From Clytemnaestra in the tragedies of Aeschylus to Hillary Clinton on social media – Professor Mary Beard explores the image and reality of women in power. A chance to catch up on her prestigious London of Review of Books Winter Lecture, exploring timely questions such as what’s so ‘funny’ about the idea of women being in charge and what does ‘breaking the glass ceiling’ really mean?
As with Proessor Mary Beard’s first LRB lecture (Oh Do Shut Up, Dear: The Public Voice of Women), the Cambridge classicist’s starting point will be her profound knowledge of the ancient world. As previously, she will explore not only the facts surrounding women in power but also the depiction of them in the media past and present.
She’ll begin by unpackaging the ways in which apparently powerful women in ancient Greek drama are often depicted as ultimately undermining their own entitlement to power: tragic figures such as Aeschylus’ Clytemnaestra or comic ones such as Aristophanes’ Lysistrata may appear to be powerful, but an audience only had to witness Clytemnaestra’s blood-thirsty wielding of an axe or the frivolity of Lysistrata and friends to have their belief in the patriarchy reaffirmed. In other words, myths which depict women abusing power may simply justify the reality of a patriarchy.
In the second part of the lecture, Mary Beard will discuss the idea of the “glass ceiling” and investigate whether it is perhaps our internalising of the fates of figures such as Clytemnaestra and Lysistata which has had a more significant impact on the challenges which women of power encounter today, whether Hillary Clinton, Angela Merkel, Marine Le Pen or our own Theresa May.
It is true, and very much to the point, that women are objects, commodities, some deemed more expensive than others - but it is only by asserting one’s humanness every time, in all situations, that one becomes someone as opposed to something. That, after all, is the core of our struggle.
Andrea Dworkin, Woman Hating
Andrea Dworkin, Woman Hating
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