One of my goals for 2016 was to start speaking out more on topics that I feel passionate about, but have previously been too afraid to voice publicly. When I launched my Project Healthy Happy Me website in 2014, I mostly wrote about health, wellness, business and life – only very rarely dabbling with topics like feminism, advocacy, politics, religion, equality, and diversity (generally when doing book reviews). However, as time passed and I found my voice, I felt increasingly called to dive into these worlds – eventually leading to the rebranded website that this blog sits within today. 

I was therefore incredibly excited to receive a copy of Tara Moss’ recent book Speaking Out: a 21st century handbook for women and girls the same week I launched a rebranded website and publicly announced my new blogging themes. Divine timing.

In this post, I will summarise some of my fave lessons and takeaways from Tara Moss’ Speaking Out and offer you an opportunity to win a free signed signed copy of the book.

Part 1: Why speak out

In part 1 of Speaking Out, Tara puts forward a case for why women and girls should speak out and why their voice matters. 

  • One of the many things I loved about Tara’s previous book The Fictional Woman was how she challenged common labels and myths about women. In Speaking Out, Tara is once again a myth buster extraordinaire. For example…. Myth = Women use 20,000 words per day and men use 7,000 words today. Truth = The majority of studies show that men use more words than women (especially in public settings).
  • Women are often “patronisingly interrupted, or told to calm down or be silent” when speaking out publicly – even women who are considered to be experts or are in positions of authority. Tara writes that if it is common to see high-profile examples or instances on camera of this  – what happens to women to women with less power – to those “far from the cameras, in boardrooms, public meetings, businesses, schools and homes.” In Speaking Out, Tara argues that despite these interruptions and patronising attempts at silencing, that it matters that women keep speaking out. She also provides tips for you to use if you are on the receiving end of the ‘shhhh’. 
  • It is important to acknowledge our unconscious bias and attempt to listen with less bias when women (and others who are marginalised) are speaking out. Tara states that “Many of us, regardless of gender, would like to believe we are free of personal biases. But the cumulative effect of hearing men more than women over a long period of time has been that male voices, perspectives and issues are more often promoted, and the male voice overall is ‘normalised’ as the standard speaking position’. Tara argues that a lot of change is possible by learning to acknowledge unconscious bias – and attempting to learn from and act upon what we learn when listening with less bias.
  • There is a great section in the book that challenges the popular argument that merit always wins out. Tara writes that “Talent, ability, hard work and merit are incredibly important factors, but also work within a larger power structure that allows more opportunity to some than others, and a system of influence, expectation and privilege that places certain stories, certain voices, certain types of work and certain abilities above others. Those voices, abilities and types of work just happen to be disproportionately the domain of those who are in power under the current system.” Tara argues that we can reward hard work and merit while also recognising that some people have a more difficult journey to get the same opportunities as others – that there isn’t a level playing field for women and other marginalised groups. Some people do need to work harder “to gain that reward for merit, or to have their merit recognised.”

Part 2: How to speak out

In part 2 of Speaking Out, Tara talks about different mediums and methods for speaking out, and how you can do so effectively.

