Vocal fry, uptalking, nasal: women's voices can never be "right"

Originally published at: http://boingboing.net/2016/08/05/vocal-fry-uptalking-nasal-w.html


Well, obviously one isn’t going to like the voice of any woman (but especially one in power) if one has no actual interest in hearing what women have to say in the first place.


Not to dispute that such attitudes exist, but it seems like many people react with similar biases towards voices, regardless of our gender or even our espoused ideologies. It feels like there’s something deeply instinctive going on, where your ear puts a spin on the things you hear before you even have a chance to process it consciously. To me it shows what a job we have on our hands in trying to root out prejudice.


I’ve known people who do the uptalk thing. And it’s pretty irritating, whatever the gender.


Kind of a valley thing, yes? My impression is that, yes, both genders get complaints about it, but certainly one more than the other.


Fair points.

But riddle me this;

How often is a male’s entire message ignored, over a focus on the way his voice sounds?

Unless, of course its those times when a man’s voice sounds less masculine, and more effeminate. That’s another instance when is criticism harshly leveled by some…




See also: the initial “so”


While there are biases that show up, women get hit more for it. There’ve been a few stories I can’t find now, alas, of men complaining about women’s vocal fry while they were speaking with vocal fry un-ironically. Here’s a collection that has one example:

Men with higher pitched/nasal/etc. voices do get dinged for it, but it’s a matter of degree and focus. Men get more of a pass. There were a ridiculous number of articles/shows whingeing about vocal fry a year or two ago, when it was a fad to bash on it. All focused on women.


“nothing they do, no amount of policing, will ever make their voices acceptable to men, because the problem isn’t fry, uptalking, being “nasal” or “bitchy” – it’s that they’re women, talking.”

The only thing that keeps me from turning off the radio whenever Zoe Chace or Ira Glass are speaking is because they use their larynx-on-a-chalkboard voices to say generally smart, interesting things. It’s perfectly normal to find something grating without that unease being informed by ideology; everyone has genuine personal dislikes and it’s a personal choice to move past them, or to use them as a mask to hide a deeper bias.

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I’m sorry, but I have to dispute this. Maybe some people do find it irritating no matter the gender of the speaker but only women get complained about. Ira Glass if famous for his vocal fry, it makes him distinctive and sound “ironic” and yet no one writes in to NPR to complain about his voice, at least not in the numbers that people write in to complain about women. http://www.dailydot.com/via/vocal-fry-99-percent-invisible-womens-voices/

And I always come back to this:

The talkativeness of women has been gauged in comparison not with men but with silence. Women have not been judged on the grounds of whether they talk more than men, but of whether they talk more than silent women.

These conversations always come back not to the tone of the women or the words they are speaking but to the very fact the women are speaking at all.


I don’t get the vocal fry thing - doesn’t bother me in the slightest. I assume it’s a bit like fingernails on a chalkboard or squeaking balloon - it either annoys you greatly or not at all.

The upspeak thing does get on my nerves however. I worked for a Canadian firm where every female (and many males too) working there seemed to be affected by it so I became very attuned to it. And it wasn’t just the ‘eh’ thing…


I’ve never been bothered by vocal fry, and I grew up in SoCal when there was a lot of uptalking so I’m used to it and don’t really even notice it. Also I’m spiritually Canadian (but trapped far from my spiritual homeland), so the use of ‘eh’ and the correct pronunciation of ‘ou’ are music to my ears. The one that grinds my nerves is when Texans somehow, slowly, shove three vowel sounds into a single vowel, though it’s not gender-specic. “About” pronounced ah-bay-ouw-ut, just kills me.


I don’t know… I have seen various examples of ignoring the content to focus on the form in politics, but it seems pretty much evenly spread across genders. I even see it when I agree with the general thrust: like how every single tiniest personal detail about Trump has been demonized in turn. Them man’s dumber then a box of rocks, and an asshat of the highest order, don’t get me wrong, but talking about his orangeness or his… what was it? Short fingers? Or calling him Drumpf… those aren’t arguments. It’s the same exact thing as describing HRC’s voice as ‘like an icepick.’ Or describing her as stilted, robotic, insincere, and utterly charmless.

