The Power.

I’m going to climb out on a limb here. Please don’t shove me off.

I’ve never been a good enough feminist, perhaps because I haven’t needed to be. I was raised by a fiercely independent mother, herself the daughter of a woman who ruled her roost and then some. I have access to healthcare and contraception. I’m married to a man who has demonstrated, many times over, that he stands between me and danger. I am sufficiently well educated to know that I am fortunate.

Here is what I believe: I believe that men and women both, obviously, are animals. I believe that we are driven, more than anything else, by instinct which is conducted by hormones. I believe that our primary instinct is to make babies and to protect them, just the same as every other mammal out there. I believe that men have an instinct to prove their strength which has led us in to no end of trouble.

In her Bailey’s Prize winning novel, The Power, Naomi Alderman asks what would happen if women ruled the world. What would happen if the next generation of women were physically, unassailably, stronger than men? How would things turn out? It’s an interesting question.

Alderman proposes that a genetic mutation has caused a new organ to develop in women’s bodies which gives them a super-human electrostatic power as well as the instincts to use it.

Here’s the thing: she makes women the stronger sex and then asks how things would change. Well, surprise, surprise, the stronger sex takes charge and it all turns out much the same. The stronger women are power hungry and greedy and completely dismissive of men. Some even rape and pillage, mutilate, torture and degrade the weaker sex.

When we ask, as we do, what would happen if women ruled the world is this: What would a world be like that was governed by the physically weaker sex? To give women an unassailable physical strength is to redefine them. Alderman just changed the nomenclature. She called the weaker sex men and put women in charge.

The Power. Naomi Alderman

What I would rather she had asked is what, unimaginable, alterations to our society, our thinking and our instincts, even our endocrine system, would need to take place for the physically weaker sex to take control of the planet. Is there a point in our future where intellectual ability could simply outweigh physical strength?

There’s another way of looking at this book. Alderman also examines how we think about the way women have been treated and maltreated throughout history. She suggests that we are thoroughly conditioned to accept the second class status of women. This is probably true. All the same, I can’t accept that it is any more shocking to imagine unborn boys being wilfully aborted by families desperate for a daughter, or more horrifying that the genitalia of young boys would be mutilated or in any way worse than young men might be terrorised, raped, scarred, trafficked, humiliated, bought, sold or killed. It certainly didn’t make for comfortable reading but I can’t imagine that any decent man who has cradled his infant daughter in his arms isn’t at least as much repulsed by the undeniable abuse of women. Does the author really believe that men don’t possess that much empathy? Does she really believe that women don’t?

Interestingly, not one of the archetypal strong women in this book, not the ambitious politician, nor the religious reader, nor the crime boss, has a son. The women I know would take each other’s eyes out, if it came to it, to protect their sons. For the vast majority of us, protecting our offspring, and guarding our nest, is the be all and end all.

I am glad that I live at a time and in a country where this book is published, lauded and even applauded. Equally, I’m glad to live at a time and place where I don’t have to like it.

Does The Power have an interesting and original premise? Yes, it’s clever and well-constructed but the argument, in my opinion, is intrinsically flawed.

Is it a good read? That depends. The plot is compelling but not nearly so much so as the headline reviews (‘kick-ass, thrill a minute vim’) had led me to expect. The characters are cartoonish ‘types’ and it all comes off a little like watching a school production of a Shakespearian play with all the male characters being played by earnest girls with painted beards.

Did The Power make me think, and re-think my understanding of feminism? Absolutely; that’s why I’m here with a bee in my bonnet. I’m still not, it seems, a good enough feminist.

I feel obliged to warn readers that this book contains graphic scenes of physical and sexual violence. Having said that, I think it would certainly add spark to a book club meeting and I’d love to know what you think.

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12 thoughts on “The Power.

  1. I have been thinking about these sorts of issues a lot. My three children – an older daughter and boy/girl twins – are all feminists, but the two daughters in particular have violently different views about what this means. One of them recently recommended a book which I found fascinating and eye-opening, and I am urging everyone to read it. Called ‘Delusions of Gender’, by Cordelia Fine, it debunks a lot of accepted wisdom and science in a serious but amusing way. It is easy to read, hard to put down, and very thought provoking.

