Chrystia Freeland vs. The Speaker

Here’s what a speech pathologist has to say about women’s voices in QP

Sean Kilpatrick/CP

Sean Kilpatrick/CP

I just wasted seven minutes of my time googling “Chrystia Freeland & Bill Maher” to find out if her voice is always as high pitched as it was in Question Period earlier this week.  If you haven’t heard, the newbie Liberal MP had a hard time of it. This Huffington Post piece also notes a commentator’s “sexist” tweet suggesting she use her “big girl voice.” Nice. Interesting to note that Conservative opponent Michelle Rempel tweeted to her defence.

But here’s the thing: women’s voices have never served them well in QP. The Ottawa Journal in 1932 reads: “Miss Agnes Macphail … gowned in black … her voice unusually shrill in a chamber modelled for baritones and basses.”  Plus ça change.

Many women’s voices don’t serve them well on television panels, either. On this Bill Maher panel from 2011, Freeland gets about 20 seconds worth of microphone time. The other seven minutes are taken up almost entirely by three of her fellow male panelists. (She ties for talking time with the fourth guest, a doctor, but he got to end the segment with a high five to Bill Maher for being in his 70s and not needing Cialis, so he’s all right. We don’t know what he has to say, but the guy can still get it up! Important stuff.) Freeland comes across as a VERY good listener. At least that’s how it appears since they’re giving her an inordinate amount of camera time for somebody not speaking. They show her doing a lot of very good cleavage listening. It is excellent listening, and if it takes excellent listening to get on Bill Maher, then so be it.

Women are supposed to be good listeners. Studies show it. Less talk, more listening please. In one study, two actresses spoke dialogue of exactly the same length of time, and listeners judged it that way–to be equal in length. But when the roles were played by a man and a woman instead, the women were judged—by listeners of both genders—to be talking more.

Isn’t that sad? They spoke for the same amount of time, but everyone thought the woman was talking for a really looooooong time. Why won’t she just shut up already? In another study, there was a group discussion where almost twice as many men as women had spoken, but listeners judged that most of the speakers had been female. Sigh. If I were a feminist like Dale Spender, the author of that study, I too might come to the pessimistic conclusion that “women seem excessively talkative not, as had been assumed, in comparison to men but rather as compared to silence. In other words, if silence is the ideal for women, ‘then any talk in which a woman engages can be too much.’”

Chrystia Freeland describes her own voice as pretty high in her QP question. When people ask me what I mean by Voice Therapy in my practice, well, this is part of what I mean. Everyone has a wide range of potential in their individual voices. Often we limit it. Always high-pitched, always low-pitched, not enough volume, not enough breath, etc.  In voice therapy we try to peel away the physical and psychological layers that limit this range. Fun stuff. But that’s not the point here. I’ve since found other examples of Chrystia Freeland’s voice that show she can deliver a message with a nice combination of head and chest voice. When relaxed, she’s got a strong, balanced voice.

But Freeland had to YELL to be heard in Question Period. This is often the case–especially for women whose speaking voices tend to be lower in volume than men’s. Sure, there are things she could do differently to yell more efficiently. But it doesn’t serve her well to yell. Hard to sound calm and confident when you’re yelling. Chrystia Freeland was voted in as a Member of Parliament by her constituents. She gets her turn. It’s not her turn to listen, it’s her turn to talk.

So Freeland asked for quiet. Well done, I say.

Everyone in the House should start demanding that—man or woman. It’s the Speaker’s job to provide order.

So quiet down, people. Wait your turn. And when your turn comes, demand that the Speaker do his job.

Mary Houle is a registered speech-language pathologist in the national capital region.

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Chrystia Freeland vs. The Speaker

  1. It doesn’t matter who the woman is, or what her voice actually sounds like…..it’s called ‘shrill’.

    If Lauren Bacal or Kate Mulgrew spoke in Parliament they would be called ‘shrill’. Voices otherwise called ‘sultry’ or ‘whiskey-soaked’ become ‘shrill’ if they speak beyond the bedroom.

