When Women Sound Like Little Girls

Drawing by Elizabeth Wagele.

Drawing by Elizabeth Wagele.

When I hear a grown woman use a child’s voice, I wonder what caused it and if the woman is aware of how she sounds. Does she think it’s sexy to sound like a baby or what? Okay, it’s possible some people have a voice they can’t help. Maybe they’d rather not have such a voice but they don’t know how to change it. There are at least two other possibilities: First, maybe sounding young feels safer so they adopt a meek, weak child’s voice. They might want to sound wimpy and unthreatening because they’re afraid of people, especially men. Second, maybe they think their peers will actually like them more if they have a babyish voice. They may be following trends in speaking, such as the valley girl accent and the vocal fry. Abby Normal describes The Vocal Fry Epidemic well on You Tube.


Lake Bell is a voice-over artist and star/director/writer of the new movie, “In a World.” She had been “personally ruptured and unsettled” by the vocal trend” she calls “sexy baby vocal virus… Not only is its pitch so high up, but it’s also a dialect, a speech pattern that includes uptalking and fry, so it’s this amalgamation of unsavory sounds that many young women have adopted. It’s a pandemic,” in Bell’s opinion. “I can’t have people around me that speak that way,” Bell says, “mainly because I… grew up thinking a female voice should sound sophisticated and sexy, a la Lauren Bacall or Anne Bancroft or Faye Dunaway. Not a 12-year-old little girl that is submissive to the male species.”




Slate Lexicon Valley podcaster and NPR On the Media host Bob Garfield talks about “creaky voice” or “vocal fry,” a gravelly lowering of the voice that conjures the sounds of “a door creaking or a hinge that needs oiling.” He describes the speech pattern as “vulgar,” “repulsive,” “mindless,” “annoying,” and “really annoying.” He wants someone to “wave a magic wand over women and have the frying come to an end.”



For years, women have been criticized for raising their voices at the end of sentences. This “Valley Girl lift,” as fine arts professor Laurie Fendrich puts it, “reveals an unexplainable lack of confidence in one’s opinions and a radical uncertainty about one’s place in the world.” It makes women sound empty-headed.




One study recorded a college-aged woman’s voice while speaking in an even tone, and then again when employing the creak. When both samples were played for students in Berkeley and Iowa, peers viewed the affectation as “a prestigious characteristic of contemporary female speech,” characterizing the creaky woman as “professional,” “urban,” “looking for her career,” and “not yet a professional, but on her way there.” So the young generation likes this. Eek.




Science cites a study conducted by speech scientist Nassima Abdelli-Beruh, who observed the creak in two-thirds of the college women. She found that “young students tend to use it when they get together,” with the speech pattern functioning as a “social link between members of a group.”




Linguist Mark Liberman has documented the rise of the Valley Girl lift, which he describes as American “uptalk,” among even the manliest of men. He found it in the speech of a python wrangler, a NASA official, and George W. Bush. “Final rises” have actually been used by men and women to “assert dominance and control” over the conversation “by holding the floor, by exerting pressure on the hearer to respond, or by reminding the hearers of common ground. Only when young women employ it is the speech pattern so vilified.”




More awareness of what we do with our voices should open some doors of understanding. We might find that baby voices and stupid-sounding accents indicate, for one thing, that Americans are putting more emphasis on speaking like their peers than the aesthetics or meaning of what we have to say.





Visit http://wagele.com to check out my books, CD, cartoons, and essays, and Famous Enneagram Types.


Read my Psychology Today blog of 8-20-13: “How to Achieve Social Know-how.”




The New DSM: Abnormal is the New Normal


Cartoon by E. Wagele from “The Happy Introvert”

Under the Diagnostic and Statistical Manuel (DSM), which defines mental illness in the U.S., half of us have a diagnosable mental disorder.

 It should come as no surprise that many who profit financially from mental illnesses would encourage broadening the definitions in the DSM-5. This benefits therapists because insurance covers clients if their diagnosis is in the DSM.

According to Robin S. Rosenberg in his article in Slate,  “Abnormal is the New Normal,” our odds of having a mental disorder in our lifetime are greater than 50%, based on the new DSM-V. “For decades, mental health clinicians, physicians, the U.S. surgeon general’s office, and various state and local agencies have been advocating for better detection of mental illness. If we are better at spotting it, we can treat it. And if we detect it earlier, we can hopefully intervene to reduce the intensity and/or frequency of symptoms. For instance, people who decades ago may have had undiagnosed attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, depression, or substance abuse are now more likely to have their problems recognized and diagnosed. But the increased awareness and detection translates into a higher rate of mental illness.”

Various tests show our population is getting more anxious, more neurotic, and more narcissistic.

We’re more willing to see mental illness in ourselves and others. Many normal problems that were once considered healthy are now classified as mental illness, partly because the DSM keeps increasing the number of disorders, from 106 in 1952 to 297 in DSM IV.

Some of the disorders added are medical, not psychological, such as “breathing-related sleep disorder,” caffeine intoxication, and caffeine withdrawal.

Even shyness, worrying, and grief are now considered pathological.

When insurance pays for treatment, a diagnosis is necessary. So you can see why therapists like it when more problems qualify. The more problems, the more the pharmaceutical companies profit, too. 70% of the DSM-5 task force members have financial ties to the pharmaceutical industry. Also, people want quick fixes to their problems and mental diagnoses enable them to become more eligible for government services.

Rosenberg adds, “…Having a diagnosis gives a name to the suffering we feel and the hope that with a label can come relief… Hope is essential. But I’m not sure that ultimately labeling half of us with a mental disorder is the best way to give people realistic hope. Having a diagnosable mental illness has almost become the new ‘normal.’ As a society, we have an opportunity to think about how we define mental health and illness. It shouldn’t only be up to the authors of the DSM.”

In my blog last May in Psychology Today, “Criticism of the DSM-5 and a Suggestion, II,”  I suggested the DSM completely change the way it diagnoses problems by using the Enneagram as a model for not only mental illness, but also for a comparison with people who are healthy mentally. Each of the 9 Enneagram personality types can be described in stages from healthy to unhealthy. The DSM would be tied to a continuum of these 9 basic features. For example, the 6-Questioner when healthy is alert, often witty, and concerned about safety. This personality descends when unhealthy into paranoia. The healthy 1-Perfectionist wants to do what’s right and is well-organized. People of this type who are unhealthy may suffer from obsessive/compulsive disorder. While most pathologies could be compared to the normal personality, schizophrenia and some other illnesses may lie outside of this model.

Read my Psychology Today blog of 8-6-13, Pessimism and Enneagram Type 6-The Questioner.

Visit http://wagele.com to check out my CD, cartoons, essays, Famous Enneagram Types, and books:

“The Enneagram Made Easy,”

“Are You My Type, Am I Yours?”

“The Enneagram of Parenting,”

“The Happy Introvert,”

“Finding the Birthday Cake“ (for teaching the Enneagram to young children),

“The Career Within You,”

and “The Enneagram of Death.”

My CD, “The Beethoven Enneagram,” is available only through Amazon.com. My books can be ordered from independent book stores or Amazon.com.