CLASSICIST Mary Beard has managed to produce one of the most thought-provoking books of a generation. Although the book is small in size, the volume of knowledge it harbours, exceeds the 115 pages.
Reading the preface of this book I felt optimistic. It reminded me of all the barriers women have hurdled over so far. As Mary Beard said herself, it doesn’t matter whether you agree with Margaret Thatcher’s policies as a Prime Minister; the fact we have had a female Prime Minister is something to be celebrated. And of course, we have another female Prime Minister in the shape of Theresa May.
The first chapter, The Public Voice of Women explains the harsh reality of women and how some things haven’t changed. Beard looked at stories from ancient Greeks and the Romans, which scarily resonate with the continued treatment of women today. It’s accuracy offered an insightful look at the fact women do live a very different life to the ones they once did. It also highlighted the ways in which as a society, we still don’t treat women equally. Beards ability to look at this ancient work and see the parallels is something that needs to be celebrated more often. Throughout this book, Mary Beard makes no attempt at hiding the sexist and repulsive abuse she receives on social media. Perhaps that’s why these trolls fear her so much, because she does speak up, she doesn’t shut up.
Interestingly, Beard discusses the fact that female voices aren’t heard as authoritative as mens. She discusses this by referring to classics and how it relates to what happens today.
An interesting example she uses of how men and women are treated differently, is during the 2017 snap General Election when Diane Abbott and Boris Johnson both had disastrous radio interviews. However, the grief Abbott received in comparison to Johnson was shocking. It showed how Boris was made to look like it was a “laddish mistake” but that Abbott’s career was over. Thus highlighting how much harder women must work to be respected and achieve authoritative roles.
Beard produced this book based on two lectures she has given, one in 2014 which is the basis for chapter one and the other in March 2017. In her afterword she acknowledges how different things are but that she didn’t want to change things too much which has somewhat benefitted the book. Mary Beard’s outlook at times may seem extreme but she herself has been at the front line of sexism and other nasty rhetoric.
Whilst the book is somewhat challenging to read and at times I felt as though I needed to google the odd word, I found it broadened my perspective on feminism and offered an understanding of the deeper issues surrounding women and power and where they derive from.
Listen to a comment from Kate Lewis, who runs a book club at her home in Salford where they have recently read Women and Power
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