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Women and power

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Britain's best known classicist, Mary Beard, is also a committed and vocal feminist. With wry wit she shows how history has treated powerful women. Her examples range from Medusa and goddess Athena to Theresa May and Elizabeth Warren, as she explores the cultural underpinnings of misogyny, considering the public voice of women, how we look at women who exercise power, our cultural assumptions about women's relationship with power, and how powerful women resist being packaged into a male template.

With personal reflections on her own experiences of sexism online and the gendered violence she has endured as a woman in the public eye, Beard asks: If women aren't perceived to be fully within the structures of power, isn't it power we need to redefine?

With Updated Afterword: "From lectures to book - and the right to be wrong", and, "From book to #MeToo - and reflections on rape".

First published November 2, 2017

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About the author

Mary Beard

68 books3,000 followers
Winifred Mary Beard (born 1 January 1955) is Professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge and is a fellow of Newnham College. She is the Classics editor of the Times Literary Supplement, and author of the blog "A Don's Life", which appears on The Times as a regular column. Her frequent media appearances and sometimes controversial public statements have led to her being described as "Britain's best-known classicist".

Mary Beard, an only child, was born on 1 January 1955 in Much Wenlock, Shropshire. Her father, Roy Whitbread Beard, worked as an architect in Shrewsbury. She recalled him as "a raffish public-schoolboy type and a complete wastrel, but very engaging". Her mother Joyce Emily Beard was a headmistress and an enthusiastic reader.

Mary Beard attended an all-female direct grant school. During the summer she participated in archaeological excavations; this was initially to earn money for recreational spending, but she began to find the study of antiquity unexpectedly interesting. But it was not all that interested the young Beard. She had friends in many age groups, and a number of trangressions: "Playing around with other people's husbands when you were 17 was bad news. Yes, I was a very naughty girl."

At the age of 18 she was interviewed for a place at Newnham College, Cambridge and sat the then compulsory entrance exam. She had thought of going to King's, but rejected it when she discovered the college did not offer scholarships to women. Although studying at a single-sex college, she found in her first year that some men in the University held dismissive attitudes towards women's academic potential, and this strengthened her determination to succeed. She also developed feminist views that remained "hugely important" in her later life, although she later described "modern orthodox feminism" as partly "cant". Beard received an MA at Newnham and remained in Cambridge for her PhD.

From 1979 to 1983 she lectured in Classics at King's College London. She returned to Cambridge in 1984 as a fellow of Newnham College and the only female lecturer in the Classics faculty. Rome in the Late Republic, which she co-wrote with the Cambridge ancient historian Michael Crawford, was published the same year. In 1985 Beard married Robin Sinclair Cormack. She had a daughter in 1985 and a son in 1987. Beard became Classics editor of the Times Literary Supplement in 1992.

Shortly after the 11 September 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, Beard was one of several authors invited to contribute articles on the topic to the London Review of Books. She opined that many people, once "the shock had faded", thought "the United States had it coming", and that "[w]orld bullies, even if their heart is in the right place, will in the end pay the price".[4] In a November 2007 interview, she stated that the hostility these comments provoked had still not subsided, although she believed it had become a standard viewpoint that terrorism was associated with American foreign policy.[1]

In 2004, Beard became the Professor of Classics at Cambridge.[3] She is also the Visiting Sather Professor of Classical Literature for 2008–2009 at the University of California, Berkeley, where she has delivered a series of lectures on "Roman Laughter".[5]

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 3,338 reviews
Profile Image for Sean Barrs .
1,113 reviews44.4k followers
February 24, 2018
I question the intelligence and moral integrity of any man who does not consider himself a feminist, and I also question the fact that I am the only male in my friend’s list to read this book. Books like this are so vitally important, important for both men and women. So go read it! I’m not trying to shame my male friends, but merely point out the imbalance in the readers of this book, at least, here on goodreads.

Why is this I wonder?

Mary argues that ever since the ancient Greeks women have been held back and their voices subsequently silenced. Are we not as men, in effect, silencing her by not reading her words? Food for thought.

Mary Beard often picks up on the small things, tiny details, but together they represent a cultural mind-set that is inherent and almost imbedded into the human psyche. Often objects of power are associated with ideas of masculinity, which is something women take on when they acquire power. She draws on modern examples, political leaders, who dress like men and take on other traits in order to be more persuasive. Her arguments are often generalised, though what she touches upon is something that cannot by its nature be accurately recorded.

So this is a rather compelling little book, but I can’t help but feel that it is a wasted opportunity. She really could have expanded upon the ideas here and strengthened them by exploring them further. Although her arguments are intuitive, she only scratches the surface: she could have said so much more.
Profile Image for Ariel.
301 reviews64.2k followers
February 1, 2018
“But my basic premise is that our mental, cultural template for a powerful person remains resolutely male."

I read this text because I thought it might be useful to my investigation of our treatment of instapoets. Adapted from two speeches that Beard made in 2014 and 2017, she tracks what women's relationship with power has been, from ancient myths to current twitter discourse. I personally think a third essay was missing - it would have been great to have an essay of conclusions and solutions. I'm also not sure if it should be called a manifesto, it felt more like A Few Interesting Thoughts.

But overall I really enjoyed it, I underlined so many passages from it, and I really liked thinking more about our understanding of power!
Profile Image for Ina Cawl.
92 reviews287 followers
December 16, 2017
It is a shame for women to be loud

I don’t know who told me this this stupid wisdom and I don’t remember
Maybe in my school or maybe in my house but nevertheless I feel guilty for believing it.
Why some men or most of traditional men are scared of women talking loudly, what about women doest those feel irritated by it ?
Lack of public speaking to group of people was curse that befell on women for most of time and still now that right to speak in public place ( usually men’s areas ) .

