Women & Silence

Women and Public Speaking

Recently, I read the through-provoking Women & Power A manifesto, written by Prof. Mary Beard. In the chapter The Public Voice of Women, she highlights that in the Western tradition for the last 3,000 years women’s public speech has been confined to two areas:  (a) the support of their group interests (e.g. women rights), and (b) their victimhood (e.g. Christian martyrs). Attempts to breach that rule are

Reprimanded – E.g. in the Odyssey a young Telemachus tells her mother Penelope to shut up and “go back to her quarters” whilst he “holds the reins of power at this house”.

Repressed – In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the talkative nymph Echo was punished so that the only words that she could utter were those of another person. More recently, Caroline Criado-Perez received rape and murder threads via Twitter after winning her fight to reinstate a woman on the back of the £5 banknote. 

Androgenized – The transformation of Margaret Thatcher’s voice to deeper and firmer tones is credited as one of her weapons to become the first female UK Prime Minister… and it continues to be widely used as advice for women that want to “sound” like leaders.

Therefore, I challenge that movements such as #MeToo are really disrupting the status quo of women’s public voice. Maybe, they are successful because they comply with the same long-standing premises: (a) supporting women interests, (b) women portrayed as victims.

Maybe, not much has changed in 3 millennia…

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