Until the end of the last century, women didn’t stand up in front of audiences and give speeches on a regular basis. The women who chose to give speeches struggled with challenging gender norms just like women who entered male-dominated professions. Even today, men far outnumber women as politicians and CEOs, the kinds of folks who give speeches regularly in the public eye with media coverage. Nonetheless, as a 21st-century public, we’re more comfortable seeing women behind a microphone saying serious things. Plus, feminist scholars of rhetoric and feminist historians have uncovered the histories of many women speakers who contributed to US history, so our public imagination is comfortable with the idea that women give speeches.
Given this change in temperament, there should be images of a woman speaker, right? WRONG!
I wanted to use a vintage image of a generic public speaker as a Blackboard banner, but Google yielded only men. Note that “vintage” in a search nets a broad range of decades, all the way up to the 70s and 80s. Given the broad range of decades that Google includes in “vintage,” the absence of women should come as a surprise. Narrowing the Google search for vintage women speakers spits out pages of speakers – stereo speakers – many of which have women straddling them in the usual sexualized poses. (Note the tame picture below.) No images of historical figures, no contemporary artistic renditions, no vintage speakers of the 60s when women presumably burned their bras. (…let Snopes tackle that whole bra-burning thing.) Zip, zero, zilch.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.