For many centuries and centuries women in many countries and continents were usually forbidden or discouraged from speaking in public area to group of people.
Mary Beard which is very important historian and Author of many historical book
Has tried to understand why misogyny and men’s fear of women being in power came to being,and why this irrationally still haunts to this day.
Since the author is a lot of experience in greek roman history and usually that is the historic origin for most of European traditions and norms.
The book starts with Homer and if you read you remember this scene when
«Telemachus intervenes: ‘Mother,’ he says, ‘go back up
into your quarters, and take up your own work, the loom and the distaff … speech will be the business
of men, all men, and of me most of all; for mine is the power in this household»
There is some tragicomedy in this scene on how a young boy can order his mom like that and how can his mom allows him to order her like that
This scene teaches us a lot about what is to be a man in that era
Mostly being capable of speaking in public and simultaneously disempowerment and subjecting household women to men’s order.

Miss trigg’s example

What happens when women in a group of men tries to voice her opinion on the subject

( that’s excellent suggestion, miss triggs , perhaps one of the men here would like to make it.)
Even after voicing her opinions what usually occurs after a few awkward silence is either dismiss it and the men continue from where they were talking or outright ignore her.
The lucky women who survived the abomination of public speech were either the victims or martyrs .
Even if women were allowed to speak in classical era they were usually allowed to speak for her own gender and nothing else

Public speech and the choices women have

Even if women were allowed to talk in front of many people there were not many subjects to talk about excepts women’s issues or family issues,I know this is important subjects to talk about but even so to minimise women role of defending only to this issues and relegating all other subject as men profession is hidden sexism that contaminates every society then and still now

Modern internet troll and women speech

Watching youtube and sometimes reading the comments down below the amount of hate speech directed toward is quite mind boggling and disturbing at least
I don’t want to generalise but the amount of troll rape threat men send toward far exceed many times the amount of trolls threats women send toward men

Eventually with coming of 2018 and with so many women speaking against sexual harassment in workforce in media in hollywood and in politics also
The leeway men got with their outrageous behaviour are coming to end and society for now listens and takes women opinions and thought seriously
Profile Image for Lisa.
977 reviews3,327 followers
May 27, 2018
We've come a long way.

If we compare our lives today with any earlier time and our place here in Northern Europe with any other place, we should celebrate. And there is nothing wrong with celebrating either, for example by reading an entertaining volume on the voice and power of women - written by one of the many women who have used the luck of time and place well - to become a professor with a clear and loud, and female voice.

So, let's celebrate.

But... there is still so much to do.

How often is a wish for more equality in the contemporary power distribution met with a condescending comment referring to "how grateful we should be to have achieved so much already", thus silently telling us to shut up and stop fighting for more, to be pleased with having almost reached equality? Almost.

As long as power and masculinity are paired, there is no natural place for women within power. And Mary Beard argues beautifully that the target must be to change the structure and definition of power rather than woman.

With funny but disturbingly accurate examples from classical times to our present political atmosphere, she shows the reality women face when they try to empower themselves. Either they turn into hybrids like Antigone, Clytamnestra or Medea, powerful by the male attributes they acquire at a high cost, or they face the ridicule and abuse of those who identify power as a male concept per se, and try to push women back into the private or sexual sphere in order to control their voices.

A thought experiment made it vividly clear to me, myself a privileged, well-educated woman in a liberal democracy: closing my eyes and imagining a professor or a successful politician - I saw a man. An old man. A baby boomer man. A white baby boomer man. How can I blame anyone else for the lopsidedness of perceptions of power if that is what I see?

Naturally, that is not what I WANT to see, necessarily, so I force myself to imagine a staff picture at a Cambridge university department or in a government of any random country, and I try hard to imagine it in all possible colours and shapes and age groups.

And I know why I see what I see before my inner eye when I imagine intellectual or political power. We are not there yet. And we are not done until we are there.

We have a voice. And we will use it. And we have had time since Antiquity to get used to the abuse following a woman's voice speaking up for humanity!

Mary Beard has a voice that deserves to be heard and respected for her intellectual power and emotional courage.

Let it be heard!
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,048 followers
December 23, 2017
This is a very thought-provoking read, as long as you understand what it is - the texts of two speeches Mary Beard has given in the 21st century. Honestly, I do wish she'd used them as a starting point and written a much longer book about the topic, because I think she is drawing some connections I have not seen before - between classical imagery and modern politics, the cultural precedents for the oppression of women in the oldest literature, etc. She completely blew my mind about incorrect information I had internalized as part of my education, about Elizabeth I and Sojourner Truth, and it just makes me wonder what else she knows that I don't.

I was glad to see that she included a long list of additional readings and resources, but I still think there is work for Mary Beard herself to do in this arena.

The focus of this book is politics and history in the UK but of course there is a healthy dose of the USA in there, as well of some mentions of other world leaders.

It is making me want to go back and read her well-loved book, SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome, because if anyone can bring it to life, surely it is Mary Beard.

The publisher provided a copy of this book through Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Thomas.
1,459 reviews8,559 followers
February 17, 2018
A splendid start to the discussion about the silencing of women and how patriarchy precludes them from gaining power. Mary Beard traces the roots of this hatred against women back to Greek and Roman mythology, and she connects these historical examples to the modern-day mistreatment of women like Elizabeth Warren and Hillary Clinton. My favorite part of this book: how Beard argues that instead of trying to make women powerful like men, we should change the structure of power to value more traditionally feminine traits. A passage that exemplifies this:

"You cannot easily fit women into a structure that is already coded as male; you have to change the structure. That means thinking about power differently. It means decoupling it from public prestige. It means thinking collaboratively, about the power of followers not just of leaders. It means, above all, thinking about power as an attribute or even a verb ('to power'), not as a possession. What I have in mind is the ability to be effective, to make a difference in the world, and the right to be taken seriously, together as much as individually."