    Women are supposed to be quiet….and if they MUST speak then it should be in a ‘low and pleasing manner’.

    Cultural crap…stemming from St Paul.

    Plus of course people remember ….and don’t like….those who lectured them as children…mom, a nun, a teacher….so that goes into the mix. If she points or shakes her finger….that’s even worse.

    Women have to learn how to use microphones…..as that alone will make them sound shrill.

    In short a thesis/dissertation could be written on voices.

    • It doesn’t matter who the woman is, or what her voice actually sounds like…..it’s called ‘shrill’.

      Bullshit. Meagan Leslie and Elizabeth May do just fine in the HOC — to name just 2 examples that debunk your sweeping generalization.

      This horribly embarrassing video clip is more about the failure of House Speaker Andrew Scheer to control heckling in Question Period. Feeland is new and inexperienced and leading CPC asshats took advantage of that. And Scheer let them.

      I would love to Scheer grow a spine and expel a few of the worst hecklers for a day or two. Sadly, all of us know that is not going to happen.

      Expect Question Period to resemble a dysfunctional daycare until 2015 as long as Scheer is running the show.

      • Both Meagan Leslie and Elizabeth May have been called shrill. It depends on if they’re criticizing the govt.

        Yes Freelands ‘maiden speech’….and I’m sure there were jokes about that too….went badly because grown men couldn’t control themselves and the Speaker disgraced his position.

        Then people wonder why there aren’t more women in politics

  2. good article!

    Effective Communication = 50% TX + 50% RX

    • and thank you Michelle Rempel for speaking up.

  3. Voice is pretty important to what we think of people, isn’t it? Brian Mulroney pitched his much lower than it really was — low, modulated tones come across to make the speaker appear more in control than he or she may feel. I have read comments here from someone who doesn’t like Justin Trudeau’s breathy way of speaking. I think the Vancouver Observer reporter’s comment to Ms Freeland was vitriolic and intended to make an impressive woman appear like a mere girl and I am pleased he was called on it — although a boycott of his articles, or letters to his editor might smarten him up for a longer term than a few tweets. And the speaker needs to smarten up, but he won’t. Overall, Ms Freeland will prevail because she has substance and is smart.

  4. The “Bill Maher Panel” you mention is a small segment after the show. Freeland and that doc got a lot more talking time in during the actual show (the doc was the interview guest).

  5. I was watching QP during that exchange.
    Nails on a blackboard.
    Not sexist.

    • They say that about all women politicians….even Sarah Palin.

    • It was loud, she was nervous …that was the point of this article right?

    • You don’t think saying she sounds like a little girl, ie not ready or appropriate for HoC, is sexist? Really?

  6. Don’t take it too personally CF…every time i hear PP, Tony C or just about any of Harper’s goons speak i have the feeling that time aint moving nearly fast enough for me.

    • Forget Freeland…..
      anyone ever hear Cheryl Gallant?
      She sounds like a stern school teacher….with a mouthful of peanut butter.

  7. I believe what is being said with the voice should be more important than the pitch.
    Trudeau has a nice voice…..but no one understands what he’s saying. Including himself.

    • Please follow your own advice:

      “She sounds like a stern school teacher….with a mountful of peanut butter.” James R. Halifax

  8. I agree with the “quiet” idea, they sound like a bunch of unruly and ignorant children who’s teacher has left the room. It’s time these jackasses started to act like human beings and bring some decorum back to parliament, and that goes for all parties.

    I’ve listened to the British parliament on occasion lately and while they still do some hectoring, it’s a lot more “refined” then what goes on in Ottawa. So smarten up and start to bring some democracy into our sadly lacking democratic system.

    • Wonder how many comments were covertly made about her “being on the rag” or “not getting any” in the House of Penises. Ugh.

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