I’ve spent many frustrated minutes looking for episodes of Jeopardy! online, but really, who hasn’t? When I noticed this article popping up on my Twitter feed, I knew it would be a perfect way to get my new blog started. It’s the intersection of two of my favorite things: gender and Jeopardy!
The article, “Gender in Jeopardy! Intonation Variation on a Television Game Show,” was first published in Gender and Society in February 2013 by Thomas J Linneman, and has been picked up by a few news outlets.
Linneman’s article is about uptalk and its prevalence and variation in Jeopardy! Uptalk is a speech pattern that generally conveys uncertainty in speech by adding a rising inflection at the end of a sentence, suggesting a question. The use of uptalk, although debated, is more often used by those in subordinate positions.
Linneman found that men used uptalk 27% of the time when they had a correct response, and 57% when they had an incorrect response. For women, the numbers were 48% and 76%, respectively.
Success in Jeopardy! Is tied to either being a returning champion, or simply being ahead at a particular moment during the show. Linneman found that women with greater Jeopardy! success used uptalk more than their less successful female counterparts. For men, the opposite was true.
Linneman’s findings reinforce the gender performance expectations that discourage women’s success. Women, when they are successful, are viewed as unfeminine, and this research suggests that uptalk is a way to downplay the disparity between femininity and success. By creating a persona of uncertainty, women are able to gain success with a lower risk of tarnishing their gender performance.
Next time you watch Jeopardy!, pay attention to how women and men handle their success differently.