Do Women Stammer?
It is true that girls, compared to boys, recover from stammering at a much faster rate, because of certain differences in their brains, and the way they use it. So, the 1 to 1 gender ratio of stammering in childhood, becomes 4 men to 1 woman in adult life. This explains the surprised expression: Do women stammer? Or are they just timid, shy? But is there a biological basis to this differential? This is much debated. Here is an excerpt:
“For the first time — and in unambiguous findings — researchers from Northwestern University and the University of Haifa show both that areas of the brain associated with language work harder in girls than in boys during language tasks, and that boys and girls rely on different parts of the brain when performing these tasks…” (link, link1)
Neuroplasticity: Repetitive, attentive practice can physically change the brain! And this capacity of brain to reorganise itself in response to experience, remains with us till death. So, it implies, that whenever we do something new (“challenging”) with focus and feelings, again and again, it changes the electrical circuit in our brain permanently. So stammering may have a neurobiological basis, mediated through genes, we still can change our brain and become proficient at verbal communication. Biggest change will come thru activities which emotionally challenge you, which require attention and which are repeated. Make a list of such activities, stick it to your mirror, and do them 4-5 times every week. Check these resources: Ten Principles of Neuroplasticity, Neuroplasticity and Speech.
Relationships is a big challenge for all of us- whether we stammer or not! Here are some random thoughts:
- Accept that it is a complex area, for everyone. Most people will be awkward.
- There are no clear cut blueprints and most of us have to learn a lot as we go along. So be open to making mistakes and learning.
- We dont want to be judged for our stammering. Give the same courtesy to others. Accept people as they are.
- Set the boundaries early in a relationship. Be clear as to what is acceptable to you or what is not.
- Never think that because you stammer, you have to put up with anything that your dont like. Never think of yourself as “damaged goods”.
- Take all the standard precautions which are recommended at a particular platform: what photos should you share? How much personal details can you safely share in an online forum? etc.
- Be alert to the early signs of emotional abuse and a relationship which is not working out. Dont indulge in self-blame.
- Finally, consider that relationships require lot of investment (time) and commitment. Start when you are ready.
Here are more ideas to be considered: Lovematters
A Case Study
My name is Sushma (changed on request). Mother says I spoke too much till the age of 4. Then, she thinks, I began having difficulties because of the long absence of my father. He was an army man and was posted in J&K. Families were not allowed and so, I did not get to see him for a long long period.
I believed in this theory about the origins of my stammering – till I discovered that one of my uncles, a nephew, and a grandparent also stammered. This uncle of mine was quite intrigued by my speech and probably just wanted to confirm his doubts. So one day, he gave me the newspaper and asked me to read ( -I was about 11 then-), saying: I just want to see how good is your English.
After reading for some time, I raised my head and looked at him: his face had a strange look, of surprise -and confirmation- as if to say: Oh, she too stammers just like me! But of course, as an adult he was good at masking his difficulties.
Growing up, I can not complain of anything because children are not as devious as adults are, I guess. But yes, I remember, whenever these girls from the neighborhood, failed to defeat me in the games, they would start imitating my stammer- broken words and crinkled face, all of that, very unkindly. That really hurt me.
Many times I vowed never to play with them again. But what choice did I have? Family discouraged me from playing with boys (-why I did not understand then). So, I would go back to the same old gang of girls. I am still in touch with one of them- Kalpana! Married and a mother, just like me; she just can not recall having teased me ever! That is how children are! Some children, definitely.
Looking back, I think my choices of friendships or even chance acquaintance was circumscribed narrowly by one question: Will s/he accept me? How would they react when they find out about my stammering, as they must, sooner or later?
Sometime, I will ditch a good relationship for the same fear: Maybe they don’t like my stammer. Maybe they think I am a liability in the team. Maybe they are thinking of ditching me. Maybe I should ditch them before they can.. at least that will help me save my face.
