Women and Power: A Manifesto by Mary Beard
This brief book is from two lectures that Beard gave in London where she is a well-known Professor of Classics at Cambridge.
The first chapter traces the history of the public voice of women back to the Greeks. In Homer's Odyssey, his wife Penelope is told by her son Telemachus to shut up and go back to her weaving, since speaking is mens' concern. The space allowed in society for women to speak is expertly traced by Beard to the present day, and sadly we see that not enough progress has been made. Women who have been allowed to speak have had to make themselves more androgynous: Margaret Thatcher took voice lessons to make her voice lower and more commanding; Hillary and Angela Merkel favor pant suits over dresses. We still have no cultural template for what a powerful woman looks like, except that she looks like a man. Do women have to imitate men in order to be heard? Is there a way to redefine the 'voice of authority' so that it includes women?
The second chapter continues these questions. Can we picture women when we hear the words: knowledge, expertise, authority? Mary Beard provides more questions for thought than answers. Frankly, there are no easy answers. We are talking about changing culture which is slow and unsteady. In the meantime women should redefine power in our own terms: to be effective, to make a difference, to lead in steady and collaborative ways that are our strengths. Perhaps a wave of women in leadership positions across fields will create an overarching wave that someday will propel women towards the pinnacle of leadership such as being president. Meanwhile most people will probably continue to vote for the alpha male, no matter if he is not qualified. Which brings me to my next post . . .