Speech is power. That is the message of the upcoming film Suffragette, starring Meryl Streep and Carey Mulligan, about the women who followed Emmeline Pankhurst to prison.
It’s such a simple message. Yet for women this issue has never been simple. Leaving aside the traditional hostility towards women who speak out, our own fears and anxieties are sufficient to keep us silent. A recent survey found that many women were more frightened of public speaking than either dying or death.
I will be honest here: I know how they feel. I get extremely frightened whenever I take part in a public debate. All my life I’ve suffered from ‘Five Minutes Syndrome’ – the right answer comes to me five minutes after I’ve spoken.
I can write perfectly fluently but I can’t speak that way in public. I just wasn’t born with the gift of the gab; the same way I’m rotten at sports.
For every Emma Watson, Sheryl Sandberg, Nicola Sturgeon or Margaret Thatcher – women who all, in their different ways, have proved their ability to hold a crowd and transmit a powerful message through the spoken word – there are untold millions of others who are more like me: women for whom the challenge is to separate out the negative voices in our head from the real ones outside.