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Women & Power: A Manifesto by Mary Beard. Updated version.



Who should read it: Everyone curious to learn about the classical roots of women’s exclusion from power.

 

Why you should read it: It’s wry-humoured and enlightening, stepping through enduring barriers to women’s speech and power and providing gentle challenge to why we preserve these outdated cultural templates.

 

Mary Beard’s Women & Power is based on two lectures from 2014 and 2017, recently updated to reflect current political and social movements.  A short, essay based book, it’s a quick, accessible and entertaining read.

 

Part one of the book ‘The Public Voice of Women’ focuses on women being silenced.  Mary Beard takes us through the journey from the classic Homeric moment of silencing women in the Odyssey almost 3000 years ago to some of the ways that women’s voices are not publicly heard in our own contemporary culture.

 

Mary reflects that ‘our political system has happily overthrown many of the gendered certainties of antiquity.  Yet it remains the fact that our own traditions of debate and public speaking, their conventions and rules, still lie in the shadow of the classical world.’

 

Part two of the book ‘Women in Power’ explores the journey of those women who have held power both in contemporary and historical cultures.  Through the stories of Athenian drama with Medea and Antigone to Margaret Thatcher’s ‘handbagging’ and Hilary Clinton’s comparison to Medusa, there are insights into the permissible form of female power and those that are challenged.

 

Mary encourages us to think about power differently: 

 

‘It means decoupling it from public prestige.  It means thinking collaboratively, about the power of followers not just of leaders.  It means, above all, about thinking about power as an attribute or even a verb (‘to power’), not a possession.  What I have in mind is the ability to be effective, to make a difference in the world, and the right to be taken seriously, together as much as individually.’

 

Although not offering solutions to the discrepancy between men and women in power, Mary does introduce an interesting alternative concept and invites us to consider whether our understanding of power is outdated and lodged in a classical interpretation:

 

‘You can’t easily fit women into a structure that is already coded as male; you have to change the structure.’

 

Is it time we changed how we think about power and the structures its created? An enjoyable and thought provoking read.


Beard, M. (2018) Women & Power: A Manifesto. London: Profile Books.


 

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