Manage episode 354795379 series 2381791
Today I’d like to bring you something different from our usual fare of Australian novel’s. As I mentioned last week, the summer break is a time when I like to explore ideas and read widely.
A short but powerful book I got into was Women and Power from British historian Mary Beard. This book struck me, and the reason I want to share it is for its exploration of how power is entrenched in a given society and particularly the role that language plays in reinforcing power and excluding those who aren’t in the inner circle.
Mary Beard is a classicist and historian who is known for her work promoting feminist principles. Through her writing, public speaking, and media appearances, Beard advocates for gender equality in the fields of academia and beyond. She has also been a vocal critic of the marginalization of women in the public discourse, and has worked to bring attention to the historical contributions of women to Western civilization.
The book "Women and Power: A Manifesto" comes from a series of lectures that Beard delivered at the British Museum in 2016. Women and Power explores the history of women's exclusion from positions of power and influence in Western society.
In the book, Beard argues that women have been systematically excluded from positions of power throughout history, and that this exclusion continues to the present day.
Women and Power takes examples from ancient Greece and Rome, as well as more recent events, to show how women's voices have been silenced and their contributions disregarded.
One of the key themes of the book is the idea that language has played a crucial role in perpetuating the marginalization of women. Beard argues that words and phrases that are commonly used to describe women in positions of power, such as "bossy" or "abrasive", serve to reinforce the idea that women are not fit to lead. She calls for a reconsideration of the language we use to describe women in power, and for a more inclusive and equitable approach to the distribution of power and influence.
Across the two essays Beard makes a powerful case for the ways language can be weaponised against those not in power. Implicit in the argument is that those who wield the language of power get to stay in power.
This got me for all the reasons that Beard puts forward about the historic marginalization of women, but also for the more far reaching consequences of these arguments.
Language is a tool that is constantly called on by those who want to silence their critics
Suppression of language was a key strategy of British Colonial invaders wherever they went in the world. Here in this country English is the official language while hundreds of languages spoken by First Nations are at threat or spoken by a dwindling number of people. This materially impacts both the ability of those people to maintain and practice their culture, but also how these people are able to access power in a language not originally theirs.
We are currently debating constitutional change to enshrine a First Nations ‘Voice’ in the constitution, and yet how many of us can listen to the many voices of First Nations peoples in their own voices and languages?
Language and power also materially impacts people living with a disability. Many disabilities impact a person’s language development, as well as their ability to put themselves forward to advocate on the terms of people in power.
Beard’s essay’s show us how language has been used throughout history to demonize or diminish women, but these ploys of the powerful are versatile enough to meet all challengers.
I’m struck by this every time I’m online or tune into the news; language is a power tool to silence.
Towards the end of the essays Beard observes that “Trolls are not particularly imaginative or nuanced and one Twitter storm tends to look much like any other”. Old tricks can be repurposed but always in the service of the powerful.
It’s something to think about whenever we engage in so called public discourse.