that you think that like the regular Satanic Panic was not calculated? It was like real, like people really believed?

Sarah: Well, yeah. I mean, the word panic at least suggest some of like a lack of calculation on most people’s parts. It’s just it’s there in the language I think. I mean, I do… Well, it’s hard to say because these are both things that also are part of the sort of sustained Christian culture war in America. What’s was funny to me too is that we have this imaginary conspiracy that so much time and energy and really imprison so many people and yet, there was like a real, like, what’s the word I’m looking for? There was a real kind of just operating in plain sight on ashamed of itself conspiracy happening sort of in the fundamentalist movement in America that was basically like, “Okay, we’re going to have these kids in the ’80s. We’re going to home school them. This is going to be the first homeschool generation. We’re going to raise them in our own culture. We’re going to make our own colleges so that they can become lawyers and they can change the laws. We’re going to get our guys into the White House. We’re going to a mass financial resources and make our kids really smart and send them off to help make the nation more Christian.”

We can see that they have been very successful in doing that. All the time that this was happening, they were like, “And you know who we’re fighting? Satan himself because when these women-” they kind of a rare canary theory of the early ’80s. It was like, “Well, these women are going into the workplace in droves. They’re putting their children in daycare centers. Did you know that Satanists have infiltrated daycare centers across the nation because it behooves them to not just to molest your children, but to ritually abuse them for Satan and to make them take part in elaborate Satanic ritual and sacrifice animals and sacrifice babies. All this is happening because women are going back to work.”

Megan: Well, this reminds me of The West Memphis Three, which is just in the news again because the judge denied retesting evidence. But I actually had never seen the documentary Paradise Lost.

Sarah: Oh, really?

Megan: Until like a couple weeks ago, because I was inspired by Stranger Things because they were saying like this new character, Eddie Munson, and the storyline of this Hellfire group who plays Dungeons & Dragons, which is actually part of the Satanic Panic because there were people saying, like, “Dungeons & Dragons is like a gateway to, you know.” So, this is in Stranger Things. I was like, “Okay, finally I need to watch Paradise Lost and Damien Echols and this whole thing.” I was just taken aback by, I guess it was with the stepfather and one of the kids that was murdered. How he talked about like fire and brimstone. I just like, really wondered, “This is fake, right? This is beyond anything I can comprehend. Does a person thinking these things?” But it was right at the time that it would make sense just like…

Sarah: What was fake?

Megan: Just the way he talked about. Like The West Memphis Three, and kind of how their Satan’s arms or whatever. Doing the work of Satan.

Sarah: I mean, what I always remember about that documentary is the part where the prosecutor points at Damien Echols and says, “There is not a soul in that boy’s body.” I remember watching that when I was like 23, 24. Just thinking like, “Wait, are you allowed to say that? Can you say that in a trial? Because obviously, it’s not about evidence. It’s not about the law. It’s about can you accuse the defendant of of having no soul?” Which is a reasonable thing to be amazed by. But also it’s like, “God, you lived in this country for long enough. You should probably know that that’s like most of what happens in trials.”

Megan: It is. Well, in other language like the judge saying like, “You’re being saved from the death penalty but God will take care of you in the end,” or something. All these very religious language by the judges.

Sarah: It’s like let’s not pass the buck. Let’s not make everything God’s job. God is busy. God is like depresso about the coral reefs. We have to do some stuff ourselves right now.

Megan: I’ve been thinking on this topic about how women are ignored and their expertise is ignored. I always think about Rebecca Solnit explained things to me and the idea mansplaining. Are there any particularly egregious instances a mansplaining that happened to you?

Sarah: I haven’t really gotten out of the house much in the past couple years. I guess think of that as kind of my first experiences with men. Someone I was talking to yesterday said something amazing about this that comes to mind. I was talking to Lara Bazelon, who’s a writer and lawyer, and she said, “Men think that it’s a zero sum game and we’re the zero.”

Carrie: I never quite thought about it like that. That’s good, I think.

Sarah: If we’re going to got down to like, “Okay, why is that going on?” Or if people are like, “Why would that be. Explain that to me. What’s the motivation there?” I think the motivation is that like we live in a culture that from birth and many instances. Maybe it’s overt. Maybe it’s insidious. Maybe there’s just a little bit of it. Maybe it’s a huge presence and you’re coming of age. But in this culture, I think it’s extremely difficult, if not impossible, to avoid the concept that women are intrinsically lesser than men. That for a woman to be able to do something, means that it’s embarrassing for a man to not be able to do it better. Unless it’s something stupid like baking but not cooking, which men invented in 1975.

Megan: Because Guy Fieri does it.

Sarah: There you go. man.

Megan: Men do it. This is a man’s thing.

Carrie: I mean, it was a man’s thing before Guy Fieri because like all the famous French chefs. Dudes.

Megan: Yeah. I can’t even imagine trying to be a chef. I mean, my God. You’re just like, you’re being condescended too and you’re surrounded by sharp knives that it’s like I can’t believe there isn’t more crime in there.

