Louisville professor gives talk on new book

Miles Schroader

In October 1935, Radio Femenina went on the air in the unassuming but progressive South American city of Montevideo, Uruguay, with programming made by and for women, according to the University of Louisville history department’s Christine Ehrick in her latest book, “Radio and the Gendered Soundscape.”

Last Thursday at Barnes and Noble, Ehrick gave a summary presentation about her book on the history of women, radio and the gendered constructions of voice and sound in Buenos Aires, Argentina and Uruguay.

Ehrick spoke about radio between 1930 and 1950, emphasizing what it meant to have a female voice heard on that platform.

“A woman’s voice on the radio: it is worth pausing for a moment to consider all that this implied, especially in radio’s first decades,” Ehrick said during her presentation. “Radio was the internet of its day; it revolutionized the way people received information and perceived their place in the larger human community.”

Feminists have used the word ‘voice’ to refer to a wide range of aspirations, Ehrick said, including cultural agency, political enfranchisement, sexual autonomy and expressive freedom.

Comedian Niní Marshall was one of the women Ehrick focused on in her presentation, saying she believes one of Marshall’s most important characters was Catita.

“Catita is loud, brash, and her speech peppered with urban slang and malapropisms stereotypically associated with working-class women,” Ehrick noted. “She seems fearless, utterly unconcerned about the pressures most women faced to be good, to be quiet, to be submissive.”

Another woman Ehrick believes was an influential figure for women in broadcasting is former First Lady of Argentina Eva Duarte de Peron.

“The one person in the book people usually know about is Eva Peron,” Ehrick said. “I think it’s important to really think of her in terms of her voice. We think of her as a visual presence, but sometimes we don’t pay attention to how important her voice was on the impact of South American politics.”

“I think what’s memorable [from the presentation] was this is the first time I’ve ever heard the voice of Eva,” Brian Coutts, department head of library public services, said. “I’ve seen the movie version with Madonna, but this was different hearing what she really sounds like.”

Ehrick spoke about how significant it was just to finally have a female voice on the radio.

“History has many themes. One of them is that women should be quiet,” she said, quoting Kathleen Hall Jamieson, professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

One Argentine critic claimed women and microphones were incompatible in 1934, a common opinion, Ehrick said. At the time, the popular opinion was that women’s voices were seen as too high pitched or “shrill” for the radio.

“I like that these women were fearless during a time when it wasn’t common to hear women on the radio,” Michael Moore, WKU library systems office manager, said. “Something interesting to me from the presentation was that during a World War, women were even allowed to get on the radio and have this open forum. It’s quite amazing.”

Tying in the theme of a woman’s voice into current times, Ehrick mentioned how historically significant it is that this is the first time we’ve ever heard a woman at a presidential debate.

“The importance of voice is present all of the time, but we don’t always pay a lot of attention to it,” Ehrick said. “We were talking, for example, about the presidential campaign. We’re not always conscious of the degree of long standing prejudices against the female voice. This book helps us pay attention to the history and significance so that we become more aware of it.”

Reporter Miles Schroader can be reached at 270-745-2655 and [email protected].