The Raging Debate About Women’s Voices

womens-voicesA recent NPR story (…) explored the idea that we “police women’s voices,” complaining when they use “vocal fry” and “up-speak” despite the fact that men also use both of these derided habits of speech.

Since I make my living teaching people to present themselves powerfully, every friend who heard the NPR story posted it to my Facebook wall. What did I think? I asked myself–do I police women’s voices when I coach them to land their sentences instead of having an upward inflection?

The truth is that I have seen men and women use both vocal fry and up-speak. And I coach them all to develop a wider range of vocal expression so that they have that whole range accessible to them–it is better to have more tools, to be equipped for more experiences, and to be able to choose to use up-speak but not use it so often that it becomes a distraction. Just as an dancer who has full use of her body is a better dancer, so a speaker who has full use of her voice is a better speaker.

One woman quoted in the NPR story said that not using up-speak made her feel self-conscious. If I were her coach, I would ask her who her words are for–are they for her, or for her audience? If she is not a professional speaker, this is irrelevant.  But if she is (and this woman was a journalist with occasional podcasting responsibilities, so it could go either way) then the onus is on her to push through the self-consciousness and develop her vocal instrument, just as dancers stretch at the barre and practice fundamentals.

What do you think? Do you hear up-speak and vocal fry around you? Do you love it, hate it, do it yourself, not care? 🙂

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