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Your Voice, Your Choice: Debunking the Stereotypes of Women’s Voices




Illustrated silhouettes of several women

March is Women’s History Month, and we are talking about Women’s Voices. There’s a lot of information out there about the “feminine voice,” and countless advice columns about how women ‘should’ speak to be heard and ‘taken seriously.’ 

We’re going to discuss the feminine voice, the various vocal attributes assigned to it, and some of our advice on how to choose your own sound that is authentically yours.

First things first - let us break this spell that women’s voices are a problem or something to be fixed. 

To be very clear: your voice is NOT a problem. Your voice IS a choice. 

How you choose to use your voice will determine how people interact with you. Below we break down some of the main vocal characteristics people talk about when discussing the feminine voice. 

Pitch

Most obviously, the female voice is higher in pitch frequency than the male counterpart. On average, women speak between 165-255 Hz, compared to men who speak between 85-155 Hz on average.

Why? During puberty, the influx of testosterone in a male body results in thicker, longer vocal cords, creating lower sounds (lower Hz = lower sound). Because women don’t receive that same influx of testosterone, their base pitch stays higher. 

So, why does this matter? Because of the lower frequency, men’s voices sound more resonant and have an easier time carrying over other noise.

This makes it more difficult for women to literally be heard, especially in busy and active conversations. 

Furthermore, studies have shown that both men and women prefer leaders with lower-pitched voices – aka male voices.

To be clear, just because a voice is perceived as low doesn’t mean it IS low. We’ve all heard women who artificially lower their voices, adopting traditionally masculine speech patterns…it doesn’t work!

Rather than manipulating your pitch and lowering it, we encourage women to explore richer resonance to have a perceived lower voice.

This will allow your authentic, authoritative voice to emerge while you maintain your identity! 

Upspeak 

Upspeak is a vocal trait commonly attributed to women - the creation or false addition of a juvenile sound that can make the speaker appear confused or insecure. We want to bust the myth that only women utilize upspeak - we see it in clients of all genders.

Upspeak does have useful and common practices. Not only is it inherent in some English-speaking dialects, it can be used to create a sense of equality between the speaker and listeners - allowing the listeners to feel more comfortable speaking up. 

The question then becomes, is employing upspeak worth it? Unless it’s a part of your native accent, probably not. If it is, stay exactly the way you are! 

There are other, more effective vocal tools you can use to create that same sense of equality and help your listeners feel comfortable. 

So, if you are actively employing upspeak, how can you remove it from your speech pattern? 

We suggest taking a pitch or presentation you have prepared and go sentence by sentence making sure the penultimate syllable of the sentence goes up in pitch so the final syllable can go down in pitch. Practice this slowly and in a sing-songy manner first. Then speed up and let your speech pattern get more natural as you get comfortable. 

If you do this thoughtfully and in small increments, over time, you will notice a shift in your speech pattern even in conversation. 

Vocal Fry

Vocal fry occurs when there isn’t enough air pressure for your vocal folds to properly vibrate. What results is a sound that doesn’t have as much presence in the room, isn’t as clear, and is more difficult to understand. Research has shown that vocal fry is “rated as significantly less employable, less natural, and requiring greater listener concentration as compared with samples of habitual voice quality.”

As you may have guessed, It is also a vocal quality that is traditionally associated with the female speech pattern.

Much like upspeak, we have noticed vocal fry in almost every client we have ever worked, with no matter their gender identity. And we feel that because women’s voices are higher pitched, perhaps it’s more obvious in women’s voices. 

Some women are trying to “take back” vocal fry and claim it as a positive vocal attribute that should be celebrated. We believe that everyone has the right to choose their own speaking voice and therefore can pick to employ vocal fry.

That said, leading doctors have noted that vocal fry can lead to health issues such as nodules and scarring.

With this information in hand, we think vocal fry is a tool best to leave in the toolbox and not employ in your daily speech.

Melodic Line

So much of what people talk about in regards to the feminine voice is about what is “wrong” with it. We want to take a second to talk about one of the most dominant and positive characteristics of a feminine perceived speech pattern and why it is so powerful: a melodic line. 

The melodic line of a feminine perceived speech pattern is primarily guided by the use of inflection - the undulation of pitch in your speech pattern.

As we’ve discussed in many of our blog posts, inflection is one of the key components of a charismatic speech pattern, one that many women employ thoughtlessly. 

The greater the inflection, the more influential and charismatic your speech pattern is. 

Women who capitalize on this, rather than adopting a monotone speech pattern, will become exponentially more persuasive. 

You might wonder the best way to practice inflection. The same way you practice upspeak!  Take a pitch or presentation you have prepared and go sentence by sentence making sure your speech pattern goes up and down in pitch throughout the entirety of the sentence. Again, practice this slowly and in a sing-songy manner, and then speed up and let your speech pattern get more natural as you get comfortable. 

If there’s one big takeaway we want to impart from all we’ve shared, it is that your voice is CHOICE, not a PROBLEM to be solved. 

You get to choose how you use your voice and our biggest suggestion is to check out our blogs on building your vocal brand so you can gain control over your voice and how people hear you in the world!

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