If you asked the average person to name five standout speeches, what do you think they would say? Would a woman be at the top of the list? Would a female even make the top five?
The opportunity for women to step into the limelight and take up the microphone is, of course, tied to their overall power. Without a platform it is difficult to attract an audience. That is changing, but not fast enough for the likes of Grace Tame who, along with Brittany Higgins, took to the stage to deliver a powerful, passionate and memorable address at the recent National Press Club in Canberra. They caused a commotion in the best possible way and the years to come will show us the their power and historical significance.
Powerful speeches by women are not hard to find but they could do with a little more time in the sun. Let’s reorganise the deck. Here are five speeches by women that have made their mark on history.
Queen Elizabeth 1st: The heart and stomach of a king
“I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king.”
Way back in 1588 the first Queen Elizabeth delivered a rousing address to the English troops as they were preparing to enter into battle aimed at repelling the Spanish Armada. This is a powerful piece of oratory that worked to galvanise her army with the only remaining tool she had available – her words.
Coming in at only 312 words and lasting about two minutes, it is a little verbal rocket. Sometimes called ‘The Tilbury Speech’ this masterful display continues to deliver a punch more that 430 years later.
Malala Yousefzai: One girl among many
“So here I stand, one girl among many. I speak not for myself, but for all girls and boys. I raise up my voice – not so that I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard.”
On 12 July 2013 Malala marked her sixteenth birthday by delivering a moving address to the United Nations General Assembly. Malala was shot in the face by a Taliban gunman for the crime of going to school. She represents a gentle but unyielding commitment to the best of humanity, refusing to capitulate even in the wake of a barbaric attack.
Her speech is remarkable because we watch her embody the very bravery that is synonymous with her story and her work. It will be remembered for its message of hope and her demonstration of transcendent bravery amplified by her personal story.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Argument in Fronteiro v Richardson
“Sex like race is a visible, immutable characteristic bearing no necessary relationship to ability.”
Before RBG became a US Supreme Court justice herself, she delivered this argument before the high court, impacting the outcome of landmark decision back in 1973. She put forward a pragmatic, logical appeal on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union regarding the gender inequality in the payment military benefits.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg speaks with her trademark measured style. She was a careful communicator and she selected words to support a structured appeal that always had a clear sense of purpose. She eschews strident statements and earnest pleas which only amplifies the impact of her sole flourish – a quote from abolitionist Sarah Grimke – ‘I ask no favour for my sex. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks.’
Betty Friedan: Call to women’s strike for equality
“I propose that the women who are doing menial chores in the offices cover their typewriters and close their notebooks, the telephone operators unplug their switchboards, the waitresses stop waiting, cleaning women stop cleaning, and everyone who is doing a job for which a man would be paid more – stop.”
International Women’s Day is a perfect opportunity to be re-inspired by the fighting words of the second wave feminists – notable among them the ‘famously abrasive’ Betty Friedan.
Reading her words now 50 years later we are struck by the uncomfortable realisation that the fight is far from over. Though much ground has been gained Friedan would bring her customary impatience to the demand for change that is still required in 2022.
Friedan was a skilled speaker – she could riff for hours if allowed, keeping her audience enthralled. But this speech was more concise, more tailored than many of her talks. She recognised the opportunity that was in front of her and she seized the moment to call for action. Like a tiny pebble in your shoe, Friedan’s words slowing but surely abrade to the point of annoyance, finally demanding your attention – exactly as she intended.
Julia Gillard: Misogyny Speech
“I will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man. I will not.
In October, 2012 then Prime Minister Julia Gillard delivered her astounding ‘misogyny speech’. She successfully captured the attention of the Australian people. But the impact of her words did not fade away, as is so often the case with parliamentary orations— instead it has only intensified over time – continuing to galvanise support from all sides of politics, here and abroad.
Gillard was provoked. The anger that propelled her that day was both palpable and justified. At the time we were all used to her measured style, but something different was brewing that day. Although she spoke with passion she showed enviable control as every masterful verbal jab hit its mark.
Julia Gillard’s misogyny speech will continue to inspire anyone who wished they could muster eloquence under pressure.
Source: Women’s Agenda