Looking back at 2019: What we can learn from the most powerful voices of the year
All our lives, we have been listening to people tell us, “Speak up and be heard”. But, very few of us can gather the courage to be assertive when the need arises. Sometimes, we need short doses of inspiration to speak up or take up cudgels on behalf of those who have been wronged. Speaking up, when it is necessary, can do wonders for you and the world around us.
If 2018 was the year of Me Too, 2019 had more women across ages and countries speak up, putting the spotlight on several issues that demanded our attention.
Last August, Swedish student Greta Thunberg sat outside the Parliament in Stockholm with a hand-painted sign that said 'Skolstrejk för Klimatet' (School strike for Climate) alone from 8:30 am to 3:00 pm for an entire school day. Her one-woman protest quickly went viral with students all over the world beginning to voice the impending doom of climate change.
At the United Nations Climate Action Summit in September, a defiant Thunberg accused world leaders of inaction on the issue.
Parts of her fiery speech went like this:
“My message is that we'll be watching you.
This is all wrong. I shouldn't be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet, you all come to us young people for hope. How dare you!
You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words and yet I'm one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!
For more than 30 years, the science has been crystal clear. How dare you continue to look away and come here saying that you're doing enough when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight.”
At the Golden Globe Awards presented in January this year, actor Glenn Close made a moving statement while accepting her award for her performance in The Wife. She said that her role in the movie was a reflection of her own life, where her mother took a backseat while her father moved forward in his career. The powerful feminist statement resonated with every woman in the audience and across the world.
She said, “I feel what I've learned through this whole experience is that women, we're nurturers. That's what's expected of us. We have our children, we have our husbands, if we're lucky enough, and our partners, whoever. But we have to find personal fulfillment. We have to follow our dreams. We have to say, 'I can do that and I should be allowed to do that’.”
In September this year, 27-year-old Chanel Miller came forward and told the world that she was Emily Doe, the young woman sexually assaulted by Stanford University student Brock Turner. At Glamour magazine’s annual Women of the Year Awards, Miller read out a poem addressing assault survivors everywhere.
In a moving poem, she said, “I don’t give a damn/What you were wearing/I don’t give a damn how much you drank/I don’t give a damn / If you danced with him earlier in the evening/If you texted him first / Or were the one to go back to his place. / People may continue to come up with reasons “why it happened” /But the truth is, I don’t give a damn.
But I do / give a damn / How you’re doing / I give a damn about you being okay / I give a damn if you’re being blamed for the hurt you were handed / If you're being made to believe you’re deserving of pain.”
Popular talk-show host and entrepreneur Oprah Winfrey has always been a strong epitome for the cause of women’s empowerment and social justice.
Her commencement speech for Colorado College was full of ruminations, practical insights and a powerful call “to be you” at all times.
Here’s a part of what she said.
“You have to pay attention to your life because it is speaking to you all the time. And the bumps in the road and the failures that pointed me in a new direction and led me to a path made clear that is what I’m wishing for you today: Your own path made clear. And I know that there is a lot of anxiety, a lot about what the future holds and how much money you’re gonna make. But your anxiety does not contribute one iota to your progress. I’m here to tell you. It does the opposite. Look at how many times you worried and you were upset. And here you are today – you made it and I’m here to tell you that you’re going to be more than okay. So take a deep breath with me right now and repeat this: Everything is always working out for me. I want to hear it. Everything is always working out for me. That’s my mantra. Make it yours. Everything is always working out for me because it is, and it has, and it will continue to be as you forge and discover your own path. But first, you do need a job.”
Actor Jameela Jamil has always been in the forefront in the fight for healthy body image. At the 2019 MAKERS conference in February in California, she spoke about misogyny and the toxic masculinity that prevails our world.
She said, “Women have the power to infiltrate misogyny in their own homes. It starts by never taking for granted how poisonous society can be to the male psyche, and protecting boys from the onslaught of misinformation everywhere,” she said, “It’s as if men are recruited young and brainwashed, in order to be indoctrinated and manipulated into an oppressive patriarchal institution.”
She added, “This is a call to arms for the women who have boys growing up in their houses. We have a lot of work to undo. Mothers, sisters, and aunties, I implore you to take this little sponge, and render him sodden with humanity and an understanding of women. It will send him into this delusional world with an armour of empathy and self-assurance… All you have to do is tell him the truth. Tell him what happened to us. Tell him our whole story.”
Actor Charlize Theron made an impassioned speech as she accepted the Glamour 2019 Woman of the Year Award on November 11. One of the highlights of her acceptance speech was on empathy and the need to support different kinds of people with all our hearts.
She said, “The point is we need to help the hard-hearted to empathise with others. Like sexual assault survivors, people living with AIDS, our trans community, children who are different or who have special needs. The women in this room tonight are putting themselves on the front line of the empathy battle, be it through storytelling, creating opportunities for those that need it most, or just unabashedly being yourself and telling other women we don’t have to apologise for who and what we are.”
Here’s looking forward to more women shining even brighter in the next year, and throughout the next decade.
(Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta)