WOMEN AND POWER BY MARY BEARD

The preface of the book is simple – women’s voices have been silenced since the ancient times and particularly the public and/or politics. In the classical world, women were only allowed to speak publically either as martyrs or victims (as we see in the early Christian period) or to defend their homes, children, husbands and the interest of other women (i.e. hortensia p.16). Women’s speech has been niched into this area. To this current day, women are expected to speak on women issues that are not represented of the “majority” aka male population. Similar to how an African writers books are praised for its commentary on race, even when they’re not tackling the issue at all but simply existing as not-white. For a long time, the mainstream has been male, and despite making half of the population, we have been deceived into believing we are a minority. Research and policy has closely followed the male example. The fact that women have only been given the right to vote in the last 100 years, means that little progressed has been made.

In the ancient times, male voices were perceived as authoritative and courageousness whereas a high-pitched voice symbols a coward. In current times, women’s voices have been categorised as whining. It’s no wonder that female politicians (i.e. thatcher) mimicked a deeper voice. Female politicians often dress in male clothing as they must appear more male to look the part of a leader. This begs who has access to public space and whose voices fit it. Beard’s point is clear, classical thinking has given us a “a powerful template for thinking about public speech and for deciding what counts as good oratory or bad, persuasive or not, and whose speech is to be given space and heard” (p.21). Western tradition has inherited a great deal of misogyny, therefore the onus is on us to extinguish the misogyny from our public spaces. To simply exist as a woman in a political role is considered “smashing the glass ceiling” or “storming the citadel” as though we aren’t entitled to this space (p.57).

This book is emotive as its comparisons with the classics informs us of our lack of progress. As humans we are so obsessed with our own progress, each generation has its presumptions of the previous. In reality, the subtle misogynistic contexts says more of our society than it’s desolate attempts to appear the champions of human rights. Beard asks what is power? Which groups hold power in our society? If women are not in the current structures of power, shouldn’t we redefine power rather than women? These questions are the reasons I love reading feminist texts. Its an exciting political philosophy which seeks to inspire us into thinking about horizontal structures in which we can imagine and actualise a more equal future.

This book is paired well with Caroline Criado-Perez’s invisible women: exposing date bias in a world designed for men.

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