Voiceover and Gender Bias

Changes in society have been happening as far as recognizing women as equals. Although perhaps not as much of as a change as we hope it would be, and – women know this the most – not as easy. There is bias in nearly every facet in a woman and a man’s role like the double standards women have to deal with at home and at work and how they are supposed to carry themselves among society.

The voiceover industry may be feeling it too – are masculine voices preferred?

A study published by the journal PLOSOne, featured in an article written by Megan Garber for The Atlantic published in December 2012 find that we prefer masculine voices. Low voices are preferred because it is perceived as someone who is physically strong, more attractive, more trustworthy and more competent. Even in women and among women. Women with lower voices command a higher respect compared to their higher-pitched counterparts who are perceived sound irritating.

How they came to that conclusion? The authors of the journal created hypothetical elections for two traditionally lady-led outfits: one for School Board member, the other for president of the Parent Teachers Organization. They recorded their “candidates”-ten men and ten women, with mean ages of 33 and 28, respectively-uttering a commonly neutral phrase: “I urge you to vote for me this November.” Then, they manipulated those recordings to create two versions, one high-pitched and one low-, of each “candidate’s” utterance of the given phrase. Presenting those recordings to a group of 35 women and 36 men, the researchers asked their “electorate” to vote among the candidates-testing the assumption, they say, “that men and women will prefer male and female leaders with more feminine voices for feminine leadership roles.” They ended up debunking themselves because the lower-pitched voices prevailed that day, despite the fact that those voices were seeking ‘feminine leadership roles’. “The preference is, indeed, consistent. Regardless of social context, and regardless even of gender, the lower-pitched voice was deemed more authoritative than the higher. As in previous studies, men and women preferred female candidates with masculine voices. Likewise, men preferred men with masculine voices. Women, however, did not discriminate between male voices,” the authors said.

Megan Garber asks in her article, “Is our discrimination against high-pitched voices so deeply ingrained that we apply it indiscriminately?” The authors of the journal PLOSOne strive to answer that in their study by noting, “this bias could be a consequence of lower-pitched female voices being perceived as more competent, stronger, and more trustworthy. That is, these traits are perceived as positive in the context of leadership and could be the mechanism that leads us to prefer female leaders with lower voices.” The study further explores the finding where the preference for lower voices could also reflect another bias, the bias towards age. The pitch of the female voice declines over a woman’s lifespan, the authors point out–meaning that a low female voice might also indicate an older owner. In other words, “men and women may be biased to select older women as leaders, regardless of the type of position in question.” It is, after all, a question on whether we prefer masculine voices and not men over women for leadership roles and for any role for that matter.

So does this hold any water in the voiceover industry where there are countless consumer personas for each brand’s product and service? Is anyone noticing that the ‘authoritative’ voice usually looks for a masculine one? Or the nurturing voice for a mother-baby brand is that of a feminine voice? Can a masculine voice sound nurturing? So, there are countless sides to this subject. Be that it may be, it can be cause for an interesting one.

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