Women & Power: A Manifesto

by Mary Beard

Hardcover, 2017




Liveright (2017), Edition: 1, 128 pages


Two essays connect the past with the present, tracing the history of misogyny to its ancient roots and examining the pitfalls of gender.


½ (288 ratings; 4)

Media reviews

It’s a tonic to encounter a book that doesn’t just describe the scale of a problem but suggests remedies — and exciting ones at that. One solution recommended by Beard — enacted by her, really — is to cheerfully stand your ground. Beard is active on Twitter, where she famously engages
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with the legion of trolls who pick apart her work, age and appearance. She refuses to quit social media despite abuse that has extended to death threats. “It feels to me like leaving the bullies in charge of the playground,” she wrote on her blog after recent attacks against her. “It’s rather too much like what women have been advised to do for centuries. Don’t answer back, and just turn away.”
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User reviews

LibraryThing member Eyejaybee
Mary Beard is one of our leading academics, and perhaps deserves ‘national treasure’ status for her ceaseless work to promote the value, and continuing relevance, of the great works of Latin and Greek literature. She has, sadly, attracted mindless opprobrium form a small but highly vocal band
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of inadequates who have subjected her to vicious trolling across social media. Fortunately, at whatever inner cost, she has ignored the moronic trolls, and continued her work to try to illuminate our understanding of the modern world through her exposition of the ancient one.

This book draws in part upon her own experiences at the hands of the trolls, and explores the way in which women have consistently been denied the right to speak, citing examples from the Odyssey and other works of antiquity, and comparing their tone to equally constricting attitudes that still abound today. Clarity of thought and expression were fundamental aspects of successful classical oratory and rhetoric, and Beard demonstrates how vital they remain today, and how women should be alert to them in order to avoid being marginalised.

I always find it a delight to read pellucid and thoughtful prose, and that is evident throughout this book. In our role as drafters of ministerial correspondence, my colleagues and I used to aspire to our ABC mantra of Accuracy, Brevity and Clarity. This book demonstrates how powerful those three writer’s weapons can be.
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LibraryThing member lisapeet
Short, compelling—kind of a stub, a conversation and train-of-thought starter rather than a fully realized treatise. Manifesto's a good word, because it's a jumping-off point. Or should be. (Will be, in my case—a friend proposed it for a pop-up book club this weekend, so we're gonna talk about
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LibraryThing member Dabble58
Oh Mary Beard! I am so disappointed in you. I love virtually everything else you write. Your knowledge of the world is global and deep. This book however is not. I think this would be lovely for someone who hasn't read anything else, who doesn't know about history, who hasn't grown up over the last
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50 years or so. For me, it wasn't anything new. And that made me sad.

For those who are thinking about reading this book, do it. Anything by Mary Beard is better than virtually anything else you could read in the nonfiction side of writing. Then, go read her other books. Spend the time. You won't regret it.
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LibraryThing member ritaer
You wouldn't think that a middle-aged classicist would attract the attention of the internet trolldom. You would be wrong. By appearing on television classical historian Mary Beard, of Cambridge University, managed to garner all sorts of attacks on her appearance, personality, sexuality and general
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right to be a public person. I mean how dare she expose an unwitting public to grey hair, a visibly middle-aged face and a lack of any effort toward sex appeal. Being an intellectual, her reaction was to think about the origins of these attitudes--the idea that women should keep quiet and never challenge men and generally not be a public presence except in a decorative manner. Not surprisingly, Beard finds examples of "sit down and shut up, woman" in our earliest literature. Interesting and well written.
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LibraryThing member over.the.edge
Women and Power:A Manifesto
By Mary Beard
Liveright Publishing Corporation

This pocket size book was interesting and thought provoking. I think she has a point....it's not power, it's the notion that it's obtainable for all women.
The aim is to take a long view "on the culturally awkward relation
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between the voice of women in the public sphere of speech making, debate, and comment...
"Get beyond simple diagnosis of "misogyny" and understand "women, even when they are not silenced, still have a high price to pay for being heard." Amen to that.

"Think harder about how exactly we might go about re-configuring these notions of 'power' that now exclude all but a few women."
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LibraryThing member CarrieWuj
Scholarly look at how women are silenced through Greek classics (Penelope in the Odyssey) to present day.
LibraryThing member meandmybooks
Sadly, if not surprisingly, Beard fails to propose any likely “solutions” to a problem which has dogged western civilization since... well, forget the “since.” Beard sticks to western civilization, focusing mostly on the ancient Greeks, Romans, then modern U.S., British, and German
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instances, so she cites Telemachus's famous “shushing” of his mother, Penelope, as an early example.

