Wednesday, September 11, 2013

What should a woman's speaking voice sound like?

In a world where women's voices matter, one of those voices is speaking out...about women's voices. But will you like what she has to say?

Lake Bell's new movie In A World..., the actor's directorial debut, is about an aspiring voiceover artist who struggles against the old boys' club of voiceover talent and her own insecurities about her voice. It's a topic close to her heart, since Bell herself has found it difficult to break into voiceover work. In the movie, her father--also a voiceover artist--says "The industry does not crave a female sound." It's interesting that both Bell and Fred Melamed, who plays her father, both say they were attracted to voiceover work because it didn't force them to rely on their looks alone as actors.

"I was always interested in the idea that the omniscient voice was always considered male," Bell said in a recent NPR interview. "This sound that's telling you what to buy, what to think, how to feel about what bank to have, or what kind of car, or what movie to see..."

The movie is getting good reviews, and Bell shows off her amazing range of accents and voices honed in acting studies in England. But in a flurry of interviews promoting the movie, she's also received a lot of attention for her stance against what she calls "sexy baby vocal virus." She says too many women use this combination of high pitch, vocal fry (think raspy creak) and uptalk (ending speech on a higher pitch, as we usually do with a question).

"I think what I find most unfortunate about it is that it's diminutive, it's sort of diminishing," she said in a Washington Post interview. "And it's a dialect. It's not even justified by, 'Oh, she was born with that.' It's learned."

Bell seems to be of two minds about how women should speak, however. She says in the Post:
But I don't ever want to preach that women take on a false voice and speak lower. That's not the message. The message is, find your real voice. Which is a normal, big girl voice, which sounds like what a woman should sound like, instead of insinuating that you've regressed to being an 11-year old and you're submissive."
But in The New Yorker:
The vocal pandemic that is the sexy-baby virus is a form of submission to men, as if you're a twelve-year old girl. I speak lower than my natural voice, especially when I'm on a panel with a lot of dudes.
Judging from the online responses to these interviews, Bell's hit a real nerve on this one. Should women try to lower the pitch of their voice to sound more like men? Are uptalk and vocal fry always something to avoid? And what should a woman sound like--except herself?

Here's the trailer for the movie:

Freelance writer Becky Ham contributed this post.

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