My colleague overheard me talking to my teenager over the phone while I was at work.
“His voice is so low!”
I smiled. My son would be happy to hear this and has enjoyed the admiration he gets in junior high ever since his voice dropped.
I love the sound, too. I wonder sometimes, though, about the status it gives him in life and what that means for those of us whose voices never fall to a lower frequency.
For the last few weeks of 2014, I listened to “Serial,” a podcast produced by WBEZ Chicago. In the true story of a 1999 murder trial, the defense attorney’s voice irritated me as much as a test of the emergency broadcast system.
I know I grimaced partly because of way she spoke. She drew out her words and then shifted to attack with pressing questions. I suspect, however, that my annoyance was also simply because she spoke with a woman’s voice. Male attorneys use these verbal tactics, and I’m not certain it would bother me as much.
I wasn’t the only one with this negative impression. Other listeners took issue with the attorney in their comments and wondered if her speech patterns lost her the case.
Our biases are not limited to situations filled with conflict. In the 2013 film comedy “In a World . . .,” Lake Bell stars as a voiceover artist. She can’t get work because audiences want a male ‘God-like’ voice to narrate in movies and commercials. As in most comedies, it’s funny because the truth behind it stings. In real life, male voiceovers outnumber female by about five to one.
Then the other day I listened to my own outgoing voicemail and cringed at what I thought sounded like a 12-year-old. Twelve-year-olds do not come across as professionals.
Realizing I somehow believe my teenaged son speaks with more authority than I do could easily lead me to wring my hands or shake my fists at the unfairness of the world. But I have another idea.
Not long after the riots in Ferguson, diversity advocate Vernå Myers spoke on how to change our unconscious views about young black men by deliberately staring at pictures of admirable public figures like Colin Powell and Denzel Washington.
As the numerous faces flashed across the screen behind her in the video, I could feel how they nudged a change in my unconscious beliefs, even as exposure to negative images can form negative bias.
When thinking about my own impressions of women, I formed a plan to change my thoughts about the feminine voices I hear. I now seek out speeches and focus on the sounds of people I admire as well as their messages. I listen carefully to Malala Yousafzai advocating for girl’s education, Emma Watson in front of the United Nations and even older voices such as Eleanor Roosevelt as she discusses her charitable programs.
When I hear them, I concentrate on the pitch of their voices as much as their messages. Slowly, I feel myself changing my own mindset.
Sunday was International Women’s Day. I’m hoping the next time this holiday rolls around I will listen to women’s voices with more respect. Maybe if enough of us do this, we can hear more women in those voiceovers. Maybe we’ll notice the weight of the words without a mental filter about the worth because of the frequency of the sound.
It’s not equal pay. But it is a start.
Karrie Zylstra Myton of Puyallup teaches at Bates Technical College and writes children's fiction. She is one of six reader columnists who write for this page. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.