Her book consists of two lectures, one originally given in 2014, the other in 2017, plus short introduction and conclusion, and what she offers is not “how” to fix things, but a really excellent framing of the situation. She suggests that the traditional way women succeed in a male dominated power structure is to imitate men. The “power suit” and Margaret Thatcher's voice-lowering lessons are examples, and Beard points out that these, while an effective “work-around” in some cases, are hardly a long term solution to a society wide & deep problem. Real change, she argues, would involve a new and different understanding of “power” itself, one which was unrelated to depth of voice or style of dress, and which would not imply that women are only interested in “their” issues.

However hard it is to imagine a true end to the power imbalance between men and women, correctly framing and fully recognizing the extent of the problem is surely the necessary first step.
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LibraryThing member akblanchard
Classicist Mary Beard's published lectures on the history of the relationship between women, silence, and power are absorbing, but they don't exactly qualify as a "manifesto" ("a written statement declaring publicly the intentions, motives, or views of its issuer," according to Merriam-Webster).
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Still Beard's connections between the modern political scene and Ancient Greek values are illuminating and well worth exploring. I wish this slight book had been longer.
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LibraryThing member konastories
Joy's review: two thoughtful and though-provoking essays on the pervasive biases against women in western culture. A required read for anyone who thinks it might be easy to gain social equality or that there's no such thing as systemic sexism.
LibraryThing member bookomaniac
I knew Mary Beard from her sound television series about the Roman Empire, in which she hopped through Rome and without many complexes introduces us in the daily toil and sweat of Roman (and non-Roman) men and women. I also knew her from her thick, standard work on the history of Rome, which has
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been calling for a over year now, here on one of my reading boards, to be read. And I had also seen a short interview on the BBC with her about feminism and how she, because of her long, white hair, every time she made a public appearance as a Rome expert was called a witch, and much worse, on the social media. That is why this small, but very nicely published book did attract my attention.

The booklet contains two lectures she gave in recent years about the position of women, both in the ancient world and in our present. Of course, despite all the progress, she sees a lot of parallels and she illustrates this in a fascinating way. But she also gives a fundamental comment, which has been circulating for a while in the feminist debate: should we, as women, at all costs strive to break through the glass ceiling? And of course she thinks they should. But should they not rather change the interpretation given to power, change the structure of it itself? "You can not easily fit women into a structure that is already coded as male; you have to change the structure. That means thinking about power differently. It means decoupling it from public prestige. It means thinking collaboratively, about the power of followers and not just leaders. It means, above all, thinking about power as an attribute or even a verb ('to power'), not as a possession. What I have in mind is the ability to be effective, to make a difference in the world, and the right to be taken seriously, together as much as individually. "
According to me, you absolutely not have be a woman to endorse this!
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LibraryThing member adzebill
"Thankfully, not everything we do or think goes back directly or indirectly to the Greeks and Romans." But she makes good parallels between the way outspoken women were treated in the Classics, and today.
LibraryThing member steller0707
Mary Beard is absolutely brilliant in these two lectures, The Public Voice Of Women delivered in 2014 and Women in Power delivered in 2017. In her academician’s voice she traces the dominant voice of men and the suppression of that of women in the public sphere, citing examples from Greek and
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Roman literature, her specialty. There are a few more modern literature references, as well as the perception of women’s voices in today’s media. She chronicles her own experience of abusive reaction to her writing, the silencing of Elizabeth Warren in the US Senate and the treatment of prominent world leaders such as Theresa May and Hillary Clinton, citing them as examples that we need to think differently about the structure of power:

We have to be more reflective about what power is, what it is for, and how it is measured. To put it another way, if women are not perceived to be fully within the structures of power, surely it is power that we need to redefine rather than women?

Start a conversation; discuss it with your friends. This is a manifesto. Beard doesn’t claim to have a solution. But has carefully laid out the case for one.
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LibraryThing member japaul22
These two short lectures are adapted into essays discussing the silencing of women and the separation of women from power. Beard uses her extensive knowledge of Greek and Roman culture to explore the earliest roots of misogyny and shows how these earliest ideas are sadly still a part of our
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culture. These essays are smart, clear, calm, and to-the-point. Definitely recommended.
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LibraryThing member arosoff
Short but effective look at women, language, and power.
LibraryThing member BenKline
Finished this today at work. Its two lectures (one in 2014, and one in 2017) that Mary Beard gave. (Slightly annotated to include a few Trump things and discuss Hillary a teeny bit more, and a bit more of a take on Theresa May.)

