Quick hit: Why are all those movie trailers voiced by men?

The New York Times ran an article last weekend about why so few movie trailer voiceovers are performed by women. The article discussed the perception that women’s voices aren’t strong enough to cut through the noise of a movie trailer, and suggested that even if they can, many of us trust men’s voices more than women’s:

Do moviegoers want to hear female voices? Research indicates that our brains are wired to prefer theirs to male ones; that’s the reason robotic voices, like those in GPS devices, tend to be female. (This probably has an evolutionary explanation: fetuses in the womb, identifying with their caretaker, can distinguish their mother’s voice from others, a study published in the journal Psychological Science found.) When it comes to credibility, however, research into the perceived believability of a voice — an important quality for the omniscient narrator of a trailer, as well as the spokesman or -woman for any product, which is the function a trailer serves — tells a different story.

“On average both males and females trust male voices more,” said Clifford Nass, a professor of communications at Stanford, noting some gender disparity exists in that women don’t distrust female voices as much as men distrust them. In one study conducted at Stanford two versions of the same video of a woman were presented to subjects: one had the low frequencies of the woman’s voice increased and the high frequencies reduced, the other vice versa. Consistently subjects perceived the deep voice to be smarter, more authoritative and more trustworthy.

It’s a fascinating subject. I’d never given much thought before to why the voices telling me to see movies are men’s voices; it’s something I’ve simply always taken for granted. But now, I can’t stop noticing it. Every time an ad comes on the TV or radio, I’m making a note of whether it’s voice by a man or a woman, and whether their voices are noticeably deep or high. Gender is everywhere, folks, and it’s amazing how often we don’t even see it.

New York, NY

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia. She joined the Feministing team in 2009. Her writing about politics and popular culture has been published in The Atlantic, The Guardian, New York magazine, Reuters, The LA Times and many other outlets in the US, Australia, UK, and France. She makes regular appearances on radio and television in the US and Australia. She has an AB in Sociology from Princeton University and a PhD in Arts and Media from the University of New South Wales. Her academic work focuses on Hollywood romantic comedies; her doctoral thesis was about how the genre depicts gender, sex, and power, and grew out of a series she wrote for Feministing, the Feministing Rom Com Review. Chloe is a Senior Facilitator at The OpEd Project and a Senior Advisor to The Harry Potter Alliance. You can read more of her writing at chloesangyal.com

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia.

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  • honeybee

    Not to nitpick but seems more about biological sex then about gender. I.e., it’s all about the tone of the voice, etc. In these cases you can’t even see the person who is talking, and whether they identify as male or female is irrelevant all that matters is the voice itself, which is rooted in biology.

    Interesting that men trust women more then women do.

    • http://feministing.com/members/danidukes/ Danielle

      I disagree – this study is not testing babies, but socialized, encultured humans. If all we hear are male voiceovers for movie trailers, etc, why would it be a surprise that we find them more trustworthy?

      • honeybee

        What part of my comment is this addressed at?

        All I said is that the tone of your voice is biologically driven and not based on which gender you choose to identify with. I.e., the preference is towards the male biological sex, not the male gender.

    • http://feministing.com/members/shasty/ emmie

      “Interesting that men trust women more then women do.”

      Actually doesn’t the paragraph say that “women don’t distrust female voices as much as men distrust them”. So it’s not saying that women don’t trust them, it’s saying they do NOT DISTRUST them, which means they actually do… trust them….. Right?

      • honeybee

        Sorry I read it wrong. You are right.

  • http://feministing.com/members/framefocus/ Hillela

    I’ve always wondered about this in regards to the automated messages on the subway in NYC, where PSAs are delivered in a female voice, and the more directive “stand clear of the closing doors, please” is a man’s voice.

  • fyoumudflaps

    Leave it up to Hollywood. For a bit of good news. airports use that one older woman’s voice for their commands.

  • http://feministing.com/members/robbieloveslife/ Robert

    I never noticed this but now that I think about it I don’t think I have ever heard a female voiceover on a movie trailer. The masculine voice is taken more seriously by society. I disagree that we trust male voices because we hear male voiceovers all the time, it’s the other way around. If society trusted the female voice more then the film companies would used their voices more. They base their decision on what is going to help sell more tickets.

  • http://feministing.com/members/cassius/ Brüno

    Well it seems to work fine the way it is for studios, so why change it?