I follow a ton of art historians, museums and academics on Twitter, and Mary Beard is one of my favourites. I genuinely love her tweets and have been surprised to see how many people are willing to troll her, and ignore her academic bona fides because she dares discuss sexism and diversity in the ancient world, not to mention being an older woman in an academic field (Classics) where almost all well-known presenters are male.
Beard, a Cambridge University Don, was most recently involved in a tempest about the distinct difference between her screen time in the BBC series Civilisations, versus the US-broadcast PBS version, Civilizations. PBS explained that the entire series was edited and produced by different teams, also noting that a more focused exploration of Christian art—and the diminishment of other religions’ contributions to art history—was to better appeal to the American audience, and was the reason Beard’s on-screen time and voice-over narration were reduced. It wasn’t her, they proposed, it was what she talked about that was unappealing to American audiences. It’s been pointed out that Simon Schama and David Olusoga, the two male series writers and narrators also discuss non-Christian art in their episodes, but did not suffer from similar edits in the PBS versions.
Could it be that Mary Beard, a woman of a certain age, with grey hair, sensible sandals, and a post-menopausal figure just didn’t rate as a sufficiently appealing and prestigious expert for a US audience? As a woman of similar characteristics, working in a equally male-skewed field (Futures Foresight), I can absolutely relate.
Though Beard’s Women & Power: A Manifesto might seem like an odd subject for a Classics professor, she is exactly the right person to examine millennia of misogyny and why women in modern times haven’t fared much better. This short tome is derived from two speeches she has given over the years, and together, her observations give ample historical evidence that women have always been excluded from discourse, and observes how present-day efforts to shift perceptions has been a centuries-long battle that must continue apace.
But, rather than writing a review that is actually longer than the slim volume itself, I encourage you to just read it. Beard has a witty, accessible writing style and she never lacks for a pertinent example of historical precedent which relates to present-day situations. It’s a deeply satisfying read.