A motivational speech can come from anywhere or anyone, but usually, it has a specific audience in mind. These speeches are designed to change the listener’s outlook.
Women have always had to fight to be heard. To be taken seriously. For equality.
If you Google history’s most powerful speeches, you’ll see a lot of glaringly testosterone-heavy lists. This makes sense, haven’t we been told to be seen and not heard for generations? However, women’s words can shake the world.
I have put together a list of speeches, from wise women, that have made an impact on me.
Reese Witherspoon Glamour’s 2015 Women of the Year Awards
I’m going to start with my favourite. It’s the speech that Reese Witherspoon gave at Glamour’s 2015 Women of the Year Awards. It is so powerful! She discusses how ambition is seen as a dirty word, especially concerning women. The bit that I always remember is; when she would read the bit of the script when there was a disaster, the woman would immediately turn to the guy and say, “what do we do now?!” She follows this up (correctly) with, “Do you know any woman in a crisis who has absolutely no idea what to do? I mean, don’t we tell people in crisis, even children, “If you’re in trouble, talk to a woman.”
What would Elle Woods do?
J.K Rowling Harvard Commencement Speech 2008
This is the woman who got me reading again. I had always loved reading as a child but fell out of love with it in my teenage years – mostly because it was uncool. The Harry Potter books re-ignited this.
In the speech, she hints that speaking in front of a sea of intellectuals is giving her imposture syndrome, something we’ve all felt, or will feel, at some point. The most significant aspect for me is her honesty about failure. “I’m not going to stand here and tell you failure is fun. That period of my life was dark one… I had no idea then how far the tunnel extended… any light at the end of it was a hope rather than reality.” Failure in our life at some point is inevitable. The strength that can be attained by it, and how to wield it is inspiring.
Sojourner Truth in 1851
This woman was an escaped slave, feminist activist and abolitionist. She delivered the iconic speech at the Women’s Rights Convention in Ohio in 1851. Even if you’ve never heard of her, you probably know the quote, “Ain’t I a Woman?”
Of course, men protested against the convention, saying that women were weaker and intellectually inferior to men. Ministers noted that the original woman, Eve, had sinned, giving men dominance. In response, Sojourner said, “If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again. And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.”
I love her sass and attitude!
Queen Elizabeth I in 1588
It is often forgotten that this queen refused to bend to the will of the men of her parliament. She is remembered for her refusal to marry. If she had, her power would have transferred to her husband. There were men in her life, which has been speculated that she had dalliances with, but she gave up love to keep her supremacy.
Let me set the scene… she is constantly being told she should listen to men, she has just executed her cousin and challenger to the throne Mary Queen of Scots, and now The Vatican has sent the Spanish Armada to conquer Britain. In armour, on horseback, she delivered the speech to the troops. The most famous line is, “I have the body of a weak, feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a King.”
Here is an excerpt of the transcript delivered by Cate Blanchett
Lupita Nyong’o in 2014
With the Black Lives Matter movement still on our minds, this speech is the perfect start on to education of the lobby. I can never put myself in her shoes, I a white, and I am fair-skinned, but this gives me some understanding. A light-skinned aesthetic is what she thought she needed to be successful.
“I remember a time when I too felt unbeautiful. I put on the TV and only saw pale skin. I got teased and taunted about my night-shaded skin. And my one prayer to God, the miracle worker, was that I would wake up lighter-skinned.” Lupita references a fan who until watching her on screen, was going to lighten her skin, her mother, who always affirmed she was beautiful, and she believed her complexion would always be an obstacle to overcome.
Luckily, there have been hundreds of women whose voices have made an impact on us, as well as history. There was a vast list of girl-power icons I could have chosen to be in this list, but these are the ones that initially sprang to mind.
What are your favourite inspirational speeches by women?