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Book Club Series — Women & Power: A Manifesto

“You cannot easily fit women into a structure that is already coded as male; you have to change the structure.”
― Mary Beard, Women & Power: A Manifesto

Welcome to the Women for Women International Book Club! This month we’re reading Women & Power: A Manifesto by Mary Beard. 

This duo of essays “The Public Voice of Women” and “Women and Power, explores the origins of misogyny through ancient records and modern memory. It highlights the consistent efforts to silence women’s’ voices in the public sphere and is the perfect addition to celebrate International Women’s Day as we unleash our voices and use our #PowertoChange!

Don’t forget to join the #WFWIBookClub Facebook Group…

We’ve launched a space for passionate readers like you to dive deeper and connect with each other while exploring women’s power. We hope you’ll join the discussion online!

Join the #WFWIBookClub Facebook Group

Why Women & Power: A Manifesto is important...

Celebrate International Women’s Day with us by reading Women & Power and sharing your thoughts on this feminist manifesto.
This concise and thought-provoking collection looks back on how women’s voices have been silenced throughout the centuries. From ancient Greece and Telemachus’ dismissal of his mother, Penelope, in the Odyssey to the Roman world in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, which silenced women in the process of their own transformation.

Honor the women who used their voices in the public sphere then and now… Women who faced ridicule, who jeopardized their reputations and paved the way for women to lead. Question your own unconscious biases of women in power and gender roles that have remained consistent through time, then unpack what needs to be done to dismantle them. 

Beard explores what it means to be a woman in power, and why that is such a threat to cultural norms. As she puts it: 
“Public speech was a—if not the—defining attribute of maleness. Or, to quote a well-known Roman slogan, the elite male citizen could be summed up as vir bonus dicendi peritus, ‘a good man, skilled in speaking.’ A woman speaking in public was, in most circumstances, by definition not a woman.”

Mary Beard’s manifesto proposes that we’re each being called to redefine the power dynamic to be inclusive and collaborative – a dynamic that is designed to serve the many rather than serve its leaders. It’s long past time to reclaim our public voices and take our places as women in power. 

We hope you’ll join us in reading Women & Power and celebrate International Women’s Day as we harness our #PowertoChange!  

Discussion Questions

Check out the discussion questions below and connect with readers on Instagram to share your reactions, thoughts and questions by using the hashtag #WFWIBookClub, and tagging us with @womenforwomen. We want to hear what you think—share your take on the book with us! 

  1. After reading Women & Power, did you become aware of any unconscious biases you may have of women in positions of power?
  2. Can you share an example of “the mechanisms that silence women” in politics, the workplace, home life, and/or everyday encounters?
  3. Beard argues that ignoring misogynistic remarks allows the people making them to continue to think it is acceptable to do so. What are barriers to speaking out against everyday misogyny? What are ways to break down those barriers? 
  4. Have you ever felt pressure to present yourself according to a certain gender norm based on the role you were fulfilling or the audience you were addressing?
  5. What did the author mean when she said, “Women, in other words, may in extreme circumstances publicly defend their own sectional interests, but not speak for men or the community as a whole”? What impact does it have on a society if women in leadership are relegated only to speaking on so-called "women’s issues”?
  6. In the novel Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, what problems are introduced into this all-female society when men enter and explore the island?
  7. Mary Beard challenges us all to redefine power by “thinking collaboratively about the power of followers not just of leaders.” How can women play a vital role in creating a new power dynamic? What ways can we promote a new, more collaborative vision of shared power in our daily lives?
  8. What do you think the author meant when she wrote: “To put this the other way round, we have no template for what a powerful woman looks like, except that she looks rather like a man.” What does this mean in terms of how women in power have historically presented themselves and positioned their views?