I work in a construction-based business. This, mostly, is awesome. My job involves a lot of talking on the phone. I'm a talker, so this is also mostly awesome.
I don't know if I've mentioned this, but I sound young on the phone.
Young. Girly. On the phone.
This is occasionally problematic to the point that I've developed four or five different tones for work. They have names: Regular Danielle, Southern Belle, Chatty Girl, and the one we simply call The Voice.
The Voice is pitched several tones lower than my usual voice. It's a little bit breathy. My friend Skippy tells me it kind of freaks him out because it's so not me. But I find that I have to use it with certain customers because it's the only way to get them to listen to me.
The issue, I find, is that when people hear my voice? They make assumptions based on it... and those assumptions are usually that I can't possibly have any idea what I'm talking about because I'm a girl. I mean, I probably don't even OWN any tools, and if I DO own any they're probably pink and sparkly, and the few (pink and sparkly) tools I might own probably have never ever been used.
For the record? None of these are correct. I have tools. I have a BOX full of tools. Old, dinged up, NOT PINK OR SPARKLY tools that I love, treat carefully, and use regularly. I know how to fix things. I know how to build things.
I know how to discuss building and fixing things.
But people -- mostly men, to be clear -- hear me and think that I don't. Then they become ... weird. Some of them are patronizing and creepy-avuncular. Some of them become flat-out bullies. Some of them, bless their hearts, try to be helpful and are actually very nice.
It frustrates me every time, though, when someone won't listen to what I'm saying because they're too busy hearing my voice and deciding what I know based on pitch and tone and not content.
So I use The Voice. I hate myself, but I do it, and I do it because it works.
The thing that drives me crazy about this is that I know -- I KNOW -- that the menfolk with whom I work don't have to do this in order for people to listen to them... AND they think it's cute that I do. It amuses them that I have developed multiple job related personalities in order to have customers listen to me and actually hear what I am saying.
To be completely honest, there are moments when it amuses me as well. I sometimes enjoy a little acting while at work -- it means those years of theatre study were good for something! Wheee!
More frequently, however, I am annoyed by it and the perception that it's cute. I am annoyed by the fact that people hear my voice and assume a gender and an age and, based on that, become biased as to what I do or don't know. I am annoyed by the fact that it's acceptable for me to sometimes, despite The Voice, have to pass a call to a male co-worker because the fact that his voice is deeper than mine somehow makes him more credible.
While this bothers me on a so many valid feminist levels, it also makes me think of the 101 ways in which we all judge people every day based on the most trivial of things, as though they're relevant in anything but the most superficial ways. As though it's true that the guy in grubby overalls knows more about engines than the guy in the suit coat. As though it's true that the girl with the glasses knows more about books than the girl in the cocktail dress.
As though it's true that the man on the street is probably better at math than the woman standing next to him.
And as though it's factually accurate that the young-sounding woman on the other end of the phone knows less about building than the men in her office because she is a young-sounding woman.
Maybe we could all do each other a favor and instead of making assumptions about what someone is going to say, we could listen to what s/he is actually saying and make our decisions about what s/he knows based on that.
And then the only voice I would have to use would be my own.