The public voice of women
I am afraid that I have been a bit preoccupied this week. Many you will know that I was giving a lecture for the LRB last night at the British Museum on "The Public Voice of Women". It was an attempt to think about modern issues of trolling, the Tory front bench (lack of women thereon) and why so many women claim to find they have an "awkward relationship" to the domain of public speech -- while putting it in the context of the western tradition of silencing women, and defining the males of the species as the speakers ("vir bonus dicendi peritus", as the old saying went -- binding manhood, virtue and eloquence into a neat triangle).
OK, you might say, you are "pro" at this game -- why should one lecture be SUCH a big deal? The answer's simple, a few weeks ago BBC4 asked if they could record it.
I can't tell you what a difference that makes! It is bad enough giving a not very good lecture to 300 people -- they look a bit disappointed, you feel a bit embarrassed that you didnt hit the spot, there will be a few critical tweets. But basically you move on, no-one really remembers, it doesnt actually count against you in the long term, because it's off in the ether. The idea of doing a bad lecture that can not only watched by thousands and thousands (until they decide to switch channels) but doesn't actually disappear into the ether in the same way as a mere lecture, is a bit alarming -- or at least much higher stakes.
So I spent days and days on this one (when I should really have been correcting the final proofs of my laughter book -- aaagh), finding the images, trying to get the balance right between Classics and politics and personal comment, having enough funny and enough serious, etc. Literally days...
But all in all I had good day: hair cut in the afternoon (yes I DO have my hair cut -- at Gary Ingham, if you want to know!); met friends after the lecture -- inc Megan Beech (first time face to face) and a wonderful posse of ex-students. And finally a long dinner.
It was also an interesting day. Part of my talk reflected on the ways that women are often urged to ape male rhetorical techniques to get their points across. The classic example is of course Margaret Thatcher, who was specifically trained to speak lower to gove her high pitch voice more authority. I wanted to question the idea that women had to pretend to be men in order to find a voice. Wasnt that just making them more outsiders, turning them into actors not orators? Shouldn't we think instead about how we might learn to find women's (natural) voices authoritative?
Anyway, throughout the day, one point that came up time and again from the women I met who had been on "communication courses" was that they had all been urged to lower their voices and speak more like blokes. And indeed most who talked to me about it felt that it was in the long term counter productive.
Now who, I wonder, gives these courses?
(PS. Full text of the talk now online here)