Speak low: Pitch and feminine vocal tics

Hey Dad,

Remember that car trip where we all discussed the phenomenon of vocal fry? You know, when a woman’s voice drops to a sort of growl at the ends of words? Remember how I mentioned an article I’d read that said college women tend to use vocal fry (subconsciously) far more than older women?

That article, and conversation, made me very conscious of my own voice, and how it could communicate traditionally feminine or masculine traits. I was just starting college, and suddenly, I was hearing vocal fry everywhere. Even I was using it. And I also was working as a barista at a cafe, where I learned to speak in a higher, lighter, more girlish tone to put the older male customers at ease and make them welcome.

Over the last five years, I’ve become conscious of how I instinctually change my voice based on situation. When asserting authority or speaking up for myself, my voice drops. When I’m calling people to confirm dinner reservations at the restaurant, my voice is higher, more melodic.

Yesterday, I visited a radio station for an interview (so exciting!). As the host introduced me and then welcomed me, I thanked her before realizing I was in my warm telephone voice. I thought about how much better it would be to speak more deeply about the issue of feminism. As the interview continued, I noticed how my voice fell. (Check it out here. I talk a lot about the blog and our relationship.)

A vintage photo of a man and woman sitting across from each other with a microphone in the center. The man is talking and pointing at the woman. The woman is sitting, arms crossed, smiling and looking above his head.

This isn’t to say that one voice is better than another, or that changing voices is manipulative. Many women change their voice without realizing it based on situation. I’m guessing men might too.

I do want to point out, though, that we give more authority to male voices, and so women adapt and adopt traits traditionally thought of as male. Though vocal fry has been written off by an older generation as “annoying,” it signals a career woman to my peers. We have learned that lowering our voices grants us more weight in discussions, asserts our place at the table.

Love,

Victoria

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