Based on a lecture from the London Review of Books lecture series, this essay from Beard (SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome) uses examples from literature to show deep roots of misogyny in Western culture. Beard uses clear and elegant prose to explore the ways in which men have silenced women and excluded them from the public sphere throughout history. She traces the phenomenon from Homer’s Odyssey, which Beard cites as the “first recorded example of a man telling a woman to ‘shut up,’” to the hostile treatment of women politicians today, which Beard sees as exemplified by U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stopping Sen. Elizabeth Warren from speaking on the Senate floor in early 2017. Beard argues that there is still no clear concept of what a powerful woman looks like, except “that she looks rather like a man,” this being why numerous Western political leaders wear “regulation trouser suits.” Beard ends on an open note that questions the nature of power itself: “If women are not perceived to be fully within the structures of power, surely it is power that we need to redefine rather than women?” This slim and timely volume leaves readers to contemplate how women can reconfigure society’s current perceptions of power. (Dec.)
"A pithy exploration of misogyny’s tangled cultural roots. Based on a series of lectures, this slim volume draws on Beard’s deep knowledge of the classical world and her personal experience as a target of online sexist abuse. She reflects on the gendered structures of power, from voiceless women in Ovid’s Metamorphoses to feminists “reclaiming” Medusa. With clearsightedness and wry humour, this self-described “gobby woman” proves public speech is no longer the preserve of maleness. More power to her."
"[A] sparkling and forceful manifesto…The book is a straight shot of adrenaline."
New York Times - Parul Sehgal
"Beard's thrilling manifesto turns to ancient times to find the seeds of misogyny, beginning with Homer's
Odyssey (the first instance of a woman told to shut up) and continuing through Elizabeth Warren's 2017 silencing in the Senate. An irresistible call for women to speak up, act and redefine their power."
"Mary Beard is a fearless writer with the gift of writing the right book at the right moment, and I’ve been emboldened by her brilliant analysis of women’s voice and role in society since antiquity,
Women & Power."
The Guardian - Diana Athill
"At just a little over 100 pages,
Women & Power: A Manifesto may seem slight, but don't let its size fool you. This book speaks volumes and will not be silenced by Telemachus or anyone else."
"Beard always fights back, with humor and the confidence of intellectual authority…It’s fun to read
Women & Power. Beard’s slim, elegant, well-illustrated book would fit nicely into a Christmas stocking."
The Washington Post - Elaine Showalter
"Based on Beard’s lectures on women’s voices and how they have been silenced,
Women & Power was an enormous publishing success in the “#MeToo”’ year 2017. An exploration of misogyny, the origins of “gendered speech” in the classical era and the problems the male world has with strong women, this slim manifesto became an instant feminist classic."
"There’s something about
Women & Power that ensures it stands out from the rest though. Beard’s is a manifesto firmly grounded in rigorous academic study made legible for the masses, and her proposal for change as radical as it is reasonable and – we can but hope – realistic."
"A clear, rich, subversive and witty argument about what power has meant to Western civilization from ancient times, and how its meaning could be changed in the future."
San Francisco Chronicle - Anita Felicelli
Noted classicist and essayist Beard (S.P.Q.R.: A History of Ancient Rome, 2015, etc.) looks deep into the past and hard at the present to examine the power of women—and more often, their powerlessness—in a world of impatient men.Sen. Elizabeth Warren was far from the first woman to be silenced, publicly, by a man who did not want to hear what she had to say. As the author chronicles in the first of two lectures in this slim but potent volume, Telemachus, the son of Odysseus, hushed his mother, Penelope, saying, "speech will be the business of men, all men, and of me most of all." Penelope retreats to her quarters, although in fact she does have something important to say. Women who managed to make themselves heard in the ancient world usually did so with asterisks attached, as when Maesia, who defended herself in a Roman court, was successful because, a contemporary recorded, "she really had a man's nature behind the appearance of a woman." The classical inheritance has provided a template that holds to this day—and when not silenced, women are threatened and trolled, as Beard is every time she writes an essay for nonacademic readers. Silence links to power or the lack thereof; in this regard, argues the author, women do not recognize their achievements and the possibilities of self-governance—or, perhaps more to the point, "have no template for what a powerful woman looks like, except that she looks rather like a man." In closing her provocative, thoughtful, and elegantly but lightly worn literary argument, Beard observes that were she writing her lectures afresh, she would "find more space to defend women's right to be wrong," since they have to be unimpeachably correct in order to be taken seriously—if then.An urgent feminist cri de coeur, spot-on in its utterly reasonable plea that a woman "who dares to open her mouth in public" actually be given a hearing.
Originally delivered for the London Review of Books winter lectures series, in 2014 and 2017 respectively, the two essays that make up this slim volume are timely and trenchant additions to our public conversations about women and political authority. Beard (classics, Cambridge Univ.; SPQR) ranges across 3,000 years of Western history and literature to reflect on how and why women are so persistently excluded, as a class, from the public halls of power. "The Public Voice of Women" asks readers to consider the many ways we have of not listening to women; "Women in Power" suggests that leadership remains a fundamentally masculine space. An afterword briefly discusses the context in which these pieces were written and the work still ahead. References provide avenues for further reading, and illustrations from both classical and contemporary culture provide visual evidence for the enduring sexism Beard describes. VERDICT Although many readers might have already encountered earlier editions of these pieces, this volume remains a fresh presentation of thoughtful political commentary from a historical and feminist perspective.—Anna J. Clutterbuck-Cook, Massachusetts Historical Soc.