America Rhetoric: Shirley Chisholm's Women's Rights Speech

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The discourse of equal rights for women is widespread in American culture. According to Shirley Chisholm's speech to Congress on women's rights, the topic was even well-liked in American culture during the 1960s. The first black woman elected to congress was Shirley Chisolm in 1968. At this period, both the subject of women's rights and the issue of social discrimination based on race confronted American society. In her address to the House of Representatives, Chisolm pleaded with the MPs to recognize the societal prejudice that black people and women face in public places and to pass laws to safeguard them. Chisolm used various examples to express the multiple biases against women, i.e., workplace discrimination where women were given simplistic roles (Chisholm, 1969). America at this period was considered white America with the black Americans and women being discriminated. Her speech uses various persuasive techniques to achieve its objective.

Chisolm frequently spoke on the issue of women's right in the American society. Her speech to the house of representatives on women's rights in 1969 specifically contributed to the exposure of the national discrimination against black women and contributed to the legislation of equal rights amendments.

Discussion of Rhetorical Speech

Chisholm understood the political and social components necessary changes in social discrimination; these elements verified her rhetoric on equal rights. Also, she realized that the house of representative consisted of the highly educated in society as well as influential peoples that would lead to her desired change. She began her speech by highlighting the plight of women graduates looking for jobs. She described their frustrating experiences to find a decent job, like being administrators, managers, and lawyers. The positions available for women graduates at the time in social America included being teachers, secretaries, and librarians. Indeed, this rhetoric addressed the social issue that was prevalent in America during the 1960s to 1980s (Williamson-Ige, 1982). Women's jobs were limited as a result of gender discrimination from employers. Some jobs were considered female-oriented while others were exclusively for men. Chisholm wanted to address the issue where society viewed women as those without the ability to lead and other skills such as management.

Her second point addressed in the speech included the percentage of women in managerial positions. Chisolm argued that women made up for half of the American population. However, only two percent of the women were in administrative positions. Indeed, according to research (Wardell, 2014), only one-third of the women made up the workforce in America in the 1960s. This phenomenon was as a result of gender discrimination. The levels of bias towards women were high that they had come to accept it and be submissive just like the black population was discriminated for long that they became submissive. This discrimination against women formed a basis for her argument to champion for equal rights for women.

Lastly, her rhetoric offered solution to the social discrimination against women in America. From her speech, she stated that for equality, there needed to be laws to protect the working class, ensure fair pay, better working conditions, and better retirement schemes. The laws need to be made in a manner that they protect both men and women in the working class. Her speech was critical in changing the working conditions of women in the working class. Just like other activists calling for equality in the working class, Chisholm's statement had an impact on the employment rates in America. In the following years, women started to gain balance in the working class.

Critical Approaches to The Rhetoric

Shirley Chisholm presented her speech to the house of representatives. The house of representatives was highly political and educated, thus, to convince them, she had to come up with various approaches to her speech. For instance, her tone was strident and authoritative to sound like an equal to the other representative. She identified herself as a national figure and the first black woman to be a congressman in 192 years (Williamson-Ige, 1982). Her examples were factual expressed short sentences to convey her intellect. Critically, Shirley used various approaches including metaphors, tone, appearance, and ideologies to ensure she convinced her audience. Some of the methods include;


During this period in the American society, there was a collective belief that women were a weaker sex and were not capable of performing specific tasks such as management and leadership, and were emotional. During her speech, Shirley presents herself as a confident woman contrary to the myth of women being weak. She dressed in an official attire and spoke loudly and gave her speech (Williamson-Ige, 1982). Her confidence and the sarcastic tone was meant to show her audience that women were capable of being orderly, having leadership skills and being emotionally stable.

Metaphorical Rhetoric

To achieve the aim of her speech, Shirley Chisholm used a metaphoric rhetoric method to persuade her audience. For instance, she compares the equal rights of women reforms to those of the marriage law reforms that were overdue. She claims that the best solution for the marriage laws was to wipe them off the book (Williamson-Ige, 1982). This metaphor describes the drastic changes to the equal rights for women that were necessary to be undertaken at that period.

