Hillary Clinton’s Voice

Here’s what voice science is telling us:

1. Men are more attracted to women with higher voices.

2.We are more likely to vote for women with deeper voices.

So if sex sells, can we surmise that Hillary Clinton lost out on a few votes?  We can at least say that she was unfairly criticized because of her voice.  She was called shrill.  Screechy.  Nagging.

And when Brit Hume from Fox News said that Hillary “has a not-so-attractive voice“, we of course see that as a criticism.  But in fact I suppose he’s right.   That’s why she got elected in the first place.  If it were an attractive voice according to the studies, then it would likely be higher pitched.  High-pitched voices don’t get elected. Seems unfair, but welcome to womanhood.  Lo and behold, you can’t have it all.  When it comes to your voice, you can either be electable, or attractive.  But apparently not both.

So, when I hear Hillary Clinton at 21 years old with a whole lot of head voice (that men find attractive), I think yeah, sure, it’s nice enough to listen to, but I probably wouldn’t vote for her.  And something told Hillary the same thing.  So she changed.  She decided to become electable, consciously or not.  That’s how the voice works. We make changes as we go, usually subconsciously.  Sometimes those changes work out for the best.  Sometimes we regret them.  (Which is where I suspect vocal fry will end up in about 10 years, but I digress.)

And society changed.  In these modern times, North American society doesn’t have a lot of respect for women who speak exclusively in head voice.  Think of Melanie Griffith’s character in Working Girl.

They all thought she was sexy, but no one was going to promote her.

Here’s Hillary still in head voice in 1983

So she adapts.

Hello society, you only respect deeper voices?  All right then!  Here’s my chest voice.  I’ll use it as much as I possibly can.  Hey!  I got elected!  Well that worked out great!

Except for when they say she sounds like she’s lecturing or combative.  “You should sound softer!  Kinder!  Gentler!”

Also, Hillary got older.  That tends to happen with humans. (Crazy!)  Both aging and using chest voice lower women’s voices.  This article does a great job of explaining the science behind Hillary’s changing and adapting voice.  Kudos to the author for tracking down voice scientist Ingo Titze.  He really knows this stuff.  The good thing about lowering your voice is that it gets you elected.  But the problem is, and Ingo Titze wrote this to me in an email a few years back, the problem with women using primarily chest voice (WHICH GOT THEM ELECTED), is that  “Women will be at a disadvantage if they lower their speaking pitch to the male speaking range. The generally smaller female larynx drives less airflow, which means females will likely “press” more to increase their vocal power. This comes at a cost.”

What is the cost?  Ingo, what is the cost?!

Well, it’s that when they try to get louder, when they want to increase their vocal power, women who use chest voice tend to press their voice.  And that can make her sound Annoying! (Thank you Sonny Bunch.) Or Screechy! (Thank you Joel Achenbach.) Or like she has a Very Average Scream! (Thank you Donald Trump).  Oh hey,  speaking of the Donald, guess who else presses his voice?

Standing in front of a crowd of thousands, it’s pretty hard not to want to increase your vocal power.  Sure, there’s a microphone, but it’s thousands of people! When Hillary or Donald are in front of a crowd, they press their voices.  But very different things come up when you google Hillary Clinton Voice and Donald Trump Voice.  (That is the “sexist double standard” part of all this.)  And after years of pressing a voice, it can become more and more hoarse.  Indeed, there is a cost.

I’d like to suggest that criticizing Hillary Clinton for using her chest voice is like criticizing a giraffe for having a long neck.

Giraffe!  Sure, you can now eat leaves from the tops of trees, but come on!  It’s SO HARD for you to bend down and drink water.  The lions might get you! What were you thinking?!

And the giraffe’s all like, “Dude, I was thinking about NOT DYING OF HUNGER.”  My long neck is what helps me survive!  I didn’t really consider the water-drinking, but I guess I’ll just have to take my chances.

Yeah, but you might get eaten by LIONS!

Yeah, but I wouldn’t even BE HERE if not for my long neck.

The giraffe adapted.

The lions can only take you down if you actually exist.  But first you gotta survive.

Bottom line, maybe we need to stop criticizing the giraffe for having such a long neck.  It’s what got her this far.

Do you press your voice?  Ingo Titze has something that can help:

The Accent Bias.

I recognize that taking cultural sensitivity advice from Little Britain is a very bad idea. Still, there is a valuable lesson to be learned from Weight Watchers Counsellor Marjorie Dawes. Not surprisingly, it has very little to do with fashion.

These Little Britain sketches are illustrating something pretty problematic. In a 1992 study (Rubin), students listened to a taped lecture recorded by an English speaker with a regional Ohio accent (same as the students) and they were shown a picture of the lecturer. Half of the students were shown a picture of a white instructor and the other half were shown a picture of an Asian instructor. Students who saw the picture of the Asian instructor believed that they had heard an accented lecturer. They performed worse on a task measuring their comprehension of the lecture.

In a nutshell, students listened to an instructor, and if they thought she was Asian, they had a harder time understanding her. Even though the lecturer’s voice was actually a white woman speaking with the same regional accent as theirs. If they thought she was white, no problem. Wow our brains are stupid sometimes.

So, if you have an ‘accent’ compared to the people around you, the next time you find yourself misunderstood you may not be at fault.

If you’re the listener and you’re having a hard time understanding someone, excuse yourself, run to the bathroom and take a quick look in the mirror. Really look at yourself. If you see any trace of Marjorie Dawes there, then I suggest you change your attitude.

And your eyeshadow.