  • Speak out using mediums and methods that most inspire you. For Tara, this is primarily through writing and public speaking – but for others it might be through art, music, photography, or film for example.
  • Women tend to be more harshly judged and criticised for how they speak, even when using the same verbal tics as men (e.g., verbal fry, using the wrong pitch, saying ‘like’ too much). Although one can arguably always improve the delivery of their professional voice, don’t let criticism of your voice silence you – in Speaking Out, Tara reminds us that criticism isn’t always about you or your voice. She suggests that you stay focused on delivering your content, rather than what others’ perceptions of your voice might be.
  • If you are considering a career or lifestyle that involves a lot of public speaking, consider investing in professional guidance. (Note from Naomi: Chantelle Adams has an online program called Centre Stage that helps people with public speaking. It’s on my list to consider in the future.)
  • Tara explains that she personally prepares for public speeches by preparing, preparing, preparing and then letting go of the outcome. She sticks to her speech, feels connected to her message, knows her stuff, and feels prepared for any criticism or questions that might come up. When she has done this, she feels ready.
  • When it comes to using writing as a means of speaking out, Tara suggest that: you make your words count by not just using words, but having intent behind their employment; ensuring each sentence has relevance and clarity; deleting any repetition that is unnecessary; respecting word counts; not writing it right, but just writing it and making it right later; never publishing with out doing a final re-read; and always thinking of your audience.
  • “Knowing your stuff” is vital when speaking out. The more informed we are, the more we are able to positively contribute, and the more reason there will be for people to listen. It is therefore important to use critical thinking skills, to draw on and quote existing literature where possible, to quote people correctly, to ensure you get your facts right, to use credible sources, to consider likely counter-arguments; and to check and feel confident in your work.
  • An important component of speaking out is using critical thinking skills: “thinking about your thinking, while you’re thinking, in order to make your thinking better.” Critical thinking is an area that I’ve been known to rant about and wish that people would use more frequently in the online world. I therefore really enjoyed reading Tara’s work in Speaking Out where she provides guidance and questions to help people improve their critical thinking skills.

Part 3: What to expect when you speak out

In Part 3 of Speaking Out, Tara explores what you can expect when you do so and how you can be better prepared – so you can “speak out and and keep speaking out, without burning out”.

  • People often (consciously or unconsciously) use diversionary tactics to try and derail or silence an argument rather than address it. It can be beneficial to learn how to recognise common diversion tactics. In Speaking Out, Tara outlines 12 classic diversionary tactics and explains how to not allow them to succeed. This Daily Life article includes a summary of 10 of these diversionary tactics, as well as a short video of Tara explaining four common ones.
  • Since speaking out often comes with receiving criticism, Tara provides advice on how you can survive and handle different types of criticism. She suggests for example that it is important to ‘know your stuff’, to ensure you have a solid ground with your argument, to have thought through any specific critiques you might receive and what your response might be, and to be confident in what you have to say and why it is important. 
  • Criticism can be a vital and positive thing, helping you expand your knowledge. Try to be objective when you receive criticism, consider what the issues are, who the source is, whether there is any validity in what was said, and what you can learn from it. Tara mentions that not all criticism is equal – with some being constructive and some not being constructive – but learning to handle criticism well is a great skill to have.
  • When you begin to speak out and receive invitations to speak out, you need to decide whether opportunities are right for you – you do not have to say ‘yes’ to everything. In Speaking Out, Tara includes guidance and key questions that will help you determine whether an opportunity is right for you, and also how to ask for payment where you feel it is due. She also provides tips on how you can say ‘no’ to particular questions that are invasive, inappropriate, cross personal boundaries, or are personally triggering.
  • Speaking out about traumatic experiences can be both powerful and challenging. Tara advises that you “take some time to consider your story, how it relates to the experiences of others and what you hope to achieve by speaking out about it.” When speaking out about personal trauma and coping with the sometimes surprising responses you will receive, Tara suggests that you: most importantly take care of yourself and your wellbeing; get clear on your personal boundaries; practice what you plan to say; be in a place where you feel safe; consider having a support person; and try to be in control of the narrative. 
  • Vicarious trauma is the negative impact experienced from being exposed to traumatic content, like having heard stories from people about traumatic events. Vicarious trauma is common for advocates and people who hear distressing stories in their (paid or unpaid) work. In Speaking Out, Tara shares her own experience, as well as how one can seek support for vicarious trauma. This is an important issue to be aware of when speaking out.
  • ‘Unsocial social media’ is unfortunately common, especially for women who speak out. Tara talks about the different types of unsocial social media, shares experiences from those who have experience ‘cybernate’, outlines a number of ways that you can protect yourself from different forms of online abuse; and talks about what you can do if you experience online abuse. She notably says that for many women who speak out, “banning and blocking become necessary parts of the online experience.”

I hope you have found this summary of some of my favourite takeaways from Tara Moss’ Speaking Out helpful. Please, please, please get your hands on a copy – as this blog post only barely touches the informative, inspiring, and useful information that you will soak up from the book. 

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