baby voices

Tilly Jennifer Tilly is the worst offender, I think.  She’s a strapping great gal (eyes right) who insists on talking in a tiny voice.  Daum thinks the "baby-voice" trend is on the upswing.  Oh, damn. 

It is a blight upon the beauty of the American woman. 

How many times have you found yourself standing in line behind a woman of unsurpassed grace only to discover that she speaks like a cartoon character?

That’s me in 2004.  I had just moved from Canada, and baby voices was one of my most distressing discoveries state-side.  Since then the evidence has been piling up.  Paris Hilton is merely the latest case in point.

These voices are acts of self diminishment.  They say, "It’s just little me: childlike, innocent, unthreatening."   

Oh, please.  Just stop it.  Do these women wish to seem brainless?  I guess they must.  I mean, if someone’s prepared to sound like a cartoon character, what are the chances she’s going to risk an opinion on the new Werner Herzog movie. 

This voices are acts of "don’t mind me" apology.  And that makes them the perfect gender counterpart to Charlie Sheen/Harper and the unapologetic male.  Charlie Harper of Two and a Half Men is happy to let you know that he is completely self interested and utterly incapable of apology. 

So it’s a match made in heaven: women who apologize with every word they speak companion to men incapable of even a single word so spoken. 

But hold on.  Are women using baby voices to apologize for being insubstantial or to apologize for not being insubstantial enough?  I think, it might be the latter.  I think that the classic marker of subordinated womenhood may be the new marker of superordinated womanhood.  Now that some women are entirely in charge of their lives, they have a new message to send out…some sort of "don’t hate me because I’m successful" strategy.  That they use the old apology as a symbol of new status, well, that’s just proof that "the more things change…" 

How should women sound?  Plainly, they should sound however they sound.  But if cultivation comes into it, if they are going to move off their natural voice, I nominate Christine Lahti, Ann Curry, Diane Sawyer, Angela Basset, and Kate Winslet as role models.  There are lots of beautifully voiced women in the world. 

This is a new industry waiting to happen, a new transformational opportunity for our culture to embrace.  God knows, we’ve tried everything else.  Surely, the time for beautiful voices has come. 


Thanks to Virginia Postrel for the head’s up. 


Daum, Meghan.  2007.  Little voices of distraction.  Los Angeles Times.  July 7, 2007.  here

Postrel, Virginia.  2007.  Squeaky Voices.  Dynamist.  July 8, 2007.  here.

McCracken, Grant.  2007. The Charlie and Barney Show: Birth of a new American male?  This Blog Sits at the Intersection of Anthropology and Economics.  January 3, 2007.  here.

McCracken, Grant. 2004.  Blaming Buffy.  This Blog Sits at the Intersection of Anthropology and Economics.  July 14, 2004.  here

7 thoughts on “baby voices

  1. Peter

    Grant — The most famous woman of modern times with a little-girl’s voice was Jacqueline Kennedy, at least when she was married to JFK. Her voice in later life was less child-like.

  2. Jared

    I’ve heard that “baby voices” can be caused by childhood psychological trauma. Presumably voice is also normally distributed via genetics.

  3. Steve Portigal

    One has to wonder about the norms for the high-voiced woman in other cultures, especially Japan. What does it mean there?

    Really I have trouble picking on one specific cultural construction of beauty/desirability/femininity and saying oh THAT one should be “natural” and not artificial.

  4. Irene

    Maintaining a high-pitched voice is possible only if you’re a non-smoker. I think it was Gene Teirney who famously took up smoking in order to give herself a deep, seductive voice. And cigarettes are probably what caused Jackie O’s voice to change as she grew older. So maybe, given Paris Hilton’s alleged fondness for the herb, all we have to do is wait it out.

  5. Anonymous

    Adam and Drew on loveline say that the voice stop at the age they get molested. they’re usually right too

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