In Chapter 1 of Radio and the Gendered Soundscape: Women and Broadcasting in Argentina and Uruguay 1930-1950, Christine Ehrick focuses on the influence of Silvia Guerrico in Argentinian radio, and how her radio persona exemplified and created the concept of the “Modern Girl”. Ehrick states that, “Guerrico’s story is illustrative of the contested place of the female radio voice as it staked a claim to the airways and within the public soundscape” (33). This quote relates to the influence of sound and sonic persona’s in creating cultural identities, as the concept of the Modern Girl extended far past Guerrico’s career.
Ehrick defines the Modern Girl as “most often presented as a visual spectacle and as an advertising icon with a sometimes complicated relationship to real women, the Modern Girl image spread around the world via cinema and advertising agencies, where she in turn adapted to local conditions” (34). In other words, the concept of the Modern Girl, while having national reach, adapts to the local identities of women. For Guerrico, the concept of the Modern Girl was exemplified through her persona in Argentinian radio. However, she transformed the concept of the Modern Girl to the New “lustful” Woman, through the socially taboo subjects she broadcast on air. This relates to the introduction of Radio and the Gendered Soundscape. The section “Voices and Bodies and the Gendered Soundscape” discusses vocal gender and its role in constructing identity, specifically for women. Women in particular were subject to generalizations of their voices and vocal qualities based on their appearance.
Radio, however, was the first instance of the separation of the voice from the body. This separation thus disembodied the voice from the body, creating consequences that Ehrick deems harmful to women. The term “disembodied” in particular, takes away from the voice as “a sonic expression of the body and a crucial way in which bodily identity is performed and perceived” (12). This disembodiment reduces women to only their voice, and takes away from defining aspects of their gender identity. Ehrick claims that “to refer to radio voices as acousmatic, rather than disembodied, is preferable in that it simply describes the situation (a voice whose source is unseen), without implying any relationship between the voice and the body” (13). Guerrico’s ability to create and expand the concept of the New Woman contradicts this. Guerrico was able to create an identity for women through her voice, regardless of the negative association of disembodiment in radio.
The social construction of gender through sound relates to that of race. In Chapter 7 of The Auditory Culture Reader, Making Sense of Race, the authors describe the relationship between race and sound. They claim that we “tend to treat race as an exclusively visual phenomenon… but the preference for “seeing” race is as much a social construction as “race” itself” (Bull and Back, 100). They discuss the historical relationship between sound and race, particularly in sonic traits that whites associated with “blackness”. These inaccurate assumptions created a sense of “sensory inferiority” between white individuals and black individuals. The authors state how, “exceptions only proved the rule, and the sensorial dimensions of blackness were prerogatives to be applied and suspended as whites saw fit” (104). In other words, racial discrimination through sound was determined by the “dominant” persons or culture. This relates back to vocal gender. Males decided what vocal and sonic attributes created a “feminine” voice. Therefore, if a woman strays from what is considered feminine, she does not align with the social norm of vocal gender.
Finally, in Chapter 3 of The Sonic Color Line Jennifer Lynn Stoever reiterates the connection between a physical body, and the sound expected from that body. She discusses Lead Belly, a blues singer from the 1930’s. Through the example of Lead Belly, Stoever brings up a more important concept: how “the sonic color line enabled segregation and gendered forms of white supremacist violence against the black male body…” (184). In other words, Stoever argues that the sonic traits that divided individuals from different races ultimately increased the discriminated and racism that initially separated them. This relates to that of vocal gender as well; by emphasizing the differences between the male and female voice, the differences and stereotypes that define “female” under the male gaze are increased.
- Have you experienced assumptions of race or gender based on your voice?
- How has the concept of vocal gender changed with our modern conceptions of gender? (consider trans or non-binary people)
- Is the concept of the New Woman still relevant today? If so, how?