I review The Power by Naomi Alderman.
In The Power the world is a recognisable place: there’s a rich Nigerian kid who larks around the family pool; a foster girl whose religious parents hide their true nature; a local American politician; a tough London girl from a tricky family. But something vital has changed, causing their lives to converge with devastating effect. Teenage girls now have immense physical power – they can cause agonising pain and even death. And, with this small twist of nature, the world changes utterly.
This extraordinary novel by Naomi Alderman, a Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year and Granta Best of British writer, is not only a gripping story of how the world would change if power was in the hands of women but also exposes, with breath-taking daring, our contemporary world.
For those of you who haven’t yet discovered The Power, you are missing out. Endorsed by Margaret Atwood, The Power truly is an electrifying read. Told through multiple perspectives, we learn of a time where women gain the ability to conduct electricity with their hands. Fed up with society, the women rise up, and take control. Alderman is a clever, immensely talented writer.
To those readers who have given The Power a negative review, particularly mentioning that they do not condone what some of the women do, I simply have this to say: wake up. The Power is a huge, wonderful metaphor for today’s world, in which women and girls are constantly forced to the bottom of the pile. Sexual assault, domestic violence, restricted access to abortion… Society commits so many acts of violence against its female members. If women woke up one day and had the power not only to defend themselves, but to fight for themselves, to climb, to grow, to live without fear – should we not take it? I believe we should. I believe we would.
The men in The Power are terrified of these newly powerful women. Of course they are. Although not all men (#!) actively contribute to the oppression of women (nor do all of them benefit from it), the patriarchal society in which we live encourages men to keep women down. So when the women rise up, who are their targets? The men who kept them shackled and subservien, like in Saudi Arabia? The men who dictate the reproductive rights of women, like in the US? The lawmakers who decide that domestic violence isn’t really a crime, like in Russia? The politicians who declare that women who wish to claim child benefit for more than two children must prove that child was a product of rape, like in the UK? The government that forces women to travel to another country in order to access safe abortion, like in Ireland? The government that doesn’t take menstruation (or the education of girls) seriously. The man who sneered at women for needing sanitary products, telling them to just “cross their legs” and hold it, believing that menstruating is something we have control over. The soldiers who shared nude pictures of their female colleagues. The rapist who spent 3 months in prison. The rapists who spend zero time in prison. The men who kill their sisters and wives and daughters in the name of “honour”. The fathers who demand chastity from their daughters. PUAs and meninists and mansplainers. Manspreaders. Men who interrupt. That guy who shouted “nice tits!” at them on the street that time. This list is endless.
When does power exist? Only in the moment it is exercised.
There’s a meme around that says something like “give me the confidence of a mediocre white man”. The thing is, that mediocre white man has the power to change your life. A mediocre white man has more doors open to him than you can even imagine. You can spend months, years, trying to be the best, but your sex will influence whether or not you will succeed. A mediocre white man can cause you harm, can turn your life upside down. If there are truly people out there who don’t believe that women in civilised societies are still oppressed, are disadvantaged simply for being a woman, then they are blind, perhaps willfully so.
This book will remind you why you sweat so hard in the gym, why you must punch harder, run faster, be tougher. Be invincible. To be a woman is to be oppressed. To be a woman is to be hunted, objectified, worthless. To be a woman is to be little more than a “host”. To be a woman is to not own your own body, your own life.
The Power will remind you why you hold your keys in your fist as you walk home, why you lock the doors while driving at night, why you cross the street when you see a man coming towards you. The Power will make you wish you had it.
And can you call back the lightning? Or does it return to your hand?
The Power by Naomi Alderman gets The Bandwagon Feminist Read of 2017 Award, an award I just made up, but it is very well deserved. Read it. Feel it. And then curse its loss when you turn the final page.