Analysis of “For the Equal Rights Amendment” Speech by Shirley Chisholm

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Shirley Chisholm is known for being the first African American elected to Congress in 1968 and the first African American woman to run for president in 1972. With that being said, her determination was clear to create a change on the outlook of equal rights for women and people of color. Chisholm delivered her “For the Equal Rights Amendment” speech to the House of Representatives in hopes to ratify the amendment. The way Chisholm emphasizes the effects of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) on society as a whole ensures her speech is fitting to the white males in the audience, despite her identity as a woman of color in an era of harsh discrimination on women and African Americans.

When addressing a controversial topic to a dubious, opposing audience, Chisholm had to rely on her education and experience to craft a convincing case for ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment. In the speech, she built a dominant case for the ERA through mentioning stock issues and by creating an effective strategy for uncovering the reasons on how the ERA was not just a woman’s issue. That then created a scene appropriate and fitting for her audience to relate to.

Social justice and equality for minorities was what Chisholm spent her life supporting while expressing her strong beliefs. A publication from The Time’s print archive quotes Chisholm and her stance on why she believes there needs to be change in equality. She states, “because the Congress that is supposed to represent the voters does not respond to their needs. I believe the chief reason for this is that it is ruled by a small group of old men” (Chisholm). She believed that the homogenization of congress had not been fair to women, and the people of color. When she knew that her speech was intended to reach out to those who would not naturally consider her, she had to respond to consumer preferences by slanting her speech toward the prior beliefs of her audience (Skillicorn & Leuprecht, 29).

This leads to the reasons why her speech was created in the first place and why it was so important for the House of Representatives to hear. By being the first African American woman in Congress, her eloquent, liberated demeanor surprised even the members of her political party. She had to make her speech fitting toward the House of Representatives, which consisted of lawmakers who were primarily white male colleagues of hers. This was an audience that saw her as a more controversial speaker. During this time, (1969-1971) there were 435 representatives, 243 democrats and 192 republicans (Congress Profiles). At this time, the democrats were opposed to the amendment. Not only did she have to convince her own political party, but all the males to see why there needed to be a change. They were the ones determining if the Equal Rights Amendment should be passed. She had to dictate what she was saying to persuade that specific audience.

Gaining an audience’s attention in any rhetorical situation is vital to how the speaker decides to perform and address a situation. In this case, the audience assumedly were highly educated with political experience background. That impacted the way Chisholm chose to accurately deliver her message. The way she expressed her thoughts could be described as controlled, persuasive and factual. Using facts and by speaking articulately, Chisholm was able to demonstrate that she was a capable, qualified woman to speak in front of that audience. In a news article by the New York Times it states Chisholm saying, “I have nothing to lose for speaking out against the wrongs of the system. I am a fearless person, and everywhere people look to that kind of person for leadership” (Hunter). Not only does she want to call out all of the wrongs to show why this amendment needs to be passed, but she uses a tone of confidence which shows the audience she is in charge in that moment. She uses this strategy so men can see her as equal, important and just as capable as they are. They way she addressed the audience was critical to achieve an effective speech.

She uses the examples of explaining it from the point of not only women but also men to make it fitting towards the male dominated crowd. One important constituent Bitzer mentions is audience and the idea that rhetorical discourse only initiates change when it positively influences an audience (Bitzer, 221). She emphasized how men were harmed just as well as women by sex discrimination. Throughout the speech, not only did Chisholm speak about the significance of the ERA and how it affected the lives of women, but also invited the audience to reflect on the ways men could also benefit from the Act. It would eliminate sex discrimination from the legal system. By pointing out the fact that all of society and not just women were getting hurt by the current laws, it relates to her audience and makes them think about the bigger picture. In her speech, Chisholm stated, ‘When men and women are prevented from recognizing one another’s essential humanity by sexual prejudices, nourished by legal as well as social institutions, society as a whole remains less than it could otherwise become’ (Chisholm, 26). Meaning that with the clear distinctions between genders, society could not improve, and could become worse.

Another way to show that the ERA was not just a women’s issue, she addressed the Founding Fathers. The reference to the Founding Fathers is relatable to the audience because all of the Fathers were white males and the House was following the path that the Fathers created for the government. While analyzing this speech, she used the use of pathos and logos to lure in her male audience. She appeals to the emotions of the House of Representatives by referring to a historical illustration on the Founding Fathers to explain how there needs to be change in society. Chisholm speaks to the fact that the Constitution that they wrote was created to solely protect the rights of white, male citizens. She makes her disappointment evident as there were no African American Founding Fathers or mothers.

To conclude her speech, Chisholm made a final call to action to her audience. I believe this was one of her ways to direct her speech to this specific audience. She inspired her audience to realize that they could complete the work of the Founding Fathers created. The Founding Fathers declared an obligation to equality but that was not fully fulfilled because of the gender biases society had created at that time. Chisholm reminded her audience that at the time the Constitution was drafted, ‘there were no black Founding Fathers, there were no founding mothers—a great pity, on both counts’ (Chisholm, 24). She is trying to say that the footsteps of the Founding Fathers should be followed but could be improved.

Overall, when the political leaders who were her audience decided to have protection of the Constitution reach all classes of citizens it shows that her speech made an impact on them. Therefore, the way she addressed her audience was fitting and effective. As Chisholm states in her speech, “The time is clearly now to put this House on record for the fullest expression of that equality of opportunity which our Founding Fathers professed” (Chisholm, 22). They took it to heart and agreed with her. On March 22, 1972, the equal Rights Amendment is passed by the U.S Senate and sent to the states for ratification (ERA passed by Congress).

Although, at this time the Civil Rights Movement had only ended two years prior, Chisholm hoped that the members of the House of Representatives would have looked past any racial opinions they may have had and understand where she was coming from. She had to create her speech to somehow change the opinions of her audience, and I believe that she did that.

Her public speaking and debating skills in particular were central to Chisholm’s success as a politician. In order for her to create an effective, fitting speech to the highly educated male audience was to use persuasion and have a strong argument. She tried to make the audience feel what she was feeling and to realize that was not only a problem for women but also men. It was fitting towards this specific audience because she presented herself as highly educated and related the problem to the Founding Fathers who come from the same background as the audience. Chisholm’s speech highlights her skills as a policy debater. She sensibly creates a case for change and expresses how both men and women are affected by the laws that are sustaining the barrier of sex discrimination.


Cite this paper

Analysis of “For the Equal Rights Amendment” Speech by Shirley Chisholm. (2021, Nov 19). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/analysis-of-for-the-equal-rights-amendment-speech-by-shirley-chisholm/



What rhetorical devices did Shirley Chisholm use in her speech?
Shirley Chisholm used several rhetorical devices in her speech, including pathos, logos, and ethos. She appealed to the emotions of her audience, used logical arguments, and established her credibility as a speaker.
What were the arguments for the Equal Rights Amendment?
There were many arguments for the Equal Rights Amendment, but the two most common were that it would help to end discrimination against women and that it would help to ensure equality between men and women.
When did Shirley Chisholm give the Equal Rights Amendment speech?
Shirley Chisholm gave the Equal Rights Amendment speech in 1972.
Which statement best describes the main idea of for the Equal Rights Amendment by Representative Shirley Chisholm?
Siddhartha's path to enlightenment was through the practice of meditation and self-awareness. He achieved enlightenment through his own efforts, without the need for a guru or teacher.
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