I'm Trying To Stop Judging A Woman By Her Annoying, Annoying Voice

When I was a receptionist, it was not uncommon for people calling the office where I work to think I was an automated system.
Publish date:
January 10, 2013
stereotypes, voice, kathleen turner, npr

I’ve got a pretty deep voice for a lady. It’s good, because I can lie to telemarketers and pretend to be my own husband, thus accomplishing two of my long-term life goals -- avoiding the purchase of an Orlando time share, and, being my own husband. My mom likes to tell me that I sound like Kathleen Turner. Then she winks at me, and I’m all, “Mom, stop flirting, I don’t like you that way, plus it will make my husband mad!” And when I say that last part, I point at myself with both thumbs, wearing a fierce expression, because I am the jealous type.It is no exaggeration when I tell you that, at least twice a week, someone will tell me I should work for Public Radio. My resonant, accent-less voice probably reminds them less of Terry Gross and more of the SNL Schweddy Balls hawkers. In high school, my plummy monotone evoked a lot of Daria comparisons, which I pretended to despise but was clearly delighted by, because DARIA.When I was a receptionist, it was not uncommon for people calling the office where I work to think I was an automated system. Once, after telling a caller that the extension he was trying to reach was inactive, he didn’t respond, just slowly repeated the extension. When I told him it was still inactive, he began punching in the extension on his keypad. When I finally broke and was all, “DUDE,” he responded by sputtering, saying, “Sorry -- I thought you were a robot!”

I’ll be honest, I never tire of people saying nice things about my voice. I am vain about it. Probably because even during the peak of the middle school teasing years, it wasn’t something people went after. As a result, I was prouder of my voice than I was of any other physical part of myself. Although I know it’s wrong, when the subject of vocal fry comes up, I’m looking down my nose so hard I may as well be Lady Grantham confronted with a dude not wearing white tie to dinner.Admittedly, I’m a bit sensitive to loud, jarring, sounds (because I am actually a 170 pound calico house-cat with opposable thumbs and a penchant for penning essays for online women’s magazines) but for the most part I can tune out any sort of mechanical screech. But a shrill voice? Inappropriate volume? I’m the asshole who does the half-turn accompanied with side-eye. Just ask the poor woman standing behind me in line at Starbucks yesterday.I used to think that this was a vaguely ridiculous but ultimately harmless personal quirk. One of the Seinfeld variety. I felt like Elaine would dump a guy because his voice drove her nuts. And I have no issue being Elaine. It took reading about NPR’s On The Media host Bob Garfield’s recent tirade to act as the slap upside the head I so badly needed.

Because while I might chalk up my own asshole-ishness when confronted with a voice that grates to a simple issue of aesthetics, when a dude takes to the airwaves to bitch about the way a woman’s voice sounds, all of my arguments are shot to smithereens and the truth is revealed.To do it is to engage in the superficial in the most fundamental way possible. Because by ripping apart the way a woman -- any woman -- sounds, you are making it clear that you could give so few fucks about what she has to say that way she presents herself is the only thing about her worth discussing. It’s yet another example of the content of a woman being ignored in favor of examining the package she comes in. And that is 10 kinds of sexist.If I went onto my computer right now and recorded a podcast about how Ryan Gosling had a high voice and it drove me nuts, the majority of the comments could be divided into four groups. Group One comments: “I’ll still sleep with him!” Group Two: “YER JUST JEALOUS!” Group Three: “FUCKING BITCH!” and Group Four: “Becca, how do I make the podcast go, this is your mom.” People would essentially be all, “Lol, crazy gurl.” I’d be ripped to pieces and I’d have it coming -- and not just because um, have you seen Ryan Gosling?There isn’t a tradition of women in the mass media taking down men for the way they do their hair, or they way they speak. If there are, they’re classified as feminist pieces of writing. But when someone like Garfield decides to go on an Andy Rooney-like rant about his deep hatred for the sounds coming out of young women’s mouths today, it’s meant to be “cute” and “relatable.” Mr. Garfield, I served with Andy Rooney*, I knew Andy Rooney**. Andy Rooney was a friend of mine***, and you, sir, are no Andy Rooney.Do you have weird auditory quirks? Do people ever say you sound like someone famous? Has my mom hit on you lately?*in an imaginary war in my mind.** I didn’t, but I love when he got mad about candy*** Nope, but my friend Lanie saw him on a scooter in Midtown once.