book review: Women & Power: A Manifesto by Mary Beard


2017, Profile Books

We only need to look at the size of Women & Power: A Manifesto – 128 pages – to know that this isn’t going to be an in-depth academic text which rigorously examines the themes it presents. But that’s okay. Instead, it’s a concise and thought-provoking introductory text for anyone interested in feminist theory, who maybe isn’t quite sure where to start.

Women & Power is a combination of 2 essays, which each began as a lecture that Mary Beard – classicist and outspoken feminist – gave somewhat recently in her career. The first essay concerns itself with the role of women in the public sphere, and the precedent of silencing women’s voices, using both historical and literary examples. The second essay shifts to our societal conception of power as a male-dominated domain, to which women are still somewhat grudgingly granted access.

My main piece of advice going into this is to keep your expectations reasonable and remember the page count. If you don’t find this kind of brevity suitable for this subject matter, this is definitely not the text for you. But if that doesn’t put you off, I’d highly recommend taking an hour to read this. Mary Beard’s ideas are brilliant and well-articulated, and the way she links current events with classical precedents is something that I found particularly engaging and unique about this. This isn’t exactly a treatise on where we go from here, on how we change the way we have perceived power for so long, which some may find disheartening, but Beard leaves this question up for discussion and contemplation. Books like this are a necessary step.

6 thoughts on “book review: Women & Power: A Manifesto by Mary Beard

  1. Great review! I was a bit on the fence about this, unsure if it would offer much new for those already self-described as feminists (especially given how brief it is, as you said). But I like the idea of drawing on historical and literary examples to back up her points. That sounds like a unique enough perspective to make it worth a jaunt.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s definitely worth checking out! I’m not sure if Beard is necessarily a pioneer in this particular subject, but I did especially find her first essay, the one about women’s voices in the public sphere, to be particularly unique. I’d been aware from some classics studies that in ancient Greece and Rome public speaking was an exclusively male activity, but I guess I’d never thought about how insidious the history of silencing women’s voices has been. It was sort of eye-opening in the way that I had been vaguely aware a certain phenomenon existed, but now I have words to explain it. And all the historical and literary references are fascinating and refreshing. Highly recommend!

      Liked by 1 person

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