SELECTIONS FROM THE MENU: TOWARDS A NATURAL, NON-IMITATIVE FEMALE VOICE
by Melanie Yarborough
Many in our community would like a simple "How-To" book of how to speak female, just as they might learn French or German or Spanish. But beware, says noted speech pathologist Maureen O'Connor of San Francisco's Peninsula Associates. One should not think that the best way to develop female speech is to uniformly adopt certain behaviors, and then put them on as a false persona. It's better to have a menu of female communication behaviors to pick and choose from, that sound natural.
Maureen O'Connor has been practicing speech and language pathology for the past 25 years. She studied at the University of Wisconsin and Perdue, and has worked in Albequerque and Stanford University. Since 1978, she has been in private practice. At a seminar at a past California Dreamin' convention, she elaborated on female voice and communication behaviors.
First, there is no one specific type of female voice. For example, there's Audrey Hepburn (graceful, elegant), Liza Minelli (bubbly, energetic) and Ellen Degeneres (plain, simple and likeable). All are female, but each is very different.
Two common mistakes many transgendered make attempting a femme voice: falsetto and breathiness. Falsetto is high, thin and tinny sounding. But there's no power to it, and you can't get melody or inflection. Speaking up there habitually is not the way vocal chords were meant to vibrate. Breathiness is associated with Marilyn Monroe or Jackie Onassis. It may sound inviting and sensual, but the balance of breath to tone is out of whack. It's far better to develop a female-sounding voice within your range, than to go outside of that range.
Feminine communication behaviors are different in basic use of vocabulary. Men tend to sound more matter-of-fact and monotone, while women are more expressive and can paint pictures with words. For example, women have a much broader color vocabulary than men, as they deal with fashion more. A man might say something is white; a woman could say it's ivory, bone, egg shell or ecru. Moreover, women have a broader vocabulary about food and other topics traditionally considered a woman's domain.
Women also use intensifiers to express emotionality. A male might say "It's a beautiful day". A female would say "It's such a beautiful day" Or, a male might say "She's pretty". A female would say "She's so pretty".
Centuries of having to depend on the goodwill of others has created a famale vocabulary which is often more approval-seeking, even supplicating. Women use tag questions more. They'll often end a sentence with "Isn't it? Doesn't she? Aren't you?" They even use more politisms, such as "could, would and should". And, sometimes, they'll couch a sentence in double and triple requests. A man might say "Take out the garbage". A woman would say "Would you please take out the garbage if you don't mind?"
Women's nonverbal communication is just as significant. They maintain more intimate eye contact with the person they speak to, and have a more frequent social smile. They show more facial expressions and constantly give you feedback. One needs to be somewhat (but not exaggeratedly) more expressive with the face. Does your face reflect what your voice says? And men will often boom out their declarations to the world, even if only talking to one person; women will project only to the listener, and not into the space around them.
How can a person practice to develop a female voice? "There's actually a useful function for soap operas as voice partners," Maureen jokes. They're melodramatic. Repeat aloud the female lines and try to sound as she does. But don't choose a female news commentator to study. They've been trained to be Bi-Dialectical, giving a flat, neutral more male presentation. "Internal voice" is important as well. When you think to yourself when dressed en femme, try not to speak with a female voice in your head.
Maureen reminds us that in trying to talk as a "typical" female, "All generalizations are false. There are exceptions to every rule on how men and women speak. Stereotypes are inaccurate, unjust and dangerous".
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