In Ontario, young women were banned from participating in some prominent high school debate leagues until well into the 1970s. Depriving young women of the opportunity to hone their public speaking and debate schools was a really a good idea on the part of the patriarchy. After all, when people are used to being silent, it’s much easier to silence them when they do have something challenging to say.
I was lucky. I was born in an era when girls were permitted to participate in every debate league in Ontario, and participate I did. I attended debates practically every weekend, and was fortunate to earn the opportunity to compete in tournaments as far away as Utah and South Africa.
As I got older, my public speaking skills were the very tools that enabled me to exercise my feminist beliefs. I attended and spoke out at town hall meetings, I called people I met out on their everyday sexism at parties, and I participated in public debates defending freedom of speech on university campuses as well as women’s reproductive rights. In short, my public speaking skills allowed me to perform my feminism in all sorts of interesting ways of which I am now proud.
Learning how to speak and debate in public was a privilege, of course. Besides the odd English period or two that provides lip service to the idea children should learn how engage in formal debates, debating and public speaking are mostly taught as extra-curricular activities in Ontario. The same is true in many other parts of Canada.
Not only those privileged enough to have attended schools with the means and the inclination to offer debate and public speaking courses should have the opportunity to become more confident speakers.
As a feminist, I believe our beliefs mean nothing if we do not share them with others. Sadly, many people do not share their opinions beliefs in public forums because they are afraid not just of reprisals from anti-feminist groups, but of the act of speaking publicly itself. This is totally understandable, as much research shows public speaking is the most common fear in the world. Yes, even head of the fear of death!
With practice and some pointers, however, speaking in public can be empowering, not scary. Hell, as 16-year-old me – who loved nothing more than going to a debate tournament – would have told you, it can even be fun! This is why I created the Public Speaking For Feminists Program.
Public Speaking for Feminists is a Toronto-based organization that provides self-identified feminist activists and organizations with FREE public speaking workshops. Our public speaking lessons can be tailored for adults of all levels, from beginners to those with years of experience. We also aim to make these workshops inclusive, anti-racist and queer-positive feminist spaces.
Our philosophy as an organization is that the best way to be heard is to speak up. We aim to empower feminist activists to use their voices by giving them the skills to engage in public speeches and debates. We believe that changing the public discourse can change the world, so it is our mission and our passion to help as many feminist activists as possible feel comfortable speaking in public forums.
If you are in the Toronto Area, and would like one to arrange one for friends or your feminist organization, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org