Must a woman lower the tone of her voice to be successful?
Posted on: Tuesday 15th November 2011From The Guardian
It was years ago during a late-night student debate when a female friend suggested I was losing the argument as my voice had become too high. I can't remember for the life of me what the argument was about, but I do remember my feminist fury as I pointed out that I was always going to lose against my (male) opponent if that was how we were being judged. It all ended in tears with my friend hiding in the loo. As I said, it was late at night.
This whole exchange came flooding back listening to the Today programme this morning.Researchers at a Canadian university have found that voters prefer lower-pitched voices, rating their speakers higher for attractiveness, leadership potential, honesty, intelligence and dominance.It's the issue of dominance that is key to our voting decisions apparently.Here's lead researcher Cara Tigue, of McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada: "Throughout our evolutionary history, it would have been important for our ancestors to pay attention to cues to good leadership because group leaders affected a person's ability to survive and reproduce within a group ... We're looking at it in a present-day, 21st-century context."So she and her team asked 125 people to listen to nine US presidents, going back to Harry Truman, to judge higher and lower pitched versions of their voices. In all cases, they voted for the deeper tones.She refused to draw a link between this preference and the fact that there still hasn't been a female US president - sorry, Hillary - but did add: "I really just think that it just suggests that men with lower-pitched voices may have some sort of advantage."Political strategists have known this for a while and, funnily enough, my friend went on to do great things in the Labour party.Famously, Margaret Thatcher was advised to lower her tone, which she did, to win the election in 1979. (Do listen to the new Meryl Streep part of that Today clip - she's brilliant) Talking to the Daily Mail, Streep, not a natural Conservative supporter apparently, explained why she warmed to the "Iron lady"."It's about the head man. There are vestiges of people thinking women are not as bright and not as capable, and I think Margaret Thatcher knew that and so she over-prepared to make sure she knew everything that would ever be asked of her, and be 10 times more prepared than any of her colleagues - which probably annoyed them."It still annoys me come to think of it. Some will argue that this research shows that men are preordained to lead us because of our cave roots. Or is it more evidence that female politicians just have to try 10 times harder to overcome the fact that they sound, well, a bit "girly"?We can only hope that as more and more female politicians come to power (Angela Merkel, Michelle Bachelet, Helle Thorning-Schmidt) we start listening to what they say, rather than the way they say it.
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