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Angela Merkel - she is not usually photographed smiling


I am told via face-book and a couple of blogs today is World Poetry Day. The poems chosen are usually of the soothing kind, or descriptively, neutrally seasonal.  I differ once again and offer a powerful essay by Mary Beard, Women in Power, in which she uses the hideous pictorial treatment meted out to Hillary Clinton, and the more typical treatment meted out to Angela Merkel (who came on a diplomatic visit to the US this week), to reveal how there is no template, no image the world accepts which is both appropriate for women and someone exercising power.

From the LRB, 39:5 (March 2017): Women in Power

This treatment of women is ancient and the way it is gotten away with is by erasure and telling stories that show a complete lack of imagination of what the woman at the center of the story might experience. So many stories utterly cavalier with women's lives: In Winter's Tale it's just fine that Hermione lives a sort of living death for 16 years is typical.

Another classicist, the poet, Ann Stanford (one of her great books of poetry, is titled Holding our Own), has a searing "Andromeda" that rectifies this and may stand for how women across the globe are endangered today, from refuges to women outside the US on whom drones may be dropped just like this (and their children), and women on US college campuses:

I am terrified

marooned on a rock with a gale

freshening and the waves already

spatter me with spindrift.

What could my father be thinking of!

Listening to a two-faced oracle,

chaining me like a dog in this gnashing water.

It is low tide now – high tide will be the end of me.

I will either drown struggling against water

or be caught here by the monster from the sea

the claws searing me along the bone

the teeth quick cutting through flesh and nerve.

It is grim being a sacrifice.

The garlands, the watching crowds, cannot make me heroic.

My legs tremble and fire streaks across my brain

the roots of my hair are daggers.

If this were a story there would be a hero

to swim through the impossible waves, a sword at his belt.

He would cast off my chains, kill the monster,

take me

out of this country mad with fear and riddles.

But all I am sure of is the explosion of waves,

my mother crying from the shore, the seething


of a large invisible bird circling the rock,

and the head of the monster coming up over the horizon.

Ann Redpath (1895-1965, Scots woman painter) Still Life with Orange Chair

I have had the luck to have been born in 1946 in NYC, to have had decent parents, gone to college basically for free, and met a good kind loving and intelligent husband who made enough money for us to live, and left with a widow's annuity. This is one of the fates women understandably yearn for when they see it romanticized in books and movies. I like quiet pictures.

Miss Drake


Mar. 22nd, 2017 04:32 pm (UTC)
We must have a different definition of what makes for power

Thanks for this. I agree it is a great article, even if I might want to argue with Mary Beard on Athena (minor quibble). It would be a good blog to share with students.

I liked this: "To put it another way, if women aren’t perceived to be fully within the structures of power, isn’t it power that we need to redefine rather than women?"

And "You can’t easily fit women into a structure that is already coded as male; you have to change the structure. That means thinking about power differently. It means decoupling it from public prestige. It means thinking collaboratively, about the power of followers not just of leaders. It means above all thinking about power as an attribute or even a verb (‘to power’), not as a possession: what I have in mind is the ability to be effective, to make a difference in the world, and the right to be taken seriously, together as much as individually. It’s power in that sense that many women feel they don’t have – and that they want."

Yes and yes. This why I object to TV shows like West World in which we are supposed to applaud a female character for saying "I'm not a damsel anymore" right before she blows someone's head off with a gun. We don't want to be "damsels," I agree, but do we really want to mimic idiotic male violence and define that as power? I don't.

Diane R

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