Sarah: I feel like I would have like hurt somebody if I’d been in that. I’m not a violent person. But that’s just a bad situation.

Megan: Long hours. Surreal kind of worrying low-grade, kind of sanction that goes on and on and on.

Sarah: It would kill me.

Megan: What do you find most frustrating about being a woman in podcasting?

Sarah: I really love it. I guess that maybe there is a greater expectation of parasociality for women or a greater quantity of sort of randoes on social media, who feel the need to tell you how to do your job. But I have been trying to reduce my exposure to that noise because I think at this point, the same with feeling the need to consume all the news and that being physically impossible, many of us are being offered if we choose to take it like more feedback about ourselves than we could possibly even read or make sense of or process. It falls to us at this point to be like, “I know that’s available to me but I’m choosing to limit what I’m trying to take in, which is hard to do.” I still feel like if technology allows it, I should do it.

But in terms of actually making the show and working with guests, the team that I work with in the everyday have said that, “Yeah, there’s no disadvantages.” I’ll also say that when I was doing freelance journalism and I was interviewing people, I think that like a lot of interview subjects if they’re talking to a woman, they let their guard down in a way that I imagine they don’t with other men. I’m talking about male subjects obviously. I think their presumption is like, “Unless this person is interrupting me and vocally disagreeing with me, I think she must be like kind of on board for what I’m saying and I’m just going to keep saying weirder and weirder stuff.”

Megan: I’m sure you’re right about that. I mean, I’m not a journalist so I’ve never really encountered it. But I believe it. I can just imagine someone pulling out stuff from musk.

Carrie: They’re not competing for the floor in the same way if it were a man that they’re talking to because they’re like, “We’re like to just keep going.” Probably thinking they don’t have to keep the floor the same way or fight to speak, so they just keep going.

Sarah: I do have a theory that like, women tend to be more succinct answers because we’re conscious of the fact that everyone wants to interrupt us. It’s like, “Oh, yeah. Just real quick there. I’m just going to make my point.” Another thing I want to say to you is that I think I’m able to give that answer because I work for myself, right? Like, I’m the boss. I have a producer who I love, Carolyn Kendrick, and make me choose decisions about stuff. I work with my team about it. But at the end of the day, if I think something is interesting and I’m passionate about something and it’s important to me to talk about it, we’re going to talk about it. That is at the end of many, many years of having to try and pick stories to various publications that had infrastructures, where in many areas men were turning the key.

We’re kind of doing their work with the idea of like, “This is our audience. We have to, you know. There’s a certain kind of parameter for what makes an interesting story.” That was an area where I had such a wealth of stories that I wanted to talk about when we started doing You’re Wrong About because I was like, “Nobody wants to let me write anything about how we might have been horrible to Amy Fisher, 20 years ago.” Because the question was always like, “But is there like new information about Amy Fisher? Can we talk to her?” I was like, “No. I just think it’s like worth talking about,” and sort of general format this idea of like, “Boy, what could we revisit where we did a terrible job, specifically, as media?” That was always clearly that’s interesting to people. But the question of like, “Who do we imagine it to be interesting to?” is operating at a lot of places that you might try to work as somebody who’s doing this kind of thinking. So, the fact that I get to decide what’s interesting enough and I’m not catering to somebody who thinks that frivolous gorilla topics are not worth expanding this kind of effort on, like, that’s what allows me to give that answer.

Megan: What I’m thinking about how I said earlier that I was able to update my information on Monica Lewinsky. But it’s like, does there have to be some breaking news about Monica Lewinsky for us to just kind of go think about how we treated her and how bad it was like? How badly we treated her? Or how badly we’re treating Amber Heard right now.

Sarah: The volcano needs another body.

Carrie: But that infuriates me, just watching people tear her apart makes me so angry. I’m like, “I thought we were better than this?” We’re not. Obviously, we’re not.

Megan: Related because misogyny, how are you doing with the whole room thing?

Sarah: I mean, what I’m saying to myself that this is not a sprint. This is an ultra marathon and it’s already been going on since 1992. That’s kind of my date because that’s when Casey happened. I mean, I think that there’s like a vast well of sadness that I have not led in yet because we’re having this conversation the day after. I think that there’s a certain amount of processing that we’re all going to do in our own way, if this matters to us. If it doesn’t matter to you, then I assume you’re a house cat who knows what I’m saying. I’m horrified and furious and connecting this to the misogyny trend of this whole conversation and so many conversations that you have and that I have on the shows that we do. I mean, it’s just proof that like effectively women don’t exist because this idea of like- it’s proof of just you’re not a person.

You’re either someone who could become pregnant. Someone who will be able to become pregnant someday. Someone who is capable of becoming pregnant. Someone who is pregnant or someone who was pregnant once. Then, I guess that leaves out any other form of femininity which I guess it hasn’t been considered by the people making these roles. You’re just sort of a space to be developed upon the baby production arm. It’s because to me, it’s the most obvious and straightforward way to harm people, kill people, deprive them of human rights. I know that we have been systematically working toward this point for so long.

