Speaking Out: A 21st Century Handbook for Women and Girls – an extract

My 11th book and 2nd work of non-fiction, Speaking Out: A 21st Century Handbook for Women and Girls is officially out today. Yes, I have written a handbook.

Why a handbook? And why now?

This book arose partly from the hundreds of questions I have been asked by women and girls in recent years. Questions like, ‘How do you find the confidence to speak out?’ ‘How do you handle trolls?’ ‘How do you form an argument?’ ‘How do you research?’ ‘How do you do public speaking?’  It was also written because of the shocking statistic that worldwide fewer than 1 in 4 people we hear from or about in the media is female, meaning that voices in public discourse are disproportionately male. In addition to this, there is equally uncomfortable data showing that women are still massively outnumbered in parliaments, leadership positions, boardrooms and more, including in public debates that specifically relate to women’s rights and women’s bodies.

Why Speaking Out? Here is a short extract from the book to explain:

To speak is to be human.

Having a voice is part of what makes us human, and freedom of speech – being allowed to use our voice – is one primary sign of living in a ‘free’ society. As social animals, communication is a central part of being human. Speaking and being heard is a vital acknowledgment of both our status as fellow beings worthy of being heard and our similarities, and for this reason many a philosopher has contemplated just how differently we might treat animals if they were able to speak our language – or we theirs. Language connects us.

Our voices connect us. When we are silent or unheard our ideals and perspectives, our needs, our pain, and our struggles remain unknown or unacknowledged; and often for this reason, unchanged.

Despite the relative freedom we enjoy in the ‘West’ (a term which commonly includes Australia and New Zealand, quite ‘East’) and new opportunities to speak out, including on digital platforms and social media, commenting on a subject in the public sphere is not always easy or simple. There are specific challenges that face many segments of the population in speaking out and being heard, or surviving the process. These include challenges relating to gender, race, sexual orientation, class, culture and disability. In this book I aim to examine the challenges posed by gender – specifically those facing women and girls – the external obstacles of silencing, dismissals, bullying and threats of violence, and the internal challenges of crises of confidence, and knowing just how and when to speak out.

Why write this book? Because the world has become more receptive to the voices of women in recent decades and at the same time it has become more violently opposed to women’s voices.

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Today, when less than one out of every four people we hear from or about is female, this fact bears examination. Just what are women experiencing when they speak out? If you want to be heard, what strategies work? This book attempts to answer some of those questions, and more.

Technology has created exciting new opportunities to speak out. A lot of our interaction with the world, including private communications and public ‘speaking out’, is now performed digitally, from simple social-media communications or instant messages to blogs and other electronic publishing. Technology has provided new spaces for people to respond, sometimes politely and constructively, sometimes savagely, with women emerging as particular targets of online harassment and abuse, in gendered and even violently sexualised ways. As many women like myself know all too well, having an opinion as a woman online now comes with gendered abuse, almost as an expectation. Speak out against rape and murder… get rape and death threats. Speak out against inequality and have your ‘f*ckability’ rating assessed by trolls, who presumably think this is the only use for a woman.

Recognising the common language and methods used by trolls and abusers does not necessarily remove these unpleasant realities  but it does provide perspective, and helpful armour. For this reason, Speaking Out focuses on several forms of speaking out, including public speaking and writing, but has a particular focus on online experiences; what can happen and what can be done about it, with advice from women who have been there.

One of my aims is to give practical advice to anyone who feels trepidation about the critics – both the constructive kind and the unconstructive – and the trolls. But another is to build confidence and knowledge through shared experience. Because by retelling our triumphs and failures, and the responses we got along the way, we get a greater sense of strength. By comparing notes, we can learn to recognise and differentiate constructive criticism from the silencing and the trolling, and most importantly, know that we are human and in this together.

– This is an edited extract from Speaking Out: A 21st Century Handbook for Women and Girls by Tara Moss, published by HarperCollins Publishers.

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First reviews:

‘Moss has written a guide for women who want to speak out in a world that would prefer them quiet. One of the great strengths of Speaking Out is its accessibility. Moss provides clear, simple strategies to cope with the often disproportionately aggressive response women receive when they speak out, particularly online.’ Jane Gilmore, The Guardian

‘Speaking Out is the sister book to The Fictional Woman, the next step in the evolution of Moss as one of our most intriguing and accomplished media personalities. Here she shares the wisdom…encouraging her female readers to find their voice and use it. Along the way are tips about presentation, research, how to face down critics, deal with social media hostility and vicarious trauma. Few people will gain access to the kind of exposure that Moss generates, but no matter where or when we want to defend a right, at a community meeting, a march, a rally or any other situation which requires eloquence, courage, indignation or a desire for change, there are valuable tools and skills to be learned here from one of the best in the business.’ – Caroline Baum, Booktopia

‘This book by Tara Moss is so very important. It has been an eye-opening read for me and it has changed my life. If every young man and every young woman was given a copy of this book it would make so many small changes in individual behaviours that we might just be able to begin to tackle a problem that is often invisible to us.’ – Krissy Kneen, Avid Reader