I will say calling this a "manifesto" is a bit of a disappointment.
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While it is similar in that to say The Communist Manifesto (in both size, and similar style) it really doesn't delve into any too-deep thoughts (whereas the Communist Manifesto does moreso). Likewise, with this just being two lectures put into one volume, its hard to call that a manifesto (in my opinion). I had never heard/read her lectures before, so these were at least new to me, but it still felt like there was a lot more there- a lot more substance that could be touched on.

Its a good 'starting point' piece of work. I had never heard of Mary Beard before or read her works (though I have heard of SPQR in a "you have to read this" kind of fashion), so her lecturing/writing style is pretty good. A bit 'cheeky' (to use one of her English phrases), but right on, and poignant.

I do however think there were a few flaws in her argument (and argument style). While I understand the silencing, and that is a huge aspect of the problems women face, I don't generally think that was necessarily the purpose/plan of the Greeks/Romans, but it very well could be, I think her argument is a bit of a 'reach' or giving a modern viewpoint to people of the past. Granted, she has a lot more knowledge on this area/topic (both in women relations, and the Greek/Roman studies; as well as being a woman herself compared to me being a man) than I do. I also think her point during the lecture on how the memes against Hillary were "worse", is a far stretch. I'm by no means a Trump apologist or endorser, but I think he was satirized just as much (if not MORE than Hillary; which in some weird grotesque way may have helped him, and radicalized his base more for him, than it did for Hillary). While I do think Hillary's gender did play a large role in the election, I think it was more her way of being 'in that gender' rather than solely the gender itself. Some of that also was her opponent, I think any other election, her gender is far more marginalized and downplayed, but she ran into the proverbial buzzsaw in Trump and that his over the top antics played perfectly with his group. Also I think her take on the political memes was a bit of the liberal blindness to their own actions (its NOT OK when Republicans/far right use memes to attack our person based on Quality X [for Hillary, her gender], but its perfectly ok for us to use memes to attack THEIR person based on Quality Y [namely Trump's weight, his handsize, his orange skin tone], this seems to happen and be very prevalent and overlooked by the liberals themselves who are guilty of it.)

There were a few other minor elements to some of her arguments that I think a fair reading, and keen observation makes its own rebuttal. In the second lecture, primarily about empowering women into roles of power (ie. parliament, CEOs, high level jobs, President, etc.) Beard states how there needs to be more fair representation of women in these roles (and I certainly agree - obviously under the caveat of deserving it and attain these roles through skill rather than merely to appease), and in one particular point she states how WELL represented women are in the Rwanda parliament post-civil war, giving a very high percentage (the book is not on hand right now and off the top of my head I believe she states 85% female representation). Which she says "sounds amazing", but then no more than two sentences later says, "Though, I can't help but wonder if there's this much representation by women in the parliament, if that maybe means that this is not where the power REALLY IS."

Which it seems obvious how this is a problem for your debate and argument. You can't prop up the point that you need more females in parliament or representation of women in prominent roles.... and then once data shows they have it, or once they get it, you then turn around and say "well I guess since we have this, it shows this isn't where the power truly is."

And I do understand the meaning behind her sentiment. Its ultimately a very heavy skeptic and cynical view. Its likewise a typical 'minority' view (not using this in a derogatory statement, using it in a mathematical 'minority'.) I've seen it quite a fair bit with African-American and Hispanic viewpoints on things well if we are finally getting X it must mean the whites don't care if we have X and therefore X is no longer worthy, or something to aspire for, or valuable. Kind of a weird version of diminishing returns. If I give you a Dollar a day to do Task 1, and then later start giving you only 50 cents, and then later give you a dime, by the time you only get 5 cents for the same task... even if its a simple, mundane, easy to do task, that takes no effort to do, the fact that you use to make 1$ for it, and are now making 0.05$ for it, you no longer want to do it. And I think thats a bit of her stance with this, which both is plausible and undermining at the same time. An analogy I gave a coworker when discussing that passage was if you were to say Peyton Manning or Tom Brady is the best Quarterback ever, but then proceed to list everything he's done wrong while not bringing up the things that make him the best QB ever.... does it really prove your point?