I only wish that this book had been longer and geared more toward creating solutions. Essentially, how do we change a society that glorifies traditionally masculine ideals of competition, dominance, and achievement instead of traditionally feminine ideals of connection, caring, and nurturance? Other books explore this idea more in-depth, such as Appetites by Caroline Knapp, All About Love by bell hooks, and The Mother of All Questions by Rebecca Solnit. I also wish Beard has discussed how some women oppress other women, like how white women and White Feminism harms women of color. Still, a good start and quick read for those interested in gender studies and history.
Profile Image for Jan-Maat.
1,548 reviews1,821 followers
July 13, 2019
So short, I had not quite intended to read it, when I did, but having in idleness picked it up and read a few pages nonchalantly, I found I was near enough half way through. There are two lectures padded out with illustrations (perhaps Beard had slides for her lectures) in the book, I felt these talks were her in conversation with Virginia Woolf's A Room of one's Own. Both naturally very revealing about their authors. Woolf the novelist deals in pictures: Woman excluded from public places, woman inherits money and removes herself from public - with inherited money she can afford not to worry and to have a private space to retreat into where she can lock the door and write. Who she will write for or who to is unclear, maybe just for her own satisfaction, since her husband was a publisher getting into print wasn't to be an issue.

Beard, scholar that she is takes a different approach, less interested in the particular pictures of women excluded from the library or chased off the lawn she looks at the structures and tradition of power and the silencing of women.

On structure she points out that our notions of power itself are a problem. It is not collaborative, it is a thing to be possessed by a person on their own, by definition most are excluded from it, it is not something we conceive of arising from people working together. Therefore there will be exclusion and participation will be policed.

She discusses the shutting up in public of women from Penelope by her son Telemachus onwards, I don't disagree with anything she says but I do notice that not all the world's cultures have adopted Greece and Rome as their cultural ancestors yet one finds that this doesn't limit the public belittling of women even though as she points out the specific forms of silencing in 'European' cultures have a long heritage.

It might be dispiriting, the pace of change is very slow, but Beard amused me by teaching me that the famous speech of Queen Elizabeth I in which she declaims that she had the heart and stomach of a man etc etc may well be a pure invention,in any case it was first recorded forty years afterwards (once she was dead) by a man and more that the well known speech 'ain't I a woman' by Sojourner Truth, certainly was not what she said but a translation into a Southern drawl - she herself a Northerner who had grown up speaking Dutch as her first language, mind you it serves to illustrate Beard's point that for women who are allowed to speak in certain permitted contexts there is no guarantee that her words will stand and not be 'translated' into something considered more appropriate.

Post script some more hours after reading. One thing that Beard does is illustrate Keynes' belief that we are often surprisingly under the influence of long dead thinkers - in this case Beard shows that typical terms of abuse to silence women, describing women's voices as whining, whinging, animal noises, also the threats of rape and ripping out of tongues, are already there in ancient Greek and Roman writings which are quite explicit that public speech is the domain of the adult man. Ok, so Beard demonstrates that apparently emotional outbursts from the free will of some aggrieved man or other are in fact programmed and automatic responses, but what do we do with this information? And in a book which is called 'a manifesto' where does it lead us towards? Is awareness alone transformative? If I were to be critical I might say that Beard's book draws back the curtain, or points out the Emperor's nakedness but isn't a manifesto in that it doesn't suggest a path leading from the present state to something different other than her suggestion that we rethink ideas of power (admittedly that though a very big suggestion).
Profile Image for Fa Orozco.
Author 1 book16.5k followers
December 5, 2018
Este texto me hizo querer releer un montón de textos griegos y romanos. Lo que más disfruté, y agradezco, es el otro lado de los clásicos grecorromanos y la representación de la mujer en ellos. No solo eso, sino que es la representación de la realidad sobre la mujer.
Profile Image for Nicola.
Author 6 books497 followers
October 29, 2017
I pretty much wanted to underline the whole thing. Review coming in The Big Issue soon.
Profile Image for Trish.
1,352 reviews2,412 followers
March 15, 2018
This book is two lectures modified and dispensing the understanding of a classicist with regard to “The Public Role of Women,” the very title of the first lecture. My markers are all in the second lecture, delivered in March 2017 and titled “Women in Power.” Mary Beard applies her knowledge of ancient languages and civilizations to uncover for us the origins of our notions of sexuality and power. It is not all she knows. It is merely her opinion of what she knows.

As though in a long, amusing conversation with a friend, Beard argues and then changes her mind as she makes her argument, rethinking her earlier teaching of Aristophanes’ comedic play Lysistrata as not just about girl power—“though maybe that’s exactly how we should now play it.”

I have recently found myself willing to modify my thinking on #MeToo: I opposed young women deciding, precipitously I thought, which behaviors went too far when some we clearly agreed did meet criterion for harassment. Those younger women will probably succeed in modifying men’s behaviors when earlier generations did not. They are the ones who have to live with success or failure of their guidelines.

The conclusions Beard shares with us at the end of the second lecture are especially trenchant: that power should be recognized as within each of us—within our reach—if we would only seize that power and exercise it. Power exercised does not have to be attached to celebrity, and perhaps is best if it is not so glorified and so removed from each of us. Beard gives an example of this non-celebrity notion of power by pointing to the three women (whose names many of us still do not know) now credited with beginning the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

If power is attached to celebrity, it is interpreted narrowly, circumscribing and controlling that power. The current structure of public prestige is male-dominated and will forever resist the fundamentally different understanding of power as collaborative and diffuse—not a possession but an attribute or a verb. I am excited by Beard’s acknowledgement of power as something quite different than what we have come to accept, for power is individual, and within each of us.

The dignity we gain in light of that realization is very affirming. It entirely works when thinking of oneself in a democracy, for instance, but also as an employee, family member, a member of any group, sect, or religion. Individuals hold the actual power in a society, and it is only our transfer of attention and currency to celebrities that gives them power. When we notice and state publicly “the emperor has no clothes,” well then…it’s over for the emperor.

