The Power by Naomi Alderman | Review
Publication: New York : Little, Brown and Company, 
Genre: Science Fiction
Formats: Hardcover, Paperback, eBook
“Feminism is a science fiction enterprise.” Alderman stated during the PBS interview she gave in March of this year. She went on to say that, “female advancement comes from recognizing equality.” With this in mind, I dearly hope the true goals of feminism don’t get stuck forever in the realm of fiction and pure speculation.
Alderman’s book works hard to be a warning of what could happen if the power of existing in a male body while living in a male-dominated world was merely flipped on its head. (Opinions about the male versus female brain may bulk at this conjecture, but I’m still intrigued by this thought experiment, so . . . let’s suspend disbelief for a moment and go with this perhaps tenuous premise for the duration of this review, shall we?)
As you may have noticed from some of my recent posts (not that this hasn’t been a common thread since I began this book review website), I’ve been wrestling with ideas of feminism. How can feminism encourage true equality instead of simply generating a space for more violence, for more emulation of the bad behavior that women so often have to fight against in the midst of the patriarchal world we currently inhabit?
As part of my reading and thinking about Alderman’s book, I did a very quick preview of Merlin Stone’s When God Was A Woman. Interesting food for thought, especially as I’ve always been of the opinion that the history we ascribe to with regards to our currently male-dominated culture has its roots (or some of them at least) in the patriarchy of our religious perspectives. While Alderman utilizes the influences of religion in her novel, I’m going to take this book review in a different direction (mostly because I’m still chewing on this concept, so I’ll probably return at a later date). The concept of how power seems to inherently breed religious fervor is not lost on Alderman in her book’s narrative, for sure. Again, interesting food for thought.
Also while traveling through Alderman’s story, I reread several times Ursula K. Le Guin’s essay “About Anger” in which Le Guin talks about the anger and rage that first initiated the feminist movement. It’s true that to feel angry about an injustice has immense power. But then Le Guin also makes the genuinely beautiful, and terrifying, point that a rage exercised to the point of becoming a very powerful and effective weapon can quickly lose its effectiveness if those welding it do not know how or when to put that same weapon down when the initial need for indignant rage has begun to subside.
Both Alderman and Le Guin seem to be exploring a similar message about feminism here, that being “if feminism was the baby, she’s now grown past the stage where her only way to get attention to her needs and wrongs was anger, tantrums, acting out, kicking ass.” (This quote is from Le Guin’s essay mentioned and linked above. I didn’t find any online responses to Alderman’s book directly from Le Guin, but many articles push the two authors together for the themes they most obviously shared in their fiction.)
Throughout her novel, Alderman tempers the rage of women with the backlash of having that same rage, in its rawest form, run rampant, no matter the sex or gender of the person who is carrying forward into “the battle” that weapon of anger-infused indignation. She mentions in her interviews with both BBC and PBS that she didn’t want her book to be saying that women are intrinsically better than men or vice versa.
And Alderman is right, I believe, in presenting this idea, because whenever there is a winner, there will also always be a loser, and that is not equality. That is just a power structure being inverted so that all of the advantages of one portion of society become the disadvantages of another portion of society.
If feminism’s true goal is to fight against the injustices that women have been subjected to for far too long, then a complete eradication of those injustices, no matter who the inflicted or the initially powerful party may be, needs to be at the basis of any social justice action. By keeping this goal of true equality at the forefront of our minds, maybe we can continue to pull the empowerment of women out of the realm of SciFi and categorically “speculative” fiction.