Mary Beard – Women & Power: A Manifesto

At the weekend, we went to Hardwick Hall where we learnt all about Bess of Hardwick – an incredible woman who faught against the patriachy and did some amazing things (Chatsworth House – yep, that was her building project too). They had a great video explaining the various ways that the history of this woman has been written to diminish her achievements, even down to the language used to portray her.

After we’d finished going round the hall (and after an obligatory slice of National Trust cake), we ended up in the gift shop, where they had a stand of ‘feminist’ books, curated around Bess’s influence. This one stood out to me initially because of the gorgeous cover, but when I turned it over and read the quote on the back, I knew I had to read it.

“You cannot easily fit women into a structure that is already coded as male; you have to change the structure.”

The book is a printing of two speeches given by Mary Beard in 2014 and 2017. I think calling it a ‘manifesto’ is probably going a bit too far, I think it could have done with a third section of ‘the future’, with ways that we can start to make changes. There were many connections made in what was written that I think could have been expanded on more in a third section, but I did find what I read very compelling.

With so many historical examples of women being quieted or excluded from power in ancient times, all the way through to current problems with Twitter and politics, the book was clearly very well researched and I couldn’t help but be drawn in by what was written.

It actually felt quite obvious for me that this had initially been a spoken piece, as the flow was very engaging and structured in such a way that it kept my focus the entire way through – although at around 100 pages for the whole book, it didn’t take a huge amount of time to read.

“But in every way, the shared metaphors we use of female access to power – ‘knocking on the door’, ‘storming the citadel’, ‘smashing the glass ceiling’, or just giving them a ‘leg up’ – underline female exteriority. Women in power are seen as breaking down barriers, or alternatively as taking something to which they are not quite entitled.”

I feel like I could quote so many sentences from this book, I spent most of my time reading it nodding along in agreement or feeling like she had put into words something that I had already been thinking but didn’t have the words to say. I think this book should be a must-read, and I’m definitely going to look to read more books from this author in the future!

My rating: 5/5Average rating: 4.08
115 pages. Published in: 2017
Read in Hardbackon 23rd June 2019

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