Yet, it’s still like there’s a part of me that’s like, “Be calm. We will keep figuring this out. People are going to rise up and do good work all over the country and we’re at the start of a long fight. We need to conserve energy and be calm and keep figuring it out and keep being strategic.” The other part of me is like, “Yeah, that’s true.” But also like, “This is a good moment to scream into the void.” Just for like a minute. I guess to take a minute when we need to because this is like, I don’t know, to not recognize just the overt. Honestly, it’s an act of war. It doesn’t matter that it’s legal. That’s what it is.

Megan: This is definitely one of those moments where a mountain top would be nice to shout it off.

Sarah: Or just like, flip over our laundry basket and stand on that if mountains aren’t available. It’s something.

Megan: As I was seeing off Micah, I’m living in Canada so it doesn’t directly affect me yet but of course I think it’s just part of a long war that’s going to spread.

Carrie: I was surprised myself as I was going to work, I actually cried. I didn’t expect that because I’m like, “Well, I’m not living in the States anymore. Surely, it’s not going to affect me as much.” But no, it really did. It’s horrifying. It’s reducing us to baby makers, which they’re not my thing. Never been my thing. Even when women who want to have children, people who want to have children, don’t necessarily want to do. They’re only known for that. They have other identities.

Megan: Talking about expertise. It could be men that are saying these things, but it doesn’t matter because changing how you feel about this, giving up on your misogyny. I think that’s a more powerful force than listening to other men.

Sarah: I think it’s a lot more powerful than we’ve even realized until the last few years. At least me, not more powerful than even I realized until a few years ago.

Carrie: I think that’s what we called the ‘a lot to process era’ in the history books. It’s just like once there was a time when shit did not stop happening and nobody got a break. He would sit down to have a cup of tea and a cookie. Then, he would look up and realize that the moon was on fire. You’re like, “How did that happen?”

Megan: This is indeed very heavy.

Carrie: What is like a dream topic or something for you about maybe even one that’s impossible? I don’t even know how that would be, but…

Sarah: That’s a good question. This is not exactly a You’re Wrong About topic but that’s why it makes it appealing. It’s like something that doesn’t quite work practically as a show idea, but it’s maybe something I have become enamored with The I Hate to Cook Book. Do you know this book? It came out on 1961. Maybe 1960. It’s by Peg Bracken who actually worked in advertising here in Portland with Homer Groening. Matt Groening is his father. But she also was a mother and a wife. So she had to cook for her family. She and her friends, they pooled their recipes that they use that many of which involved canned condensed soup and made The I Hate to Cook Book which are all things that you can make like fairly easily and aren’t super involved.

They’re just like recipes that you can do if you just have to feed your family three times a day forever and ever. It’s funny and it’s wonderful and it’s got kind of insight into what the world was like in that moment. I love Julia Child with all my heart, but I’ve become increasingly annoyed with the sort of like binary we’ve seen in Julia Child related media of like, “Before Julia Child taught American women how to cook, nobody knew how to do anything at all and we all just sat down and soap sandwiches. One soap between two sponges. That’s what we did.” It’s like, “No. People like processed food.” We’ve taken this too far in many ways for sure but like it exist partly because people are overworked and tired and women have to do everything. I think there’s too much maligning of condensed soup as an ingredient. You don’t have to have it if you don’t want it.

Carrie: Well, I actually think that you could do an episode on that.

Sarah: Yeah. I guess I would want to like make some of the recipes and then I could. I have bought some condensed soup for the purpose of making them. So, I’m excited about that.

Megan: Yeah, I think you should do it. Definitely.

Sarah: That’s just nice. I’m glad this is interesting to you guys.

Megan: Yeah, absolutely. I can’t wait to listen to your I Hate to Cook Book episode.

Sarah: Me, too. This is a great vote of confidence. This was so fun. I know that [crosstalk].

Carrie: This was a lot of fun.

Sarah: The mark but like it’s good to do that every so often if you can talk to funny people while doing it.

Megan: Yes, thank you for being, like, I feel like our show would be so depressing if it weren’t for talking to really interesting and funny people. I think it kind of depressing.

Carrie: Our interests are usually just the two of us talking about some horrible thing about language and this is like, it’s good to have the guests talk about more fun things even if it’s also hard.

Sarah: The language stuff is fascinating and because it’s like, I loved this. This was and I’m so happy that you’re doing the show.

Megan: Thank you. Well, and we are so happy that you’re doing your shows. I’ve been listening to Your Wrong About for, I don’t know, a long time. Before the pandemic, anyways.

Sarah: That’s like listening to The Shins before Garden State.

Megan: Exactly. I’m such a hipster. Anyway, we always leave our listeners with one final message. Don’t be an asshole.


Megan: The Vocal Fries podcast is produced by me, Carrie Gillon, for halftone audio. The music by Nick Grano. You can find us on Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram @vocalfriespod. You can email us at and our website is


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