It was an honour for fellow Toastmaster Mell Sheppard and I to be asked to give a speech at Club President Mary Fraser’s local event, celebrating International Women’s Day in March. It’s an annual event, which Mary and colleagues have been running for several years now, where members of the women-in-business networking community Success Network, come together to socialise and speak about how to empower themselves and each other. www.successnetwork.org.uk
When Mary informed us that we would be giving this speech to an audience of sixty women, the nerves trickled into my chest. I’d only ever given a speech to thirty-or-so people, so this was a big deal for me. I tried to work out why it feels more confronting when there are more people in the audience, but I couldn’t come to any conclusions, other than ‘More people to humiliate myself in front of’, which wasn’t very helpful!
Everyone was, of course, welcoming and supportive. Mell and I were privileged to hear the other scheduled speakers for the evening, who covered issues ranging from advice about how best to organise personnel, to a speech about what International Women’s Day means to women around the world – some women gave each other presents to celebrate their sisterhood!
Mell and I decided to air a discussion that we’d recently had about whether men are better than women, each of us giving our side of the argument in a humorous and informative way. Mell spoke of a time when she and a friend had struggled with a DIY project, but had refused any offers of male interference, simply because of female pride. She explained that nowadays, if she needs any DIY done, she’ll contact her dad, rather than struggling on her own. She urged us to be comfortable with the fact that there are some things that women can’t do that men can do. Great advice.
I then gave my side of the argument, saying that the reason it looks as if some women aren’t so good at DIY is nothing to do with their sex, but instead, it’s to do with their upbringing. Adults praise male toddlers for their toughness and intelligence, and they praise female toddlers for their beauty and elegance – even if the toddler in question has been ‘cross-dressed’ by a cunning scientist. If we never practise honing our DIY skills, our parallel parking, or our maths ability, we’ll never become better at it. Your brain is what you do with it, regardless of your chromosomes.
We concluded that some men are better than some women, and some women are better than some men, but that it’s time to stop judging ourselves and each other on such superficial things as gender. We need to start accepting people for who they are.
So were my nerves worth it? How did I feel after giving a speech outside the club, to sixty business women? I felt elated, of course. I woke up the next morning, after the adrenalin rush had faded, feeling secure and proud of myself. I felt as if I’d contributed a little bit to those women, and that perhaps Mell and I had inspired them to go along to their local Toastmasters club, and to see that, no matter how confronting fearful bodily sensations may sometimes seem, it’s always possible to transcend them, and to come out the other side of fear, with a feeling of self-respect. And that’s true for ALL of us – men and women alike!