Beard wishes she'd had the foresight to defend women's right to be wrong without collapse of women's privileges and rights as leaders, spokespeople. This notion parallels the notion of acceptance of people of color as described by Ibram X. Kendi in his groundbreaking work, Stamped From The Beginning:
"Kendi himself has concluded the only way black people would not be discriminated against in some way is if everyone recognize that blacks are at least as talented or flawed as whites and should be treated accordingly, that is to say, with the same amount of attention and acceptance of their potential talent, as for their potential for error. Anything less is racist."
There is more in Beard's manifesto, for instance “if women are not perceived to be fully within the structures of power, surely it is the power we need to redefine rather than the women.” We are reminded that the structures of power may need modification if not dismantling. Beard reminds us there will be winners & losers in this scenario, but these concepts have been a long time coming. I won’t be sorry to see the old ways go.

I loved the little joke Beard included in her discussion of current female leaders being heralded early in 2017 in a headline, “Women Prepare for a Power Grab in Church, Police and BBC.” Beard reminds us that only Cressida Dick, the commissioner of the Met, actually succeeded, surely a comment on who is perceived to have the equipment to lead.

Beard begins her first lecture with a reminder of the earliest example of a man exerting control over the right of women to plead her case or to speak in public: a teenaged Telemachus silencing his mother Penelope in the beginning of The Odyssey. The view of women in the western world has followed on from those earliest myths.

Subtle differences in interpretation of the language of those myths is now giving us new ways to look at sexuality, at women and power. That ancient text has been recently translated by a woman, Emily Wilson for the first time, and the resultant work has differences from earlier versions. It is wonderfully accessible and thrilling to read, so make sure you give it another go round with this new version.
Profile Image for Hannah.
591 reviews1,052 followers
May 24, 2018
I don’t have all that much too say about this book which is why my review will be rather on the short side (quite like the book). This book collects two speeches Mary Beard has given, one called “The Public Voice Of Women” and one “Women & Power” and as speeches I am sure this worked wonderfully. As a book however, it really fell a bit short for me. I might not be the target audience and this might work better as an introduction to feminist thinking but for me, while I agreed with Mary Beard and appreciated her expertise in history, it just did not blow my mind.

I do like her emphasis on changing structure to really be able to achieve change and I think that social structure is too often ignored in feminist analysis. There are so many things we just take for granted that Mary Beard shines a light on. But I also thought that her dialectic use of “male” and “female” is too easy and her examples are often too neat to be all that convincing.
Profile Image for Ted.
515 reviews744 followers
June 19, 2018
4 1/2

the author

Beard, born in 1955, is the author of the popular SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome (2015 finalist National Book Critics Award for non-fiction), and is Professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge and the Classics editor of the Times Literary Supplement. She makes frequent media appearances, gives many public lectures, and is active on social media. The Wiki article about Beard ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Be... ) references many of the controversial statements she has made, the outrageous threats and abuse that these have generated (from men almost entirely), and the reasonable and forthright manner in which she has responded to the trolls and critics. She doesn't back down.

the book

This short book consists to two lightly edited lectures Mary Beard presented in the London Review of Books Winter Lecture series. The first part of the book is titled The Public Voice of Women, and was presented in 2014; the second part, Women in Power, in 2017.

In her preface, Beard writes, "Women in the West have a lot to celebrate; let's not forget." She then reflects on how times have changed since her own mother was born, when women did not have the right to vote in parliamentary elections in Britain. But, though many things changed during her mother's lifetime (she had both marriage and a career, as head of a large primary school), "She was often frustrated that her views and her voice were not taken as seriously as she hoped they would be."

Beard concludes the preface, "She was often in my mind when I was preparing [the lectures on which the book is based]. I wanted to work out how I would explain to her – as much as to myself, as well as to the millions of other women who still share some of the same frustrations – just how deeply embedded in Western culture are the mechanisms that silence women, that refuse to take them seriously, and that sever them (sometimes quite literally, as we shall see) from the centres of power. This is one place where the world of the ancient Greeks and Romans can help to throw light on our own. When it comes to silencing women, Western culture has had thousands of years of practice."

loose threads of the lectures

The Public Voice of Women

Beard finds the paradigm view of women in the Odyssey. In the first book of that classic Telemachus, young and still scorned by the suitors, admonishes his mother (when she complains about a song being sung), "Go in and do your work. Stick to the loom and distaff… It is for men to talk…". She forwards a couple of millennia to the classic "Miss Triggs" cartoon:

This refusal to listen to women speak publicly is linked to traditions in both Greece and Rome, that "public speech" is a defining characteristic of the male. Why? Partly because of the "deep voice" which men have. Historically, when women have attempted to speak with authority, they must attempt to mimic maleness in some manner. When Elizabeth I addressed the troops at Tilbury in 1588, the words that have come down to us include, "I know I have the body of a weak, feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king." Beard comments that "she seems positively to avow her own androgyny."

When women state views that are different from men's, there is a frequent impulse to tell them, if not to shut up, that they are simply showing their stupidity or ignorance – yes, dear, this is a very hard thing to accept, but your words show that you don't understand.

Women in Power

I had more difficulty with the second lecture. Beard bookends this with detailed reference to a novel published a century ago, Herland, about an all-female society "discovered" by male explorers, who interact with the women their in ways that demonstrate their mild (or more so) misogyny. Perhaps the relevance of these references were more obvious in the spoken lecture.

Anyway, Beard makes observations about things like:

the fact that we have no "template" for what a powerful woman looks like, "except that she looks rather like a man. The regulation trouser suits, or at least the trousers, are [besides perhaps other advantages] a simple tactic – like lowering the timbre of the voice – to make the female appear more male, to fit the part of power."

the idea that when women are expressly attempting to obtain a position traditionally thought of as a powerful one (whether bishop, president, prime minister or chairman of the board) they are engaged in a "power grab", and can be so referenced in media.