 

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8 Comments

  1. Jane

    Any suggestions how we can help Ms Jack Monroe, I’ve recommended your book. She’s going through a terrible time with Internet threats 🙁
    Jack Monroe
    Yesterday at 08:56 ·
    Some of you may know I have had an absolutely awful weekend of death threats and rape threats from strangers on the internet. People wishing me dead, people saying that they wished I had been at Pulse nightclub on Saturday evening where a gunman murdered 50 LGBT people.
    I almost threw myself in front of a train on Monday.
    I didn’t, because I am a mother to a beautiful six year old boy, but I got to the edge of the train platform, rocking on my heels before I snapped back. I have spent most of the last two days in bed, exhausted and afraid. I am talking about it because I cannot hear any more that it is ‘only words’. Those words come from a place of extreme intolerance, those words legitimise the thoughts of extremists who wish gay people dead. Those words reinforce our differences and eventually the bullying drives people to dark places. I take a lot of abuse online. A lot. I am very thick skinned. But this was too much.
    Over 200 people have reported the perpetrator to Twitter. Twitters UK head of public policy has seen it. His account remains active. And so, emboldened, he continues to send me graphic abuse. He makes memes joking about me being gang raped. Sends me messages saying that ‘only whores have a clitoris’. It is relentless and exhausting.
    And so I have left Twitter. Again. My Instagram feed automatically posts on my account sometimes so the odd message might come up, but I am no longer there.
    I am in a better place now for having left it behind. I am not going to cause any harm to myself or anyone else. I was temporarily dragged under, but I am recovering.
    In the meantime, please send me pics of your cats, puppies, tortoises, otters, bumblebees, etc..

  2. Kirsty

    Thank you Tara, I listened to Speaking Out on my commute this week, and finished it this morning. I promptly hopped online to buy a hard copy to share with all the women in my life. No matter what life stage, life experience there is something there for everyone. Cheers, Kirsty

  3. Linda

    I have not read this book (and having read the comments above), also condemn those that would use their words in the aforementioned heinous manner, whether verbal or written. But I have read “The Fictional Woman” and wanted to say that I agreed with and enjoyed it. While I would like to ask several questions about that book, I’d like to say to anyone who is experiencing negative effects from anybody’s words, to know they have value, that they matter, and that they are not alone. I am looking forward to reading “Speaking Out”.

  4. Bech

    Thank you Tara for your book “Speaking Out”, I have throughly enjoyed every page. I was recommended your book in a 12 week course that I am completing called the My Women’s Mentor program. I have used both the advice in your book and the course to fundamentally tackle the negative experiences that life tests us with and to grow stronger from through encountering hostile experiences. As I have been a serving member of the ADF for sixteen years I have experienced the hardships of being a female in a technical department and simply trying to survive in a male dominated demographic, which tests your character as a female. I had been informed on occasions throughout my career, “That the reason why women are aloud to serve in the Defence Force is that Men voted for my privilege so that I was to remember where I belonged concerning my position beneath men”. An amusing statement in the context that I should view the privilege of Men voting so that I could go to war to serve my country, when in fact it is my choice to serve my country, with honour along with my male peers. (I do appreciate that this is not the perception of the majority of serving males in the ADF and is only the minority).Throughout my years of service, the ADF has evolved in leaps and bounds and is the one if the largest Ambassadors for the White Ribbon Foundation supporting to stop Violence against Women, which is supported by my male colleagues. There will always be the minority as you addressed in your book and that I refuse to let the minority believe they can be bullies and belittle others because they can. I will be highly recommending your book to other serving members. As I believe that your book will be influential particularly to the younger generations who struggle with social media, as through your book that they can build strength and resilience against the negative people who live on the same planet earth. Maybe we should find another planet for the bullies.
    Once again I loved your book.
    Bech

  5. Tracy

    Dear Tara,
    I am hoping you can help us make people aware of Project Xan, a very important piece of documentary theatre opening in Perth on Wednesday – it is the story of Xan Fraser -raped as a 12 year old and failed by the Queensland Justice System – she is a woman who decided to speak out.

    For the past 5 years Xan has been involved in the creation of a documentary play about her experience and plays herself in it. Now we need an audience to come along and see it, – and we are hoping that you could point your Perth followers towards it.
    If you can help us get an audience along to an experience that shines a light on rape culture and victim blaming in a new way we would be so grateful.

    Read about Project Xan in Saturday’s West Australian article here https://au.news.yahoo.com/thewest/entertainment/a/33037129/childhood-sex-abuse-victim-xan-fraser-shares-powerful-story/

    Read the 7.30 Report Story about the play here http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-11-03/centre-stage-in-her-own-nightmare/7990388

    Please let me know if you can help us in any way, details of the show are here http://pica.org.au/show/project-xan/

    Trace – Publicist for Project Xan
    PH: 0412 223 221 tracy@trpr.com.au
    Tracy Routledge – TRPR

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