speak up

Word Wednesday: “Speak Up!”

Books Columns Geek Culture Reviews Word Wednesday

speak up

This Week’s Word is “Activism.”

“Our voices will be heard.”

This Wednesday I’m looking at a book that taps into the current social climate. One of the defining shifts in this period of history is the ease of communication. The possibility of finding your voice has never been easier. Of course, EVERYBODY’s voices can be heard, which throws up a whole slew of problems that are beyond the remit of this review. Nevertheless, if you have something to say, you now have a platform to say it or, if you are feeling isolated and alone, it’s possible to find people you feel a kinship with, from all around the globe.

In a time where our political systems seem to have seized up as they vie to maintain the status quo, activism and protest are on the rise. Speak Up! is designed to help young women realize their potential, find their voice, and leave their impact on the world.

What is Speak Up!?

Speak Up is published by Red Shed, an imprint of Egmont UK. Its tagline is, “Use your voice to change the world,” and is similar in style and size to the “awesome” books I reviewed last year. It’s about speaking up about things that bother you; using your voice to a make a change. The book is written by Laura Coryton, who knows a thing about being heard. She successfully led a campaign to abolish tax on tampons in the UK. As she says in her introduction, she even managed to get the Prime Minister to say ‘tampon’ in front of parliament.

“The Internet is Our Superpower.”

In her opening chapter, Introduction, Speak Up! talks about the power of the internet to implement change. Coryton discusses how the “tampon tax” movement was started and explains that though many institutions are heavily male-dominated, the internet is far more egalitarian. She also delivers the interesting observation, that whilst most internet petitions are started by men, more winning petitions are started by women. Possibly because men only need to rail against things like the final season of Game of Thrones or having Episode VIII reshot so it reflects their own world-view.

Chapter 2 launches the “Speak Up Toolkit” with its five steps to launching a campaign.

  1. Be specific: Identify your goals.
  2. Be Focused: Find your decision makers.
  3. Be Smart: Do your research.
  4. Be Creative: Decide on your platform.
  5. Be Confident: Plan your launch.

It should be pointed out that whilst, most of what it says could apply to every person on the planet, Speak Up! is most definitely written from a female viewpoint. This chapter looks at how sexism defines society. That’s not to say, that boys can’t be angered by what Croyton talks about (they should be), but if they sat down with this book, they would probably feel that Speak Up! isn’t for them. For example one of the banner slogans reads “Empower Amazing Women Like You.” Having said that, the concepts and ideas in the book can definitely apply to any issue that anybody feels strongly about.

The rest of chapter 2 takes each of the points in the toolkit and drills down into them, offering ideas on how to approach each step. This takes up well over half of the book, and is full of useful advice about who to talk to, how to work out where to direct your campaign (is it political, is it corporate?) and the best ways of conducting your campaign. For example, it points out the advantages and disadvantages of online petitions over targeted letter writing and explains the circumstances in which one approach might be better than the other.

Chapter 3, “Bounce Back,” looks at the inevitable setbacks. How to learn from them, how to find positives in failure and how to regroup and replan in order to move around any roadblocks. It also talks about how to deal with another 21st-century inevitability, the internet troll. It describes ways to build up resilience and the importance of non-engagement, but more, it describes the best ways to report trolling; what can be reported and the importance of capturing evidence of any malicious messages you’ve been sent.

Chapter 4, “Speak up Every Day,” stresses the importance of maintaining momentum for your campaign. In a more generalized way, it talks about the importance of bringing examples of injustice and inequality into the light. How highlighting issues on social media can help bring followers together.

Chapter 5, is about what to do next. After reading the book, rather than after your campaign. This is very much a primer in areas where women might be able to make a difference and issues that need supporters.

The book is completed with a history timeline of the Tampon Tax campaign. Its successes and its failures. Put together it’s an inspirational 4 years.

Why Read Speak Up?

Speak Up? is an excellent book if you have a politically motivated daughter (or another female) in your life. Drawing on the author’s personal experiences, it gives excellent practical information about how to campaign for something you believe in.

As I’ve come to expect from reading various books like this, the typesetting has been designed to ensure maximum engagement. The text uses a striking combination of white, yellow, and black and there is copious use of inspirational blockquotes, cloud text, and diagram-style illustrations.

As a dad of boys, I do have a reservation about the book. I feel the female-only focus on campaigning a little short-sighted. All the issues in Speak Up are important, and they definitely affect women to a greater extent than they do men. But, I feel a more equal society will require the voices of the next generation as a whole to speak up. My wife and I have tried to educate my sons to think about these issues, and really there is no reason why they can’t campaign about any of the things in Speak Up too. I feel this book implies that they can’t or more, that the fight isn’t theirs.

I’m wary of stamping my middle-aged male foot, but I feel, good though Speak Up is, it could have been gender neutral, without diluting its message. I appreciate that I come from a position of privilege on this. Whilst I can sympathize with the gender politics outlined in the book, I can never fully understand it. I will never have to live it.

Perhaps, there are reasons why books specifically aimed at females speaking up are of great importance. Reasons I can’t comprehend from up here in my ivory tower. Nevertheless, I’d like to feel I could stick this book under my sons’ noses, and say “You can make a difference,” but sadly, with its current stance, I don’t think I can.

Having said that, Speak Up does what it sets out to do. It gives inspiration to those encountering discrimination on the basis of gender and will boost them to think that their voices too can be heard. One would hope that if Speak Up is a success, perhaps a more gender-neutral volume could follow up.

Looking at the news today (I write this as Britain returns from the European polls) any young person could be forgiven for thinking that their voices cannot be heard. Our country stands on the brink of an era-defining decision, but looking at the major players, you’d think that being over 50, owning a suit and a stately home, were three of the qualifying factors for being allowed to talk about the importance of Brexit. The politics of Brexit appears to be about to sweep away the freedom of choice of countless young adults, yet they’re barely consulted on the issue. Brexit needs its Laura Corytons too.

It’s not just with gender issues that the younger generation can make a difference if it finds its voice. The politics of Britain (and the world) could be more meaningful across the board if all ages were engaged and mobilized. The political platform tends to be monopolized by the same types of people. Books like Speak Up! can reach a whole different group of voices, and that’s why they’re going to be vitally important in months and years to come.

If you’d like to pick up a copy of Speak Up! you can do so, here, in the US and here, in the UK.

You can check out the rest of my Word Wednesday posts, here.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book for review.

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