Beard again relates the views she's talking about back to the Greeks. Women that exert power are seldom referred to in a positive manner. Of course there aren't very many examples from classic times of women exerting power. The few there are typically exert this "power" by committing a heinous crime, such as murdering their children, or their husband. Well, what about the Greek female immortals, the goddesses who inhabit Olympus? Here the primary one who exerts almost unfettered power is Athena – Athena born not through an act of godlike insemination of a female by a male god, but by some fantastic childbirth directly from the head of her father, Zeus. Athena, often portrayed as sheathed in armor, as almost androgynous (again), with the almost unlimited types of power she is able to exert. And then there's Medusa.
On most images of the goddess [Athena] at the very center of her body armour, fixed onto her breastplate, is the image of a female head, with writhing snakes for hair. This is the head of Medusa, one of the three mythical sisters known as the Gorgons, and it was one of the most potent ancient symbols of male mastery over the destructive dangers that the very possibility of female power represented. It is no accident that we find her decapitated – her head proudly paraded as an accessory by the decidedly un-female female deity.


(both of these appear as illustrations in the book.)

In the last part of the lecture, Beard reflects about what can be done. She ventures that it is power that needs to be redefined, not women. Though it is true that in contemporary times women have achieved much more "power" as traditionally defined – political power, for example – she notes that women's political power is rather curtailed, in the sense that women's speaking on political issues is accepted with little qualification only when the issues spoken of are "women's" issues. Day care, equal pay, domestic violence. Financial regulation is still felt by some to be outside their field (see Warren). Power is still treated as something elite, "coupled to public prestige, to the individual charisma of 'leadership'."
You cannot easily fit women into a structure that is already coded as male; you have to change the structure. That means thinking about power differently. It means decoupling it from public prestige. It means thinking collaboratively, about the powers of followers not just leaders. It means, above all, thinking about power as an attribute or even a verb ('to power'), not as a possession. What I have in mind is the ability to be effective, to make a difference in the world, and the right to be taken seriously, together as much as individually.

Example? Few people know the names of these women.

They are the founders of Black Lives Matter.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Previous review: Genesis: Memory of Fire #1
Next review: The Waning of the Middle Ages
Older review: The Eye in the Door

Previous library review: Cotton Tenants Agee
Next library review: Planet of Slums
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 6 books3,967 followers
March 31, 2019
There are few books like this anymore. We're used to long scholarly treatises and we're used to little soundbites that say everything and almost nothing at all.

What we've been missing is a call to arms. That's what a manifesto is. A mixed mission statement and an outrage. A rallying call and a hot pinprick of a single idea meant to sear itself into your brain.

That's what a manifesto is supposed to be. A wake-up call.

But what is this one in particular?

It's about the nature of power and misogyny, first cutting through the crap of old Greece through her quality scholarship and then directly applying the topic to our modern world. I can be boiled down to the Voice of Authority. If you don't have a lower register, you're told to shut up.

This isn't a joke, although it is furiously funny. It's no laughing matter, but many women and more men than you might think have gone crazy with the absolute absurdity of it.

But there you have it.

Sit down, shut up, bear with the assholes, bide your time, work within the system, tell yourself that one day the glass ceiling might be shattered, and eventually give up, frustrated, disheartened, and disillusioned.

Or postulate: "If the power game is rigged, then it's not women who need to change in order to get power. It's the nature of power that needs to be changed."

But what is power? Ah, well, that's the trick, isn't it?

IT IS WHAT WE DREAM UP. It's words. It's our decision to make. All of us. We can bow down to the almighty lower register or we could start listening to what ALL our smart PEOPLE have to say. Use logic. Reason. Clarity.

It's worth thinking about.

I'm a feminist. I'm also a man. It's freaking RATIONAL to be this. I'm not playing a Us vs Them game because it only leads to further cutting. The only way through this mess is TOGETHER.

So do I appreciate this manifesto?

Hell, yes.

And I part with you on a high note. A little Laurie Anderson that makes me laugh until I cry. Mach 20, yo.

Profile Image for Markus.
472 reviews1,523 followers
February 9, 2019
I'm reminded of this lovely George R.R. Martin interview


As a (male) scholar of women & power in history, I've always found it both important and interesting not to see women primarily as mere silent victims of patriarchal oppression (although that certainly happens in most historical periods), but as individuals with their own motives, agency and stories to tell. That is the change that is needed in our collective perception of the past. Scrutiny and victimisation are two sides of the same coin.

The most thought-provoking part of this book, however, lies in its suggestions for present-day society. As the book states: "It is not just that it is more difficult for women to succeed; they get treated much more harshly if ever they mess up." This has been and still does ring true. Women are consistently more harshly criticised and mocked if they ever mess up (take for instance Hillary Clinton, who is mentioned in the book). And our society needs a lot of improvements if this and other issues are to be altered.
Profile Image for Raymond.
338 reviews247 followers
December 24, 2017
"When it comes to silencing women, Western culture has had thousands of years of practice." -Mary Beard

Beard’s Women & Power is a collection of two lectures that she gave in 2014 and 2017 both on the subject on how women are treated and perceived in the public sphere and the historical roots of this treatment. Beard shows through her lectures that the silencing of women as well as the way we view women in power has its roots in Greek and Roman mythology. In many ways this book reminded me of a book I read earlier this year Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America about the history of racist ideas in America. I always knew that misogyny existed but was not fully aware of its roots. This book is essential reading.
Profile Image for Becky.
1,234 reviews59 followers
November 1, 2017
I will get straight to the point, with no ladylike silly shally.... this is bloody brilliant.
Profile Image for Abigail Bok.
Author 4 books191 followers
December 13, 2017
Women are having a moment—though this aged cynic believes it will last only a moment. And into this moment steps Mary Beard, a British classical scholar who has taken more than her share of abuse, mostly via the Internet, to speak truth to power (or at least truth to trolls). In response to the haters she published two essays in the London Review of Books, in 2014 and 2017; and this slim volume is a reissue of those essays, with some emendations and updates.

The packaging is charming—high-quality paper, beautiful design, well-chosen illustrations—which is a good thing, because the essays themselves are more or less scholarly fluff. In the first, “The Public Voice of Women,” she traces the roots of the silencing of women to ancient Greece, attempting to show that the bias and misogyny we experience today are deeply embedded in our culture. I believe her, though they seem equally embedded in many other cultures around the world that owe little or nothing to Greek antiquity. And I was hoping for some action items, but she does little to lead us out of our error: the best she can offer is “What we need is some old fashioned consciousness-raising about what we mean by the ‘voice of authority’ and how we’ve come to construct it.” Not much in the way of pointers there.

