The link between gender and the voice police

Here’s a dirty little behind-the-scenes secret about the glamorous world of radio:

Back in the day, women were encouraged by managers to become smokers. It would lower their voice, give it a raspiness and — the theory goes — make it more pleasing to the ear. The more a woman sounded like a candidate for lung cancer, the sexier it apparently sounded.

This, of course, was all a nod mostly to male listeners, who had a nasty habit of their own: elevating themselves to dictate how women should sound on the radio.

There’s not much of the smoking directive around any more. The insufferable men? They’re everywhere.

Linda Holmes, the popular culture podcast host for NPR found that out over the weekend when she appeared on Weekend Edition with Scott Simon on Saturday.

It was a segment on romantic comedies.

Then Holmes had to deal again with something too many women in radio have to deal with: the voice police. The men.

This, of course, isn’t something exclusive to women in radio. Just ask any woman on television.

Slowly, NPR is shedding its snooty image of old aristocrats and allowing more voices on the air — regular, varied voices — that would have never made it to air a couple of decades ago, not without a carton of heaters first.

It’s a good thing. They come with unimaginable expertise and intelligence.

Holmes says she’s not upset that people don’t think she belongs on the radio because people have been saying that for 10 years and there she is — on the radio. But, particularly on a weekend when we were forced again to confront our lack of niceness to each other, how can any human not be affected by a bombardment of such messages? How can any human send them, and, in particular, mention their monetary support of public radio — as if that’s a license of some sort.

“If you haven’t heard the segment, which I loved doing, listen to it and ask yourself what it would take to listen to me and to Scott and — he won’t mind me saying this — concluding that I am inadequately serious,” she tweeted.

Here’s to being a nicer people this week.