Feminist Reading Journey: Naomi Alderman ‘The Power’

This book has quickly become one of my new favourites. Seriously buy it. Read it. Especially if you’re interested in gender relations.

The narrative is set in the future but looking back on a significant change in human history that occured. That change is when the world switches from a patriarchal society to a matriarchal one. The switch occurs because women around the world, particularly teenage girls, start to discover that they have the power to emit electrical shocks, some stronger than others. Slowly, but surely, women then start to rise up. However, when the power shifts so do women’s attitudes.

The PowerImage: April Wilson 

I don’t want to give a lot more away than that, and hopefully I’ve not given away too much. I have to mention the negatives this power shift brings though because as the title suggests the book is very much focused on power balances. The idea being that if any group has too much power that power will be abused.

Since the novel is also called ‘The Power’ I thought then it would be apt to pick a quotation that exemplifies how masterly Naomi Alderman explores power relations within the novel.

As always the lovely Caroline from The Kawaii Kollective has provided the illustration for this post.

“One of them says, ‘Why did they do it?’ and the other one answers, ‘Because they could’. That is only answer there ever is.”

-Naomi Alderman 

The Power NaomiImage: The Kawaii Kollective 

For real life examples of how easy power relations can shift you only have to look at the Stanford Prison Experiment. For those who don’t know what the Stanford Prison Experiment is it was an experiment conducted by the psychologist Zimbardo in which he assigned a group of volunteers the role of either prisoner or guard for a 2 week simulated prison experiment.

Soon the prisoners started to protest the conditions, and the guards started to harass the prisoners, and become sadistic. Eventually after 6 days the experiment was ended by Zimbardo after he was told by an outsider (he had become too involved in the experiment) that the conditions lacked morality.

If you are interested in learning more, as I’ve only briefly described what happened and not gone into some of the sadistic, humiliating tactics that the guards used, I suggest you read ‘The Lucifer Effect: How Good People Turn Evil‘ or watch the film based on the experiment simply called ‘The Stanford Prison Experiment‘ (be prepared for graphic content). If you are interested in more examples of similar effects you can look up the Abu Ghraib prison atrocities (be warned graphic images will most likely come up in your search).

Also in relation to power dynamics, the novel does an amazing job at showing the reactions of different groups such as feminist groups, anti-feminists and everyone in between on the debate feel when the power balance starts to shift. And that power shift does a brilliant job more than a lot of arguments I have seen at showing what the current power balance is in the world today.

The novel also reminded me of how much a dialogue does need to exist. I will admit it is hard for me to watch content by anti-feminists. I however am going to make an effort to do so and not instantly judge the content. To do this I am going to watch ‘The Red Pill’ documentary by documentary film maker Cassie Jaye about the men’s right movement From watching the trailer so far some of the arguments brought up I do agree with. There needs to be more men’s shelters and men who are victims of abuse need to be treated seriously. I however, argue this should be a feminist argument (not that it has not been made as one before) if feminism keeps to what I believe it to be: the pursuit of equality. I can’t comment more on the rest of their arguments however without seeing the documentary first.

I also have been taking into consideration the words of the youtuber Laci Green (who I also just discovered- I’m more than a little late to the Youtube world), who talked about the need for an open dialogue, and debate. Though I admit it can be hard I am always trying to learn, and I want to make the effort to do so.

One part of ‘The Power’ that I also think makes it so effective is the way it shifts across different narrative viewpoints. Something, which when it is done masterfully I absolutely love (and ‘The Power’ certainly fits this brief). Though, when it’s done horribly it’s just confusing and a mess. ‘The Power’ follows the viewpoints of Roxy, a Londoner whose family runs a significant crime syndicate, whose world turns upside down when discovering her power; Allie a teenager who after discovering her power reimagines herself as Mother Eve and starts a new women’s movement that brings the women in religion iconography to the forefront; Margot who aspires to move up in the American government (and her daughter Jocelyn whose power comes with some complications) and significantly the male Nigerian Tunde who discovers the power of citizen journalism, as he documents women as they start to discover their power and makes it his mission to map this new movement around the world.

Tunde as a character however is not the only way that Naomi Alderman does a brilliant job at exploring how this event would unfold through social media and website forums without being cringe-worthy, which you can sometimes find from authors who either has not spend enough time on social media; cannot seem to understand it or are not digital natives.

Overall, this is a book that needs to be on university reading lists (I haven’t included younger audiences just because of the graphic nature of one of the scenes), especially when talking about gender. A lot of the times university can look back (which I cannot stress is still an incredibly important thing to do) but this novel is important in that it looks at gender balance in terms of the current political climate, which is something we all need to be aware of and do more.

This also needs to be on a university course reading list so I could talk about this with other people interested in debating gender (though I’ve also finished my undergraduate, and will be finishing my postgraduate degree soon so university is for NOW almost over for me). However, if anyone wants to allow me to teach a module on contemporary gender studies go ahead… (I’d be excited to see what the class could teach me as well).

So basically if you haven’t got the message of this blog post yet it’s basically to just read ‘The Power’ already.

Update: This is in regards to ‘The Red Pill’ by Laci Green. I am still very new to the concept of feminist debate and critique (though I’ve been engaging with feminism for years) so was not sure what to think when I first saw the video. For me personally it reminded me that I need to be ready to take part in more debate (and try to be on the defensive automatically), though I did not entirely agree with the way Laci seemed to be attacking feminists more than anti-feminists (I understand both sides have faults but the debate seemed very one sided). However, if you’ve watched the video I also highly suggest you watch Kat Blaque’s response video, as she highlights many very important issues with the video.

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2 thoughts on “Feminist Reading Journey: Naomi Alderman ‘The Power’

  1. Seems promising to read. I do speak about the Standford experiment to my 17-18 year old students. We also watch part of it when we discuss crime and punishment… It’s amazing to see how these things work and who it’s easier to judge than to be actually in the shoes of the other to understand what we’d do.

    Thanks for recommending the book.

    Marivi x

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    1. I originally learnt about the Stanford Prison Experiment I think at about that age. I never know what is a good age range to recommend content though, so I always leave it to someone who is better tuned in than me! I mostly just like to make sure I give a warning if what I am recommending has content that could be upsetting.

      If you do end up reading the book, let me know what you think 🙂

      April

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