So I turned with interest to the second essay, “Women in Power.” Here she feeds us some morsels about how a few women (such as Margaret Thatcher) who have risen to positions of traditional power have tried to masculinize themselves to fit traditional visions of the role of Powerful Person. She also, more promisingly, problematizes the very way we construct power, showing how our definitions tend to exclude the majority of people and especially the majority of women. I sat up straighter, hoping this would lead to some real wisdom about how power can be redefined in a way that is more inclusive. And I got a little nugget: “It means decoupling [power] from public prestige. It means thinking collaboratively, about the power of followers not just of leaders. It means, above all, thinking about power as an attribute or even a verb (‘to power’), not as a possession. What I have in mind is the ability to be effective, to make a difference in the world, and the right to be taken seriously, together as much as individually.”

Unfortunately, for me this was nothing new; and worse, it seems to feed right into gender stereotypes—women as collaborators, women content to stand in the background so long as they can promote positive change. I’m not sure that’s a universal attribute of females, and I’m not sure it’s aiming high enough. I believe we need to try for a world in which women can take visible leadership without being resented or demonized. Collaboration is great, but it can also be messy and lead to quagmires; and sometimes someone has to stand on the bank and pull everyone else out with a rope. Some women should be prepared to take that role.

So for unexamined assumptions and a certain amount of fuzzy reasoning, I have to give this only two stars.
Profile Image for Bill.
205 reviews42 followers
March 11, 2020
The London Review of Books commissioned Cambridge Professor of Classics Mary Beard to present two lectures at the British Museum, "Oh Do Shut Up Dear" in 2014 and "Women in Power" in 2017; this book publishes revised versions of the two lectures, with the first retitled "The Public Voice of Women".

As I write this review in March 2020, it has just been reported that Beard's nomination to the Board of Trustees of the British Museum was vetoed by the Prime Minister's office for the offense of holding an impolitic opinion on an unrelated issue, an irony that probably doesn't surprise her. Her stated purpose for the lectures and book is to explain:
just how deeply embedded in Western culture are the mechanisms that silence women, that refuse to take them seriously, and that sever them...from the centres of power. This is one place where the world of the ancient Greeks and Romans can help to throw light on our own. When it comes to silencing women, Western culture has had thousands of years of practice.
Beard locates the first written record of a man silencing the public voice of a woman in the first written record of Western culture, Homer's Odyssey, in this pronouncement by Telemachus to his mother Penelope:
go back up into your quarters, and take up your own work, the loom and the distaff...speech will be the business of men, all men, and of me most of all; for mine is the power in this household.
The first essay is a brief catalog and analysis of examples of this male stifling of women's speech from the classical era to a 1988 Punch cartoon captioned: "That's an excellent suggestion, Miss Triggs. Perhaps one of the men here would like to make it."

The second essay explores the "radical separation...between women and power" that is the consequence of the silencing of women's public voices, again through a selection of examples from Aeschylus to the more recent drama of Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump.

No doubt to the frustration of some readers, Beard only hints at possibilities to change the status quo, and concludes:
We have not got anywhere near subverting those foundational stories of power that serve to keep women out of it, and turning them to our own advantage."
Recommended for most.

Women & Power: A Manifesto
Profile Image for Paul.
1,178 reviews1,935 followers
March 27, 2018
4.5 stars rounded up
This brief book is based on two lectures, one from 2014 and one from 2017 by Mary Beard. Beard is a classicist and historian, a very good one. The primary subject is female voice and silence and is very much concerned with misogyny and links to the abuse Beard and others have experienced on social media. Given the recent revelations relating to Harvey Weinstein and the current social media landscape it is a much needed wake up call.
Beard looks at the origins of misogyny and being a classicist she takes as her starting point Greece, Rome and the Ancient world. In fact the starting point is Telemachus telling his mother Penelope to shut up in the Odyssey. It is essentially an analysis of the silencing of the female voice and the humiliation of those few females who dared to speak out. Beard knows her stuff and the examples from the classical era are penetrating and very apposite. She looks at the way the female voice is characterised, for example by the word whine. Beard also focuses on the famous Punch cartoon by Riana Duncan about “Miss Triggs”. It shows a woman at a meeting with five men in suits. The chairman is saying: “That’s an excellent suggestion, Miss Triggs. Perhaps one of the men here would like to make it.” Which neatly caricatures a particular attitude of mind. Beard throws in an analysis of Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman and the Amazons myth.
The first lecture is an analysis of why culture silences women and the second looks at how culture prevents women from achieving equality and looks at the nature of power. Beard expresses herself frustrated at gradualist solutions, although she does admit some progress has been made. She does make some very prescient points about what needs to happen:
“I would like in the future to think harder about how exactly we might go about re-configuring those notions of ‘power’ that now exclude all but a very few women, and I would like to try to pull apart the very idea of ‘leadership’ (usually male) that is now assumed to be the key to successful institutions.”
She is right about leadership theories and we need to look at more “feminist” ideas about leadership. Of course men need to get used to the idea that they need to give up power and think differently about public space. My only niggle is that these were lectures, I would like Beard to follow up with something longer and more detailed.
Profile Image for Julie Ehlers.
1,111 reviews1,397 followers
February 9, 2018
There have been a lot of tiny feminist books published recently, and there's not much point in comparing them—just read them all; they all have worthwhile things to say. Nevertheless, I thought Women & Power was more fun to read than Rebecca Solnit's small volumes and had more depth than Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie's. I liked the look at the classical world (something I haven't thought about much since my university days), and I thought she made some interesting and timely arguments. Of course, the book was so short that nothing was as developed as it could have been, but this was still well worth the read.
Profile Image for Kristi.
159 reviews33 followers
December 20, 2017
Reading a book with this title while on public transit felt like an act of aggression. Which is I guess exactly why books like this are necessary.
Profile Image for Kristen.
167 reviews77 followers
March 26, 2018
I would probably give this a 3.5.

