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Rose Deller

February 6th, 2018

Book Review: Women & Power: A Manifesto by Mary Beard

4 comments | 2 shares

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

Rose Deller

February 6th, 2018

Book Review: Women & Power: A Manifesto by Mary Beard

4 comments | 2 shares

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

100 years ago today, on 6 February 1918, the Representation of the Peoples’ Act gave all men over the age of 21 and some women over the age of 30 the vote in national elections in the UK. Yet, notwithstanding this moment of considerable progress, women remain underrepresented in the seats of power. In Women and Power: A Manifesto, Mary Beard explores this continued exclusion as a consequence of women’s fraught relations with the act of public speaking. This is a timely, witty and impatient examination of the damaging ways that our societies perpetuate women’s silence and is required reading for those who see the fight for gender equality as over, finds Samantha Fu

This book review has been translated into Mandarin by Jessie Lau and proof-read by Fei Yuan (Mandarin LN808-2, teacher Fei Yuan) as part of the LSE Reviews in Translation project, a collaboration between LSE Language Centre and LSE Review of Books. Please scroll down to read this translation or click here.

Women & Power: A Manifesto. Mary Beard. Profile Books. 2017.

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Philomela in Metamorphoses. Penelope in The Odyssey. Lavinia in Titus Andronicus. ‘When it comes to silencing women, Western culture has had thousands of years of practice,’ Mary Beard writes in her latest work, Women & Power: A Manifesto. In this short volume adapted from two lectures delivered in 2014 and 2017, Beard dissects the reasons for this particular brand of male viciousness by looking to the conventions of ancient history.

The narrative is a tired and familiar one: notwithstanding the considerable progress of preceding decades, women remain underrepresented at the highest echelons of society, whether in government, academia or private sector organisations. You don’t have to be a feminist to know the stats. What we don’t know is why. In Women & Power, Beard attempts to illuminate the status quo by untangling the classical roots of modern misogyny.

While any mention of the word manifesto conjures for me images of dusty treatises filled with undecipherable jargon, Beard’s work is surprisingly accessible, written in sharp and at times humorous prose, and, at just over 100 pages, can be easily digested in one sitting. At its heart, Women & Power is about the continued exclusion of women from modern structures of power – whether in parliament or at the head of global conglomerates. Beard argues convincingly that this is largely a result of our gender’s fraught history with the act of public speaking. As a Professor of Classics at Cambridge, she looks comfortably to the Greco-Roman world for answers, beginning with Telemachus’s put-down of his mother, Penelope, in The Odyssey. ‘Mother,’ he allegedly says, ‘go back up into your quarters, and take up your own work […] speech will be the business of men.’ In other words: ‘shut up and make me a sandwich.’

Image Credit: (craftivist collective CC BY 2.0)

Beard is uncomfortably familiar with such snubs – as an active user of social media, she’s received a shocking amount of abuse, much of which she’s described as ‘truly vile’ and which would be inappropriate to reproduce here. She asserts that the reason women speaking in public provokes such a vicious response is because ‘public speech was a – if not the – defining attribute of maleness’ in ancient times. Accordingly, any woman who dared infringe on male territory was ruthlessly silenced. In the classical world, this sometimes meant the removal of tongues or women’s transformation into animals like cows.

While modern-day tactics are usually lacking in such high drama, the parallels cannot be denied. An apropos example comes in the form of the silencing of US Senator Elizabeth Warren in 2017 as she attempted to read a letter from Coretta Scott King on the Senate floor. Senator Warren was reciting King’s letter in protest of the appointment of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General when Republican senators voted to formally silence her for ‘impugning the motives and conduct’ of her (naturally) male colleague. The incident, while seen as appalling to modern sensibilities, highlights at least one thing we can be thankful for: the invention of Twitter has provided a platform for massive public backlashes – albeit in the form of the hashtag (#NeverthelessShePersisted) – which certainly did not exist in Greek or Roman times.

Beard writes that the only two circumstances in which it was considered acceptable for a woman to speak publicly in the ancient world were to either testify as a victim or in defense of others. She notes that this inheritance remains with us today – the most widely applauded speeches by women are often those about the lot of women: think, for example, Hillary Clinton’s 1995 address to the UN Conference on Women (‘human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights, once and for all’) and the suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst’s 1913 Freedom or Death speech in Connecticut (‘there is only one way out – you must give those women the vote’).

Through the judicious use of classical examples, Beard traces the current underrepresentation of women in power to the historical exclusion of women from public speaking. As a society, she argues, we are unaccustomed to viewing women as authority figures or as having any sort of expertise outside the home. As such, women who do achieve a semblance of power are required to compensate for their femininity in various ways, from undergoing speech training to lower the timbre of their voices (as Margaret Thatcher did) to wearing trouser suits in an attempt to project masculinity (à la Angela Merkel). And herein lies Beard’s core proposition: if women are not perceived to fit into current structures of power, would it not behoove us to redefine those structures rather than demanding that women contort to suit them?

