Oh the thoughts and tirades this book stirs up. But for the sake of review, I’ll try to keep it short and too the point. Add this to my growing pile of feminism reads.
At long last, Mary Bread has decided to address in one brave book the misogynists and trolls who mercilessly attack and demean women the world over. Few, sadly, are more experienced with this kind of hateful barrage than Beard herself, who has been subjected to a whole onslaught of criticism online, in response to her articles and public speeches.
In Women & Power, Beard presents her most powerful statement yet, tracing the origins of misogyny to their ancient roots. In two provocative essays, Beard connects the past to the present as only she can, examining the pitfalls of gender and the ways that history has mistreated powerful 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 historically being defined as inherently male. There is no clearer example than Odysseus’ wife, Penelope, who seals her lips and proceeds upstairs when told to shut up by Telemachus, her son. Other mouths in public or, against all odds, gained power – from would-be Roman orators, though the great queen Elizabeth I – have been treated as “freakish androgynes,” attacked or punished for their courage – regarded with suspicion at best, contempt at worst. From Medusa to Philomela (whose tongue was cut out), from Hillary Clinton to Elizabeth Warren (who was told to sit down), Beard draws endlessly 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.
Emma Watson, hero to many young women, recently acknowledged that her position as a feminist comes with a dollop of white privilege. All things considered, as white, straight women raised in Western cultures, we are considerably better off in society than any LGBTQIA+ woman or women of color. This recently has made me realize that we are not only campaigning for equal rights for women, but that an additional hurdle, one that has been too often overlooked by straight, white women, needs to be addressed as well. I do not have the experiences of someone other than myself and I hope that as I continue to advocate for change, I embrace change for all, and that I do not rest on my laurels once I have achieved change for myself and those just like me, but that I continue crusading for all women.
Now, on to the review! Women and power, what a Pandora’s box of discussion topics such a title evokes. While I don’t have any recollection of being told to shut up, I have definitely been talked over until someone assumed that I would give up and be quiet. Which I wouldn’t. My mom always taught me that I was as strong as my voice and my voice was as strong as me. Basically, the only way to effect change would be to keep talking until I could no longer be ignored. It didn’t always serve me well, but I would always stand up for myself though throughout most of my high school years, I was called a bitch behind my back. Thankfully social media was not widely used back in the early ‘aughts.
My mom worked in education administration and would often be the only woman at meetings. Which always seemed to weird to me – the majority of teachers are women, but most principals and administrators are men. As her daughter, who also pursued a career in education, I struggled to get a reaction that wasn’t “Oh, you’re Amy’s daughter.” So I did the most patriarchal thing I could – changed my last name, my whole identity, when I got married, just so I wouldn’t constantly be compared to my mother or judged by some men’s perceptions of her position in the state educational system.
Every sentence, every phrase, Mary Beard hits the nail on the head. And, like most women, she doesn’t have an answer for how things can change. I don’t think any of us do. Sexism and misogyny is so rampant in cultures world wide that it is going to take a lot more than a few speeches for things to change. But I have to believe that they will. I have to believe that the great reckoning is coming for all those, men and women alike, who have aided in the silencing of women and, in the case of women, their peers. Until we all stand together and listen with respect to each other, we will fail to see forward progress.
Rating: 10 out of 10 stars
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