Book reviews / Non fiction

Book review: Women and power – a manifesto

This slim book contains two speeches by eminent classicist Mary Beard, focussing obviously on women and power. There are also some updates, including references to the MeToo movement and some contemporary issues.

What I very much enjoyed about these two speeches was that it focussed on something a little more nuanced. The first talk was about denying women a public voice and how that exclusion from the public sphere has its roots in Green and Roman life. How public speaking and the rules and structures were mimicked again in the renaissance. Those in turn now make up the formal structures in the Houses of Parliament.

It plays on the history and structures that make it difficult to attain power as woman but equally just to be heard in a meeting. It resonated a lot with me and I enjoyed how she brought together bits of history with contemporary issues. The second of the two speeches definitely make that argument clear, reflecting on tropes from myth showing up in contemporary politics. The most vivid being Hillary Clinton and Angela Merkel being represented as a Medusa in political memes.

I think often it’s easy to focus on the most acute representations of power over women (basically sexual violence) but its societal structures that all contribute to the idea that men can can use power to coerce women. There needs to be a shift in those structures, to allow women’s ideas to be heard, to be valued and respected. As she reflects in the experiences of the MeToo movement, women’s voices need to be believed to allow accountability to occur.

It’s a great read, a really quick one too. So if you have a chance to pick it up, do so.

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