Four Ways Certainty, Conviction and Anger Can Power Your Voice

Dr. Christine Blasey Ford was subjected to the same double-standards Anita Hill dealt with in eerily similar circumstance: both were expected to be pleasing while their abusers felt free to let their anger fly.

Women who speak truth to power often face intense scrutiny and pressure to conform to expectations. Yet, knowing full well what they would face, Blasey Ford and Hill still came forward. Sitting on the sidelines or keeping quiet were not options. A strong motivating force, a sense of obligation or “civic duty,” propelled them to speak out.

You likely feel the same way about your advocacy work—and that’s good, because that inner motivation can drive you forward. You can use it to speak out for what you believe in and to push back against bias, exploitation and hate.

Here are some core principles to guide your way.

Young women like Brenna Levitan, a student at Montgomery Blair High School, found their voices in the wake of the Parkland school shooting—and used them to demand better from their lawmakers. (Lorie Shaull / Creative Commons)

Embody Certainty

Blasey Ford didn’t hesitate when she was asked about her strongest memory of the attack: “Indelible in the hippocampus,” she told the committee, “is the laughter. The uproarious laughter between the two and their having fun at my expense.” While opponents and skeptics may try to claim she is mistaken, Blasey Ford knows what she knows.

You may have been made to feel that sharing what you have gone through wasn’t worth talking about. Perhaps others have tried to marginalize your voice because of who you love or where your people are from.

The ability to believe in yourself is foundational. Women’s March co-chair Carmen Perez grounds what she wants to say in who she is. “I’m a Mexican American, Chicana woman who grew up in Southern California in a poor community where there were gangs,” she told the crowd when she introduced herself at the 2017 Women’s Convention. “I also grew up playing basketball. There are different things that I identify with, but intersectionality allows me to be my whole self.”

Trust what you’ve learned from life. Trust that your ideas are sound and your opinion is worthy. When you do, you’ll find plenty of others believe in you, too.

Share Conviction

Tell them why you care.

During the Senate hearing, Senator Amy Klobuchar shared that her father was an alcoholic, and she was familiar with black outs brought on by heavy drinking.  When she asked Brett Kavanaugh about his drinking habits, the question wasn’t an attempted got’cha moment—it was an opportunity for him to show the ability to be introspective, that he could learn from mistakes and feel compassion for himself and others. (He didn’t quite pass that test.)

The declaration of why you care is an expression of the impetus that drives you. It is the story of what compels you to take a public stance. By sharing it, the audience knows you are not just mouthing words, reciting talking points or paying lip service to an issue.

Congressional candidate Ayanna Pressley, who is a wife and daughter to formerly incarcerated black men, often explains that her reasons for public service are different from the older, white male incumbent she defeated in a Boston primary election.  She describes her candidacy as an intentional force to dismantle barriers and provide opportunity for everyone.

A thoughtful impetus story makes it clear that you have skin in the game—a powerful credential.

Claim Confidence

Confidence need not be elusive or mysterious; it can be acquired through preparation and gained over time from experience. This is especially true for public speaking. If you lack confidence now, you can change that. Where you are today doesn’t have to be where you are tomorrow, next week, and next year.

A way to speed confidence building is to have role models—or, as actor Laverne Cox would say, “possibility models.” They can help you find your way.

As a black transgender girl raised by a single mother in Alabama, Cox says she learned that the sky is the limit when you apply yourself to achieving your dreams. When Professor Hill testified 27 years ago, zero women sat on the judiciary committee. Now, there are only four—but women like Klobuchar, along with her colleagues Mazie Hirono, Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein, can help you push your potential to new heights.

Power the Collective Voice

Nothing can make you feel more vulnerable than standing alone.

Today, hashtags like #MeToo, #BelieveSurvivors and #WhyIDidn’tReport serve as visceral expressions of shared experiences. They are signals of women coming into their political power and demanding the world hear their calls for change. They ensure that women like Blasey Ford aren’t as alone as Hill was when she sat in the same seat in 1991.

Maya Angelou once said: “Each time a woman stands up for herself, without knowing it possibly, without claiming it, she stands up for all women.”

Women are standing with survivors. Speaking out together, we can drive the change we seek.

Christine Jahnke is a speech coach and the author of The Well-Spoken Woman Speaks Out: How to Use Your Voice to Drive Change.

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