5279093739_6dd849c299In the 1950s, female speaks.  Male unimpressed. (Image from Flickr via)

When I was growing up, the public voice of authority was invariably male. The preacher, the principal, the politician, the police officer, the radio announcer, the TV anchor—some might be mere tenors, rather than basses, but none was ever a soprano. (Exception, at least in school: the teacher.)  That’s why I’m still taken by surprise whenever I hear a high, light, girlish voice issuing from a person who is introduced as an expert.

Mary Beard, professor of classics at the University of Cambridge, recently gave a sold-out lecture at the British Museum highlighting the long, long history of the exhortation “Woman, be silent!”  She traces the notion from the age of Homer to the age of Twitter. “Women’s interventions were often described as “strident” or “whining,” she notes in an interview in The Guardian. Those words matter “because they underpin an idiom that acts to remove the authority, the force, even the humour from what women have to say. . . . Contrast that with the ‘deep-voiced’ man, and its connotations of profundity. It is still the case, I’d argue, that when as listeners we hear a female voice, we don’t hear a voice that connotes authority; or rather we haven’t learned how to hear authority in it.”

That’s true for me. How about you? READ MORE.


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  • Toni Myers March 12, 2014 at 5:34 pm

    Growing up, I trusted my father more than mother. He was working all the time and she was not, having help with the work of child raising and house duties. I quickly decided I wanted to be like him in order to earn respect, which I’d not accorded mother. But I felt meek about it at first, gaining steam with age and a gradual not caring what others thought of me speaking or sometimes pretending to speak with authority. On a number of occasions I have experienced pushback/criticism, e.g. the boss who told me I was too aggressive in expressing my views. Today I work with 10-12 years olds and find girls learning to conquer that fear early in life, so long as others are not squashing it. We still need support. Thanks to WVFC for giving us an important venue.

  • karen elshout February 26, 2014 at 10:57 am

    Perhaps this is why i’ve always tended to question authority!

  • Roz Warren February 18, 2014 at 10:43 am

    Great topic. I tend to discount the male voice myself and tune into what women have to say (which is one of the reasons I love this site… women’s voices!)

  • Patricia Yarberry Allen February 18, 2014 at 9:01 am

    Thanks so much for this post. I just linked to the full interview in The Guardian and I encourage everyone to do the same. Mary Beard reminds us of the work still needed to be done for women who have the talent, the experience and the work ethic to be taken as seriously as someone with vocal sounds that are associated with authority and competence.