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.