Friday, December 29, 2017

2017's backlash against women speaking up: 14 big examples

We are ending 2017 with an as yet unfinished conversation about sexual harassment and what it does to silence women. For many of us, this is a welcome and long-overdue conversation. But before you start rejoicing, listen to what actor Meryl Streep says will follow:
Meryl Streep isn’t convinced that the current conversation about sexual harassment in Hollywood will lead to an immediate cultural shift. 
“I see it leading straight to a backlash,” she said during a panel discussion at The Washington Post offices Thursday. She’s not entirely pessimistic, though. Eventually, she says, change will come; it just might take some time. 
“I don’t think we move in an easy trajectory towards an enlightened future,” she said. “We’re gonna hit the wall on this one soon.”
That backlash is already in progress, which should surprise no one. I see 2017 as a full year of backlash against women speaking up publicly, and not just about sexual harassment. The proof is in the speeches and what happened when they were given. I started out to do a more typical year-end  list of significant speeches by women throughout the year, and found that the speeches by women I consider most important in 2017 all have something in common: Every single one represents an effort to silence women speakers in some way, whether by interrupting her, mansplaining, not taking her comments seriously, using procedures to stop her speaking, trolling her with criticisms and threats, blaming and shaming her, and more.

That was 2017's version of backlash, backlash against the near-success of the United States in almost electing a woman president, and against the power unleashed in the Women's March which occurred on the day after the new U.S. president's inauguration. Classics scholar Mary Beard has said, "It is still the case that when listeners hear a female voice, they don’t hear a voice that connotes authority; or rather they have not learned how to hear authority in it." But this time, the hints of that authority were strong...and so has been the reaction against it.

Virtually all of these women, in addition to continuing to speak out, have publicly labeled the backlash for what it is, and that's something that any woman speaker should get used to doing, since there will be more backlash to come. I decided to arrange the speeches chronologically so you can see how the year progressed for women speakers. It's difficult to imagine a similar list for male speakers, isn't it? That's white male speaker privilege in action, public speaking style. I hope that by collecting this list, everyone will have a chance to see how frequently women's speaking is a case of "girl, interrupted."

