Saturday, March 18, 2023

Q&A with Dana Rubin


Dana Rubin is the author of the new book Speaking While Female: 75 Extraordinary Speeches by American Women. A journalist, consultant, speechwriter, and speaker, she is the creator of the Speaking While Female Speech Bank. She lives in New York.


Q: What inspired you to write Speaking While Female?


A: Many things. In screenwriting they talk about the inciting incident. I can think of two.


I got sick and tired of hearing people quote Winston Churchill all the time. He was a superb orator, but he doesn’t merit being quoted all the time in the context of American discourse. There’s Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, and more. But where were all the women?


The speechwriter William Safire had a column in The New York Times, "On Language," and he created an anthology of speech from around the world, Lend Me Your Ears: Great Speeches in History. I opened the table of contents, and there were 202 speeches by men and 15 by women. The scales fell from my eyes—I thought, this can’t be the case.


It sent me down a path. The deeper you go, you get further into the microscopic world that opens up. I discovered the world of women’s speech. I started a website, with Helen Keller and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and it got bigger and bigger. These women made a difference with their words, and I address this. Our words matter. Words influence other people.


Q: How did you choose the 75 women’s speeches to include in the book, and how did you research their lives?


A: I have an online speech bank with thousands of women across time. How to select the speeches for a volume of American women’s speech? I was going to do 35, and then 50, and I ran a Kickstarter campaign for 50. I created a spreadsheet, and found that 50 couldn’t tell the story of women in America from the beginning to the present, and show the diversity.


Q: The writer Jon Meacham said of the book, “By identifying and elevating the voices of women across the ages, Dana Rubin has successfully led all of us to examine our assumptions and listen with new ears and open minds.” What do you think of that description, and what do you hope readers take away from the book?


A: Jon Meacham has a podcast focusing on amazing speeches, mostly by men. I wrote him a letter and explained why it’s not okay to talk just about men in speeches. He called me, and we developed a friendship.


My main readers are women and girls. I’m really worried about our democracy, the environment, warfare. One of my hopes for improving the world is to get more strong moderate voices into the public square. I want more girls to use their voices.


I want every social studies teacher, high school teacher, college teacher to include this book. I want the speakers to include women, and I want young girls to know debate and oratory. I’m a big supporter of forensic debate. I judge high school debates, and I watch young women struggle. They enter in the same numbers as men, and then they drop out. They’re not trained to be as resilient as men. I want to train more women to be public speakers.


Q: What do you see looking ahead?


A: Successive generations of women being more confident in using their voices. It changed in very short order. It’s pretty rare that you go to a conference and don’t see any women. And if so [the organizers] are called out.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I have another book in mind based on a calendar model. Every day, a woman gave a historic speech. Every day of the year, there’s something to celebrate. It can be illustrated. It would make a nice gift book.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: This is a truly new way to look at American history. If you don’t include the voices of women, you don’t get the full picture.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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