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.