There are two things you need to know about it. The first is that what Mary Beard has to say is powerful: here are more than a few pretty useful stones for the slingshots some of us feel we must carry with us everywhere we go right now. The second is that most of its power, if not all, lies in its author’s absolute refusal to make anything seem too simple ... Beard knows that the matters with which she is concerned are extremely complicated. Before she arms you, then, she makes you think. In this sense, if no other, Women & Power deserves to take its place alongside Kate Millett’s Sexual Politics, the text that first suggested literature as a medium for consciousness-raising ... What I relish about Beard’s approach is that once she has told us all this – I am not a classicist, so some of it was new to me – she doesn’t simply sink down into disapproval and hand-wringing (the fatal flaw of so many recent feminist texts). She wants to know: how can we be heard? And her answers are radical.
...[a] sparkling and forceful manifesto ... The book is a straight shot of adrenaline, animated less by lament than impatience and quick wit ... It’s a tonic to encounter a book that doesn’t just describe the scale of a problem but suggests remedies — and exciting ones at that ... Lest this seem hopelessly utopian, she points to those doing this very work, including the founders of Black Lives Matter: Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi. In promoting decentralized leadership and emphasizing the movement over personalities, these three women are recasting power, 'decoupling it from public prestige,' transforming it from a possession one can seize to an attribute that can be shared.
In the two essays that make up her new book, Women & Power, she shows first, how women have been silenced in public life as far back as the Greeks and the Romans, and second, how ancient images of female monstrosity from Clytemnestra to Medusa have been endlessly recycled to undermine women’s access to political power ... Beard herself is a practiced speaker and writer, who deploys an accessible language with intelligence, wit and a disarmingly personal voice ... But for all of her learning, charm, and pluck, even she is at a loss when it comes to changing the status quo ... It’s fun to read this elegant, well-illustrated book. But no manifesto, or womanifesto, no individual woman’s success, no intellectual analysis, can change the male power structure. It has to be a collective action.
Based on a series of lectures, this slim volume draws on Beard’s deep knowledge of the classical world and her personal experience as a target of online sexist abuse. She reflects on the gendered structures of power, from voiceless women in Ovid’s Metamorphoses to feminists 'reclaiming' Medusa. With clearsightedness and wry humour, this self-described 'gobby woman' proves public speech is no longer the preserve of maleness. More power to her.
Beard’s is a very short book about a very long past with a very current relevance. #MeToo has been #ThemToo for millennia ...she contends with the history, ancient and modern, of women’s voices in the public sphere ... Beard points out the ways in which Theresa May, Angela Merkel, and Hillary Clinton have all been characterized as Medusa figures: snaky-haired castrator figures who are best dealt with by beheading ...points out the ways in which power is coded as masculine, and argues that it will always be insufficient for women merely to adopt and adapt those codes; rather, the codes themselves need to be revised, and our understanding of what power consists in must be challenged and reframed ...a slightly more optimistic vision — a reflection upon three thousand years of inequity and a modest hope for marginal progress, made through the incremental raising of cultural consciousness.
Somehow Beard always manages to sound breezy, to recount the tales she is telling, however horrendous, with relish (a talent I admit to having mixed feelings about). In fact, Women and Power is deadly serious ... Beard has written an indictment, perhaps her most uncompromising to date, of an ancient past that she is hardly asking us – has never unequivocally asked us – to celebrate. As far as women are concerned, in relation to this ancestral legacy, there is very little to be proud about ... Today more than ever, we need a politics that makes space and time for human fallibility (and not just for women). The question I finally take from this brilliant book is: what would such power – no rape, no guns, no shutting up of women – look like?
In her slim but potent manifesto Women & Power, Cambridge classicist Mary Beard asks, 'If there is a cultural template, which works to disempower women, what exactly is it and where do we get it from?' ... Beard argues that just as Western civilization began, an integral part of growing into manhood was taking control of public speech and silencing women in the process ...very careful in her arguments here, reluctant even to use the word 'misogyny.' This doesn’t diminish how good the book is, but it is a little surprising, particularly because she’s less tentative when writing about ancient women...approaches the question of gender and power with some overlapping perspectives about who holds power, and how deeply ingrained this gender dynamic is within Western culture ...a clear, rich, subversive and witty argument about what power has meant to Western civilization from ancient times, and how its meaning could be changed in the future.
Women & Power is not a radical manifesto, though it’s a forceful and satisfying one ... What Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s We Should All Be Feminists does for young women, making a strong basic case for feminism in domestic life, Women & Power does for older women who are ready for agency in the public sphere, whether it’s political influence or just being chosen for the one good gig.
...a one-stop-shop of an argument and, indeed, it has its roots in a couple of lectures Beard gave in 2016. In it, Beard presents a partial and anachronistic account of the way that misogyny operates in the world ... In its very spareness Women and Power gains some wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am appeal. It is not, however, a book ... Most of her analysis is on the arts, rather than on rhetoric ... Beard’s lack of experience writing about contemporary gender politics is fairly clear at points ... The point is not that she ought to write a book about the history of the world, nor that she ought to become Judith Butler when really she is Mary Beard.
In closing her provocative, thoughtful, and elegantly but lightly worn literary argument, Beard observes that were she writing her lectures afresh, she would 'find more space to defend women’s right to be wrong,' since they have to be unimpeachably correct in order to be taken seriously—if then. An urgent feminist cri de coeur, spot-on in its utterly reasonable plea that a woman 'who dares to open her mouth in public' actually be given a hearing.
Women & Power’s subtitle is a little misleading. Although parts of the book are prescriptive, it is manifestly not a manifesto. It largely refrains from telling you how to break eggs to make a feminist omelet … I admire how Beard refuses to uncomplicate the past, present, and future of gender equality. She cautions the reader to be wary of thinking ‘lazily,’ and of communicating in sound bites. The importance of keeping things complicated is inestimable … My biggest problem, though, is with the solutions Beard offers for the continued gender equality that we all face. She expresses impatience with gradualism but she also wants to remind her readers/listeners how far they (we) have come … We will all be dead before we get to where we ought to be. Nonetheless, I applaud her for being our heroine.
Though she says in the afterword that writing this book made her angry, it rarely shows. Women & Power has the same cavalier, jolly tone as Beard's TV programs … It would be unreasonable to ask Beard to solve the problem for us, but a longer consideration of it would be welcome. Because Women & Power is both brief and made up of recycled work, it would be easy to dismiss it as a throwaway … In this pleasantly accessible form, they could be something important for a young person who feels the currents of culture around her but can't name them yet.
Beard uses clear and elegant prose to explore the ways in which men have silenced women and excluded them from the public sphere throughout history ... This slim and timely volume leaves readers to contemplate how women can reconfigure society’s current perceptions of power.