I first read The Power last January and I loved it. When I found out that my book-club would be reading this book for our next meeting, I was interested to see if my reaction to this book would be the same after the intervening year (especially after a year like 2020). Sometimes I find that a bit of the magic can be lost during a reread because you already know everything that will happen, but this book is such a remarkable social commentary and Naomi Alderman’s writing is so richly nuanced that there is something new to discover or think about each time you reread The Power.
Gender is a shell game. What is a man? Whatever a woman isn’t. What is a woman? Whatever a man is not. Tap on it and it’s hollow. Look under the shells: it’s not there.
– Naomi Alderman
Sometimes we are so used to “things as they are”, that we don’t notice the absurdity ingrained in our societal norms. Gender inequality and gender-based violence has existed for thousands of years, has been so tightly woven into the fabric of our lives that we tend to ignore or overlook the infinite number of small ways in which our day to day lives are determined by gender dynamics. Sure we take notice of the anomalies, things that make news headlines, but not all violence or oppression is so overt. We think it’s absolutely normal to tell our female children to be careful around boys, to not walk alone, to exercise caution in order to ensure their own safety. Why wouldn’t we do these things? Yet, when it is flipped in reverse, when male children in the novel are ferried to school on separate buses, to avoid girls at school or outside the home in an effort to ensure their physical safety, it seems silly. We cannot fathom a world in which teenage boys or grown-men should be scared of schoolgirls because our society consistently teaches us that the balance of power lies with men, that women are, if not outright weak, then at least less intimidating, less physically capable.
When women around the world suddenly gain a new electrical power, they become physically stronger, more imposing than their male counterparts and the global balance of power shifts. The pendulum swings in the favour of women and now men find themselves oppressed and even endangered. Let’s make this patently clear, this is not feminism. Feminism is by definition the belief in and the quest for equality – a society based upon misandry would be just as toxic and damaging as a society based upon misogyny. In truth, the world of The Power is not so disparate from our own, the only difference is which gender holds power and privilege, who is the oppressor and who is the oppressed. It is very clear that we would not want to live in a world such as the one in the book, so why then do we accept our world as it is? Gender supremacy and a rigidly imposed gender binary serve no benefit to us as a society, no matter which way you slice it.
Really, you could write a thesis, multiple theses, about all the themes in this book. Alderman explores
politics, terrorism, violence, love, religion, revisionist history, journalistic integrity, disability, identity, navigating the web of lies and half-truths on the internet, and yes, power. Why does anyone exert their power over another human being? Simply because they can.
One of them says, ‘Why did they do it?’ And the other answers, ‘Because they could.’ That is the only answer there ever is.
– Naomi Alderman