Women and Power Book Summary - Women and Power Book explained in key points
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Women and Power summary

Mary Beard

A Manifesto

4.1 (53 ratings)
23 mins

Brief summary

Women and Power by Mary Beard explores the ancient roots of misogyny in the Western world, tracing it to the silencing of women's voices in ancient Greece's political arena and providing a provocative new interpretation of the Odyssey.

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    Women and Power
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    The idea of women successfully wielding power was risible or disturbing to Greeks and Romans.

    Distant though the worlds of classical Greece and Rome may seem, there’s no doubt whatsoever that their impact on modern Western societies is pervasive. Scratch below the surface, and you’ll see the classical foundations underlying many cultural institutions and presumptions, especially when it comes to women.

    Notably, Greek cultural tradition – and Athenian drama in particular – contains a wealth of powerful female characters.

    However, these are hardly positive portraits. These women are characterized as monstrous hybrids, assuming male qualities and usurping power typically held by men. Moreover, the assumption of power by female characters in these stories often ends in disaster, mirroring the cultural perception of women and “justifying” their exclusion from the political sphere.

    Just consider Aeschylus’s play Agamemnon from 458 BCE. It’s set during the Trojan War: King Agamemnon heads off to fight, leaving his wife, Clytemnestra behind as ruler. However, putting a woman in charge doesn’t go well. Upon Agamemnon’s return, Clytemnestra murders him while he bathes. The “natural” patriarchal order is restored only when her children overthrow and murder her.

    It wasn’t just that women were seen as illegitimate rulers, but that when they held the reins of power, the Greeks depicted them as distinctly unwomanly.

    Let’s return to Clytemnestra. Aeschylus deliberately uses male-oriented language when he describes her with the adjective “androboulon,” which roughly translates as something like “with manly purpose” or “thinking like a man.”

    Conversely, the warrior goddess Athena, the patron deity of Athens, has often been taken as a positive example of a powerful female figure. But her depiction is also problematic. That’s because soldiering was exclusively for men in Greek culture. Additionally, Athena was traditionally a virgin, meaning she was very distinct from the role usually associated with women, which was producing new citizens.

    In fact, from the Greek perspective, Athena was hardly a woman at all!

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    What is Women and Power about?

    In Women and Power (2017), Mary Beard brings her considerable expertise and wry wit to bear on history's treatment of powerful women. Britain's best-known classicist retells stories from the ancient world and brings her analytical insight to the modern day. Beard explores the cultural roots of misogyny, the vilification of women’s voices, and asks whether it’s time for power to be redefined.

    Women and Power Review

    Women and Power (2017) challenges the long-standing association between power and masculinity, exploring how women have been marginalized throughout history. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • It presents a fascinating analysis of ancient myths, shedding light on how they have shaped our perception of power dynamics.
    • By examining the silencing of women's voices in both politics and literature, Beard highlights the systemic obstacles women have faced for centuries.
    • The book's thought-provoking insights on gender, power, and society spark deep reflection and offer a fresh perspective on inequalities that persist today.

    Who should read Women and Power?

    • History buffs
    • People interested in feminism
    • People looking for context to current discussions about sexual harassment, abuse of power and the #MeToo movement

    About the Author

    Mary Beard is a professor of classics at the University of Cambridge, a fellow of Newnham College and the British Academy as well as a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She has been classics editor of the Times Literary Supplement since 1992. She has hosted numerous television programs on the classical world including Civilizations and Julius Caesar Revealed and published best-sellers such as Pompeii and SPQR.

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    Women and Power FAQs 

    What is the main message of Women and Power?

    The main message of Women and Power is the examination of women's exclusion from power and how it has been perpetuated throughout history.

    How long does it take to read Women and Power?

    The reading time for Women and Power varies depending on the reader. However, the Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Women and Power a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Women and Power is a worthwhile read for those interested in understanding the historical context of women's exclusion from power.

    Who is the author of Women and Power?

    The author of Women and Power is Mary Beard.

    How many chapters are in Women and Power?

    There are no chapters in Women and Power.

    How many pages are in Women and Power?

    Women and Power contains 128 pages.

    When was Women and Power published?

    Women and Power was published in 2017.

    What to read after Women and Power?

    If you're wondering what to read next after Women and Power, here are some recommendations we suggest:
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    • Hagakure by Yamamoto Tsunetomo & Alexander Bennett
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    • Surrounded by Idiots by Thomas Erikson
    • You Are a Badass at Making Money by Jen Sincero
    • The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss
    • How You Say It by Katherine D. Kinzler
    • The Anxious Generation by Jonathan Haidt