Wednesday, June 30, 2010

How women's voices (on GPS) are viewed

You could look at it this way:  Thanks to global positioning systems (GPS), women's voices are being heard by more people than ever.  But a recent New York Times article on GPS--specifically, the woman's voice in the author's GPS--made me think back to the client who called me about public speaking and presentation coaching because her male supervisors and board told her her presentations weren't "sexy enough," one of the reasons I started this blog.  Let's just say I was disappointed, but not surprised.

The article describes women's voices with a collection of well-worn and established attitudes, slurs and suggestions. Here, in quotes from the article's narrative or the sources it cites, are the adjectives and stereotypes it includes:

  • like a graceful hostess — unflappable, efficient and with just enough sex appeal to give some sizzle to my protracted absence from my wife.
  • my charming companion had somehow been switched to a stern English schoolmarm.
  • so turned off by the preinstalled female navigatrix that they switched her for a man’s voice, because “we find the women too judgmental.”
  • Female voices are still used for warnings in many airplane cockpits and have earned the slang term Bitching Betty among pilots.
  • “When the key dimension is competence, the male voice is better,” said Clifford I. Nass, a communication professor at Stanford University and a consultant to many car companies. “When the key dimension is likability, the female voice is better.”
  • “The main reason you have female voices in cars is not the technical qualifications like hearability,” said Dr. Nass. “It’s that finding a female voice that is pleasing to almost everyone is infinitely easier than finding a male voice.”
  • Unlike my wife, my GPS voice is completely subservient. She gives me something I want and doesn’t ask anything in return. All I have to do is plug her in every now and then and she’s happy.
I welcome your reactions, insights and experiences about women's voices and the reactions to them. Please share them in the comments.

Want more? Sign up for the free monthly newsletter, Step Up Your Speaking, which focuses on one speaking skill or isse each month;  join The Eloquent Woman on Facebook, a vibrant community that gets to discuss these topics before they appear on the blog; or contact me about your public speaking training and coaching needs.  Thanks for reading and participating!


K8Peters said...

It is really curious to me that Dr.Nass says that female voices are chosen for likeability, because the most common complaint I get from females about their voice is that they are told they sound whiny or bitchy, NOT likeable! However, women place a high value on relationships, and their voices will reflect an open cadence that invites others to join them in conversation.

Claire Duffy said...

Australia got a female Prime Minister last week. Unsurprisingly she's on the cover of all the women's mags - they're interested in her appearance. But her voice is much harder to deal with. She has a pleasant tone but an extremely strong Australian accent. It bugs some people, but it's politically incorrect to say so. That voice would never be heard on a GPS - no marketing exec would let it happen, for all the bad reasons in this post. Yet here she is, Head of State. I watch with interest to see what happens to women's voice in public life. [I have more to say on this! ttp://]