Book Review: The Power by Naomi Alderman

Julie: I Loved The Power

The Power was a joy to read from start to finish.

Beyond the obvious enjoyment of reading about a world where women rule, The Power offered many other delights that are hard to find elsewhere in literature and in film.

The Power not only gives women physical and political power, it also takes them off their pedestal of pure hearts and virtuous motivations.

Often, characters, especially female characters, are only allowed to be motivated by certain factors; love (romantic or maternal), compassion for others, the desire to save the world. Big, lofty reasons to pursue big, lofty goals. In The Power, the female characters are often motivated by the ordinary, the boring, the obscene. The mayor is my favourite character. She is asked why she wants to advance her political career, and her inability to find any larger meaning or motivation was immensely satisfying to read.

Tatiana Moskalev, the new ruler of the new country of Bessapara seeks power and abuses it for reasons that are ordinary and boring. When before has a woman been allowed to do so much with so little motivation? When before has a woman been allowed to be at once so great and so ordinary? The Power opened my eyes to how few options we allow our female characters, how few boxes we allow them to occupy.

The male character, Tunde, was taken on a delicious journey into the world that all women currently occupy.

Fear of going out at night. Living beneath ridiculous, sexist laws. Knowing that should push come to shove, the weaker sex cannot thrive in a physically violent world. It was a pleasure to see Tunde navigate through this world. It’s about time he got here!

Jill: I Hated The Power

The premise of the book is simple: if women had physical power over men, then political and social power will follow and society will become a matriarchy. I struggled with that premise for two reasons:

  1. It suggests that power is biological

I don’t want to argue that men are not stronger physically than women or that this doesn’t impact how sexism plays out, but making sexism a result of our biology would imply that it is a ‘natural’ thing to happen. Similarly the assumption that women with power will automatically abuse that power suggests implicitly that such abuses are a ‘natural’ result of having power in the first place. It gives the men in power currently a kind of excuse for their bad behaviour.

  1. It minimises the role of reproduction in sexism

By assuming that women are disadvantaged due to physical weakness alone, the Power overlooks the facts of reproduction that are some of the primary modes by which we are disadvantaged.

Even in cultures where women don’t have to be the primary caregivers, we are often driven into it in other ways. IE in NZ society we don’t have equal parental leave, which means women, who are offered more parental leave than men, are often the ones staying at home in the early days. This results in women taking longer career breaks and becoming the primary caregivers simply because they know the baby the best. It is hard after four months of caring for a newborn to switch that role over to the secondary parent. The list of these kinds of political, social and cultural factors of caregiving that cement women into the role as primary parent is endless. Just look at how much Jacinda Ardern has to struggle to work and manage a baby, even with the finances and the man to help.

Related to this is the sexist idea that women are more nurturing and emotional than men as a result of our caregiving burdens. In the Power, Alderman reverses these gender characteristics to make a point, but the point doesn’t work if the caregiving responsibilities are not addressed in the first place. It is also difficult to believe some of the characters, eg that a mother of two who has her entire life cared for her two daughters, will suddenly and easily switch into a power hungry politician with no concern/nurturing feelings for her teenaged daughters.

Anyway, these are the things I didn’t like about the book. I can’t really say I hated it. How can a person hate a work that professes to be feminist? And there are many reasons to enjoy the book. It’s a quick read and a worthwhile question. How would society look if women were physically dominant to men? Here’s one way to see it.

Authors

Jill
JillJournal & Competition Co-ordinator
Julie
JulieManager
2019-03-15T08:02:59+00:00