One last thing about something she might have been better served not bringing up, is the connection to how three women created/founded the Black Lives Matter. Which is a very controversial topic/group/subject in and of itself. This is a group that has done a lot of GOOD things... as well as a fair amount of BAD things.... so I'm not sure its a positive to lean on the women founding them and that we don't know these women's names, insomuch as its just a typical left-side of things pro-feminism type of thing to have to point them out. Especially in the sense that pro-feminism seems to (moderately, and currently in 2017/2018) takes an anti-white-male stance and seemingly much ire that in the past has been cast on males/men in general, now gets pinned on white men in particular, primarily due to their/the belief that they are ultimately the ones in power (especially in the USA/UK). Whilst this isn't objectively or subjectively wrong, it is a point worth noting. And I don't think ALL pro-feminists or feminists themselves are anti-white-males, it does seem to be the 'in' thing to do.

So, this is definitely an interesting look, and a good STARTING POINT. I think a much more substantial piece of work needs to be written and produced - possibly by Beard herself, or other women, but it is definitely something that NEEDS to be done, and this is the best climate to do it in now. I definitely foresee something in that vein being produced by the end of 2018/early 2019, and I hope it happens, and I hope I get a chance to read it, and I hope it's as good as it should (and NEEDS to) be.
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LibraryThing member thewestwing
Very thought provoking read. As it is based on lectures, it really is just a starting point of the discussion. Would love for Beard to write a more fleshed out version. But even in so few pages, I got a lot out of it.
LibraryThing member smorton11
Emma Watson, hero to many young women, recently acknowledged that her position as a feminist comes with a dollop of white privilege. All things considered, as white, straight women raised in Western cultures, we are considerably better off in society than any LGBTQIA woman or women of color. This
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recently has made me realize that we are not only campaigning for equal rights for women, but that an additional hurdle, one that has been too often overlooked by straight, white women, needs to be addressed as well. I do not have the experiences of someone other than myself and I hope that as I continue to advocate for change, I embrace change for all, and that I do not rest on my laurels once I have achieved change for myself and those just like me, but that I continue crusading for all women.

Now, on to the review! Women and power, what a Pandora’s box of discussion topics such a title evokes. While I don’t have any recollection of being told to shut up, I have definitely been talked over until someone assumed that I would give up and be quiet. Which I wouldn’t. My mom always taught me that I was as strong as my voice and my voice was as strong as me. Basically, the only way to effect change would be to keep talking until I could no longer be ignored. It didn’t always serve me well, but I would always stand up for myself though throughout most of my high school years, I was called a bitch behind my back. Thankfully social media was not widely used back in the early ‘aughts.

My mom worked in education administration and would often be the only woman at meetings. Which always seemed to weird to me – the majority of teachers are women, but most principals and administrators are men. As her daughter, who also pursued a career in education, I struggled to get a reaction that wasn’t “Oh, you’re Amy’s daughter.” So I did the most patriarchal thing I could – changed my last name, my whole identity, when I got married, just so I wouldn’t constantly be compared to my mother or judged by some men’s perceptions of her position in the state educational system.

Every sentence, every phrase, Mary Beard hits the nail on the head. And, like most women, she doesn’t have an answer for how things can change. I don’t think any of us do. Sexism and misogyny is so rampant in cultures world wide that it is going to take a lot more than a few speeches for things to change. But I have to believe that they will. I have to believe that the great reckoning is coming for all those, men and women alike, who have aided in the silencing of women and, in the case of women, their peers. Until we all stand together and listen with respect to each other, we will fail to see forward progress.
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LibraryThing member annbury
Mary Beard's "SPQR" is one of my favorite books, I knew her difficult history with internet trolls, and expected great things from this book. It was interesting, and it underlines the misogyny of Greek and Roman culture, from which our own has borrowed so much. But it doesn't deal with the fact
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that it wasn't just the Greeks and Romans, or western culture; misogyny seems to be a human trait. And while her point that what needs to be changed isn't women, it's the power structure, that's hardly new news. Don't regret reading it, but I won't recommend it to my neo-feminist book club, as I had expected to do.
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LibraryThing member Eavans
A well-put-together reminder of the fight we still have ahead as women when seeking power. These little books always promise a lovely afternoon and so rarely deliver: that is not the case here. Beard is able to create and defend an argument much better than most authors' similarly-small manifestos
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I've read, and for that, I give a deep bow.
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LibraryThing member SocProf9740
A quick and witty read for a general audience.
LibraryThing member raschneid
Well damn, that was timely.


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7.6 inches


1631494759 / 9781631494758
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