For a long time I’ve wondered, why don’t we associate women with powerful speaking? Why do we assume that women aren’t as successful as men at persuasion and influence when they step up to the stage?
I decided to take a deeper dive and began looking at the dozen or so collections of speeches gathering dust on my shelves. I’m talking about the ones with weighty titles like “the world’s greatest speeches” and “oratory through the ages.”
These are the go-sources for anyone looking for examples of the best and brightest ideas, soaring words, and inspiration.
Guess what? These books overwhelmingly present male speakers, hundreds of them. Only a handful of speeches by women show up, and inevitably it’s the same handful: Elizabeth I, Eleanor Roosevelt, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, maybe Hillary Clinton, Sojourner Truth or Barbara Jordan.
None of our major resources for public speech present an accurate view – because the history of speech has almost entirely forgotten about women’s speech.
To be sure, in the sweep of history women have not often held positions of great power. The individuals with the most opportunities for public speech were not often female. But courageous, well-spoken women have been speaking out – despite the shortage of opportunities, the discouragement, even prohibitions against women on the podium or pulpit.
Women have been speaking out powerfully and persuasively throughout time – on politics, economics, public health, labor, suffrage, the environment, human rights, and just about everything else under the sun. They’ve been provocative, insightful, stirring, fiery and forceful. What they have not been is silent.
That’s why I created Speaking While Female – to present and celebrate the words and voices of extraordinary women like Voltairine de Cleyre, Sister Nivedita, Zitkala-sä, Sarojini Naidu, Matilda Joslyn Gage, Dorothy Thompson, Lilian Masediba Ngoyi, and so many more.
These women’s voices deserve to be known. The fact that they’re not says something about the perspective of the publishers who claim to be presenting the world’s best. If you don’t know the history of women’s speech, you don’t know the history of speech.
We must remember these women – to correct the historical record, yes.
But also to celebrate and showcase them. We can’t expect girls and young women to aspire to public speaking and master those skills without showing them examples of the remarkable women in the past who’ve used their voices for change.
Their words matter. Your words matter.
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