Speech, Telemachus says, is the business of man
Some books are like amazing lectures. And some books are actually amazing lectures that were then published. There’s an entire tradition in Western literature of publishing lectures but that’s not what this post is about. I’ve just read Mary Beard’s Women & Power, a manifesto. She starts by pinpointing the first ever example in Western literature when a man told a woman to shut up. And that’s Penelope being told off by her son, Telemachus, in Homer’s Odyssey, almost 3000 years ago. Speech, Telemachus says, is the business of man. What Mary Beard then does is to take us though the long gallery of examples of a systemic and systematic ‘culturally awkward relationship between the voice of women and the public sphere’ (p.8). What is common to all of those examples is that they are nothing more than different ways of claiming power over speech. But most of all, what is most sticking is the fact that they all have one same outcome: women being repeatedly deprived of the chance to make any relevant decision or of exerting any social influence or political dominance. The English expression used to describe someone being overpowered in a discussion suggests that it is all about excluding someone from somewhere – being told ‘off’, i.e. moved outside of the group of those with authority. Speech, Telemachus says, is the business of man. And speech means power.