An effective and incisive manifesto, Women & Power by Mary Beard once again underlines that clichéd notion that directs us to conclude, that in order to understand our present we must first understand the heralded acts of our past. Whilst Beard is known primarily as one of ‘Britain’s best known classicists’ and a promoter of our ancient forbears, she cedes most willingly that it is certainly time we reassessed the nature of the Greco-Roman societies; particularly the pedestal on which they currently stand as scholarly exemplars, and the role that women were forced to play within these historic frameworks.
Her piece draws upon – among many other examples – the gendered binaries of both Homer’s Odyssey, and Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, and notes the passive statuette of Homer’s domesticated Penelope (the private woman), and the idiotic portrayal of Aristophanes’ public servant Lysistrata (the public’s spokeswoman). Beard demonstrates the almost unbridgeable gap between these spheres, differentiates how these complex anxieties are undoubtedly caught up in how one regards auditory power, and demonstrates the need to understand these evolving issues with historic clarity when analysing current political and social norms. Whilst perhaps not the most wholistic or dynamic narration of the subject, this 100 page discourse nonetheless offers an amicable first glimpse to the individual looking over the precipice toward feminist literature. For all genders, Women & Power offers an insight into the historic calamity which has been the oppression of the powerless by the powerful. Yet perhaps all clichés do not have to prove true; firstly, as exemplified by Mary Beard – the so-called ‘losers’ can indeed write effective history. Secondly, for those uncomfortable with the prospect of shared power (e.g. my disagreeable brothers in arms), for one to cede power to another does not make oneself powerless.