But while Beard lingers on the (albeit important) case for rethinking our deeply ingrained notions of power, she skims over the one suggestion offered up: that thinking about power differently means decoupling it from public prestige, entailing a move from thinking about it as a possession to thinking about it as an attribute. As evidence of viability, she offers up the Black Lives Matter movement, which was founded by three African-American women and is largely member-led. Yet the movement’s decentralised form of leadership has also been criticised as ineffective at times, resulting in confusion and the misrepresentation of its goals. Given such difficulties, it is unclear how such participatory leadership would work within more formal structures of power.

Notwithstanding the unsatisfactorily brief exploration of how to redefine the relationship of women to power, Beard nonetheless manages to thoroughly illustrate why women seem to have such an elusive relationship with its modern structures. She argues, in a voice that is wry, funny and often (rightly) impatient, that it is past time we redefined our conceptions of authority to provide space for women leaders. As a result, Women & Power is a timely examination of the damaging ways in which we are all complicit with women’s silence, and should be required reading for anyone who believes gender equality to be an issue of the past.

Samantha Fu is a graduate student in public policy at the London School of Economics and Political Science. With a background in economics and analytics, her interests lean towards using technology to address issues of economic and social disadvantage. You can find her on the interwebs at Read more by Samantha Fu.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics. 



《变形记》的菲勒,《奥德赛》的佩内洛普,《泰特斯安德洛尼克斯》的拉维尼亚 。 玛丽比尔德说:“关于沉默女人的行为,西方文化有数千年的历史和经验。” 玛丽比尔德这本书是基于她2014和2017年的演讲,而用古代历史的惯例来解释男性恶意的来源。


即使“宣言”这个字让这本书听起来像旧和充满行话的旧书,玛丽比尔德写的文章其实很容易读,里面有很幽默的散文。他的文章只有100多页。《妇女与权力》的主题是全社会权力结构一贯对妇女的排挤,无论在议会或者全球企业集团群里的排挤。玛丽比尔德很成功得争论:问题来自于性别与公开演讲的关系。作为一名剑桥大学的古典字教授,玛丽比尔很轻松地从道希腊罗马世界找到答案。她从忒勒马科斯和佩内洛普的故事《奥德赛》开始探索。在故事里,忒勒马科斯跟他的妈妈佩内洛普说:“妈妈,回房间做自己的事吧,别打扰我们男人的讨论。” 他的说话方式跟现在的西方俗话 “闭嘴然后做一个三明治给我!” 一模一样。

Image Credit: (craftivist collective CC BY 2.0)


虽然现代战术通常缺乏如此高的戏剧性,但这种相似之处不容否认。一个恰当的例子是美国参议员伊丽莎白·沃伦在2017年的沉默形式,因为她试图在参议院读取Coretta Scott King的一封信。参议员沃伦正在背诵国王的信,抗议任命杰夫塞申斯为司法部长,当时共和党参议员投票通过正式宣布她“谴责她(自然)男同事的动机和行为”。这一事件虽然被视为对现代情感的骇人听闻之事,但至少突出了一件我们可以感激的事情:Twitter的发明为大规模的公众抗议提供了一个平台 – 尽管是标签形式(#NeverthelessShePersisted) – 当然这样做了在希腊或罗马时代不存在。

比尔德写道,女性在古代世界公开发言被认为可以接受的唯一两种情况是要么作为受害者作证,要么作为其他人的辩护。她指出,这种遗产今天仍然存在于我们这里——女性最广泛称赞的言论往往是那些关于女性的话题:例如,希拉里·克林顿1995年在联合国妇女大会上的讲话(“人权是妇女的权利,妇女的权利就是人权,一劳永逸”)。女权主义者Emmeline Pankhurst在康涅狄格州的1913年“自由或死亡”演讲(“只有一条出路 – 你必须给那些女性投票”)。


但是,虽然比尔德徘徊在重新思考我们根深蒂固的权力概念的(尽管很重要的)案例中,但她略过了提出的一个建议:不同地思考权力意味着将其与公共声望脱钩,从而不再将其视为一种公共声望。拥有将其视为一种属性。作为生存能力的证据,她提供了Black Lives Matter运动,该运动由三位非洲裔美国女性创立,主要由会员主导。然而,该运动的分散式领导形式也被批评为有时无效,导致混乱和对其目标的歪曲。鉴于这些困难,目前尚不清楚这种参与性领导如何在更正式的权力结构中发挥作用。


Samantha Fu是伦敦政治经济学院公共政策研究生。凭借经济学和分析学的背景,她的兴趣倾向于使用技术来解决经济和社会劣势问题。你可以在samanthafu.com的interwebs上找到她。阅读Samantha Fu的更多内容。


Jessie Lau is a writer, editor and researcher passionate about exploring gender, ethnicity, social policy and identity in China and other parts of Asia. Her writing has been published by the South China Morning Post, The Economist and Quartz, among others. Now pursuing a MSc in international history at the London School of Economics, she holds an LLM in international studies from Peking University and a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of California, Berkeley. Twitter @_laujessie  Website:


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Rose Deller

Posted In: Contributions from LSE Staff and Students | Gender and Sexuality | History | Politics | Reviews in Translation | Translated Reviews


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This work by LSE Review of Books is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 UK: England & Wales.