This book offers a wealth of history on the treatment of women, particularly in regards to their attempts at having an accepted public voice. As others stated, where this book falls short is in its offering of any strong solutions to the problem. Granted, when I stopped to really think about it, I had a difficult time coming up with any solutions either. How do we go about correcting a problem that has been so deeply ingrained in our society?

I did very much appreciate the afterword of the book, especially when Beard says, "I would like to in the future think harder about how exactly we might go about re-configuring those notions of 'power'." I felt that this acknowledged the feelings I had regarding the lack of solutions, but also peeked my interest of any further works she may have on this topic.

Overall this book offered great historical examples of the ways in which women have been limited, and also provided much food for thought.

Some of the more thought-provoking quotes:

"It is not just that it is more difficult for women to succeed; they get treated much more harshly if ever they mess up."

"That means thinking about power differently. It means decoupling it from public prestige."

"We have to be more reflective about what power is, what it is for, and how it is measured. To put it another way, 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?"
Profile Image for Soheil Khorsand.
305 reviews169 followers
May 16, 2021
گفتار اندر معرفی کتاب
زنان و قدرت، کتابی‌ست به قلمِ خانمِ «مری بی‌یرد» که در ایران توسطِ خانمِ «شبنم سعادت» ترجمه و نهایتا توسط «نشر نو» چاپ و منتشر گردیده است.
کتاب از چهار بخش: پیشگفتار، دو فصلِ «صدای زنان در اجتماع»، «زنان در قدرت» و سخنِ آخر تشکیل شده است.
مری بی‌یرد، استادِ فرهنگ و ادبیاتِ روم باستان در دانشگاه کمبریج است و در کتاب خود به بررسیِ نقشِ تفکراتِ دیرینِ ما انسان‌ها از دورانِ رومِ باستان بر روی تفکرات، تصمیم‌گیری‌ها و نحوه‌ی برخورد مردان با زنان در جامعه‌ی امروزی در فضاهای سیاسی، اجتماعی و مجازی می‌گوید و در بخشی از کتاب نوشته‌ است:
"ما قربانی یا فریب‌خورده‌های میراثِ دیرینمان نیستیم بلکه سنت‌های دیرینمان الگوی فکریِ قدرتمندی فراهم کرده تا بر مبنای آن درباره‌ی صحبت در اجتماع فکر کنیم و تصمیم بگیریم... ."
و منظورِ او به زبانِ ساده‌تر این است که تفکراتِ مردسالارانه‌ای که در آن دوران به شرحِ مثال‌هایی که در کتاب آمده انقدر قوی بود که پس از گذشت هزارها سال همچنان ستون‌های آن قرص و محکم پابرجا مانده است.

نقل‌قول نامه
"وقتی پای سکوت و سرکوبِ زنان در میان باشد، فرهنگِ غرب یدِ طولانیِ هزاران ساله دارد."

"اگر زنان را کاملا داخل ساختار قدرت نمی‌بینند، قطعا قدرت را باید باتعریف کنیم، نه زنان را."

"ضرورتی ندارد کسانی‌که بانیِ تغییر می‌شوند چهره‌های مشهوری باشند.
برای مثال افرادِ معدودی نامِ زنانِ بنیان‌گذارِ جنبشِ «جان سیاهان ارزش دارد» را می‌دانند: آلیشا گارزا، پتریس کالرز و اوپال تومتی»"

یک ستاره از کتاب کم می‌کنم چون از نظرِ من بیشتر از اینکه یک کتاب باشه به جزوه‌‌ای از یک درسِ دانشگاهی شباهت دارد و یا شاید یک تحقیق یا حتی یک پایان‌نامه چون نویسنده عملا فقط از چیزی گفت که آن‌را در دانشگاه تدریس می‌کند! نه چیزی کمتر نه چیزی بیشتر.
یک ستاره‌ی دیگر کم می‌کنم چون نویسنده یک اثر فمینیسمی خلق کرده و بعد در آن به قدرتمندترین و الهام‌بخش‌ترین زنِ سال‌های اخیر کشورش که دستِ بر قضا یکی از قدرتمندترین زن‌های تاریخِ کشورش محسوب می‌شود یعنی «ترزا می» حمله کرد و ضمنِ نادیده گرفتنِ تمامِ دستاوردهای او، او را یک دست‌نشانده توسطِ مردان‌ِ قدرتمندِ بریتانیا نامید مبنی بر اینکه او توسطِ مردان به نخست‌وزیریِ بریتانیای کبیر منصوب شد تا شکست زنان را به جهان نشان دهند!!!
در نهایت سه ستاره برای کتاب منظور می‌کنم چون کلی اطلاعات در حیطه‌ی تخصص خود نویسنده کسب کردم، با یک اثر از شکسپیر آشنا شدم، با افسانه‌های یونانیِ بیشتری آشنا شدم و نهایتا با دیوارهای بیشتری که روبروی زنان در دنیا قرار دارد آشنا شدم.

بیست و ششم اردیبهشت‌ماه یک‌هزار و چهارصد
Profile Image for میعاد.
Author 7 books217 followers
August 30, 2019
نیمهٔ‌ اول کتاب جذابه و دربارهٔ جایگاه زن در طول تاریخ اطلاعات جالبی می‌ده. نیمهٔ دوم کمی از جذابیت کتاب کاسته می‌شه اما همون نیمهٔ اول به اندازهٔ کافی خوب هست که ارزش خوندن داشته باشه. نویسنده بحثی رو مطرح می‌کنه که راه‌حلی براش نداره (نمی‌شه هم راه‌حلی براش پیدا کرد) اما همین مطرح‌کردنش بسیار ارزشمنده.
March 5, 2018
"When it comes to silencing women, Western culture has had thousands of years of practice"

I love Mary Beard. She's clever, interesting and really raises some rather thought provoking issues. I have enjoyed watching her documentaries, and when I noticed she had written "Women and Power" I'll admit, I was quite delighted.
This rather short book consists of two lectures given in different years based on the subject of the treatment of women in society, and the history behind this treatment. I know that misogyny has always existed, but, until now, I was not aware of how far the roots travelled to. Mary Beard shows us that misogyny existed in Greek and Roman mythology, and I found this particularly interesting to read. Beard has included photos in this book to support her lectures and I think these made a great addition to an already great book.
From a feminist theory perspective, there wasn't much new here, that I haven't heard before. I only wish this book was longer, as I think it definitely could be, rather easily.

