One of my favourite things to see is someone speaking passionately about something they love. When someone has passion for a topic or a subject, their eyes light up, their voice amplifies – passion becomes a loudspeaker for even the shiest of speakers.
A little while ago, I decided I wanted to talk about something I was passionate about, so I fired off a quick email to the folks at Laneway Learning. For the uninitiated, Laneway Learning is a very awesome Melbourne-based organisation (but they’re in Sydney now too!) that teaches quick classes about anything and everything – and I do mean everything. I kept an eye on the website for a little while and watched as people taught classes on everything from ukelele playing to beekeeping to BitCoins. After a quick meeting at The Little Mule, in the heart of the city where the classes are held; I was in – I had a date set to present my very own class, on Feminism.
I’m no stranger to public speaking (as I put it – I teach fitness classes, so I’m used to speaking loudly, over music, while exercising; which is basically a triumvirate of elements that will make public speaking difficult), but knowing that there was to be a group of twenty-five strangers paying to hear me speak about a topic on which I wasn’t actually formally qualified was a bit nerve-wracking. And Feminism – my topic of choice – was something that, I felt, could go really wrong really quickly. I didn’t want to be an angry, ranty feminist. But I also didn’t want to gloss over any part of the topic, or make a joke out of something that was – in essence – potentially able to alter someone’s political and social views permanently. I also didn’t want to delve so deep in to the topic that I overwhelmed people, because I wanted to make the hour of their time that I had, the best and most informative hour that I was possible of delivering.
So I started by making a checklist. What was important for me to tell people, about feminism?
First and foremost, I wanted to explain why I was a feminist, and why I thought I couldn’t be for a really long time. I also wanted to explain why I believe we still need feminism, and to demonstrate that I wanted to tap in to some of the messages the media sends to women, and men, that encourage a culture in which women are often demeaned. I also wanted to talk about how those messages are filtered through individual people – whether it’s a boss who doesn’t think a woman is capable of taking on the same job as a man, or someone who cat-calls a woman wearing a short skirt as she walks down the street. I thought there was no better tool to help me demonstrate this than the Everyday Sexism project, so I played the short Vimeo video on the project for the class. Some people had seen it, and some hadn’t, but the gasps I heard as one of the speakers in the video described finding semen running down the back of her legs after an unwanted encounter on public transport made me realise that I was definitely hitting the right note.
Lastly, but most importantly, I hoped that my class would inspire people to discuss feminism, and ask questions both of myself and of the other people in the class. I left a fair amount of time at the end of the presentation for people to ask any questions they might have, or share any experiences that came to mind throughout the class; and I wasn’t disappointed. People shared all manner of thoughts – some discussed times in which they or someone they know was put down or bullied because of their gender; and others simply asked questions of me about feminism, that I tried to give back to the class to answer and discuss. (One question – how does chivalry fit in with modern feminism? – was my favourite, and very easily answered: just be chivalrous and polite to everyone!)
The amount of people who spoke to me after the class, both in person and over Twitter and email, gave me encouragement that I had achieved my aim for the class – to spread a serious and strong message in a digestible way, that made people feel both aware and empowered to make a change.
Now, I’m lucky enough to be coming back to Laneway Learning to reprise my class – not only in Melbourne, but in Sydney too! Come and pay me a visit if you like, or check out one of the other awesome classes Laneway Learning has on (protip: if you teach a class, you also get to attend a class for free).
(Final photo from Jenny Morbey Makes.)