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Gender Issues: Voice Matters

by Elaine Schwartz    •    Jul 1, 2013    •    1035 Views

At the Nantucket Film Festival, talking about her new film, “In a World,” Lake Belle alluded to power and the female voice. Suggesting that we associate power and authority with the deeper male voices that we hear everywhere, she referred to voiceovers like this one in a 1977 “Star Wars”  trailer.

In her wonderful film, “In a World,” the woman played by Lake Belle aspires to movie voiceovers but also is a voice coach. Hearing a squeaky sounding unemployed attorney, the Belle character tells her that if she wants to get a job…work on that voice. Bring it down an octave and watch out for those sentences ending in an uptick rather than a downward inflection.

“In a World,” tells the story of Carol Samuelson. The daughter of a male voiceover legend, she finally gets her big chance because a woman film maker selects her for the voiceover in a major movie trailer. She gets the job, though, not because she is the best but because she is a woman. The film maker’s agenda and the message that Lake Belle conveys during her interview is that by hearing more female voiceovers, we will start to associate higher pitched voices with authority.

One recent study through Duke’s Fuqua School of Business focused on the connection between pitch and earning power. Looking at 792 CEOs, researchers found that deeper voices tended to have more earning power, to oversee larger firms, and to have longer tenures in office. Rather amazingly, they quantified their results. For every 22.1 hertz drop in pitch, salary rose by $187,000.

Looking at politics, another Duke related study connected success to politicians with deeper voices. Correspondingly, Margaret Thatcher worked to lower her pitch “…by 60Hz, or about half the normal difference between a female and a male voice.”

In this “In a World” trailer, you can compare male and female voice overs.

Sources and resources: The research on voice pitch and power for CEOs and politicians is fascinating.  Meanwhile for a broader look at why voice matters when considering gender issues, and the source of my quote about Thatcher, this Anne Karpf book is a possibility.

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