Women and Power by Mary Beard

Women and Power by Mary Beard was published in paperback form in 2018, it’s based on two lectures which Beard gave in the LRB Winter Lecture series, the first one in 2014, prior to the Me Too movement.

As you would expect she links the mysogyny in our culture to Greek and Roman literature. The first recorded example of a ‘man’ telling a woman to shut up was Telemachus when he told his mother Penelope to go back to her weaving and let the men get on with the important things of life.  Women’s high-pitched voices couldn’t be tolerated. She points out the similarity nowadays to women’s voices not being heard  – or being ignored, showing the Riana Duncan cartoon of men and one woman around a board room table, the caption is: ‘That’s an excellent suggestion , Miss Triggs. Perhaps one of the men here would like to make it’

The Me Too movement features in the second edition of this book. With women being silenced, or just not believed or taken seriously.  Beard points out that in the Metamorphoses Philomela was raped and had her tongue cut out so she couldn’t tell anyone what had happened to her, but Philomela wove her horrific experience into a tapestry, and so denounced her rapist. It’s more difficult for women nowadays I think!

She does mention ‘mansplaining’, something that I suspect all women have been victims of, despite having far more exerience than the ‘explainer’ – I know I have.

Worryingly she suspects that countries which have more female MPs than male ones might be proof that the real power doesn’t lie within the parliament. I must admit that I didn’t realise there were such countries, and I suspect she is correct.

Anyway, this is a very interesting read, despite it being a very slim book at  just 115 pages.

There was no mention of something that I think is very dangerous for women. That’s the treatment of women at the hands of the medical profession. Women are dying needlessly because they aren’t being taken seriously when they have health problems. Too often they are seen as just another menopausal or paranoid  female, even by female doctors.  Women often get very different care, often no care at all, just told to go away, there’s nothing to worry about,  until they literally can barely move and they are dead a few weeks later, as happened to a neighbour of mine – and I could go on and on as that wasn’t the first time something like that had happened. I know that strictly speaking a different sort of power, but it still leads to women being victims.

Back to Mary Beard, I always look forward to her being on TV, but this is the first book that I’ve read by her, I’ll look out for the others now.




8 thoughts on “Women and Power by Mary Beard

  1. I can relate to the last part of your post. The same thing happened to a close friend. She began experiencing severe stomach pains but the doctor’s diagnosis was always the same: the pains were the result of stress caused by her marital problems. By the time she got a proper examination it was too late. Stomach cancer took her in her early thirties.

    • Janusz,
      It’s so sad, and frighteningly common. I knew another woman who had all sorts of health problems, according to her doctor – “all in her head”. He was correct about that as she had a brain tumour. Meantime her husband had divorced her because he was fed up with her imagined illness, so when she died he was on the other side of the world, remarried, and their daughter was on her own aged 9.

  2. Oh, I’ve been wondering about this book and now you have helped me decide that I should read it sometime. It sounds good, but also upsetting. I agree with you regarding the medical profession. Women even get left out of health studies from diseases to medications and then somehow it all becomes our fault because we need to be more assertive in advocating for ourselves. Grrr.

    • Stefanie,
      I so agree, and cars are tested for safety using male crash test dummies which are more robust than a female body. That’s why women tend to die in a crash while the men survive.

  3. I loved this informative and thoughtful post! I resonated with many aspects of it, but your discussion of the medical profession and its treatment of women is so true, and it’s so true because it is so universal. I want to boldface that “so universal” phrase.
    And it happens not only when a woman is the patient (so egregious), but also when a woman accompanies a man to a medical appointment. When she is the one who is the “carer,” so to speak. It has been very, very rare for me to have a doctor or medical professional treat me with even a modicum of respect at one of my husband’s appointments, that I can’t believe it’s happening sometimes! And I hear it from all of my women friends and relatives, that they experience the same.
    So every bit of your post was appreciated!! Thank You!

    • Judith,
      I must admit that I hadn’t thought that the attitude problems would stretch to women in your situation, it’s probably the same here though. I know that I was furious when one of our boys had to have a small op as a child and the female doctor at the hospital didn’t even look in my direction once. She spoke only to Jack, and I was the one who had noticed the child’s hearing problem and had taken him to the doctor in the first place. After I had taken that first step it happened that there was a hearing test at the school and I told the females doing it that he already had a hospital appointment to sort out the problem. They both ignored me completely and congratulated each other for ‘discovering’ a child with a hearing problem. I suppose it put their ‘stats’ up! But I was fizzing mad! I find it really sad that women treat other women with such disdain, they’re every bit as bad as male doctors. I remember when I had given birth a nurse in the hospital told me that a ‘baby doctor’ would be coming around soon, she obviously thought I wouldn’t understand the word paediatrician.
      I hope that things are going well with you both.

  4. This is a very interesting post, and the informative comments add to it. It saddens me that treatment of women such as this continues (and possibly could get worse). In many ways I have been lucky in that area… so far.

    • tracybham,
      We do seem to be going backwards in some ways, I find it really shocking that other women can behave so badly towards their own sex, almost as if they are honorary men in some way just because of their job.

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