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.