“We have no template for what a powerful woman looks like, except that she looks rather like a man.”
― Mary Beard, Women & Power: A Manifesto
If we reach into the depth of mankind’s history we see how in many parts women and power have been two separate entities. Power has been seen through a male lens and when women have tried to take the power that belongs to them, it has raised such discomfort that men have often gone to great lengths to prevent it. Women have had to take a subordinate role and there have been laws, rules and social constructs to keep them there.
However, we have made a bit of progress although a lot still needs to be done. In some parts of the earth, she is progressively pulling up a chair and actively sitting at the table. Sadly, there are still many societies where women’s voices are still muted and women are completely excluded from power.
In this profound examination of these concerns, Mary Beard demonstrates how modern misogyny can be detangled and linked back to classical themes where women were heavily prejudiced. She revisits the classical Greek and Roman work of literature, giving examples of stories of women who are the embodiment of these prejudices. The parallelism of ancient literature to the modern times shows history often recurring in different spheres – politics, economics, etc.
Her focus on the silencing of women points out, amongst many, how public speech was one of the ways of defining masculinity, and so to have women speak in public has often provoked aggression. Beard strives to find answers to how women can be heard.
She also scrutinizes the gap between women and power and takes on an angle which surpasses simply knowing and laying out the stats. She takes on an analytical approach and forces you to think about the why and the how. How is misogyny embedded in history and in cultures? How do we confront these issues? She challenges the definition of power, by asking, “If women are not perceived to be within the structures of power, then is it power that we need to redefine?” Another example of power that she zooms into is that of masking inequality by placing women in so-called positions of power when those positions are possibly where power is not.
“I do wonder if, in some places, the presence of large numbers of women in parliament means that parliament is where the power is not.”
‘Women and Power’ is a sharp and illuminating read that matters, and should be read. I applaud her for her ability to knit so many important and agonizingly true points in a compact and stimulating package that leaves you with something crucial to carefully reflect on.
You will enjoy this book if you want to hear a more pragmatic approach to gender inequality and sexism. Also, if you want more than the statistics, more than just calling out sexism but also explaining it.
Title: Women & Power: A Manifesto
Author: Mary Beard
Publisher: Liveright, 2017
Hardcover pages: 128