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Women and Power by Mary Beard

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RATING: 4/5

REVIEW: I’ve wanted to read this book since its release, and was really excited when a colleague lent it to me last week. I read it in one sitting and really enjoyed it; Beard dealt with a lot of interesting issues facing women today, linking these back to classical Greek and Roman examples as well as examples from later history. This is both fascinating and terrifying; it succeeds in making the reader feel we are not alone, as these attitudes have always been faced by women – but by the same premise, this then horrifies us that we are still facing prejudices that date back to the time of Homer and his Odyssey.

The book consists of two essay-style pieces, which Beard delivered as lectures. The first, ‘The Public Voice of Women’, looks at how women’s voices are suppressed daily in public life, from the culture of mansplaining to the booing and hollering over women MP’s who try to speak in Parliament. The second follows on from this theme, looking more closely at ‘Women in Power’ and how they are judged and treated, their images transformed into something irrefutably masculine in order to make them more acceptable to wider society. I really enjoyed reading this, as I have frequently noticed with anger the attitudes towards female politicians in the news and in headlines, which often tend to focus on their clothing or mock their speeches – I’m by no means the biggest fan of Teresa May, but I was upset on her behalf at how much she was mocked for the terrible cough she suffered from during her party conference speech.

This book is really interesting, and I agreed with all of Beard’s points made in both essays. I both loved and hated the link to Classical times, purely because of the fact that it upset me to realise how little progress in fundamental attitudes towards women has really been made, and therefore how far we still have to go. I would have liked more of an in-depth discussion on mainsplaining, as this is one of my absolute pet hates as a woman and also fits in well with both topics of discussion, yet it was only mentioned briefly. Overall, however, I would highly recommend these essays and am fully supportive of Beard’s point of view and arguments.

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Men Explain Things To Me and Other Essays by Rebecca Solnit

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RATING: 5/5

BLURB: “In her iconic essay ‘Men Explain Things to me’, Rebecca Solnit investigates the conversations of men who wrongly assume they know things and wrongly assume women don’t. This famous and influential essay is included here along with the best of Solnit’s feminist writings. From rape culture to grandmothers, from French sex scandals to marriage and the nuclear family, and from Virginia Woolf to colonialism, these essays are a fierce and incisive exploration of the issues that a patriarchal culture will not neccessarily acknowledge as ‘issues’ at all.”

REVIEW: I have considered myself a feminist from the moment I was old enough to understand what the term meant, and have recently decided to read more feminist texts in order to increase my understanding and awareness of the issues we face on the road to achieving equality between men and women. Solnit’s collection of essays is both fascinating and horrifying; it is also worrying how many of her examples I recognised through either witnessing similar scenarios or being involved on them. Her title essay, ‘Men Explain Things to Me’, describes an experience Solnit had in which a man decided to lecture her on the topic of a book she had recently read, using her own book as the basis of his knowledge without imagining that she could possibly have been the author. I am sure many women have also had an experience of ‘mainsplaining’ – it happened to me in a university seminar only a couple of months ago, where I was lectured by a tutor who possessed a very patriarchal view of Mary Shelley and her novel ‘Frankenstein’, without realising that I had not only studied both author and work in detail, but am also an avid fan. Her essay ‘The Longest War’, which talks about the statistical rates and experiences of rape, sexual violence and domestic abuse across the world, was particularly striking and terrifying, and one that hit close to home as I have a close friend who as a result of a rape that took place forty years ago has never been able to live a normal life. Solnit’s essay on marriage equality was another one that really stood out for me. This collection of essays is wonderfully written, engaging and definitely enough to light a fire even in those who may not yet identify with the idea of feminism. I would highly recommend it.