Skip Links

All About ...
Soraya Chemaly 

Susie Anderson
Sydney Opera House

 

A prolific voice on the role of gender in culture, politics, religion and media, American writer Soraya Chemaly’s body of work has always had a strong feminist focus.

With 15 years in media and technology industries under her belt, Soraya has unique expertise and insights into the world of data. As one of the first working with online subscriptions and advertising, internet safety and protection of information became crucial tenets of her work and her feminism. She’s used these experiences to develop the Women in Media Speech Project where she is the director alongside actor Ashley Judd.

With multiple awards, board appointments and writing credits to her name, Soraya Chemaly will speak at All About Women on the gendered nature of anger and the power of female rage.

She’s about confidence, not just leaning in

Around the same time as women everywhere were encouraged to ‘lean in’, Chemaly approached the issue from a different angle, writing about the socially reinforced confidence gap between men and women.

Implicit biases are at the root of the problem. Girls have always been taught to be meek and helpful, actively taught from a young age to not take up space whereas boys learn the opposite. When women reach their twenties they face the sudden expectation to be confident in all aspects of life, to lean in and take up space. She identified that “there’s no way to undo the socialisation of 25 years when you’ve been biting your tongue because you’ve been taught to do that”.

Until society addresses the way it reinforces sexist gender stereotypes, we are still a long way from achieving gender equality.

She’s behind ‘10 words every girl should learn’

“Stop interrupting me.” 
“I just said that.”
“No explanation needed.”

These three phrases were a viral hit in 2014 when Chemaly penned the article “10 Simple Words Every Girl Should Learn”. Following on from her writing about the confidence gap between men and women, she wrote that “having a seat at the table is not the same as having a voice”. She devised these mantras to help women when they inevitably encounter sexism, wherever it may be.

Read: 10 Words Every Girl Should Learn

 

She’s making it safer for women online

As Director of the Women’s Media Center Speech Project, Chemaly is advocating for safer online spaces for women. The much-needed advocacy and awareness project is aimed at reducing online abuse, expanding women’s freedom of expression and increasing gender diversity in media and tech. While online spaces hypothetically offer equal opportunity and freedom of speech, they also create niches for nefarious and violent behaviour against women to proliferate.

To combat this negative behaviour the goal of the Speech Project is “to increase understanding of the nature, scope and costs of online misogyny and abuse in order to contribute to new frameworks that will ensure that free speech is a right that extends equally to all”.

She wants women to get angry 

Just as Solange sang in her 2016 collaboration with Lil Wayne, “[women aren’t] really allowed to be mad”. We live in a world that seeks to reduce women’s range of emotions, particularly women of colour or those from other marginalised communities. In her book Rage Becomes Her, Chemaly looks at why men are allowed, even encouraged, to be mad while women are often punished for it.

Combining analysis of current affairs, pop culture and historical reflections, Rage Becomes Her investigates society’s understanding of anger and “the very limited ways girls and women are allowed to express it”. A natural follow on from her work about socialised gender roles, Chemaly urges readers to reconsider the notion that rage is incompatible with femininity.

It’s a powerful embrace of female anger.

You may also like...

when we talk about rape

From international policy to bedroom dynamics, seasoned activist, writer and former coordinator of a rape crisis centre, Sohaila Abdulali addresses the difficult question of rape.

all about… sohaila abdulali

Meet the woman changing the way we talk about rape.

all about… joan morgan

A self-confessed hip-hop junkie, whose passionate documentation of the genre, combined with adept cultural criticism, has placed her at the forefront of music journalism.