Preface: This is the kind of issue that can be hard to find, unless one has unlimited time to search all sources and for better or ill, I don’t. Ethics Alarms is still feeling the effects of losing the regular services of topic scout Fred, who had a remarkable reach, finding ethics issues in all sorts of places I never would (though Fred does drop by here to comment, and I am grateful for that, as well as his long service.) I really do depend on the readers for tips, particularly in the non-political arena. Even the news aggregating sites like The Daily Beast, The Daily Caller, the Blaze and Huffington Post have become more politics obsessed than ever, so Ethics Alarms has to dig deeper and go farther. Some of our best discussions have arisen out of obscure venues. So please: keep an ye open, and write me at firstname.lastname@example.org/
Ann Althouse found this, from The Cut:
There are many fascinating, upsettingdetails in the story of Elizabeth Holmes, but my favorite is her voice. Holmes, the ousted Theranos founder who was indicted last year on federal fraud charges for hawking an essentially imaginary product to multi-millionaire investors, pharmacies, and hospitals, speaks in a deep baritone that, as it turns out, is fake. Former co-workers of Holmes told The Dropout, a new podcast about Theranos’s downfall, that Holmes occasionally “fell out of character” and exposed her real, higher voice — particularly after drinking. One can only assume the voice will be discussed in the upcoming HBO documentary, too.
To begin with, as anyone can hear from the video above, Theranos did not and does not speak in deep baritone voice, which tells us immediately that the author, Katie Heaney, doesn’t know what she’s talking about. Neither, apparently, does Ann, who directs us to another video and describes Holmes’ voice as “a ludicrous phony voice.” There’s nothing ludicrous about it, and if she is not using a ventriloquist, it’s not phony either.
As a professional stage director who has coached people, including women, regarding their speech for almost 50 years, this is something I know about, and it is something of a pet peeve: too many individuals handicap their careers and lives by adopting speaking styles, including voice pitches, that are difficult to listen to, or that do not convey positive messages to listeners. This is especially true of women.
Again, we have an area in which there is politically motivated distortion going on from the Left. I’ve never seen the term in print, but we will eventually; “Voicism,” which would be alleged discrimination based on how someone sounds. To a remarkable extent, we have the power to control how we sound, in all respects—vocabulary, pace, accents and pitch. To say woman is using a “fake voice” is like saying that saying that her appearance is fake if she makes herself look as attractive as possible with grooming, make-up and deportment.
Lower pitched voices convey strength and maturity because they don’t evoke the voices of children. That’s logical, and instinctive. They are also easier to listen to. I know it is politically incorrect to admit it, but this is a male advantage in all jobs involving speaking and communication. One reason, for example, that the ranks of trial lawyers are overwhelming male is that a high-pitched voice is a handicap in a courtroom. So is a soft voice.
If Holmes has a naturally high-pitched voice, her decision to cultivate a lower one is simply good life management. It is no more unethical than overcoming an accent that is harsh to the ear or that makes one difficult to understand; it is smart and responsible. The major difference is whether a woman talks up in her “head voice,” was we call it in acting, or using her chest voice, which is what you hear in the video. Chest voices convey professionalism and trust (though maturity), head voices project girlishness. I bet Holmes never giggled either. Good choice. It is a bit unusual for a woman who has trained herself to speak in a lower voice to slip into a higher one in private, if only because learning to speak properly takes practice and consistency: this is like having good manners in public but behaving like an uncouth slob around the family. Both voices, and all the ones in between, are still “real.”
The Cut article’s author bizarrely analogizes speaking in a lower tone with using a fake accent. Wrong: people use fake accents to suggest that they are from somewhere they are not. That’s flat-out deception; it’s acting, and con-artist stuff when it occurs in a non-dramatic setting. Eliminating a toxic accent, one that sparks biases or that makes on difficult to understand, is, again, just an intelligent and responsible life choice. I’ve played the “My Fair Lady” video too many times here already, but Henry Higgins (that is, George Bernard Shaw as translated by Allen J. Lerner) is right:
Should be antique. If you spoke as she does, sir,
Instead of the way you do,
Why, you might be selling flowers, too!
I suppose what offends me by the article is that it might discourage young women from addressing the speech pathologies that handicap them. Voices are our tools, and we should learn to use them properly. Speaking through the nose, or high in the head, or using vocal fry is just incompetent, ignorant, and needlessly irritating to people who have to listen to you.
It isn’t only women, of course. Gay men who speak in stereotypical gay cadences and tones are essentially telling the world that they are gay with every sentence. I don’t care whether you are gay, but I don’t need to be reminded of it constantly either, and by indulging yourself you are asking to be discriminated against, or for a judgment that you regard your sexual orientation as your top priority in life. I cannot bear to listen to Baltimore Orioles color man Mike Bordick, a former player, who habitually talks through his nose…
This is easy to fix, and he is no longer a player, he is supposedly a professional broadcaster. I resent professionals who don’t make an effort to improve their skills: it’s an insult to those they serve. If I were directing him in a play, I would stop him in rehearsals every time he let his voice creep up into his sinuses, and he would either learn, or get fired.
In summary, you are not being deceptive or signaling a lack of trustworthiness by learning to speak in the most pleasing, effective, competent manner possible consistent with your career and life objectives. Elizabeth Holmes was a scamster, but choosing to speak in a lower voice is no more unethical for her than for any other professional.
Post script: What if Holmes’ “real” voice sounds like this?