Women & Power: A Manifesto, by Mary Beard

Women & Power, by Mary Beard

Women & Power, by Mary Beard

Women & Power is based on two lectures that Mary Beard gave in 2014 and 2017 for the London Review of Books about the history of (duh) women and power, particularly in the context of the ancient Greeks and Romans.

It’s a tiny book, but well worth a read—full of example after example after example of The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same:

Occasionally women could legitimately rise up to speak - to defend their homes, their children, their husbands or the interests of other women. So in the third of the three examples of female oratory discussed by that Roman anthropologist, the woman, Hortensia by name, gets away with it because she is acting explicitly as the spokesperson for the women of Rome (and for women only), after they have been subject to a special wealth tax to fund a dubious war effort. Women, in other words, may in extreme circumstances publicly defend their own sectional interests, but not speak for men or the community as a whole.

I mean. That doesn’t sound remotely unfamiliar, right?

Great: Lots of images—some from centuries ago, some from the very recent past—that support and illustrate her points. Also that she tells some Margaret Thatcher stories without remotely suggesting that Thatcher should be held up as some Amazing Feminist Icon. Because, no. (Did she fight for her own rights? Sure. Did she fight for the rights of others? Ahem.)

Not great: Moments in which her phrasing makes it very clear that her assumed audience is white.

A book mentioned that I’ll be picking up soon: Herland, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.