Also, some of the ideologies used by Shirley Chisholm to persuade her audience included:

Constructing A Stock Issues Case

To convince her audience, Shirley had to use a stopping point which would act as the center for opposing contention. A stock of issues has been used by scholars over many years to make a point in their rhetoric. Shirley presents various stock issues to ensure her point is reached. She constructs her narrative on behalf of the equal rights amendment (The Evolution of Women in the Workforce (1865-2015), 2015). First, Shirley starts off by stating the need for change. From the speech, she argued that despite the recent advancements in civil rights, race, and rights against prejudices against religion, the rights of women still faced barriers to women's rights. Women were faced with sex-based discrimination and were institutionalized in society.

The second stock issue used by Shirley Chisholm in her speech included the prove of the inherent barrier to equal rights for women. Her rhetoric on obstacles to equality for women was based on the structural and attitudes problems in the system towards women. The existing laws and social attitudes towards women were unequally set. For instance, despite the fifth and fourteenth amendments, women were still unevenly distributed in the management of state institutions. In that case, the civil rights acts were not sufficient enough to ensure equality.

Lastly, she provided a solution to the last stock issue to her rhetoric. She sought the establishment of the equal right amendments that catered for the rights of women in society. The equal rights amendments were to take into consideration the legal and economic issues facing women. Also, then there was the need to bring to public attention through state legislation laws that would change the general attitudes towards women in the working force. For instance, labor laws that would ensure fair pay between men and women in the working force across America. The change was to provide gradual chance and equality in the long run.

Refuting of The Opposing Views

Another approach used by Shirley Chisholm to convince his audience through her speech on women rights was by refuting opposing arguments. Her proposition was for the implementation of the equal rights amendment. However, various arguments had been raised that were fighting its implementation. For instance, there was an opposing view that the equal rights amendment was not capable of solving the issue of discrimination based on sex in the American society (Williamson-Ige, 1982). This is because the bias was in people's hearts and could not be stopped by passing legislation, refuting this argument, Shirley argued that such an argument was based on prejudice and would be embarrassing to use such cases. Although she agreed that no legislation would remove bias from the people's hearts, Congress was not justified to use such an excuse not to pass the equal rights amendments.

Another opposing view refuted by Shirley included the argument that passing the equal rights amendments would result in ambiguity and excessive litigation in determining legal meaning. In denying these claims, Shirley Chisholm referred to the various uncertainties that were common in the then current legal system. There were different forms of law regarding equality of women in the workforce from one state to another. This kind of confusion and ambiguity was as a result of lack of clear federal law regarding equal rights for women. She thus refuted that the equal rights amendments would serve to bring clarity to the existing laws and equality in the workforce for women.

Lastly, Shirley countered the argument that the implementation of equal rights amendments would lead to the elimination of the protective laws for women in the workforce. Indeed, this was the most common argument against the implementation of the equal rights amendments. These laws viewed the women as being weak and easy to manipulate by employers. Implementing the equal rights amendments would thus eliminate the laws and leave the women in the workforce vulnerable (Williamson-Ige, 1982). Shirley considered these claims to be biased and served to exclude women as a weaker sex. She also claimed that sex had nothing to do with exploitation as non-would condone such acts. She recommended the implementation of equal rights amendments and the choice of occupation be left to the individuals.

Women's' Issue Myth Arguments

Another ideology used by Shirley Chisholm to convince her congress audience was to debunk the common myth regarding women's issue as a barrier to equal rights for women. The common argument against equal women rights was that women in the workforce were already protected by other laws from exploitation from unscrupulous employers, and the equal rights pitied women at the expense of men (Williamson-Ige, 1982). She argued that the laws were unfair and placed an unnecessary burden on the women. Equal rights for women was aimed at leveling the ground for all men and women and not o favor women over men.

Analysis of The Critical Approaches on Equal Rights for Women by Shirley Chisholm

As an African American woman in the 1960s America, Shirley Chisholm identified well to the discrimination of women in the workforce. Her speech to Congress in 1969 was thus very persuasive. However, also, the strength of her speech to congress that day could be attributed to the rhetorical methods she employed in her speech. Some of the rhetoric approaches that strengthened her speech include;

Effect of Use of Tone to Identify with The Equal Rights for Women

Shirley Chisholm was the first black woman to be elected to Congress, and this is a point that she makes clear in her speech as she identifies with the plight of black women across the country. while presenting her speech, she uses a controlled tone with straightforward points based on facts. She also eloquently presents her speech despite the Caribbean accent that she had. Her confident tone was used critically to command attention from the highly respectable representatives of society as well as present the woman character in a different manner from that viewed in society (The Evolution of Women in the Workforce (1865-2015), 2015). During the 1960s, black Americans and women at large were considered to be lesser beings.

