As I watched the first General Women’s Session of conference (at least the first not retroactively declared as such) last night, I was once again taken aback by the vocal styling of the female speakers. As much as I love hearing women speak, almost every time I hear one in a general church meeting it requires extraordinary effort to focus on the message while ignoring the twinge in the back of my jaw at the awkward, stilted speech patterns.
I respect and admire these women, but I much prefer to read their words than listen to them. As soon as the first woman had uttered two sentences, I became apprehensive about all the social media posts that would refer to the “Primary voice.” Women are always accused of assuming a strange, forced lilt , as if all those listening are mentally handicapped and need special accommodation in order to understand the message.
While thinking about it again this morning, it occurred to me for the first time (I know, I’m slow—and thus probably do need the Primary voice…) that the women aren’t using a “Primary voice” at all. They are, generally speaking, emulating the male “General Conference authority voice.” We are accustomed to hearing men speak in the old-style oratory voice, with the odd, mid-sentence pauses, and the plodding emphasis. But hearing the same speaking style in a higher range is far less common. Being so unfamiliar, it puts us back in a place of openly evaluating the style—and noting the awkwardness of it in contrast to the typical, modern, conversational style.
To be clear, I don’t think it’s a teleprompter issue. There are some speakers who seem to overcome the style (Uchtdorf, Dew, Okazaki come to mind) even with the teleprompters. They are often those with whom the congregations most strongly connect. Perhaps it’s due to a different native language, public speaking expertise, a generation unfamiliar with the formerly popular speaking style, or a combination of these things. But those who speak more like they usually talk, seem more personal and personable. They seem real and genuine.
The idea that perhaps the women are merely mimicking the common general authority speaking style, rather than using an elementary teacher approach, was somewhat vindicating to me. In my theory they are merely are trying to follow the pattern that seems to have been given the stamp of approval and correctness. In the real world, they likely use a normal, intelligent, adult conversational mode.
What do you think? Has “the Primary voice” ever grated on you? Do you think my theory holds an validity?