In a 2015 podcast from WBEZ’s This American Life host Ira Glass interviewed female reporters about the emails they receive that criticize their voice. Glass realized he has the same vocal tendencies but receives no emails. Surprised, an Emerson graduate student wanted to learn more.
Gilbert, 33, a second year theater education masters student, is also a vocal teacher and said she is passionate about empowering the female voice. After hearing that podcast, and in combination with similar articles, she set out to learn more about the relationship women had with their speech.
To do this, Gilbert said she focused her final master's project on interviewing women about their association with their voice. Gilbert said she’s collaborating with students in the visual and media arts department to turn her research into a documentary.
“I’m excited that other women are interested in this project and studying women's voices,” Gilbert said.
Genta Retkoceri, who is also in the theater education graduate program, is helping Gilbert with the project. Retkoceri said this topic drew her in because as an actress, vocal patterns are extremely important.
“Speaking out our minds everywhere [is important],” Retkoceri said. “It doesn't need to be [about] acting or film. ”
Since starting a few months ago, Gilbert said she has interviewed around 25 people so far, including younger college-aged females, voice coaches, and older women who have retired, to gain differing perspectives.
The questions Gilbert asked sounded simple in theory according to Katie Grindeland, an interviewee; she inquired about the woman’s association with her voice and their confidence. Grindeland said the questions became difficult because it forced her to reflect on her identity.
Grindeland, a senior performing arts major, said she was drawn to participate in the study because one of the first required classes in her program was a voice and text course, which looks at the relationship between how someone speaks and how someone chooses to represent themselves to others.
As someone with a smaller build and a higher pitched sound, Grindeland said she has felt conflicted about her relationship with her voice on multiple occasions, and how it showcases her personality.
“I can read a Huffington Post article about those strong feminine women,” Grindeland said. “I can associate [feminism] with other women, but not with myself.”
Grindeland said that upon telling her high school theater teacher she was going to continue her study, the mentor told Grindeland that she should see a voice coach and learn to speak in a lower octave. Although Grindeland said she knew the instructor didn’t mean any harm by that, it’s still in the back of her mind.
“It helped me realize the struggles I was still having with my body and my voice,” Grindeland said. “I think all women, if they have the opportunity to, should think of their relationship with their voice.”
The feelings Grindeland had were not uncommon according to patterns Gilbert discovered throughout her interviews. She said she found that many of the younger women she interviewed were not confident in their voices, and many could recall memories of people commenting on their sound when they were younger.
“I was immediately very surprised at the patterns based on the questions: what have others said about your voice and how that has stuck with them,” Gilbert said. “They can remember things back in the first and second grade—what a difference that has made in how they use it. Even women who are very comfortable with theirs say there is still a little voice in their head.”
Gilbert said she has no set answer for what she is looking for and is excited for what else may arise.
“I essentially feel that this project is the beginning of sort of a lifetime of work,” Gilbert said. “I don’t think I’ll find any huge solutions in the three months, if anything I’m coming up with more questions that need to be answered.”