Rubin, 1992.  Nonlanguage Factors Affecting Undergraduates’ Judgments of Nonnative English-SpeakingTeaching AssistantsAuthor(s): Donald L. RubinSource: Research in Higher Education, Vol. 33, No. 4 (Aug., 1992), pp. 511-531Published by: SpringerStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40196047 .

Chrystia Freeland and The Speaker

I just wasted seven minutes of my time googling “Chrystia Freeland & Bill Maher” to find out if her voice is always as high pitched as it was in Question Period yesterday.  If you haven’t heard, the newbie Liberal MP had a hard time of it.  This Huffington Post piece also notes a commentator’s ‘sexist’ tweet suggesting she use her ‘big girl voice’.  Nice.  Interesting to note that Conservative opponent Michelle Rempel tweeted to her defense.

But here’s the thing: women’s voices have never served them well in QP.   The Ottawa Journal in 1932 reads: “Miss Agnes Macphail…Gowned in black,…her voice unusually shrill in a chamber modelled for baritones and basses.”  Plus ça change…

Many women’s voices don’t serve them well on television panels, either.  On this Bill Maher panel from 2011, Freeland gets about 20 seconds worth of microphone time.  The other 7 minutes are taken up almost entirely by three of her fellow male panelists.  (She ties for talking time with the fourth guest, a doctor, but he got to end the segment with a high five to Bill Maher for being in his 70’s and not needing Cialis, so he’s all right. We don’t know what he has to say, but the guy can still get it up!  Important stuff.)  Freeland comes across as a VERY good listener.  At least that’s how it appears since they’re giving her an inordinate amount of camera time for somebody not speaking.  They show her doing a lot of very good cleavage listening. It is excellent listening, and if it takes excellent listening to get on Bill Maher, then so be it. Sometimes you gotta play by their rules.

Women are supposed to be good listeners.  Studies show it.  Less talk, more listening please.  In one study, two actresses spoke dialogue of exactly the same length of time, and listeners judged it that way–to be equal in length.  But when the roles were played by a man and a woman instead, the women were judged – by listeners of both genders – to be talking more. (1).

Isn’t that sad?  They spoke for the same amount of time, but everyone thought the woman was talking for a really looooooong time.  Why won’t she just shut up already?  In another study, there was a group discussion where almost twice as many men as women had spoken, but listeners judged that most of the speakers had been female. (2)  Sigh.   If I were a feminist like Dale Spender, the author of that study, I too might come to the pessimistic conclusion that “women seem excessively talkative not, as had been assumed, in comparison to men but rather as compared to silence.  In other words, if silence is the ideal for women, ‘then any talk in which a woman engages can be too much’. ” (3)

Chrystia Freeland describes her own voice as pretty high in her QP question. When people ask me what I mean by Voice Therapy in my practice, well, this is part of what I mean.  Everyone has a wide range of potential in their individual voices.  Often we limit it.   Always high-pitched, always low-pitched, not enough volume, not enough breath, etc.  In voice therapy we try to peel away the physical and psychological layers that limit this range.  Fun stuff.  But that’s not the point here. I’ve since found other examples of Chrystia Freeland’s voice that show she can deliver a message with a nice combination of head and chest voice.  When relaxed, she’s got a strong, balanced voice.

But Freeland had to YELL to be heard in Question Period yesterday.  This is often the case–especially for women whose speaking voices tend to be lower in volume than men’s.  Sure, there are things she could do differently to yell more efficiently.  But it doesn’t serve her well to yell.  It’s hard to sound calm and confident when you’re yelling.  Chrystia Freeland was voted in as a Member of Parliament by her constituents.  She gets her turn.  It’s not her turn to listen, it’s her turn to talk.

So Freeland asked for quiet. Well done, I say. She should have been provided it.

Everyone in the House should start demanding quiet — man or woman. It’s the Speaker’s job to provide order.

So quiet down, people. Wait your turn. And when your turn comes, demand that the Speaker do his job.



1. Cutler, A. & Scott, D.R. (1990). Speaker sex and perceived apportionment of talk, Applied Psycholinguistics, 11, 253-272.

2. Spender, D. 1979, February. Language and sex differences. Osnabrucker Beitrage zur Sprach-theorie. 38-59.

3. Karpf, A. 2006, The Human Voice, New York & London, Bloomsbury. 161-162.

Irregardless of the teleprompter…

Okay vocabulary snobs, this one’s worth a listen. Kory Stamper, associate editor at Merriam-Webster, will shine a light on the word “irregardless“. As informative as her explanation is, she also provides us with an excellent example of the spoken word. She has great range (nice highs and lows), and despite her first three phrases all having rising intonation, she recovers with confidence, exceptional timing and a perfect rate. After listening to it three times, it’s still hard to tell that she’s reading from a teleprompter. She is, and that ladies and gentlemen, is how it’s done.

Change it up

During Question Period in the House of Commons, opposition MPs usually squeeze all they can into their 30 second slot.  On Nov. 5th, Thomas Mulcair did a little something different in his follow-up question for John Baird.  The rest of the House is used to hearing their colleagues drone on.  They often use a fast rate with no pauses and limited intonation to get it all in, and we have to work pretty hard to follow their message.  Mulcair’s unexpected  approach makes everyone take notice.

Changing it up attracts attention.  Sometimes, less is more.  So if you find yourself droning on like a politician in Question Period, pause, and use a short phrase to focus your message.  You’ll get your listeners back.

Ok, I’ll pause now, and say a short phrase.  Watch this: