Speak for Yourself

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

Speaking up for Women

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” – Martin Luther King.

There’s a lot of talk about sexism in Australia at the moment, and today, November 25th, is White Ribbon day, the  campaign to stop violence against women.  It’s a campaign by men, about women, whose audience is men. It’s  focussed us on the terrible statistics: one woman a week in Australia is killed by a current or former partner. Indigenous women are 45 times more likely to be sexually assaulted, and to die from it.

In the wake of “That Speech”  by Prime Minister Julia Gillard, White  Ribbon day reminds us that uncovering sexism is very important. The backlash she suffered reminds us that getting through to your audience  can be very difficult. Everyone including  the Governor General recommends speaking out  about it, but the truly hard part is to have your voice heard. What we need is to break into audiences that have not yet been reached.

When you’re a woman, or a member of any disadvantaged group,  how do you raise issues affecting the minority that you belong to without alienating the people who have put you where you are now? The very people whose behaviour is what you want to change?

Some people say don’t  do it, don’t ever speak about a minority you happen to be a member of. This was a tactic observed by key African American figures, like Oprah Winfrey and  President Obama, neither of whom acknowledged their race  – the unspoken condition being that their critics wouldn’t either. A defining change came when African American teenager Trayvon Martin was shot and killed. It could not be ignored. Would Obama acknowledge that he and Trayvon had race in common, and bring it out as an issue for the first time? Or would he treat Martin’s death as tragedy blind to colour?

Obama eventually said “if I had a son, he would look like Trayvon.”  This  allowed him to speak publically about his minority status without making it a tool for division, or a political battering ram – the fatherly position makes the overpowering message one of empathy.

Public speaking is a tool for communication and connection,  that’s how you change hearts and minds.What can women speakers in Australia, amidst  this volatile discussion of misogyny and sexism, learn?

We can remember that it is important to speak up about oppression and discrimination.

We can remember that change is achieved  by getting support; alienating people disadvantages the cause.

We can remember not to shy away from speaking as women, about women, but we’ll have more impact if we  have a message that stirs men as well as women. Be inclusive.

The most important thing we can remember is that the message should bring hope. The key to righting the wrongs affecting one group is to engage others  and all work for the common good. It was the fatherly Obama that did this. He found the ground he shared  with people, and spoke from that position.

Watch this wonderful speech by Meryl Streep. A woman supporting a woman who herself supports women.  Streep – one of our favourite public speakers – is introducing Hilary Clinton at the Women in the World forum in 2012.

These are  important topics, but Streep addresses them in a relatable way. She starts out being funny, but before long she has shifted into much more serious territory.  Streep reveals Clinton’s  lesser known work, her “shadow diplomacy” her “careful constant work on behalf of women and girls, which  deserves to be amplified” and the sheer number of women who’ve said  “I’m alive because of her”.  It’s a powerful and inspiring tribute, and it’s about fighting onwards for women, enlarging our understanding and improving their lives, in a way that anyone, male or female,  will be inspired by.

Clinton’s world renowned speech  Women’s Rights are Human Rights was just the start.  This compilation of excerpts from  Clinton’s speeches about women gives some idea of her  other efforts and impact o behalf of women.


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