An excerpt that I thought was particularly relevant;

"You cannot easily fit women into a structure that is already coded as male; you have to change the structure. That means thinking about power differently. It means decoupling it from public prestige. It means thinking collaboratively, about the power of followers not just of leaders. It means, above all, thinking about power as an attribute or even a verb (‘to power’), not as a possession. What I have in mind is the ability to be effective, to make a difference in the world, and the right to be taken seriously, together as much as individually. It is power in that sense that many women feel they don’t have – and that they want. Why the popular resonance of ‘mansplaining’ (despite the intense dislike of the term felt by many men)? It hits home for us because it points straight to what it feels like not to be taken seriously.”
Profile Image for Pawarut Jongsirirag.
426 reviews68 followers
October 8, 2020
สำหรับเล่มนี้ขอนิยามว่าเข้มข้นและกระชับรัดกุมมากๆครับ เป็นหนังสือเล่มจิ๋วที่รวบรวม 2 ปาฐกถา 2 ชิ้น ของผู้เขียนในปี 2014 และ 2017 ในประเด็น การถูกกีดกันของผู้หญิงในสังคม ฟังแวบแรก ก็รู้สึกว่ามีคนพูดเกี่ยวกับประเด็นนี้มากมายแล้ว เล่มนี้แตกต่างยังไง ทำไมต้องอ่านเล่มนี้ด้วย

สิ่งที่ท���ให้เล่มนี้แตกต่าง คือการโฟกัสในประเด็นที่ย่อยลงไป แต่กลับเป็นรากฐานของปัญหาที่ยังส่งผลถึงทุกวันนี้ คือ ปัญหาการถูกกีดกันของผู้หญิงนั้น มีรากฐานมาจากวัฒนธรรมกรีก โรมัน โดยผู้เขียนยกประเด็นในเรื่องการพูด การใช้เสียงพูดในที่สาธารณะ เสียงแบบไหนคือเสียงที่ดี น่าฟัง และเสียงแบบใดคือเสียงที่ไม่ควรใช้ ซึ่งเราคงเดาๆกันได้ว่าเสียงที่ดีคือทุ้มลึกของผู้ชาย และเสียงที่ไม่ควรใช้คือ เสียงแหลมเล็กของผู้หญิง ซึ่งมันเป็นแบบนั้นจริงๆเหรอ ?

จากการโจมตีในเรื่องรูปแบบของเสียง ก่อเป็นต้นสายเล็กๆที่ทำให้ผู้หญิงถูกกีดกันออกไปจากการมีสิทธิมีเสียงในที่สาธารณะ ถ้าอยากพูด ต้องทำเสียงให้เหมือนผู้ชายซิ หรือพูดให้ถูกคือ ถ้าอยากจะพูดก็ทำตัวให้เป็นผู้ชายซะ ....

ประเด็นนี้เป็นประเด็นที่ไม่เคยอ่านเจอมาก่อนเลย เปิดมุมมองของผมไปมากทีเดียว และจากประเด็นดังกล่าว ผู้เขียนก็ขยายไปสู่การกีดกันผู้หญิงออกจากอำนาจใน ปาฐกถาส่วนที่สอง ซึ่งขยายจากเรื่องเสียงในการพูด สู่การปิดกั้นและทำลายผู้หญิงที่มีอำนาจ โดยยกตัวอย่างถึงตำนานกรีก โรมันต่างๆที่เมื่อใด ผู้หญิงมีอำนาจไม่ว่ารูปแบบใดๆ จะมีวีรบุรุษผู้ชายมากำราบผู้หญิงเหล่านี้ลง ตัวอย่างที่เห็นได้ชัดที่ผู้เขียนยกขึ้นมา คือ เมดูซ่า ที่ถูกวีรีบุรุษเพอร์ซิอัสตัดหัว

จากปาฐกาถาทั้งสอง ด้วยรูปแบบการเรียบเรียงที่เหมือนการเล่าเรื่องราวให้ฟัง ไม่ใช่งานเขียนวิชาการ ทำให้อ่านได้ง่าย ไม่ปีนกระไดอ่าน และ น้ำเสียงในการเล่านั้น ไม่ใช่การยกผู้หญิงและด่าทอผู้ชาย แต่สิ่งที่ถูกด่าทอ คือวัฒนธรรมบางอย่างที่ถูกสร้างขึ้น และไหลกลืนลงไปสู่ความคิดของเราโดยไม่รู้ตัว ซึ่งผู้เขียนเห็นว่านี่แหละคือปัญหาสำคัญที่แท้จริงที่ควรถูกแก้ไข ดังนั้นเราต้องรู้ตัวอยู่เสมอว่ามีอะไรบางอย่างสอดแทรกมากับวัฒนธรรมเหล่านี้หรือไม่ จงรู้ตัว และวิเคราะห์ไตร่ตรอง นี่แหละคือหาทางสู่การแก้ปัญหาครับ
Profile Image for Anna Baillie-Karas.
420 reviews47 followers
January 18, 2018
A gem. Crisp, erudite writing on women and power. Especially interesting about women’s voices and how they are silenced, ignored or worse. Up to the minute but draws on the classics (Mary Beard’s specialty). Beard says we should redefine power so women can participate in different ways. Lightly written but much food for thought. My first of her books but won’t be the last.
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