What would the world look like if women suddenly had the power?
Something I love about a work of fiction is the shadow it leaves in your thoughts for days to come.
Naomi Alderman left me with a chuckle and plenty to ponder.
She creates a world where teenage girls are suddenly given the power to kill, maim and control with fear. Well that makes me smile. Teenage girls already represent a pinnacle of female power. Before the world tells them what they can’t do, they have a confidence often missing in older women. They don’t yet know about the systems lined up against them that give them slightly less than boys, and that socialise them to accept, to prioritise caring, to avoid pushing themselves ahead of others.
Teenagehood is powerful for both genders, (as much as it can also be disastrous and difficult), and it is definitely a time when children become adults and start to own and shape self. Physically, boys get to discover a physical strength – sometimes without the maturity about how to use that strength and Alderman’s 15 year old girls find themselves in exactly that boat. It’s no mistake that control of ‘the power’ gets a little tenuous when girls are angry.
In this book the Men’s Rights Activists come out of the woodwork. Of course in real life we might struggle to understand the trolling and the abuse and what drives it. In this book, it’s clear that men have suddenly lost their place in the hierarchy to women, to all women – big time. And they have plenty to be afraid about, rather than an imagined loss. Of course they want to wage war. This recognisable behaviour made me smile.
The story swaps powerful women for powerful men in a blatant and exaggerated role reversal but I wasn’t offended. Instead I was intrigued – to what extent do I tolerate this behaviour every day? To what extent to men take their authority for granted and see their ownership of power as totally appropriate and to be expected?
I remain intrigued by the blatant sexism in the epilogue. Who can’t imagine a man that claims to be respectful of women but just can’t see the structural disadvantage we face? Who hasn’t been mansplained? Who wouldn’t be listened to differently if they wrote as a man? So why does it feel so weird when the roles are reversed??
My main cause for reflection is the carelessness and gratuitous use of power in the book. Why should I believe that we will all sign up to ‘power with’ not ‘power over’ when there is so much evidence to the contrary. But I won’t spoil the story – this one is definitely worth enjoying yourself.
If you do read it, please let me know when I should encourage my teenage girls to have a read. Can we see this world clearly because we are older? Would it shine a light for my 13 year old before anybody gets in to chip at her confidence?
…and if you like this sort of future dystopia/exploration work. My recent favourites have been Walkaway by Cory Doctorow and The Circle. Let me know what you think.