I spoke to a vocal coach about the ways women’s voices are criticized
Women aren’t the only ones who use ‘uptalk’
Recently, my mom signed me up for vocal coaching. She said my voice needs to have more “resonance” and that I sound like a little girl when I speak. When I met my vocal coach, Brian Loxley, he told me two speech habits I have are glottal (vocal) fry and uptalk: two things often criticized in women’s vocal patterns.
“Vocal Fry and what has been labeled Uptalk are simply poor uses of voice that in my opinion give the impression of a speaker who is weak, uninteresting and uninterested, unexciting, uninvolved, and unsure of themselves, seeking reassurance from their listener/s, and perhaps afraid of offending the person they’re speaking to,” Loxley, who has been a vocal coach for 32 years, explains.
Time Magazine published an article citing a study that claims, “that women who exhibit vocal fry are perceived as less competent and less hirable (not to mention less educated and less trustworthy) than those who do not.” Additionally, Slate posted an article that claimed older men (or, those most likely to be in positions of power) find these speech habits incredibly annoying.
However, there is a huge double standard here, since men also engage in speech phenomenons like vocal fry. “I find vocal fry in many people—in men as well as in women. People have not been taught to use their voices well,” Loxley says. “This is compounded by the fact that many people do not use their voices as much in face-to-face conversations because of a reliance on computers, social media, texting, and even the telephone, where they don’t have to project. Their voices are amplified for them by the media they’re using.”
For instance, Ira Glass of This American Life also uses vocal fry but didn’t notice it until female producer Channa Joffe-Walt was criticized for speaking that way.
Stanford linguistics professor Penny Eckert says, “People are busy policing women’s language and nobody is policing older or younger men’s language.” She continues, “It makes me angry, first of all, because the biggest users of vocal fry traditionally have been men, and it still is; men in the U.K, for instance. And it’s considered kind of a sign of hyper-masculinity… and by the same token, uptalk, it’s clear that in some people’s voices that has really become a style, but it has been around forever, and people use it stylistically in a variety of ways — both men and women.”
Loxley, however, notices Uptalk more often in women than in men. “It may be because women have (often without being aware of it) bought into the older stereotypical role of women as being the weaker sex, more passive, less assertive, more emotional or attuned to other people’s feelings and therefore not wanting to upset or offend others,” he says.
Spoken word poet Melissa Lozada-Oliva criticizes these critiques of women’s vocalization in this video for Button Poetry:
Some women, like Kathleen Hanna of the bands Bikini Kill, Le Tigre, and The Julie Ruin embrace their uptalk and “sounding like a Valley Girl,” though. In this clip from the documentary The Punk Singer, musician Allison Wolf of the band Bratmobile says, “it goes to show that you can be just… some Valley Girl and you still can be smart and have feminist ideas and you still should be listened to.”
“We should not ask young women to put on fake voices or to alter essential parts of themselves,” says Naomi Wolf in an opinion piece for The Guardian. “But in my experience of teaching voice to women for two decades, when a young woman is encouraged to own her power and is given basic skills in claiming her own voice then huge, good changes follow.”
“I believe that everyone—men, women; old, young; native speakers/non-native speakers of English—should sound like the strong, vigorous, assertive, healthy, dynamic, thinking/feeling, fully human being who they really are,” Loxley states. “Their use of voice and speech reflects and expresses—and EMBODIES—who they are and who they want to become.”