Women & Power – A Manifesto by Mary Beard

Image result for women and power Beard

A short book, a powerful book and a well written book. This is, as it says, on the cover, a manifesto, a cry for women to have a voice and crucially to be heard, and for women to have the right not to be demonised. In the form of two lectures, with plenty of pictures to back up the text, this is a book written against the background of wide events; Hilary Clinton’s defeat in the Presidential elections, women’s declarations of past abuse and much else. Beard also uses her personal experience of internet abuse and unfair treatment in the media to explain why her arguments throughout this consistently written book are so powerfully needed in today’s networked world.

As you would expect from a Classics Professor, this book is full of allusions to the Greek and Roman world, stories and images of women punished for offences committed against them, and their voices denied. If you are not an expert, do not fear as this experienced teacher gives enough of the backstory of each metaphor or reference that it is always abundantly clear what she is trying to put over to the reader. The illustrations are clear and relevant to her argument; a more modern one is the “Miss Triggs” cartoon in which the chair of a meeting compliments Miss Triggs on her suggestion by asking one of the men present to make it.  This is a theme which Beard continues to develop; how women’s voices are covered by men’s whatever they say in every context. She acknowledges that recent times have seen improvements, the number of women M.Ps increasing for example, but how even the significant speeches of women are still being edited and made more acceptable. A wide variety of examples are cited of women having to conform or being restricted to having their words changed or mediated through men, or having to acknowledge their restrictions as not having a voice in their own right, even when they are a Queen of England rallying troops at Tilbury in the late 1500s.

This is a confidently written book by a woman of insight and courage. She is definitely not a man hater, but a feminist arguing from a position of knowledge. The most touching section is in the introduction when she recalls her mother, a very able and successful woman, frustrated by her lack of a University education and so pleased to see her daughter able to graduate. There are images which disturb; the Medusa in particular in all its variants. These two lectures deserve this book to be read and appreciated by many: anyone who has experienced a “Miss Triggs” moment, anyone who just feels that the world is unfair to half of the population, and anyone who appreciates a clear argument, well delivered.

I realise that this is not my normal Northernreader type book, even though I do cover the odd non fiction book they are often related to a novel or author. Having got my hands on a copy of this book quite early by being in Nottingham Waterstones very unexpectedly, I thought I would review it here quickly before my daughter claims ownership…