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Contact CU Independent Opinion Columnist Maris Westrum at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s an epidemic. All over the CU campus, young women are showing signs of it. It runs rampant in the dorms, the lecture halls and the walk ways. Even I suffer from this affliction, though I don’t know how I contracted it.
The epidemic I speak of is glottalization, or “vocal fry.” This condition is not only at the University of Colorado, but all over the country. Vocal fry can be described as the peculiar, gravelly sound that accompanies most young women’s voices nowadays. Reality TV star Kim Kardashian and other notable celebrities exhibit the trait.
While very few display the intensity of Kardashian’s fry, it is exceedingly common among young women. Whether or not vocal fry is a serious issue has become a topic for debate.
There have been several recent studies on vocal fry. Dr. Reena Gupta of the Osborne Head & Neck Institute writes that “Vocal fry occurs when the vocal (arytenoid) cartilages squeeze together very tightly. This allows the vocal cords themselves to be loose and floppy. When air passes between them, they can vibrate irregularly, popping and rattling.” Pushing air through the vocal chords like this causes them to exhaust and inflame. This only explains what vocal fry is, but doesn’t answer the question as to why young women are doing it.
“Earlier studies showed that this vocal creak was associated, in women, with being educated, urban-oriented and upwardly mobile,” Gupta explains. “There’s a theory that because the rumbling, deep male voice is perceived as being authoritative, perhaps that is why women are emulating it. It may even be subconscious.”
How strange— perhaps even disturbing— to think that women are trying to imitate the male voice in order to be “authoritative.” I did some more digging on the subject and as it turns out, there is more at stake than just the health of one’s vocal chords. A study about young women and vocal fry in the labor market suggests that “[V]ocal fry is interpreted negatively relative to a normal speaking voice. Young adult female voices exhibiting vocal fry are perceived as less competent, less educated, less trustworthy, less attractive and less hirable.”
The same study also suggests that women who display vocal fry are viewed more negatively than men who show vocal fry. If a woman wants to be taken seriously in the job market, she better have a voice as smooth as silk.
This seems to me like a good old-fashioned case of sexism. There aren’t half as many studies on vocal fry in males as there are in females. And that part about vocal fry not being attractive? No one finds man-spreading attractive, but no man has ever lost a job opportunity because of it. Perhaps instead of paying attention to the attractiveness of a woman’s voice, an interviewer should pay attention to what a woman is saying. Women should be judged on their merits, not on how their voices sound. The problem here is that people are still focusing on the sexual appeal of women, even in a professional environment.
This may be one issue, but it is part of a much larger problem. Women are getting backlash for being unfeminine. The qualities of being feminine may actually be changing. It is no longer a word that means dainty, fragile and meek. Its new definition depends on our young generation and what we stand for. Women want to be recognized for their achievements, not for simply being a woman. If employers are willing to look past a woman’s hair, face and voice, they will find that she is capable of anything.