I’m “loud.” I have been told this many times in my life — in comic ways, in critical ways, in weird, demeaning ways. Suffice it to say that when I speak to a large group, I won’t be needing a microphone, thanks.
I credit and blame a combination of genetics and upbringing for my strong voice. My father is a six-foot-one, broad-chested man with a naturally booming manner of speaking. It’s not an effort or intentional, it just comes out of him that way. Combine those inherited vocal cords with being raised in a much more 1950s than 1970s style (speak up when spoken to!) and you have the makings of clear, ringing, direct speech.
As a result, I’ve spoken clearly and fully from the chest since I was a kid. I never put on a “cute” voice. I can’t even imitate the infamous “sexy baby” voice that many young women use. I’m certainly able to speak quietly — it’s not like I have some sort of disorder — but at work and in regular exchanges, I speak with my normal, strong voice. Always.
For whatever reason, people like to tell me about it. I have no idea why they’d think I don’t know. I’ve noticed how I match up on a conference call. I’ve seen myself in a group on video. I’ve heard recordings. I’ve easily cut through the din to get service in New York City. I know that some are quieter than me and some are louder. I’m not deaf, I just have a strong speaking voice.
The thing that persistently bothers me, though, is that often when someone comments on my voice, it feels as though the goal is to make me pull back from something. There’s derision to what’s being communicated. I work in tech, so I’m surrounded by men, and there are plenty whose voices are just as big if not bigger than mine, believe me. When someone makes a remark, I’m forced to wonder if the men around me have to hear about their booming voices all the time. Are they razzed for being a “loudmouth” too? I’m doubtful.
I have a very clear memory of the first time I was chided for how I talk. I was in third grade and in a bustling group of kids, dividing some materials among us. As I was speaking up for what I needed, the teacher took me by the arm and leaned down into my face. “You’ll get a lot farther asking for things if you do it in a young lady’s voice,” she whispered. This was a first. It had the effect of a needle being dragged across a record in my brain. I didn’t even understand what she meant. Is she saying I’m being a boy? That I’m not a good girl? I said “please.” What in the world is this about? I knew without a doubt that I was being scolded, though.
The decades since have plenty of similar stories, even if I’ve grown a much thicker skin about it. I’ve even heard complaints — that’s complaints, mind you — about the volume of my laugh. I won’t lie, I have a big, belly laugh that I am delighted to unleash. I love to laugh. Except when someone at work gripes to me that they can hear me laughing “down the hall.” Am I seriously being criticized for laughing? Would they prefer I be weeping?
Is it that bad?
That’s really the question. Is it that bad? And if it is, why? Is this about volume, or is it about strength and power? And despite some half-assed efforts in my younger years to conform, should I even care? I’m sensitive to others who may not have as much vocal oomph, but should I really be sensitive to snarky “just kidding” comments and thinly veiled criticisms?
Maybe. Maybe not. But I know one thing: When we’re all in the nursing home, you’re gonna be hearing me laugh all the way down the hall.