How Do Voices Become Gendered? A Critical Examination of Everyday and Medical Constructions of the Relationship Between Voice, Sex, and Gender Identity

Part of the Crossroads of Knowledge book series (CROKNOW, volume 1)


A popular conception of the human voice holds that it could reveal a speaker’s or singer’s gender. This assumption is based on an understanding of the voice as an organ that is shaped by the biological processes of sexual determination. According to this perspective, sex-specific dimensions of larynx and vocal tract are formed at puberty due to the upsurge of sex hormones. In adults, bigger “male” voice organs are seen as producing “male” voices, and smaller “female” voice organs are seen as producing “female” voices.

However, at closer inspection, the concept of a “naturally sexed voice” appears to be based on undue simplifications. If we want to understand how the voice—as a combination of utterance and auditory event—becomes gendered, so I argue, it is not sufficient to remain within the limits of the concept of a naturally shaped, sexually dimorphic voice organ. Rather, we have to consider the contributions of a speaker’s or singer’s vocal behavior and of listeners’ interpretations to the gendering of voices. According to this perspective, the cultural practices of performance and meaning making are inextricably entangled in voice production and “gender,” as a social construct that is attributed to voices, is no longer controlled by “sex.”


Gender Identity Vocal Tract Human Voice Gender Identity Disorder Voice Pitch 
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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.La Trobe Rural Health SchoolLa Trobe UniversityBendigoAustralia

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