« | Home | »

Unladylike Shrieking

Tags:

When I was fifteen, my form teacher, to punish me for my ‘unladylike shrieking’ in the school corridor, made me write out a quotation from King Lear a hundred times in my neatest handwriting:

Her voice was ever soft, 
Gentle, and low, an excellent thing in woman.

Never mind that Lear speaks the lines over Cordelia’s corpse. The episode came back to me recently when I saw Lake Bell’s film In a World…, about a female voiceover artist struggling to break into the male-dominated movie-trailer scene. Bell’s character, Carol, makes a reasonable living with coaching work – there’s a memorable scene in which she tries to teach Eva Longoria (playing herself) to do a Cockney accent – but the voiceovers for Hollywood blockbusters (like reading the football results on the radio in the UK) have traditionally gone to men, mostly with voices like the late Don LaFontaine.

Against the odds (and some stiff competition including her father), Carol is eventually chosen to record the voiceover on the trailer for The Amazon Games. When she corners a studio executive in the toilets at an awards ceremony to thank her for the opportunity, the executive explains that the movie is aimed at Twilight fans, and that by picking Carol’s voice, she was trying to empower a whole generation of young women to start using theirs.

At the end of the movie, though, Carol is running classes to help women improve their voices, lowering the tone and slowing them down to help them ‘be taken seriously’. So much for the promise of empowerment. The idea that there’s a right and a wrong way for a voice to sound isn’t only applied to women – William Hague and Iain Duncan Smith are both said to have consulted a voice specialist while trying to cling to the Tory leadership – but how often is a male politician or celebrity described as ‘shrieking’ or ‘screeching’? Margaret Thatcher took voice lessons from a coach recommended by Laurence Olivier because her natural tone was too ‘shrill’. The notion persists that if your voice isn’t ‘soft, gentle and low’, what you’re saying is somehow less worthy of attention.

Comment on this post

Log in or register to post a comment.


  • Recent Posts

    RSS – posts

  • Contributors

  • Recent Comments

    • Chris Lintott on A Meteor in the Saturnian Sky: I'm not sure it's true that Cassini could have been solar powered - no mission relying on solar power has operated so far from the Sun. Technology is ...
    • IPFreely on ‘Herr Müller wants to talk to you’: An AfD leader, Gauland, is now saying that Germans have nothing to do with the Nazi era and that it is time to move on - quite what he wants to move o...
    • vanini on A Meteor in the Saturnian Sky: While it's appropriate to celebrate Cassini's amazing scientific discoveries, there should be a mention of Cassini's dark side: it carried 72 lb of th...
    • Stu Bry on In Praise of Process: While I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiments in the blog I find it strange that there is no consideration of Process in terms of EU accountability...
    • UncleShoutingSmut on At the Norwegian Embassy: The underlying question here - who votes? - turns out to be more complex than it seems. In the UK, leaving the EU was not a ‘British’ decision, wh...

    RSS – comments

  • Contact

  • Blog Archive

Advertisement Advertisement