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She Speaks: The Power of Women's Voices by Yvette Cooper

Looking at lists of great speeches of all time, you might think that powerful oratory is the preserve of men.

However, the truth is very different, as author and British MP Yvette Coopers sets out to prove in She Speaks.

The powerful anthology collates speeches from women across both the globe and ages. From Boudica to Greta Thunberg, the speeches, as Cooper writers in her introduction, "capture movements rather than moments".

The books spans generations, and is fairly diverse, although most of those included are notable women.

The speeches do inevitably all fit to a theme - about the power of voice and speaking up, and about connection.

Included in the anthology is a speech by the first African woman to win a Nobel Peace Prize, Wangari Maathai, encouraging women and girls to 'raise their voices'.

Eva Kor, a twin who was experimented on by Nazi doctor Josef Megele, features too. Cooper says her speech is one of the most important of the anthology. "It's hard to find the words to introduce it - hard to think of anything to say that can capture both the unthinkable horror that she endured, but also her remarkable resilience, dignity and optimism."

Closer to home, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's speech, They Are Us, given at the memorial service following the March 2019 Christchurch terror attacks, also graces the pages.

Maya Angelou's speech at the inauguration of President Clinton captures the essence of what Cooper attempts with the anthology. We are reminded as we read it that each new hour holds new chances and that we "should lift up our eyes with hope".

The 1977 speech by Audre Lorde about the impotence of silence and the power of speech also highlights Cooper's intention.

The speech, as Cooper describes it, shows "how too often we stay quiet because we fear visibility and the vulnerability that brings, but how we need to find strength in words."

The anthology includes a fair few speeches from politicians, which was to be expected given Cooper is a Labour MP herself. It was nice to see though that she included speeches from across a broad spectrum, including ones that she openly states that she disagrees with.

Reading the speeches was inspiring, and while every word played its part, the very nature of oratory means we rely on much more than words for meaning. It would have been a nice touch to include video links of those speeches in the book that have been recorded. Some can be found on YouTube, and I got a far deeper meaning and understanding of those speeches that I searched for, and watched.

An interesting collection featuring a number of inspiring women, some well-known and some not-quite. She Speaks will empower and inform.

Reviewer: Rebekah Lyell

Atlantic, RRP $27.99


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