So does this qualify as a "best of 2017" list? I think so. These were speeches given under duress and threats, but they are forceful, persuasive, and even poetic. They certainly meet our bar for being famous. But best of all for our readers, each one is a stellar example of how to handle difficult  and challenging speaking situations. I think we'll be seeing even more of those in 2018, but here's a look at how that played out this year:
  1. January: Meryl Streep's Golden Globes speech was given in the early days of the new U.S. presidential administration and before the Women's March. She devoted a high-profile lifetime achievement award speech to condemn the new president. The backlash began with criticism from the none other than the newly elected president himself. At this moment, it was a rare act of defiance--but because it was prominent and first, its impact was stunning. Though an extemporaneous riff, it's worth study by speechwriters, so compact and focused is this speech.
  2. January: Ashley Judd's spoken word poem performance at the Women's March -- the largest single-day protest in recorded U.S. history -- had to overcome a huge obstacle before she could speak: Figuring out how to stop Michael Moore, one of the few male speakers, from continuing to hog the mic so long that he wound up with the most time of any speaker. At a women's march. She took the stage, mic in hand, introduced herself and kept going. It's a bravura performance, easily the most lively and well-received of the day's speeches, featuring the work of a young poet. And yes, the backlash was intense.
  3. January: Hawaii Rep. Fukumoto at the Women's March in her home state used this rally and speech to make public something that happened to her in private. A Republican leader of the state legislature, she had expressed dismay over the new president's words and approaches, but was told she needed to silence herself. The speech makes clear why she did not choose to do that, at a high price: She lost her leadership role and later switched political parties, but held her ground and her seat.
  4. February: Elizabeth Warren's silencing in the U.S. Senate came as a surprise "rules enforcement" procedural power play while she held the floor. She was entering into the record a letter critical of the new nominee for Attorney General of the United States. The Senate leader abruptly forced her to stop, citing an arcane rule; later that evening, male Democratic senators read the same letter without interruption, making clear that this was discriminatory behavior. Warren left the floor and headed for Facebook Live, where she read her entire statement to an audience far larger than any that would have seen the limited broadcast of the Senate debate.
  5. February: California State Senator Janet Nguyen's silencing was over a tribute to a late former state senator who'd been an activist during the war in Vietnam--her home country--supporting the Communist government that persecuted her people. She rose to make this unpopular point about the popular senator who'd just died, and was stopped, first by a procedural objection, then by being hustled away from the microphone by security guards before she could finish.
  6. April: Minnesota Rep. Hortman called out white male colleagues in the legislature when she realized they were leaving the floor when women--especially women of color--were speaking, effectively silencing their female colleagues by denying them an audience as the men chose to go play cards in an anteroom. And because she called it a "white male card game," she was met with calls for an apology...which she refused to give. Consider how different this legislative battle over women's voices was because a woman was in charge.
  7. June: U.S. Senator Kamala Harris got interrupted by male colleagues twice in two weeks in the Senate--while her male and white colleagues were allowed to speak unfettered. In this case, insults were used to try to silence and shame her: She was labeled political, discourteous, and, yes, hysterical for insisting on her right to speak.
  8. June: Arianna Huffington got mansplained at the Uber all-hands meeting in the worst possible way: The meeting was on fixes for the company's sexist culture, and Huffington was announcing the appointment of another woman to the board, when a male board member interrupted and suggested that appointing one more woman just meant "more talking."
  9. June: Anita Sarkeesian on the panel from hell at VidCon gives us at once an inside look at what happens when women are trolled, live, while they try to speak on panels--in this case, with row upon row of organized opposition intent on disrupting speech--as well as how Sarkeesian, among the most-trolled women speakers, has begun to address it in real time.
  10. August: U.S. Representative Maxine Waters's "reclaiming my time" used a perfectly proper House floor rule to let a non-responsive witness know that his talking without answering was not going to reduce her allotted speaking time. It became a rallying cry and also could be your new favorite phrase to use when you get talked over in a meeting next.
  11. August: Susan Bro: "They tried to kill my child to shut her up" was the eulogy this mother gave when her outspoken daughter was mowed down by a driver during the Charlottesville, Va., protests this year. Bro's speech served as a chance for her daughter's voice to be heard by a wider audience than ever--or, as she said, addressing herself to her child's killer, "you just magnified her."
  12. August: Taylor Swift's harassment testimony gave every woman who's brought harassment charges forward a new template for how to answer leading questions in court (or elsewhere): fiercely. The questions were the typical type, intended to blame and shame the victim and thereby silence her complaint, or at least establish her lack of certainty. Not so here. Her direct responses--like "He grabbed my ass"--were offered without apology, and she wasn't afraid to correct her questioners. She won the symbolic and actual case, too.
  13. September: San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz's speech, "We Are Dying Here," did what mayors do when their cities are laid flat by a disaster: Ask for help from the federal government. But unlike other mayors in similar circumstance, this woman of color was dubbed "nasty" and as exhibiting "poor leadership" by none other than the U.S. president, and ignored by him when he went to Puerto Rico to meet for local officials. She keeps speaking up despite the insults and shaming tactics.
  14. October: UK Prime Minister Theresa May's interrupted Tory conference speech was interrupted by a planned, elaborate, ideal-for-the-cameras stunt that came early enough in the speech to ensure that that's all the coverage was about, on social and traditional media. A ploy to weaken her status in the party, the interruption may have been the most outrageous of our examples this year.
(Wikimedia Commons photo of the Women's March on Washington)

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Thursday, December 28, 2017

Our top 10 public speaking posts for 2017

According to the most-read posts on this blog in 2017, readers are concerned about the many situations in which women are silenced and how to counter. But you're also just as concerned about how to improve your speaking, whether it's figuring out how to prepare better, or how to emulate one of the most popular TED talks. That's the mix of most-read posts this year, a combination of the personal and the political when it comes to public speaking. Take a look at what your fellow readers thought were our most important posts:
  1. What linguists think about "um:" Guess who gets punished for using it? turned to linguists when the New York Times perpetuated the myth that um should be eradicated from your speech – and the linguists pointed out a particular disadvantage for women in this debate.
  2. When a man hogs the mic at the Women's March documented how Michael Moore spoke longer any other individuals at the March, even though prominent women speakers were interrupted and told to wind up their remarks quickly. Actor Ashley Judd came up with a masterful way to stop Moore and let the program continue.
  3. 10 questions to make you a more resilient speaker in 2017 was our list of resolutions for the year, in the form of questions to ask yourself as you set goals. How would you answer them this year?
  4. Silencers: In appearance v. content for women speakers, guess which wins? In this year of backlash against women speakers, their wardrobes did not escape criticism, and in some cases, focus on their wardrobes served to silence their messages.
  5. When the male moderator won't let the lone woman panelist speak highlighted an especially egregious example of a nearly all-male panel and its impact on a brilliant woman scientist was ignored for the majority of the proceeding, and mansplained for the rest.
  6. 39 lies, myths, and mistaken notions speakers tell themselves is a collection of the myths speakers use to describe themselves or their process when I am coaching that. Do you use any of these?
  7. Why speaker coaches think you should spend more time preparing. You hear it over and over speaker coaches: the more time you spend preparing, the better your talk will be. But preparation is almost always the thing that speakers give short shrift. Find out why the coaches disagree.
  8. Women and power? The double standard of the severed head builds on an article by classic scholar Mary Beard Trump' s use of a violent image of Hillary Clinton being beheaded as Medusa,  in comparison to a similar image that came under fire when comedian Kathy Griffin imitated it. The first image caused no outcry; but when when a woman used it, she had to apologize and it nearly ruined her career.
  9. What made this one of TED's most popular talks in 2016? breaks down a popular talk about meditation and bad habits so you can see some of the basics of what goes into a popular talk at this popular conference.
  10. Want to boost conference attendance? Add women speakers pokes at something that's always bothered me: why women have trouble getting on the program at most conferences, while women's conferences draw record attendance and profits. And conferences that make a point of boosting attendance by women see the results. Try it in 2018.
(Creative Commons licensed photo by SM5_1000)

