The Voice

A couple of decades ago, my annual bronchitis cough turned into something a bit more serious, I lost my voice. This was not just for a day but to the point where my doctor sent me to a speech clinic. It turned out I had vocal nodules, growths on my vocal chords which when I spoke, squeezed together, effectively shutting off the flow of oral language. (The way they examined your vocal nodules, at least then, was to have you hold a cloth around your tongue and pull it down and out while they stuck a scope down your throat. (Not for the faint hearted.)

They told me I could avoid surgery if I stopped trying to speak, even whisper, for three days (whispering is actually worse than speaking normally for vocal nodules) and attended a speech clinic. Having no desire to participate in an operation with a scalpel down my throat, I agreed. The three days seemed to take forever, as my four children were 13, 10 and twin 9 year olds at the time, and they delighted in trying to make me speak. I then spent several weeks re-learning how to speak, which involved practicing keeping a good airflow from my diaphragm. The result became known to certain of our male friends, as the voice,a sexy, throaty toned product which made me sound like a 40s jazz singer.

The next year, I returned to working as a classroom teacher, and my 9th grade male students seemed particularly entranced when I used 'the voice." Thinking about voices, I have a remedy for my concern that many potential voters are not listening to our Presidential candidates, especially former Secretary of State Clinton. Let me begin with a trigger warning, this is going to sound (and is, for all practical purposes) sexist. Not only are we not in a "post-racial" society, we are particularly not in a post-sexist society.

Yes, women have been able to get past many barriers. There are women CEO's, we have a woman running as a serious candidate for President; women continue to break through glass ceilings and floors (the floor is actually more difficult than the ceiling and is the invisible barrier for many women of color, and in some parts of this country, LGBT women-they can't even get in the rooms of power, not to mention shattering any ceilings.) At the same time, anyone paying attention can see that America has gone backwards, not forwards, when it comes to treatment of gender. There are serious examples of sexism in America, among them, the recent advice to young girls about what type of swimsuit is good for their prepubescent bodies, but let's agree, America culture has reverted to the era of "Mad Men," without the poodle skirts.

For female candidates, like Hilary Clinton, this pervasive sexism extends not only to what they wear, but significantly to how they sound. When Hilary Clinton speaks at rallies, she raises her voice to showcase her enthusiasm, her righteous anger, her passion. I am sure she has been coached to try to match the noise level of the Republican candidate and of Bernie Sanders, who as part of his loveable older man persona is forgiven for sounding like your grandpa when he yells, "get off my lawn."

I say this fondly, as a Sanders' supporter, but also as one of the thousands (or as we Democrats hope, millions) of pragmatic voters who will support the nominee of the Democratic Party because otherwise the world and we are in serious danger. (How to change the process which makes this a forced choice is the subject of a different conversation, if you want to know how to create change in the political system, call me. I have some ideas. )

Because I think there is a great likelihood that Hilary Clinton will be that nominee, I am asking her to use "the voice." I know she possesses it, because when she participates in town hall meetings, she employs it. She lowers her timbre, she breathes from her diaphragm, she never yells (even at the young man who asked her directly why people didn't like her). She employs the strategies which good teachers and speakers know; what you say matters, but how you say it matters more.

And here is the final secret, the most sexist part of my advice; men react to women's voices in a way which may not be fair, but is real. Not only my husband, but also my sons, will talk about not liking Hilary Clinton, and one of the things they don't like (but know better than to say openly to me) is that she sounds like an angry mom, in fact, like me in my worst moments.

When my four children were young, (and I was a full time working outside the home, single mom) they had a name for certain moods of mine: the storm. The storm meant they hid behind the couch. I am of the generation who read Dr. Spock and Berry Brazelton, so I didn't believe in spanking. (My sons will be glad to tell you about the couple of occasions where I broke my own behavioral code- one of them involved a lot of fireworks set off in the alley.) I did however, revert to yelling, loudly, and more frequently than I'm sure was appropriate (however, do note I was a single mom with four kids). My kids are now in their 30s now, and between supervising employees and becoming parents, they are more forgiving of the storm. At the same time, they still prefer the voice.

It will be great when we get to a point in our societal evolution where women are not only treated equally, but heard in the same way as men. It will also be great when we stop trying to sexualize every aspect of being a woman- whether cis or transgender. Meanwhile, I hope Secretary Clinton considers my advice. Use the voice. What you are saying matters, and while I disagree with some of it, I want to make sure that everyone hears it, instead of turning away before they listen. Secretary Clinton, if you follow my advice, and win, I'd be glad to come for coffee and talk about raising taxes on the rich.