Author: Mary Beard
First Published: December 12, 2017
Genres: Essays, Feminism, Politics
At long last, Mary Beard addresses in one brave book the misogynists and trolls who mercilessly attack and demean women the world over, including, very often, Mary herself. In Women & Power, she traces the origins of this misogyny to its ancient roots, examining the pitfalls of gender and the ways that history has mistreated strong women since time immemorial. As far back as Homer’s Odyssey, Beard shows, women have been prohibited from leadership roles in civic life, public speech being defined as inherently male. From Medusa to Philomela (whose tongue was cut out), from Hillary Clinton to Elizabeth Warren (who was told to sit down), Beard draws illuminating parallels between our cultural assumptions about women’s relationship to power―and how powerful women provide a necessary example for all women who must resist being vacuumed into a male template. With personal reflections on her own online experiences with sexism, Beard asks: If women aren’t perceived to be within the structure of power, isn’t it power itself we need to redefine? And how many more centuries should we be expected to wait?
Women & Power is a pair of essays by classicist Mary Beard and it is a great example of how history can provide context for the present day. The author does a phenomenal job linking Greek and Roman mythology to present-day attitudes toward women in power. She dissects the tradition of viewing public speech as a defining male trait.
Beard offers a compelling argument about the way that public speech has been tied to power and by extension masculinity since ancient times. It’s an interesting idea to consider and her essays are well researched, using examples from a multitude of famous phrases, mythology, and plays to back up her assertions. I also liked the present-day examples of the way that different female world leaders either adopt or subvert this idea of power being inherently masculine.
“For a start it doesn’t much matter what line you take as a woman, if you venture into traditional male territory, the abuse comes anyway. It is not what you say that prompts it, it’s simply the fact that you’re saying it.”
The book goes further by discussing the abuses doled out by both the media and internet trolls toward any public statement made by women, even referencing some of the harassment that Beard has suffered personally. I was unaware of this and had to do some research on my own, so it would have been nice to know about the events that Beard was referencing within the essays themselves. I don’t like essays that assume that the reader is already familiar with the author.
All in all a fast and thought-provoking read, excellent for anyone interested in feminism and classics. I completed this book in one sitting and highlighted many passages as it gave me a lot of concepts to chew on. My only minor gripes are that this subject deserves so much more time and detail, and I wouldn’t call this book much of a manifesto. It also is politically liberal, which was just fine for me but I know it will push some readers away from a book that I think could be really beneficial for education.