Gender Letter is a weekly take on news and culture through a gender lens. I’m Jessica Bennett, gender editor of The Times and author of “Feminist Fight Club: A Survival Manual for a Sexist Workplace.” Want future editions of this newsletter delivered to your inbox? Sign up here. Tell us what you think at [email protected].
Her voice was too “high pitched.”
That was the feedback given to Vicki Sparks, a sports journalist who this month became the first woman to ever call a World Cup match live on British television.
Jason Cundy, a former defender for Chelsea and Tottenham, couldn’t have been more blunt about it on “Good Morning Britain.” He prefers a male voice when watching football, 90 minutes of “a high-pitched tone” is too much, “and when there’s a moment of drama, as there often is in football, that moment needs to be done with a slightly lower voice.”
It’s an assessment I haven’t been able to stop thinking about, in part because of the number of times I’ve gotten similar unsolicited feedback.
“Stop with the vocal fry,” a man recently tweeted to me after I appeared on the radio.
My colleague Emily Steel, whose groundbreaking work exposing sexual misconduct and cover-up at the hands of Bill O’Reilley and Fox News was part of The Times’ Pulitzer Prize for Public Service this year, is constantly told, “You sound like a little girl.”
We brush the insults off, and yet they are familiar to most women who speak up in traditionally male spaces.
Margaret Thatcher famously employed a voice coach to help lower her voice in an attempt to give herself more authority. Claims of being too “shrill” — a word that, by the way, is used twice as often in media to refer to women than men, as research by the linguist Nic Subtirelu has found — dogged Hillary Clinton in her campaign for the presidency. (Here’s a whole video on the science of hating Mrs. Clinton’s voice.)
Meanwhile, the BBC published a fascinating article last month about researchers in Australia who had studied the voices of two groups of young women from the 1940s and the 1990s. They found that the “fundamental frequency” of those women’s voices had dropped by 23 Hz over five decades — in other words, the women’s voices got deeper. They attributed that drop to women’s rise in society, which, they speculated, has led women to adopt a deeper tone to project authority and dominance at work.
It’s interesting to think about, particularly in a moment where we are seeing a record number of women strive for political office — a realm that has been, yes, traditionally male. Those candidates already face an uphill battle. Now do they have to think about the pitch of their voices, too?
Here’s my question as we head into the weekend: If women had been in power since forever, would it be men working to raise their voices after being told they’re too “low-pitched”?
• She was a 28-year-old bartender. Now she’s likely to be the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. If you don’t know the name Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, get to know it. In this week’s New York Democratic primary, she stunned the political world by roundly beating Representative Joseph Crowley, once seen as a possible successor to Nancy Pelosi as Democratic leader of the House. [The New York Times]
• What now for the future of abortion? Wednesday’s retirement announcement by Justice Anthony Kennedy of the United States Supreme Court could spell the overturning of Roe v. Wade, writes our political correspondent Julie Hirschfeld Davis. [The New York Times]
• Sexism at the World Cup: At least three female journalists have been kissed, groped or assaulted live on camera while reporting from the event. The incidents have raised the question: underneath all that jubilant celebration, does soccer have a sexism problem? [NPR]
• Asking for a raise may not be enough. New research finds that the trope that women “don’t ask” for raises isn’t actually true. Rather, women do ask — they’re just less likely to get them. [Harvard Business Review]
• Saudi women on getting behind the wheel. This past Sunday marked the first day women in Saudi Arabia were allowed to drive. Hear three sisters discuss the thrill of driving by themselves to run errands, and seeing other women on the road doing the same. [The Takeaway]
What Happened After They Said #MeToo
We know what became of the accused. But what happened to the women and men whose #MeToo accounts prompted a global movement? Nine months after The New York Times and The New Yorker revealed the allegations against Harvey Weinstein, we checked back with 20 accusers, from factory floors to Silicon Valley, to see how their lives have changed.
Overlooked But Not Forgotten
Since 1851, the majority of obituaries in The New York Times have been about men. With Overlooked, we’re adding the stories of remarkable women whose deaths went unreported in The Times. This week: “Grandma Gatewood,” the first woman to conquer the Appalachian Trail alone.
We’re also working to diversify our current obits report. Email us suggestions for subjects at [email protected].
We’re Live with 2 Dope Queens!
Will you be in New York City on July 23? I’ll be moderating a discussion with Jessica Williams and Phoebe Robinson, the hilarious comics behind the “2 Dope Queens” podcast and HBO series. Tickets are on sale now — but if you can’t make it, don’t fret. We’ll be live-streaming the talk on Instagram and elsewhere. Follow us for updates.