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    1. ‘…than the risk it took to blossom.’ I just looked at your blog and it has left an enormous lump in my throat. Brave woman. Cordelia Fine seems to be the order of the day; I will have to try to find time for it. To be honest, I feel such a failure when it comes to feminism.

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  2. This feels a little like Animal Farm but with women instead of pigs. I’ll try it but probably not when I’m staying with my mother in the next couple of weeks 😂

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  3. Despite the fact that it’s a dystopian novel (my favourite), the warning of graphic violence will be enough to keep me away (Highly Sensitive Person here). Even without reading it, I can say I agree with you — it seems bizarre to turn the women into pseudo-men and to then be surprised to find that they behave just the same!

    I call myself a feminist (and I firmly believe in everything women have fought for over the years) but I know that other feminists would view my life and my choices as the antithesis of feminism. (This is actually something I ponder quite a lot; there’s nothing quite like growing up with a mother who drills “You MUST be independent!” into your tiny brain each and every day to make you feel like a guilty failure when you’re not!) (I’ve recently come across the term “eco-feminism”, which I’m beginning to feel might be a better fit for who and what I am. Have you heard about this?)

    As you know, I have a daughter and two sons. And I COMPLETELY agree with you about the motherly instinct to protect sons in equal measure to daughters. And that decent men should do the same. And that any man who has a daughter (or a mother) should stand up for women’s rights. (The genital mutilation issue is (in my estimation) a rather strange dichotomy. We in the west are horrified by FGM and work to protect immigrant females, yet we do not protect baby boys in our own society. It feels like that is a politically-incorrect observation to make, and I truly hope I’ve not trodden on toes here. I’m aware of the health arguments proponents make for it, yet I do stand by the belief that if one is wrong then surely the other is too.)

    I would love to see the day when we’ve evolved enough to allow intellectual ability (and empathy and love…) to outweigh physical strength!

    Many thanks for this very thought-provoking post 🙂 .

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    1. Thanks, Marian, I’ve just googled ‘eco-feminism’ and , yes, at a glance, that seems to fit the bill. That seems far more like women setting their own agenda. I really haven’t thought about feminism all that much. As you say, my life choices have never seemed to fit the the required description of a feminist. I’ve tried to suit myself in life, ignoring the expectations of family and society. Does that make me a feminist? I feel terribly under-qualified in this arena.
      The thing that most annoyed me about the book is that it’s simply not all that good. A man writing something equivalent would never have won a prize for ‘men’s writing’. In my opinion!

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  4. I can say I will probably not read this book…but of course I do have a opinion…imagine that…LOL I believe not matter which sex, power promotes greed and greed promotes madness…that is the simple version of it….if you are not a disciplined, no matter your sex, and can control your desires for power, more power, and then again more power, which in itself is greed…well no matter how much you think you can, you will not….look at our current pig, oh my, I meant to say president we have running our lovely country into the ground….he can not stand to be belittled by anyone an hates women….he is more than just a greedy, power hungry man…(I will stop with just those couple adjectives, as I have opened my own box of hatred up so I must real it in) he is the most important man in our country, holding the highest powered job there is to offer….and he can not stop tweeting ugly, rude, untrue statements….I need to stop I can feel a rant starting….Aggggg any who. I like to think of myself as a feminist….but I have a soft side for sure….another great post…sorry for the tirade…XXKAT

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  5. I enjoyed this book and found it very thought provoking and sad – the corruption of power. I find your thoughts incredibly interesting and agree the power imbalance negated the gender difference and yes would love to read the novel where women as physically weaker but more thoughtful, emotional and empathic beings ruled…

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    1. Hi Kerrie, thanks a million for reading and for commenting. It was, perhaps, exactly because the book was so sad and hopeless that I couldn’t accept its argument. I guess I just don’t think that men, or women, are as bad as the author makes out. All the same, isn’t it great when a book gets people talking?

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  6. Interesting questions raised here. I’m a woman, though and through, and have taken control of my life in full, having experienced what weak men will do when they want to feel stronger. Having said that, I love the differences between the sexes (no, not just the grubby differences!) and I do not feel weaker for being less physically strong. Would like to read this book, but only if it’s well-written?

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  7. I listened to the abridged version on Radio 4 – didn’t like it at all. I am a feminist and I like to think that intellectual ability is more relevant than physical strength (but probably not in the wild).

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