Public figures like Bill Cosby, Bill Clinton, Harvey Weinstein and our (not my) president make the news for being men who use their positions of power and privilege to abuse women; to demean them, to call them sluts and whores, to make them feel weak. The sad state of things though is this isn’t a privilege reserved for men of wealth and power. All men can wield this power, if they choose to (in some circumstances). I think most women can think of a time where a man who wasn’t rich and famous made us feel powerless in some way it doesn’t have to be big (but off the top of my head and with my skin prickling up I can think of several BIG events), but even the “small” things stick with us–a man cuts in line, you say something to him and suddenly you’re a bitch. You’re talking with male friends that you always thought were allies and they say something like, “Well, it’s not right that that lady was raped but she really shouldn’t walk in that neighborhood at that time, right?” So when I read the synopsis for The Power by Naomi Alderman where young women inexplicably awaken some sort of inert organ in their bodies that allows them ability to produce a spark/electricity and harness that electricity, I was intrigued. When these young girls are able to awaken this ability in older women, well…I was all in because friends, the world is less kind to women as we pass that glorious age of 18. I’ve been blessed and cursed with being attractive (as a young adult…now I’m a little fat and very happy) so that came with getting things I wanted and also getting unwanted attention from creepy older people.
The book follows several characters placed all over the globe from the onset of the “skein” (the organ that gives women the power). We follow Allie, the abused American foster child who uses the power at first to stop her abuser, she quickly becomes a woman of power–revered all over the world. We meet Roxy, daughter of a British mobster who is powerful in her own right but because her mother is her dad’s “side piece” and not his wife, she’s not nearly on the level of her half brothers, despite her intelligence and street smarts. Middle aged Margot takes this opportunity to step out of the shadows of male bureaucrats and take the government positions that she’s always known she was meant to do. Finally, Tunde acts as our only male voice and subsequently the person I could identify with the most. An aspiring journalist from Nigeria, he sees the sparks of revolution and follows it around the globe posting photos, videos and journals. Much of the world learns what’s happening through his eyes because he’s now in a position where it’s hard to do his job because as a man, there are places that are dangerous for him to travel, there are places where he shouldn’t go at night without a female escort, At first, he bucks at this, and then he learns it’s true. The women though, they’re basking in the glory of freedom and power. They gather together in groups and do things that they couldn’t do before…some of it amazing, a lot of it appalling.
I read this book at a break neck speed because the premise was so intriguing and I enjoyed the way that it unfolded. At first, I’m a little ashamed to say it, I was a little drunk on the idea of “what if”? What if women had a shift in power?I felt myself smiling because even if a few people died–they were bad people doing bad things. I felt bad thinking that…then I might’ve even thought about a few bad people who have done bad things to me ( little things–just the intimidation thing, the thing where guys less qualified get better schedules than me)…but then I stopped there because speculative fiction is as far as I really want this to go. When the women began doing what some men have been notorious for doing for years then I stopped smiling so much (pretty much entirely). The idea of this book that sets everything in motion? Superb. The book’s outcome…expected, kind of. I do recommend the book, despite knowing that I wanted more time spent with some of the major characters (due to the fact that Alderman writes interesting female characters). As they are, they seem like symbolic representations of women all over the world. For example, Margot’s (the politician) daughter Jocelyn and her internal “struggle” to deal with the fact that she liked boys who were somewhat effeminate and were born with skeins too, either deserved more attention or should’ve been cut out. All in all ,it’s a look at what would happen if the traditional male/female gender construct were flipped upside down but also exacerbated, but ultimately, it’s a story about power and who has it. And as it turns out, maybe it’s not our gender that makes us do bad things…it’s power (duh). If you read it, let me know what you think.
Edit: I left work and stopped at the liquor store. A man brushed past me in a large aisle and touched my butt. I said, “Excuse me, did you just touch my butt?” He said, “I like things of beauty” and winked at me like I should be happy, then he said,”This is a great song” and he started to whistle and walked on by me as I muttered, “asshole” but kept my head down. Later in line, he sniffed my hair… Give me the power to shock people and I promise I won’t kill them–but I would’ve shocked the hell out of this asshole.