Book Review: ‘Women & Power: A Manifesto’

“When it comes to silencing women, Western culture has thousands of years of practise.”
And so classicist Mary Beard sets up her “manifesto”, Women & Power, exposing the history of men always coming out on top.

Published at the beginning of November, her latest release is based on two of her lectures, “The Public Voice of Women” from 2014, and “Women in Power” from earlier this year.

“The Public Voice” looks at the difference in power that speech and language has for men and women, studying examples ranging from Ancient Greece and Ovid, to more current examples, such as Margaret Thatcher taking voice training to lower her voice and add that authoritative ‘male’ edge  (whether this worked or not is another debate entirely).

Following this, “Women in Power” discusses exactly what it means to be a female in a position of power, and the problems that come alongside this.

There isn’t an awful lot of new material here to add to existing feminist theory, except perhaps her extensive knowledge on Roman and Greek history, but it is her ability to put all of these thoughts down on the page – or deliver them to a lecture hall – in such a concise and effective manner that really makes Mary Beard stand out.

Challenging all aspects of what it means to be a woman in power – the voice, the dress, the authority (or lack thereof) – Beard shows us that patience is not the answer.

It wasn’t one big moan or a rant. It wasn’t a woman just discussing her own experiences of everyday sexism. It is evidence-based without being dull. It is so relevant, especially in its political references to Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and Theresa May.

I will stick up my hand and admit that I bought this because of the eye-catching cover design and its convenient pocket size that made it achievable whilst balancing end-of-semester stress. I could’ve read so much more, but its length is also one of its strong points, allowing you to take in everything she is saying and actually remember and appreciate all of the points that are made.

I’ll be passing my copy on to as many people as I can, if they can even read it through my underlining of every second sentence and the notes scribbled in the margins. These 100 or so pages can be consumed in one long gulp, which I can guarantee you will find yourself doing. It is so hard to close a book where you agree with every word.

By Holly McKie