There’s a scene in Hulu’s new collection, “The Dropout,” the place Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes, sporting a white shirt, stands in entrance of a mirror and practices saying, “That is an inspiring step ahead.” With every iteration, her voice deepens.
Because the world has discovered about Theranos’ web of deception – whether or not by way of John Carreyrou’s bestselling ebook, “Bad Blood,” Apple’s podcast collection “The Dropout” or Hulu’s streaming collection of the identical title – Holmes’ supposed attempt to alter her voice is a element that captivates audiences. The habits may strike some individuals as weird, even sociopathic.
However due to my coaching in vocology, the examine of vocalization, and my curiosity in speech biases, I’m intrigued by why Holmes might have felt compelled to alter her voice within the first place. I see the story of her voice as a part of a broader cultural fixation on the best way girls converse and sound.
Reactions to Holmes’ voice
Each time Holmes is within the information, some questions all the time come up:
What’s with that distinctively low voice? Is she faking it?
I’ve not been capable of finding definitive proof, within the type of video or audio recordings, to point out that Holmes’ voice is noticeably completely different in its present type than at some earlier time.
One video claims to seize Holmes shifting between two very completely different voice modes.
Nonetheless, it might have been simply edited. And dramatic, sustained pitch adjustments in speech might be related to heightened emotional states with out indicating a put-on voice. On the identical time, people who know Holmes have claimed that she modified her voice in an effort to domesticate a persona as a Silicon Valley wunderkind.
Solely a clinician like a laryngologist could make a voice-related medical prognosis. However since I can’t definitively reply if Holmes’ voice modified deliberately, it’s value contemplating what pure or medical processes might trigger an analogous impact. Hormones directly impact the voice, together with pitch and the notion of roughness or hoarseness. Girls’s voices are inclined to decrease in pitch range during menopause.
Holmes’ younger age on the time she turned identified for her voice might rule out an age-related hormonal voice change, however an analogous impact may very well be discovered with certain hormone therapy. There are additionally a number of voice disorders that influence pitch vary.
If she did it … how?
There are all types of causes individuals search voice remedy or teaching to deal with vocal insecurities. Whether or not they’re involved about their voice vary or just searching for expertise to develop into higher communicators, the voice is resilient and might be developed with coaching. There are additionally fantastic assets obtainable for gender-affirming voice assist for transgender individuals.
So what’s the physiological course of at play when somebody deliberately lowers their voice.
Partaking a tiny laryngeal muscle referred to as the thyroarytenoid causes the vocal folds, that are housed contained in the larynx (or “voice field”), to chill out and develop into shorter and thicker. Think about reducing stress on a rubber band. These shorter, thicker folds vibrate at a decrease frequency, leading to a lower-pitched voice, simply as a thicker or extra lax guitar string has a decrease pitch.
It’s possible the singular nature of Holmes’ voice is expounded not solely to its low pitch, but also its resonance, the distinctive tonal high quality, and placement of the voice. Holmes may modify her resonance by consciously reducing the larynx. Doing so creates an extended area above the larynx, which boosts the deeper, darker tones within the voice.
Girls’s voices topic to scrutiny
In my function as a theatrical voice coach, I’m generally requested to assist girls actors decrease their voices. I’ve encountered administrators and producers with a big distaste for higher-pitched girls’s voices, particularly when this pitch vary is mixed with nasal resonance.
In films and on TV, characters with high-pitched voices are sometimes portrayed as comical, dim-witted, and customarily undesirable. Consider Lina Lamont, the character from “Singin’ in the Rain” memorably performed by Jean Hagen. Her excessive, piercing voice turned a supply of constant laughs.
May sexist attitudes about girls’s voices trigger women in leadership roles to really feel pressured to regulate their pitch vary down?
Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, nicknamed the “Iron Woman,” famously down-shifted her voice to burnish her stature. Research on perceptions of pitch in girls’s voices exhibits greater ones are related to bodily attractiveness, whereas decrease voices are related to dominance.
But physiologically, to create this sound, the vocal folds should vibrate at a low frequency, related to low pitch. This much-maligned vocal characteristic is at one finish of the pitch spectrum. However there’s one other equally hated speech characteristic that’s achieved on the different finish: the high-rising terminal intonation sample, or “uptalk.” This characteristic is famous for the dramatic upward pitch on the finish of every thought, which can make statements sound like questions.
The insistence that ladies in media change the pitch of their voices usually comes with little concern for the anatomical and physiological factors that may restrict how a lot pitch change is finally attainable. My present analysis is investigating perceptions of ladies’s talking voices within the performing arts and contemplating whether or not it’s time to half methods with some previous aesthetic preferences.
Both manner, the fragile dance of making an attempt to strike a cheerful medium – the Goldilocks voice profile, the place one might be taken severely as a pacesetter with out being perceived as inauthentic, grating or patronizing – appears to be elusive. Girls’s voices are the topic of infinite scrutiny at each ends of the vary – it appears they simply can’t win.
If all the things about this story have been the identical besides the gender of Theranos’ CEO, I wonder if his voice would even be remarked upon. If it have been, may the same vocal qualities be perceived as constructive traits befitting a succesful, serious-minded chief?
Elizabeth Holmes undoubtedly lacks the sensible expertise and ethical compass to be a fantastic chief. However all of the noise about her voice, and the potential that she modified it to get forward, simply might reveal a sexist double commonplace that ladies seemingly can’t escape.