Monday, October 20, 2014

A Different Womanly Voice

Everyone knows that female voices have a higher pitch. It’s a biological fact. It should be common knowledge that a voice with a lower pitch feels more authoritative and commands more respect.

That being the case, what’s an ambitious woman to do?

New York litigator Monica Hanna sought out a voice coach. Hanna’s high-pitched screechy voice, used to communicate in girl talk, was detracting from her work. However bright and capable she was, her voice was holding her back. Clients and juries would not be taking her as seriously as they would a man with a lower pitched voice.

NPR reports the story:

Monica Hanna, a tough litigator in New York City, is about 5 feet tall and has a high voice. She has always had misgivings about how she sounds, but things came to a head a few years ago, when one of the partners at her firm assessed a presentation she gave by telling her: "Your voice is very high."

"And then he didn't say anything else," says Hanna. "He didn't have any other comment to make about my presentation at all."

Hanna did not complain about the injustice of it all. She sought out a voice coach who could help her change the way she spoke.

The results were positive:

Hanna learned to open her throat, creating more oral resonance, to adopt what she now calls her "big voice." [Voice coach Christie] Block says she also taught Monica to use fewer words and be more direct.

Instead of asking, "Got a minute?" when she wants to talk to a colleague, she now declares, "One minute." She carefully enunciates, "Hello," instead of chirping, "Hi!" like she used to.

After months of practice, the difference between Hanna's "big voice" and her small one is subtle. But she says she is perceived differently now at work.

She likes feeling more confident, she says. "And also having the voice to carry that message across, and say, 'No, no, this is something you actually need to hear.' "

NPR explains that Hanna did not want to sound like a man. She wanted to learn how to use a more authoritative, womanly  tone of voice:

But for Hanna, the goal was not to work against her identity as a woman, but to find a way to make her voice less distracting.

"I want to be taken more seriously," she says, "from the first words out of my mouth to the last. I'm never going to be a baritone powerhouse. There's something to be said about doing something to improve yourself in a way that adds to your craft and adds to your credibility."

I will leave it to others to decide whether Hanna’s is a feministically correct solution. Jezebelle Tracy Moore says that it is.

More importantly, rather than rail against the fact that bass-baritone voices command more respect, a woman has the option of modifying her pitch, her tone of voice and her phrasing to draw more attention to the content of her work. If she makes a business presentation with high pitch and lilting cadence her voice will distract from the content of her report.

More importantly, a woman can modify her voice without being any less womanly.

After all, if a woman tries to sound like a man or to dress like a man or to walk like a man she will quickly lose respect. Others will believe that she does not know who she is. No one respects you if you do not know who you are.


Sam L. said...

I trust the Feministas will be attacking her in comments to NPR and articles everywhere they can. Betraying her sex, and all.

Ares Olympus said...

I listened to the NPR program, seemed pretty subtle difference for so much work.

The article says "Hanna says that initially some people close to her didn't approve of the changes she was making in her voice; some called the changes anti-feminist. But for Hanna, the goal was not to work against her identity as a woman, but to find a way to make her voice less distracting."

I don't why someone would call it anti-feminist. If she opted for a dangerous surgery, I'd be more likely to agree, but anyone inspired enough to spend months to master changing their voice quality deserves whatever success she can get.

And male or female, I agree with for most people slowing down, leaving pauses, is a first step for a more authoritative voice quality. And the more words you use, more obvious it is that you're nervous.

n.n said...

Confidence, skill, patience, and respect commands respect.