Vocal Fry is Not Women’s Problem, It’s Your Problem by the Forward

Vocal Fry is Not Women’s Problem, It’s Your Problem

Image by Lior Zaltzman

fry on the right track. “Patriarchy is inventive,” she writes. It’s true. It is. So inventive in fact, it keeps finding reasons to dismiss young women’s voices. Vocal fry is just the latest in a long, long series.

Naomi Wolf, not for the first time, stands on the side of patriarchy, telling women that they should change their voices instead.

This disparaging language in this article makes it clear that Wolf is irritated by these voices, herself. And as if we had any doubts, she ask us:

No, it’s not anti-feminist to hate these voice patterns. But validating that irritation as a reason for why women should not be heard? That is anti-feminist.

There are plenty of voices out there that I find annoying. I find nasal, squeaky voices irritating too. I hate it when women speak like they are little children. For some it is a choice, for some it is just their voices, but I would never dare to tell a woman how to speak.

The way I see it, my irritation is my own problem. If I find someone’s voice annoying it is my job to still listen, despite my irritation. After all, we, the Jews, are a people of annoying voices.

From Larry David, to Fran Drescher, to Woody Allen to Adam Sandler, we are a nation of raspy nasal voices that take a bit of time to get used to.

And yet people do, I mean, there were six seasons of “The Nanny”. Six whole seasons of Fran Drescher’s uniquely grating voice. And I watched them. Because she made me laugh. All these entertainers have smart or funny things to say. So we get over it.

If you find vocal fry irritating in women, and only in women, then it’s something you should ask yourself about. Because there’s more than ample evidence that it is found in men’s voices too. Just listen to this compilation from Slate’s Culture Gabfest:

And yet, when people complain about vocal fry, they almost exclusively complain about women. The reason is pretty simple, when you think of it. We’re used to finding reasons to dismiss women’s voices. Superficial reasons. Or just plain made up reasons.

We scrutinize and judge instead of asking ourselves, wait, why are we so concerned about what women sound like that we can’t even take the time to listen to what they are saying?!

If you can get over Ira Glass nasal and grating Jewish voice, even learn to love it, why can’t you do the same for women on the radio?

Speaking of Ira Glass, This American Life did a great piece about vocal fry, in which he talked with another women podcasters and with Stanford linguistics professor Penny Eckert. In a research she conducted about vocal fry, she found that it tends to irritate people over the age of 40 significantly more than people who were younger than 40 (Wolf is 52).

“[…] it’s a policing of young people, but I think most particularly young women,” Eckert says.

It’s painful to see how it effects the young, smart women in question, who get vitriolic e-mails about their vocal fry on a regular basis. Chana Joffe-Walt said she started to notice it in herself and in other women: “I become like a woman who hates women.”

Naomi Wolf just doesn’t get how young people talk. But what she’s telling young women? It’s damaging. And it doesn’t matter what her voice sounds like.

We need to encourage young women to talk, and when their voices are irritating? We should afford them the same respect we have always afforded men. We should get over it, and listen anyways.


Lior Zaltzman

Lior Zaltzman

Lior Zaltzman was the Forward’s Digital Fellow. Follow her on twitter @liorca.

Vocal Fry is Not Women’s Problem, It’s Your Problem

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