Her audience was also made up of a majority of white males. Using a sharp and confident tone was aimed to persuade the male chauvinistic representatives in Congress to take into consideration equal rights for women. The approach was successful as it managed to convince the congressional representatives to make changes in the equal rights of women across the country.

Effect of Metaphors to Indicate the Urgency of The Matter

Like any other audiences for a speech, the Congress representatives had to have a good understanding of Shirley's address to be convinced to make the proposed changes. She, therefore, used various comparisons and similarities to express her points better. For instance, she gives an example of the marriage laws that needed adjustments. She compared the equal rights for women to be similar to the marriage laws that were long overdue. The use of metaphors serves to explain the importance of the amendment of the equal rights for women. The examples also not only make it simple for the audience to understand them but also present logical reasoning to her proposals.

Power of Refuting of opposing views

Shirley Chisholm's speech on equal rights for women in the workforce was not a new idea to the house of representative. Previous proposals for equal rights had been countered by various ideologies and failed. Shirley was aware of this as she used different counter ideologies to refute these views and persuade her audience on the importance of the equal rights for women. For instance, there was a prevailing view that the equal rights of women were not going to solve the issue of sex discrimination. According to the belief, sex-based discrimination was based on people's hearts and legislation to ensure equal rights was not going to change people's perspectives (Chisholm, 1969). Indeed, the argument seemed hopeless and baseless as the ok of legislation was to provide social equity and not being swayed by social beliefs. Not acting on social prejudice by the legislation was the promotion of injustice in society.

The majority of legislatures in Congress were male whites who could not identify with sex-based discrimination in the workforce, i.e., unfair wages and allocation of inferior jobs. Since they were also among the highly learned people in society, Shirley's refutation served as a wakeup call to the otherwise ignorant congress representatives to the reality of equal rights to women. This ideological method thus helped Shirley achieve her aim of persuading the audience of Congress representative.

Effect of constructing a stock issues case

Construction of stock issues persuade the audience is one of the oldest methods public speaking and it involves using a theme that acts as a point of focus in an argument. Some of the common stock issues include consideration such as; if the problem is just; is it necessary; is it possible; and if it is honorable. Shirley seems to understand the formation of stock issue case as she centers her argument on equal rights for women. She begins her arguments by insisting the need for change to equal rights for women in society (Chisholm, 1969). She achieves this by narrating the plight of women graduating to the workforce and how they were subjected to inferior jobs. Throughout the speech, she centers around the need to have equal rights for women to ensure an end to all forms of discrimination of women towards women in the workplace and other institutions such as the legal system, education, and military. The success of the speech achieved from its audience and the changes made towards equal rights in the following years indicated progress in the application of this method.

Effect of debunking myth

Another critical approach used in Shirley Chisholm's speech was to address the common myths against equal rights for women. Shirley knew that to persuade her audience, she had to clear the myths such as consideration of equal rights as a hindrance to the protective laws put in place to protect women in the workplace (Williamson-Ige, 1982). This was. However, a myth as the protective laws portrayed women and inferior and vulnerable to discrimination. By considering women as lesser being, it was in itself a discrimination. Shirley used this method specifically to enlighten her audience from the beliefs that they were doing well in addressing issues concerning discrimination against women.

In conclusion, the Shirley Chisholm speech on equal rights for women is considered one of the great campaigns towards the achievement of equal rights in America. The statement made in 1969, takes into account the social discriminations against women in the workforce and other institutions such as the military, and education. Shirley was the first black to be elected to Congress, and she took this opportunity to address the congressmen in a bid to urge them to pass equal rights laws. Her speech has been considered successful following the changes that put into the law in the following years in favor of equal rights for women. Shirley's speech was also persuasive due to the various approaches she used, i.e., use of metaphors to illustrate the urgency of the proposal, and the multiple ideologies she sued such as constructing a stock issue case, a refutation of opposing arguments and debunking the myths on women's issues. Her voicing of equality matters has since been a success with help from the labor unions.


Chisholm, S. (1969). Equal rights for women. speech made on May, 21.

The Evolution of Women in the Workforce (1865-2015). (2015). Shirley Chisholm's Equal Rights Speech. Retrieved from

Wardell, T. L. (2014). Gender and Employment in the Service Sector. Social Problems. retrieved from .

Williamson-Ige, D. K. (1982). Shirley Chisholm and Women's Rights Rhetoric.

March 10, 2023
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