Voice Over Sexism in the 21st Century

STRONG, AUTHORITATIVE, RELIABLE and CONFIDENT… these are words you won’t often read in a female voiceover profile.  Having read hundreds of voiceover talent profiles, I have noticed that women more often describe themselves as:  sexy, sultry, elegant, motherly, fun and playful.  Only on rare occasion, would you see the words: strong, authoritative, reliable and confident in fact, only in 3 out of 10 profiles.   These words or its derivatives, however, are more likely to come up on a male voiceover profile, along still with words like, sexy and fun.  It may seem then that because women have been typed-cast for so long that they have resigned themselves to the thought that men are the voice of reason and authority.  Women have been stereotyped as the “fair” sex that majority of the talents have resorted to marketing themselves as such.   Is this disparity of how men and women market themselves without cause?  Or the industry and consumers dictate it so?

In a study made by Mark Pedelty, an Associate Professor in Communication Studies at the University of Minnesota on audio/visual media’s gender representation and consumer perception, it would agree that men and women in the industry have assigned themselves to specific roles.  The men took on the authoritative and powerful characters, while the women were given domestic and nurturing roles.  Furthermore, doing content analysis of over a thousand television ads, Pedelty revealed that the male voiceover grossly outnumbered the women represented in the industry, 4 to 1.

Moreover, the men in these commercials may either be a disembodied voiceover or represented by both unattractive and attractive actors. However, in the case of the women in these adverts, they were largely played by sexy and attractive women.

Pedelty also cited previous studies done on ad voiceovers.  In 1975 over 90% of the ads were represented by men.  Ten years after, the numbers were still the same.  By 1998, a study showed an increase in women representation to 20%, which is consistent with Pedelty’s recent findings.   This slow progress demonstrates that even in the twenty-first century, women are still objectified and more likely to get attention only when seen.   The results of this study show that sexism still dominates as the marketing tool used in the advertising industry.

Is this dominance of the male gender in the audio and visual media deeply influenced by our culture and our perception of genders in general?  Or is it more of an assumption made by advertisers of what the current audience would like to see and hear?  Can a drastic change by key media players shorten the gender gap? Let us know in the comments section below.


Seen to Be Heard? Gender, Voice, and Body in Television Advertisements
Authors: Mark Pedelty and Morgan Kuecker
Published by:  Taylor & Francis
* Read the full article online.

Lauren Maree

Lauren Maree has been working in advertising, media and marketing for over 15 years. Her experience as a casting director allows her to provide inside information of the voice over industry.

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  • Interesting article, and I must disagree with the premise. I guess I’m one of the 3 of 10 women voiceover actors mentioned that considers my voice authoritative and reliable. In fact, I have demos listed on my website with characteristics such as professional, refined, and sophisticated. And when I notice female VO on TV and radio, I hear most of the ads using this type of female voice, with celebrity examples such as Patricia Clarkson, Phylicia Rashad, Susan Sarandon, among others. Yes, there is the sexy, sultry, and Mom VO as well. But just as in any acting profession, there will be examples of all types, mirroring life. Personally, I don’t feel discriminated against as a female in this industry. There are certainly lots of women in broadcast news these days, using their faces and voices as a strong presence on the evening news, 24 hour news channels, political round tables, as well as newspaper and magazine editors, etc. And I think advertisers realize that in a majority of instances, it is the female who is in charge of how the family income is spent. So why wouldn’t a woman trust another woman pitching a product? I think what women bring to advertising, both on-camera and VO, is a softer, subtler approach. It is decidedly feminine, but not weak. You don’t have to be a sex kitten to be noticed, or taken seriously.

  • Paola

    Excellent article! I couldn’t agree more. I think it’s the industry that dictate the rules, and guess who is at the top places!? In Italy the vast majority of adverts and ALL documentaries have a male voice. Even the cleaning products have always a male voice telling to an absent minded woman how to clean properly!!!! as a voice over you need to sell your voice so we don’t have a choice and we have to sell ourselves according to what the market wants. Thanks for the article!