This month, due to the "stay-at-home" mandate that is being enforced, Literally.PDX had our first virtual meeting. I was a little nervous about abandoning our in-person format, mostly because I get so much out of being in a room with our members, but I was pleasantly surprised at how much fun it was to have a meeting from the comfort of my own couch! While it's not possible to re-create the intimate group setting, the one-on-one conversations and the wine and cheese platters, it felt like a breath of fresh air to be able to gather together, to laugh and about books and how our quarantines are going.
Our book club pick for March was The Power by Naomi Alderman. The premise is pretty amazing: imagine if women had extraordinary physical powers which led them to become the dominant gender. How could that power be used to make the world better? How would the power structure of the world shift?
In the book, young women around the world slowly discover a hidden ability that's been inside them since they were born - a strip of muscle near their collarbones that can send electrical charges through their hands. Immediately, they begin using their powers to right the wrongs of the patriarchal society we live in. Rapists are brutally punished, human trafficking is slowed to a stop, and women feel safe walking on the streets again. However, things don't stay rosy for long. Alderman's book explores how women would really harness the power they've been given. Suddenly, men aren't safe on the streets. Young boys are sent to separate schools to protect them from the physical power of girls. Rape, murder and corruption still occur, but there are new perpetrators.
During our discussion, we spent a lot of time focusing on learned gender roles, as well as behavior we learn as women in the workplace. We discussed our experiences with female co-workers or superiors treating other women with disrespect, simply because "that's the way it's always been," and we all need to "pay our dues." I know my experiences in that realm have made me ultra-conscious of the level of respect younger, less experienced women deserve as they're learning the ropes of a new job.
While all women are capable (and many are guilty) of exacting oppression, many of us were frustrated with Alderman's assumption that, with such great power, women would immediately pivot to the violence and corruption that men have wielded for so long. We discussed the phrase "absolute power corrupts absolutely," and whether or not it takes a narcissist to lead a revolution. What kind of woman (or women) would it take to lead the physically dominant gender in a compassionate, ethical way?
The Power is an important book, especially in a time when we're fighting so many battles for the rights of women, girls and the oppressed. There are glimmers of satisfaction in reading about men being nervous to walk down the street, or a human trafficker being put in his place, but ultimately I think the book would have been more satisfying with a different outcome. Not necessarily a rainbow-filled, rosy picture of harmony, but more of a nuanced power-shift, one where decisions are questioned, where there are ethical debates, and where women come across as the thoughtful, empathetic creatures we are.
Next week, I'll announce our April book! I hope you're all staying safe and healthy, and are taking care of each other.
Happy at-home reading!
*Cover image from The Lily