So relationships were always on a roller coaster for me as a girl and later as a young woman. If I was invited out for a tea, I would be so overwhelmed and overreact. I will feel so grateful! And again, if the person did not phone me for two days, I would be so sure that he has noticed my stammering and does not want to talk to me anymore! And I would go ahead and block him, to avoid looking like a loser! My feelings operated on the funny principle of: It is better to dump, then to be dumped!
But on the whole I was lucky in this department,because somehow in a casual relationship, stammering was not considered a big downer. In fact, a male friend used to say- you look so cute when you stammer! No need to say- it used to make me feel so relieved – and good about myself! Whether he was being honest or not, I don’t know, I could not care. But I often wondered which mad man would want to spend his entire life with a stammerer. An evening is one thing, but spending a lifetime with a stammerer is an entirely different proposition, right? That is how my mind reasoned then.
So, when the possibility of marriage loomed up in my life, after finishing M.Com., I was very circumspect. I was very scared. I knew that being a girl, I was expected to be perfect in the marriage market. I decided to say ‘yes’ to the first guy.
Whatever mother said, I simply obeyed (- for the first time in my life-) :
The family is coming to see you, Sushma. Put on that saari and when you bring in snacks, don’t talk. Just smile with eyes cast down.
And I will do so, but often with a horrible feeling of being trampled upon by total strangers.
Finally, I did marry a Bank Manager, whom I have learned to like now. It takes time but I guess, one gets used to the idea. His family has learned about my peculiar bumpy speech and seems to be OK with it now. My mother in law has no issues with it; but occasionally when she gets angry, an oblique reference is made about how my family kept it hidden, and if known, she would have certainly given consideration to the eighth pass, beautiful niece of her distant sister-in-law!
That was in the early years of my marriage. I have a son now – Avi, fortunately. He is eleven. He never had any issues with my funny speech. But my relationship with his father is a peculiar case.
I still feel that he gets uncomfortable, especially when his colleagues visit us. Even before they ask me anything, he jumps in and answers on my behalf, be it about the cooking or the weather. Is he being protective? Protective of whom? Me or his own vanity?
Some years ago, I joined a self-help group. I attended just a couple of sessions in the nearby park. I was surprised that those 8-9 young people discussed stammering openly. They stammered also openly, without averting their gaze or looking apologetic in any other way. I invited my husband too to come with me. But he thinks that this will increase my “problem” (= his problem!). Maybe he was embarrassed to join me? I must have a chat with him about it, no matter, which way the talk goes.
While growing up, I discovered that acting timid, speaking little and adopting this “Shy girl” persona overall, served more purposes than I ever imagined: it reduced the chances of my stammering publicly -like in the classroom; It also kept me in the good books of teachers, elders in the family, and later in the office too, when I began working. Which employer really wants brilliant ideas from their employees, especially women? And if they stammer?
But I am getting fed up of playing this “Devi” role willy nilly, like an all-suffering heroine from “Mother India”!
This change started with a small incident in a Parent Teachers meeting in Avi’s school, some years ago. An older child was eating Avi’s lunch every day. He would come home crying. I told his father. But he was too busy to go to school and sort it out! Finally, I decided to attend the PTA meeting myself. The principal would just not let me speak. Other parents were busy with their own issues about fee hike etc. There was confusion. Finally, I realized that Avi had no one but me, to defend his precious lunch! Something gave way within. I became free of the constant fear of stammering and ridicule.
To hell with, what others think. I must say, what I came to say – I said to myself and I fired everyone- from Principal to class teachers to peon and other parents too, who skimped on their children’s lunch packs! Everyone! Just imagine! By the time I finished I was trembling..
Avi was so proud of me when he heard about it. No one was taking away his lunch now. In fact, the class bully began sharing his own tiffin with Avi!
I am beginning to see that stammering was never a problem. The problem was my own fear of losing this or that, as a consequence of stammering in public. I wanted to have the best of both worlds – and continue playing my victim card! (I guess, this is why women are called wise!!) But no more.
Yes, I must talk to Avi’s father now, no matter what.
(Did you like my story? Leave a comment and tell me at what stage you are in your life now. Have you confronted your fears? Have you come up with a plan of action?)