Speak for Yourself

Claire Duffy's blog about public speaking and communication (in real life). Speak well, do well!

When rage is your right. Three ways to make anger work.

‘The Misogyny Wars’ began with Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s attack-dog speech in Parliament. It caused a storm. Twitter caught fire.  Thousands of people who would never watch Question Time did so. The PM vented her spleen at Opposition leader Tony Abbott in a speech which shocked and thrilled, and people are still talking about it. Last count,  searching ‘Julia Gillard misogyny speech’ produced well over  2000 articles on Google News.  The international praise was loud, though local mainstream media remain unimpressed.

This blog is not the place to address the politics. But everyone agrees – whether they’re Gillard supporters or not, that the speech made breathtaking listening. Why?  Gillard  picked the right time, the right place, and the right way to be angry.  Context, content and style…they work every time.

First, the context.  Julia Gillard has generally sidestepped the gender issue. Others however, have not.  We’ve seen everything from the ‘gentle’ pokes of  TV comedy At Home with Julia  to open abuse and public name calling, ‘witch’ and ‘bitch’ being two of the most publishable.  The events of recent weeks: shock jock Alan Jones’ insults after her father’s death, and Tony Abbott using sexism to justify his  motion to dismiss the Speaker, gave the issue momentum.  But the occasion where she decided to let rip was in Parliament, where – like it or not, she’s the leader.  And boy, did she take charge.

Secondly, the content. This is a revenge speech. Her purpose? Retaliation. We love seeing the underdog bite back.  It’s thrilling to watch someone get even, and she had both the reason and the strength of feeling to carry it off.

And finally, the delivery. Her mode is rage, and a woman in a public rage makes a rare and bold move.  Her anger is white hot, but her control, of highly emotional and personal material, is firm. Her voice does not crack, she does not speed up, her pitch does not rise, she does not sound hysterical, and her words remain clear. Gillard’s rage is an engine, which drives but does not drown her speech.

Here’s Anne Summers writing on The Drum:

It was Gillard as we have rarely seen her before. Gone was the wooden, robotic figure who has puzzled and infuriated her supporters. But it was not just the passion of her delivery that was so electrifying. It was what she was saying…. What we saw in that speech was an angry and offended Gillard finally unleashed. Gone was the forbearance, and the turned cheek… Watching her, you saw her eyes narrow…she…alternated between rage and disbelief…Gillard had maintained a dignified silence …now she had no choice but to let fly. And she was icy with anger.

Gillard’s anger is palpable. It was  as if there was a wave breaking over her and her  fury was there to dam it. It was utterly convincing.

Authenticity is always a speaker’s best tool. You need to mean what you say, and she clearly did. But it’s also why she’s made her critics uncomfortable.  The reasons behind this antagonism go beyond present day politics. As the Eloquent Woman blog says (quoting professor Kathleen Hall Jamieson):  “History has many themes. One of them is that women should be quiet.”  (Read the entire article for a deeper look at the long tradition of sexism in public affairs).

Depending on the century or the nation you lived in, a woman who spoke “too much” in public….might have to wear the painful scold’s bridle, a device that would leave your tongue bleeding if you tried to speak …You might be put in the stocks, dunked in the lake, or even hung or burned at the stake.…All the way back to the days of Aristotle… women were forbidden to speak in the public marketplace … As early as the first century in Rome, “Effective female speakers….were labelled androgynes by their admirers,” Jamieson notes.

Here are some grabs from what she said. Notice how rhetorical devices: repetitions, inversions, questions, lists and triads, all add force. In the full  version, “I was offended”  is used fourteen times.

I will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man. I will not. And the Government will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man. Not now, not ever.

The Leader of the Opposition says that people who hold sexist views and who are misogynists are not appropriate for high office. Well I hope the Leader of the Opposition has got a piece of paper and he is writing out his resignation. Because if he wants to know what misogyny looks like in modern Australia, he doesn’t need a motion in the House of Representatives, he needs a mirror….

Let’s go through the Opposition Leader’s repulsive double standards, repulsive double standards when it comes to misogyny and sexism…

Always keen to say how others should assume responsibility, particularly me.

Well can anybody remind me if the Leader of the Opposition has taken any responsibility for the conduct of the Sydney Young Liberals and the attendance at this event of members of his frontbench?

Has he taken any responsibility for the conduct of members of his political party and members of his frontbench who apparently when the most vile things were being said about my family, raised no voice of objection?

The Leader of the Opposition says do something; well he could do something himself if he wants to deal with sexism in this Parliament.

He could change his behaviour, he could apologise for all his past statements, he could apologise for standing next to signs describing me as a witch and a bitch… He could change a standard himself if he sought to do so. But we will see none of that from the Leader of the Opposition because on these questions he is incapable of change. Capable of double standards, but incapable of change. His double standards should not rule this Parliament. Good sense, common sense, proper process is what should rule this Parliament.

Here’ s the video   and here’s an Uploader version that’s timecoded so you can find the best bits.

Here’s the full  text in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Here are a few of my favourite articles about it (so far).

Julia Baird, SMH: Words that millions of Women have rehearsed yet never spoken

The New Yorker: Ladylike, Julia Gillard’s Misogyny Speech

MammaMia: Why Julia Gillard’s smackdown speech was brilliant

Jezebel: Best thing you’ll see all day: http://jezebel.com/juliagillard

Salon.com Australian PM takes on misogyny

Gone is the turned Cheek, ABC’s The Drum, by Anne Summers

More posts on the same topic: How to Get Mad With Dignity. The Power of (THAT) speech

Eloquent Woman.com Australia’s Julia Gillard calls opposition leader Misogynist  

Forbes.com How to vent your fury effectively in public

Postscript: 

Deposed from her position in June 2013 Julia GIllard made another great speech. Read it here: Going Down Gracefully.

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