That provocative question was posed recently in The New York Times. The article ("Why Men Always Tell You to See Movies") was about voice-overs on movie trailers, but it led me think about an analogous issue: What gender is the voice of authority? What kind of voice do you hear when you envision a top dealmaker, a powerful litigator, or a big rainmaker walking into the room?
I'll bet you $10,000 (now that Mitt has established that as the baseline) that it's not a feminine voice.
But before we go there, let's first visit Hollywood. Reports the NYT:
The voice of a sonorous, authoritative, fear-inspiring yet sometimes relatable presence is, invariably, that of a man. Consider the trailer and the omniscient, disembodied voice that introduces moviegoers to a fictional world.
“Most movie trailers are loud and strong, and film studios want that male impact, vocally and thematically,” said Jeff Danis, an agent who represents voice-over artists. “Even if it’s a romantic comedy or nonaction movie, they still want that certain power and drama that men’s voices tend to convey on a grander scale.”
But what's distressing is that our preference for male voices doesn't end in the darkness of a movie theater, says the NYT:
“On average both males and females trust male voices more,” said Clifford Nass, a professor of communications at Stanford, noting some gender disparity exists in that women don’t distrust female voices as much as men distrust them. In one study conducted at Stanford, two versions of the same video of a woman were presented to subjects: One had the low frequencies of the woman’s voice increased and the high frequencies reduced, the other vice versa. Consistently subjects perceived the deep voice to be smarter, more authoritative, and more trustworthy.
I've often wondered myself if my relatively high voice diminishes my credibility. When I was a teenager, I remembered trying to imitate Gloria Steinem's "deep" voice in a history class, thinking that it would give my comments a bit of gravitas. I have no idea if it worked, and I probably lapsed back to my girly voice the next day.
It might seem silly to try to alter your natural voice, but that's exactly what politicians do, says the BBC, which reported on how voters preferred candidates with lower-pitched voices. And, as we all know now, Margaret Thatcher—our role model du jour—had coaching to lower her voice so that she could play with the Big Boys.
"When people go too high-pitched, it sounds emotional and less trustworthy," U.K. psychologist Sue Lovegrove told the BBC.
The sad truth is that a woman's voice will not deliver the same punch as a man's. So ladies (and you gents with high voices), maybe mimicking Gloria Steinem or Don LaFontaine (the "Thunder Throat" and "The Voice of God" of movie trailers) is just what your career needs.
Related post: "The Power Look—White Males Only?"