A letter to…everyone 

Today was one of the scariest and most rewarding days of my life. I’ve always hated public speaking and it never fails to make me feel so small in a room that is so big. But today was different. Today I felt like I mattered, like my voice did have an impact, no matter how small, and I am eternally thankful for that opportunity. 

Never be afraid to dive into the unknown and do something that completely terrifies you, you might just learn from it. See my speech below! 

Good afternoon everyone and thank you for allowing me to be in the presence of such strong leadership and female empowerment. Just from looking around the room, I see so many people who are clearly committed to bettering themselves, the world, and the future of feminism. None of you are the same color. None of you have the same features. None of you come from the same background. But there is something that all of you do have in common, and that’s the ability to change the world.Now, I want all of you to close your eyes. In fact, lay your head down on the table or place your hands over your eyes so you truly can’t see anything. I want you to think about a time when you chose silence. When you witnessed something wrong and you stood by. Maybe it was racism while you were in line at the gas station. Maybe it was one of your girlfriends who’s significant other was blatantly abusive. Or maybe it was a friend talking about how the girl who was raped should have known better than to drink and wear a skimpy outfit when she went downtown.

Open your eyes and look around. Most of the people in this room have chosen silence at some point in their lives, myself included. And I want you to think back on that moment you just recollected. What if all of these people who surround you right now were there and they all chose silence. What if all of these dozens of people were watching something happen they know is despicable and chose to stand by. Now, what if they all chose to speak up.

Far too often, little girls are raised to become women who stand idly by. Parents teach their daughters that to be beautiful is to be reserved. That to find happiness is to be submissive. And that to be successful is to settle for second instead of striving for first.

There is a good chance that many of you in this room were raised on those beliefs, or who have a loved one who was raised with that mindset. But all the women in this room need to know that you are so much more than an aesthetic pleasure, and all the men in this room need to affirm that message to the women in their lives. Today, all those thoughts and all those voices that say “Don’t be so dramatic” and “You’re only one person; it won’t make a difference.” That “Other women have it worse,” and “Well, you shouldn’t have worn that.” That “You can’t expect people to take you seriously,” and, “You shouldn’t come across as so bitchy when you’re leading the meeting,” all end. Those voices are no longer relevant.

Because you see, beauty is not a measure of your complacency and is not determined by your ability to be seen and not heard. Beauty is confidence and bold is beautiful.

Women should not be forced into silence, no matter what that silence is for. Women should not be so afraid of losing their jobs that they refuse to demand the same pay as their male colleagues. Women do not deserve to be treated as objects just because they are comfortable in their skin and are proud of everything that their bodies have gone through and represent. No woman should ever be told she is less of a woman because she chooses to strive for a career, desires to stay at home, breastfeeds her infant in public, or chooses to have an abortion.

A 15-year-old girl was shot on her way home from school because she refused to stop advocating to a female’s right to education in Pakistan. Malala survived and continues to speak on behalf of women. A well-known actress used her status to push a movement that inspires men to become part of the feminist movement. Emma Watson turned #HeForShe into the critical lesson that feminism is about equality for men and women, not about promoting women over men. A senator chooses to continue fighting against the standard in politics and voices her beliefs even when others tell her to stay silent. Senator Warren continues to fight against political and financial corruption and has become one of the biggest proponents of women’s rights in U.S. politics.

These women and their accomplishments are not difficult to come by. They were able to make such incredible changes through determination and refusing to listen to the negative voices in their lives. Every single person in this room is strong. Every one of you is beautiful. And every one of you has the ability to prove that, as Hillary Clinton said, “Human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights.”

Now, I want all of you to close your eyes again. Think about that situation I asked you to think of before, when you stood by and stayed silent as you witnessed harm. This time, I want you to imagine that you didn’t stand by. Imagine you spoke up and you told the person making the racist comment that the U.S. is founded upon diversity and that without diversity, we would never have freedom. Imagine telling your best friend’s significant other that he or she will no longer speak to your friend that way because now, she is not alone, and two is bigger than one. Imagine telling that friend who ridiculed the rape victim that anything that isn’t “yes,” is “no” and a woman’s clothes do not speak. Her voice does.

Open your eyes. Your voice does make a difference. Your opinion does matter. Your boldness is beautiful. Being bold proves that you have not only earned respect, but that you deserve it solely for being a vessel of humanity.

Today is the day you can make change. One voice can create a movement and can propel a generation’s future to bring them endless possibilities. You are all multi-talented, diverse, intricate human beings, whose mere existences are the boldest of statements within life itself. This is the time to push the agenda that women are just as strong, just as bold, and just as powerful as men. We work 10 times harder and march 10 times longer than men to prove that we deserve equality. Now, we must carry that tradition of badassery with us wherever we go. Be bold and be brave, and you will remain beautiful in all of your endeavors.

See my speech here: https://www.facebook.com/licohen94/videos/10155189944655984/

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