Recently, on the Dublin to Cork train, I solved a mystery that's irked me for years: Why young girls today speak in high-pitch, screechy voices and end every sentence, declarative or not, in a question.
Approaching my favorite seat armed with a full contingent of weekend newspapers, I hear chaotic rustlings from a young couple with a toddler settling in across the aisle.
Rhinestone Jeans Mom, her fair Irish skin covered in fake tan, spreads out a flotilla of Cokes, fizzy drinks, chips and Kit-Kat bars as hooded-up Dad adjusts his shades and earphones. I bury my head in The Guardian.
Handing the child a pack of crisps, Mom takes out a five-pack of Dora the Explorer, pops one into a small video she sets in front of the child and turns up the volume.
In that pop, hope is dashed for a peaceful ride, not only for myself but for passengers in nearby seats. My seat companion, clutching The Economist starts fiddling in his bag for earplugs. His wife, sitting next to the Dad, shuts her eyes, as I start to analyze the situation.
Earlier in the week, crossing a Dublin bridge on a most beautiful evening, I had observed another young couple with a toddler in a stroller glued to a video instead of looking around at... well, life! Now here was this bored child, glancing at Dora exploring a jungle while befriending little birds and animals.
This isn't bad in and of itself as it could instill a love of adventure. Yet, what I found profoundly disturbing was the nattering on and on by Dora, beast, and bird without so much as a pause.
As Dora continues her journey, I note that she and her feathery, furry pals all sound alike. Without seeing who is talking, I note that everyone speaks in an unvaried singsong way. Is this why girls have those high-pitched, screechy voices?
Now hang on there. I know children have high-pitched voices due to undeveloped vocal cords. However, why oh why, when girls become young women, must they bind themselves to their childhood voice?
And this isn't just in Ireland. It happens in New York as well. Admit it, when you're stuck in an elevator with three girls shrieking in voices dogs can hear miles away, don't you want to throttle them?
Seeing this bored child across the way was profoundly disturbing. So to calm down, I buy tea from the trolley and yes, a Kit-Kat bar, while the Economist reader proofs a monograph and his wife (I can tell from her breathing) struggles with wanting to scream.
Ripping into the Kit-Kat, I observe the child in the context of her silent family: Mom deep into a fashion mag. Dad's eyes clamped shut while the child's eyes glaze over from Dora bleating into her ear. Is it possible Dora's is the only voice this child really hears? Is it possible this is what voice is to a child whose Mom may be silent at home.
Suddenly, Mom pops in Volume 2. "You'll like this now, pet."
This was my 'eureka' moment. Children's voices used to come from parroting the mother. Mother's voice was the voice you heard in the cradle to carry forward to childhood. Now, because of video and TV, Dora and her troop of cartoon sisters are the parrots little girls parrot.
When I was a child I had a high-pitched Irish brogue inherited from my mother (see HuffPost A Tray of Green Cupcakes). Yet, in New York, after being imitated and laughed at, I painstakingly exchanged my brogue for a posh (one might say, phony) English accent: Male, low, seductive, James Mason's. His voice suited the girl I wanted to be.
Yet Mason was real. And what I did was a self-conscious move at the onset of adolescence. Little girls growing up with Dora and her Disney sisters, Belle, Jasmine, or Ariel learn to sound like them, as I learned to sound like Mason.
High-pitch voices are perceived to be feminine, non-threatening, happy, and positive. Ending a sentence in a question, lends a tentative quality, indicating one can be swayed in opinion. I can see that. Yet, today's girls hold onto their Dorabellejasmineariel voice way into adult-hood. God knows what they'll sound like when they're old.
As the train was pulling into Cork, I thought, "Wow! When I lowered my voice to match Mason's, I frightened the hell out of everybody and I didn't give a damn!" Compliancy wasn't on my menu. Maybe there's some young girl somewhere imitating Alec Baldwin, and wouldn't that be nice?