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SB Authors: Lois Phillips Brings to Light Women Who Changed History by Daring to Speak in Public

Deborah Sampson Garrett disguised herself as a man so she could fight in the Continental Army, and later shocked proper society by giving public speeches about her Revolutionary War experience.

In the 1820s, freethinking feminist Frances Wright dared to speak to mixed audiences of men and women about sexual freedom, equal rights, and universal education.

Thirty years before the Civil War, Maria Stewart became the first Black woman in America to deliver a public oration, describing the racism she had endured, and making the Christian case for emancipation of slaves.

These are three of several dozen consequential women whose little-known words, courage and historic impact Santa Barbara communications consultant and feminist educator Lois Phillips examines in a new volume, titled “The History of Women as Speakers: When Women Spoke Up They Changed History.”

“I’m looking at some amazing historic figures, women who had the nerve to get up and argue, for example, in early colonial America, about the right to own land – and what happened to them when they did,” Lois said in a conversation with Newsmakers. "They took tremendous risks."

“Let’s talk about, and make clear to those unenlightened, the contributions of women who helped build this country," she added. "Let’s make visible what women have contributed to the fights for equality and justice and opportunity.”

One of the “Founding Mothers” of SB’s influential Women’s Political Committee (and the first woman ever to have a show on local public access television – shout-out TVSB), Phillips since the 1970s has been a prominent community advocate for equal rights, reproductive choice, and a full range of feminist issues.

After earning a PhD at UCSB’s Gevirtz School of Education, she built a successful consultancy by teaching, coaching and mentoring women in business, politics, and other professions the fine arts of public speaking – and overcoming several centuries of patriarchal American cultural conditioning.

The fundamental challenge for many women, Phillips said, is, “how to gain credibility as the voice of authority, which is traditionally a male voice.”

“It has to do with your vocal variety, upward inflection – ‘Is that really important? I’m not really sure I can do this?’ – and ways in which women’s speaking style…which is often deferential…can undermine the most brilliant ideas.”

“I learned a lot about campaign communication, and ways in which women running for public office really need to push against a double standard in the way that audiences evaluate their speaking style,” Lois told us. “Women have to walk a fine line between being too relational, too soft and having an edge, being too strong, being too direct – it’s not easy.”

In her new book, Phillips has incorporated her professional perspective and experience into an historic survey of the similar, if not identical, challenges women often faced in seeking to be heard, and taken seriously, in public discourse.

“What I learned from the research for this is, you do take a risk when you stand up and assert a big idea, push against the establishment, basically saying, ‘I know more than you do – I’m the expert, listen up, I’m going to change your life if you listen to what I have to say,’” she said. “That’s not the way we were raised as little girls – to think that what we have to say matters.”

In our interview, Lois also recalls how she was required to resign her first job as a public-school teacher when she became pregnant, talks about the ongoing importance of Women’s History Month, how the WPC got started, generational differences between feminists of diverse ages, and gender politics post-Dobbs decision.

Listen to our conversation via YouTube below or by clicking through this link. The podcast version is here. The program also is broadcast on TVSB at 8 p.m. M-F, and at 9 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday. It airs on KSCB 91.9 FM Mondays at 5:30 p.m.

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