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Sounding Gender(ed): vocal performances in English university teaching spaces

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Voices may tell many stories about the bodies that produce them, but their role in the authoring and reading of gendered and sexualised identities has been neglected. Work within linguistics on voices and gender has focused primarily on voice production and the role of anatomy, using quantitative measurements of vocal features and evaluations of 'disembodied', recorded voices in laboratory settings. Some commentators have argued that, within the constraints of vocal anatomy, voices are performed, in that speakers stylise their voices to some extent in order to cohere with gendered norms. Drawing on the work of linguists and other commentators, this article discusses voices as combinations of the physiological and the discursive. Using teaching spaces at universities in England as an example, it is argued that voices have a geography, being produced and interpreted in particular ways within these interactional spaces. Comments about staff and student voices in teaching spaces, derived from interviews with undergraduates at universities in the north of England, illustrate the importance of audiences. They demonstrate how voices are evaluated in conjunction with other elements of self-presentation, and how vocal performances of gender are read in close conjunction with the performance of instructor and student roles in these spaces. Interviewees also draw attention to problems that the vocal performance of heterosexual masculinity creates in these spaces, highlighting links between gendered and sexualised readings of voices. Drawing on the work of Judith Butler, the author concludes that voices should be regarded as a form of 'drag'.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: June 1, 1999

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