Women & Power
by Mary Beard
Women & Power, by Mary Beard, is a written collection in the form of essays, of two speeches that Mary Beard delivered in 2014 and 2017. The essays focus on the roots of misogyny in the western world, and the relationship that women have had with it throughout history. It serves mostly to draw attention to, and eloquently explain sexism and how powerful women are perceived. Reading this definitely drove me to self-reflect and examine whether I held some of these attitudes unconsciously, which I do believe is beneficial to my work as counselor.
The first essay, titled The Public Voice of Women, examines how throughout history, men have silenced women as a way of keeping them “in their place,” and that when women do speak out, they are ridiculed, accused of disrupting the natural order, and even attacked. Many examples of this silencing of women are given, from Telemachus telling his mom to stop talking in the Odyssey, to the Miss Triggs cartoon, in which it is captioned, “that’s an excellent suggestion, Miss Triggs. Perhaps one of the men here would like to make it.” The essay goes on to outline how modern women are still being given this same treatment. They are called “shrill, whining, and demanding” when they make their voices heard in public, and called annoying as an excuse not to take what they say seriously. Women’s voices have been portrayed as inappropriate and unworthy throughout western history, and that has seeped into our modern culture, in which we often equate “authority” to “maleness.” The essay concludes with a call for consciousness-raising about which voices we consider to be “voices of authority,” and whether those are actually based on the gender of the voice itself.
The second essay, titled Women in Power, analyzes how even though the number of women in power is greater now than it ever has been, everything from metaphors that we use to describe female access to power (“knocking on the door, storming the citadel, smashing the glass ceiling, and power grab”), to the ancient characters to which we compare powerful women (Medusa), are indicative of our culture’s attitude that women belong on the outside of power. The essay concludes without very much hope or any ideas for how to change this, but the author does note in the afterword that the “Me Too” movement has given her hope of improvement.
Courtesy of Erin Reed, Sonoma State University, Graduate School of Counseling, Spring 2019.