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Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Famous Speech Friday: Kamala Harris's silenced Senate questions

(Editor' s note: No, it's not Friday, but the hiatus did not let me publish this key speaking moment of 2017, so I'm using the last week of the year to catch up.)

When a few of her Republican colleagues attempted to silence U.S. Senator Kamala Harris for the second time in as many weeks during Senate intelligence committee hearings this June, the incidents could have been read simply as an attempt by Republicans to protect members of their own party. But the media and the public quickly noticed a key little detail: Senator Harris' male and white Democratic colleagues were allowed to carry out their questioning without being admonished.

Here are a few of the tweets that appeared during the hearings:
Republican Senators Richard Burr and John McCain, who interrupted Harris' questioning of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, may have wanted to shut down Harris to prevent damaging revelations about the U.S. presidency from coming to light. Because she was a woman, however, they reached for some time-worn tools to try to silence her. It's worth taking a closer look at these tools here, since they are used consistently against women speakers.
  • Women who speak up risk being called "rude." During Harris's questioning of Rosenstein, she was reprimanded by Senators McCain and Burr in a very specific way when she tried to get a "yes or no" answer out of the deputy attorney general. See if you can spot it in Burr's remarks, coming around the 2:06 mark of this video. Men often say they prefer direct speech to equivocation. But when a woman like Harris is direct, that quality can often be labeled as "rude" or "discourteous." It's worth noting that Democratic Senators Ron Wyden and Martin Heinrich were similarly direct in their hearing questions, but were not reprimanded for a perceived lack of courtesy. (Heinrich was interrupted once, by McCain.) It's also worth noting that during the Sessions hearing, the attorney general complained that Harris' questioning style was making him uncomfortable, which suggests that he felt she was violating some rule that required her--and no one else at the hearing--to be pleasant to him.
  • Women who speak up risk being called "hysterical." The qualities of being persistent and dogged in pursuit of answers underwent a suspicious transformation in the minds of some who watched Harris' questions. On CNN, former Donald Trump campaign adviser Jason Miller said that Harris was "hysterical" and "shouting" during the hearings. You can watch the videos below to judge for yourself, or I'll save you the time: no shouting took place, by any of the participants. Attempts to silence or smear women speakers by calling them hysterical have a long history, but thankfully CNN analyst Kirsten Powers pointed out to Miller that it was, well, a little strange that he was singling out Harris for this label.
  • Women who speak up may be called "incompetent." Senators typically don't ask great questions at these hearings, preferring to give their own speeches in lieu of seeking answers. But as a former prosecutor, Harris is in fact very good at this type of questioning, which is necessary to establishing essential facts, timelines and documentation--just the kinds of things that you would think would be the aims of an investigatory hearing. Instead, Burr tried at the start of the Sessions hearing to get Harris to back down from this competent handling, by framing her style of inquiry as "taking political or partisan shots."
Harris went to straight to social media after the Sessions hearing, to request answers from the attorney general again, and to launch a new fundraising campaign for her fellow women legislators in response to her treatment.

The campaign's slogan? "The women of the United States Senate will not be silenced when seeking the truth."

Video of Harris at the two hearings is here:


(This Famous Speech Friday post was contributed by freelance writer Becky Ham)

Get involved in more conversations on public speaking with The Eloquent Woman. Follow our Facebook page, read great quotes from eloquent woman on Pinterest, or follow me as @dontgetcaught on Twitter. Learn how to be a better panel moderator with The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Famous Speech Friday: Arianna Huffington at the Uber all-hands

(Editor' s note: No, it's not Friday, but the hiatus did not let me publish this key speaking moment of 2017, so I'm using the last week of the year to catch up.)

The all-hands meeting in corporate life is no one's favorite venue as a speaker. Rarely is it about giving everyone a car and a year off; more often, it's an effort to deliver and explain bad news, or to start fixing a company-wide problem. And so it was for the ride-sharing behemoth Uber in June. Beset by problems that ranged from sexual harassment accusations to cities revoking its licenses, the company had commissioned an independent report that gave it numerous prescriptions for fixing its sexist culture, and the June meeting was meant to address those with employees.