Yes, and? Neither of them is being elected for the post of Charmer in Chief. The fact that Hilary’s mien and mannerisms irritate a lot of people has no bearing whatsoever on her policy. The fact that Trump appears to have an alien life-form colonizing the top of his head, is not related in any way to whether he’s a fascist or not.

Of course, if you did focus on policy and were even slightly left wing, your analysis would likely consist of a facepalm, a choked sob, and heavy drinking, no matter who you are looking at, so perhaps being obsessed with appearance is a defensive strategy?


Upspeak is something which hadn’t initially registered but, once explained to me, I could never unhear - and confess I find it pretty irritating. Bugs me when guys do it, too, but that’s relatively rare.

With that in mind, I’ve heard explanations for vocal fry …but can’t hear it in people’s voices. Which is fine! Please do not feel obligated to point out a vocal trait by which I will then be irritated. grin


I do find filler words distracting and obnoxious, though not actively irritating. That said, I hear guys do it at least as often as women. To me it signals one of two things, either a noisy nervous tick (more common) or an active need to keep anyone else from getting a word in edge-wise (more common with politicians, pundits, talking blowhards, ect…). That said, I catch myself doing it from time to time, absorbing the nervous tick from the ambient speech patterns, and give myself a little mental kick. So I do understand it ← and that use right there is a situation where the initial so isn’t strictly necessary, but neither is it pure filler, which is the context where it bugs me. I’m not going to discount someone for using filler words, but I will perk up my ears to check if they’re trying to dominate the conversation. It’s noise in the signal.

Vocal fry is just an element of accent and people should search within for why the real reason it bothers them (my guess is that the two biggest reasons are sexism and generational tribalism).


While I think you’re right that in politics there is a lot of petty focus on appearance/trivial personal attributes, the short fingers thing was a result of a Spy magazine article from the 90s calling Trump a “short fingered vulgarian,” and Trump being so thin-skinned and vindictive that Trump obsessed over it for years and repeatedly mailed the author over it with pictures of his hands (all with notes/circled photos written in gold Sharpie) to prove he didn’t have short fingers with one saying, “See, not so short!”


I stand corrected. Though, even that, I maintain is in a way shallowness (though considerably less shallow than it being about fingers) since it focuses on a minor personal peccadillo rather than the substance. If Trump genuinely had good ideas[1] I wouldn’t care about thin skin or bad taste. Plenty of remarkable people had various and sundry oddities which did not stop them from bettering the lot of all humans.

Unfortunately, Trump’s sole virtue is his consistency: He has asshattish policies (modulo a few that are good, one can only assume, accidentally) and acts like an asshat too.

(I note that, given his focus of complaint, he’s perfectly satisfied with ‘vulgarian’ as a term.)

[1] Well, actually, in that howling maelstrom of madness there may be a few good ones, like the one about closing military bases and trying diplomacy on Russia, but those are almost certainly purely random.

It was ages before I understood what vocal fry was. I’d keep reading about it and what an absolutely awful thing it was, but any examples cited were unfamiliar to me, due to my age and terminal unhipness. I finally found out when a podcast I’d started listening to regularly did a piece on it and pointed out that one of the presenters had it. I was, like, “Huh? That’s the big deal? I do that myself, sometimes.”

Now I notice it all the time, and yeah, it’s as much men as women who do it, but it’s not that big a deal. I’m more annoyed at myself for noticing it than at people for doing it.


The thing is, a President is a leader, and in leaders content of character and certain personality attributes do matter. Someone so thin-skinned that a critical magazine article sends them over the edge and who holds a childish grudge for decades is going to be a poor leader if put into a position of authority with the amount of power the Presidency entails. That episode (among hundreds of others) illustrates a serious flaw that shows he’s poor leadership material.


He’s consistently an asshole, yes.

Policywise, he’s maybe the most inconsistent candidate ever: