Women radio presenters under pressure 'to sound more like men', says Mary Beard

 

Female broadcasters have to copy the deep, “authoritative” tones of their male colleagues in order to succeed on radio, Professor Mary Beard has claimed.

Discussing the lack women in prominent roles in broadcasting, the television historian said that authority still resides “with the men in suits and their deep voices”.

“It’s not a coincidence that even on radio, the successful women presenters tend to have unusually deep (i.e. male) voices,” the Classics professor writes in Radio Times.

Popular female radio voices include Mishal Husain of the Today programme, who is nominated for Radio Presenter of the Year at this month’s Broadcasting Press Guild awards and the Radio 4 Woman’s Hour presenting duo of Jenni Murray and Jane Garvey.

Asked by The Independent if she had in mind Charlotte Green, the former Radio 4 newsreader-turned-5 Live football results announcer, Prof Beard declined to comment. Ms Green possessed the “most attractive female voice on national radio”, according to one poll.

Prof Beard told The Independent: “My sense is that lower register voices are perceived as more authoritative. Listening to Radio 4 suggests that.”

“Some of these [voices] are ‘natural’. I suspect, but don’t know, that when those voices aren’t natural, women in public positions get encouraged, as Margaret Thatcher was, to go down a register.”

However Sue MacGregor, the former Today programme presenter, said: “It helps for women who read the news to have a voice which is easy on the ear but I can’t think of any current women on the radio who have unusually deep, or ‘male’ voices.”

Ms MacGregor said she believed she had a “slightly lower pitched voice” when she began broadcasting but she was never advised to deepen her voice in order to conform to male prejudices.

She added: “On radio you can’t see faces and the voice is all the listener has to go on, so you do have to be careful not to come across as high-pitched, shrill or squeaky.”

Prof Beard argues in a new BBC4 documentary, Oh Do Shut Up Dear, that the “silence” of women in public debate can be traced right back to Homer’s Odyssey.

She said the recent pledge by Danny Cohen, BBC Director of Television, to end all-male panels on comedy shows, would have minimal impact because the “underlying ‘maleness’ of all these shows is more hard-wired in our culture.”

She writes: “The fact is that even now authority still seems to reside with the men in suits, and their deep voices; and those are the types we still assume we’ll see when we’re looking for words of wisdom on TV.”

Prof Beard, who hit back at the television critic AA Gill when he said she was too unattractive to present television programmes, said broadcasters often hire attractive female news correspondents to stop viewers switching off political stories.

She wrote: “Think of Stephanie Flanders being wonderfully persuasive on economics; or Emily Maitlis who can be as powerful as anyone on Newsnight. But there are still relatively few and they tend to be young and conventionally pretty (their looks, perhaps, sugaring the pill of hard-core political debate).”

Acknowledging the abuse her appearance has prompted, Prof Beard wrote: “You need only think of how most viewers accept, without a blink, the craggy, wrinkled faces and bald patches of male documentary presenters, as if they were the signs of mature wisdom; yet in the case of women presenters, grey hair and wrinkles often signal “past-my-use-by-date” – or at least glaring eccentricity and deficient grooming.”

Prof Beard rejected “quotas” to improve the representation of women on prominent programmes. “I dread any idea of a fixed quota of women per programme. It’s likely to leave desperate producers ringing round all the women they can possibly think of to fill ‘the woman’s slot’. I don’t think it would be much fun being the woman vilified in all the reviews as the one taking the quota place.”

She concluded that the gender gap would finally be bridged when “almost every viewer in the land would simply think that it looked very weird (and unbelievably old-fashioned) to have a panel made up of four blokes – and would switch off.”

Ms MacGregor said that Patricia Hughes, one of the first women ever to read the news on BBC Radio and who went on to voice an audiobook of Margaret Thatcher’s autobiography, was the only female broadcaster whose deep voice came close to Prof Beard’s description.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
England's women celebrate after their 3rd place play-off win against Germany
Women's World CupFara Williams converts penalty to secure victory and bronze medals
Arts and Entertainment
Ricardo by Edward Sutcliffe, 2014
artPortraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb go on display
News
newsHillary Clinton comments on viral Humans of New York photo of gay teenager
Arts and Entertainment
The gang rape scene in the Royal Opera’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s Guillaume Tell has caused huge controversy
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Recruitment Genius: B2B Media Sales Professional - Work From Home

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Enjoying rapid growth we contin...

Recruitment Genius: B2B Media Sales Professional - Work From Home

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Enjoying rapid growth we contin...

Recruitment Genius: B2B Media Sales Professional - Work From Home

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Enjoying rapid growth we contin...

Recruitment Genius: B2B Media Sales Professional - Work From Home

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Enjoying rapid growth we contin...

Day In a Page

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'