So it was not a small moment when Uber board member Arianna Huffington, CEO of Thrive Global and founder of the Huffington Post announced that one of those steps would involve appointment another woman, Wan Ling Martello of Nestle Global, to the board--a step that would make women 25% of the board's makeup. At this point, Huffington was the lone woman on the board. The announcement came 7 minutes into the all hands meeting, a moment when management is usually working hard to set the tone for the rest of the session. Here's a transcript of what happened as Huffington was explaining the decision, and her fellow board member David Bonderman of TPG Capital, decided a little mansplaining was in order:
Huffington: There's a lot of data that shows that when there's one woman on the board it's much more likely there will be a second woman on the board.
Bonderman: Actually, what it shows is that it's much more likely to be more talking. 
Huffington: Ohhh. Come on, David. 
People in the room were "aghast," according to one report. Mansplaining often begins with just such an interruption, and the myth that women talk too much is a centuries-old trope used to shut women up--after all, if you're told you talk too much, that's a typical response. The comments were leaked almost immediately, and Bonderman later apologized and then resigned from the board.

Writing in the Washington Post, Christie Emba lays out the substantive issue behind the sexism of saying women talk too much in the workplace:
At Uber, for example, more “talking” would be an uncontestable good. A lack of communication is a major reason the company has wound up in a public crisis. From its founding, the dysfunctional start-up had poorly articulated policies and provided little supervision and few ways for workers to take their concerns up the food chain. Former employee Susan J. Fowler had to turn to a public blog to report sexual harassment. 
Perhaps more dialogue in the early stages would have compelled Uber’s executives to recognize all that and adopt standard business best practices — things as basic as requiring receipts for reimbursement and as major as not turning a blind eye to harassment by “high-performing” employees — years ago. Having more women on its board in the earlier days (Huffington joined only last year) might have led the company to address the sexism in its culture before it spiraled out of control.
What can you learn from this famous, interrupted speech?
  •  Make clear sexist comments are not acceptable: Huffington might have done more, but in the moment--who was expecting a sexist remark at a meeting on sexism?--her rebuke at least made clear that the view was one a dinosaur might hold, and not appropriate.
  • Remember that your presence and voice are essential, no matter how outnumbered you may be as a woman. Both in this more public meeting and many private ones, Huffington was the lone female voice battling the culture. Imagine this meeting had there been no female board member. 
  • Audiences don't like sexist treatment of women speakers. Guess what? Here's another case where the audience objected immediately (and probably leaked audio of the exchange that fast, too). Audiences have helped back up beleaguered women speakers a lot this year, and I like that trend.
Leaked audio from the meeting is here, and the relevant part begins at the 6:40 mark.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by C2 Montreal)

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Monday, December 25, 2017

Losing my voice: About the blog hiatus

I announced on November 3 that this blog would be on hiatus until the end of the year. And in truth, I was planning to take a hiatus for the month of December, anyway. But starting back in August, I found myself in and out of the hospital, first with a mystery disease that couldn't be diagnosed; then a diagnosis of lymphoma, a type of blood cancer; and then, just as I was about to start treatment for, the cancer, I developed Guillain–Barré syndrome, which paralyzed my hands and feet and parts of my arms and legs. As part of the treatment for that, I was put on a breathing tube and later had a tracheotomy – two things that, at times, rendered me speechless and unable to use my voice. And since my hands are such a big part of creating my online voice, it made sense to silence the blog while they were inoperable. Even now, I'm using dictation software to write this post.

One of the great miracles about Guillain–Barré syndrome is that it is reversible, going back the way it came, so my hands and feet, which were the first to be affected, will be the last to recover. I can't tell you how grateful I am to be able to recover my actual speaking voice, and to have the prospect of recovering all my other functions, particularly my hands.

I'm currently in rehab, working on physical therapy and work projects, but I want to get the blog going for 2018. I'm going to publish a couple of Famous Speech Fridays that need to be reflected in 2017, so this week we will declare Tuesday and Wednesday to be honorary Fridays. I'm also going to publish our annual list of the most-read public speaking tips on the blog this year, and you may be surprised by what's included on that list. Finally, I'll share a look at the year in speaking for women, using some of this year's most prominent speeches and what they all have in common.

I'm sure will have some fits and starts getting the blog up and running again, and I appreciate your patience with that process. I'm looking forward to getting back to the very important discussion we're having worldwide about women's voices and their place in the world in the workplace. And I hope in the comments thread on this particular post so that you can share your thoughts about where you would like to see the blog go in 2018. Thanks as always for reading!

Get involved in more conversations on public speaking with The Eloquent Woman. Follow our Facebook page, read great quotes from eloquent woman on Pinterest, or follow me as @dontgetcaught on Twitter. Learn how to be a better panel moderator with The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels.