Despite the fact that I grew up in a household of strong women (mother second wave feminist, sisters drilling me on gender equality) and reading a lot of novels with feminist leanings, I’ve never really read a non fiction treaty on the subject so when I discovered that historian Mary Beard was publishing two of her lectures on gender equality, I rushed out and read it so that I get some backing.
Beard tackles two topics in these lectures. One focuses on how males want to silence women who speak their mind. Beard does this thorough job examples from antiquity, the Odyssey being the first reported example, to contemporary age women in politics. When there are women who succeed Beard gives evidence of historians giving women masculine traits , or in some cases even making up a speech which has hints of masculinity in it, such as the words of encouragement Queen Elizabeth I gave her battalion when attacking the Spanish army.
The second lecture is about women in powerful roles. Beard gives examples of Hilary Clinton, Theresa May and Angela Merkel, who have to wear trouser suits in order to be accepted and are usually victims of media bullying, in other words society gives powerful women masculine traits or deriding them completely. Beard then shows us that in history the same thing happened as in Ancient Greece when artists would depict the Amazonian tribe as women wearing pantsuits (and as evidence proves this tribe did not even exist, it’s just a male construction as a way of ridiculing neighboring tribes) This segues into the famous Medusa memes and the representation of powerful women as witches. Incidentally when a reporter substituted Trumph’s head for a Medusa she was fired, but it’s ok to place Merkel or Clinton’s face instead.
I was amazed at how prescient these lectures are, especially the first one (which was given in 2014). We now live in a time when women are speaking up, look at the sexual harassment allegations that are cropping up in the film, music and art industry, which all came to the forefront due to women speaking up (although I am being over simplistic). As for women in power, the fact that Naomi Alderman’s novel The Power, which imagines a world run by women won the 2018 Bailey’s prize is a sign that this awareness is raising concern.
Women & Power, despite it’s brevity, did help me realise that gender equality is still somewhat ideal but, in some cases there are changes, and more importantly it created an inner awareness of how history treated this subject.