When ‘The Power’ by Naomi Alderman launched in 2016 it sparked widespread debate, controversial conversations and had women uniting to discuss the depth of plot that still has readers reeling to this day, including me (and the many I have since forced to read it too).
When teenage girls find that they have the power to electrocute from their fingers, seemingly overnight, the world as we know it descends into chaos. Following the lives of four very different characters from political, journalistic, religious and criminal civilian backgrounds, the story unravels and interweaves what would happen to the world if women could inflict pain and even death upon the targeted patriarchy. Women literally have men in the palm of their hands. There’s a new God, an uprising, murders, weird romances, action and reaction.
The concept is clever, the writing vivid and gruesome with subtly comic undertones and overall encompasses elements of Lord of the Flies, the Hunger Games, Handmaid’s Tale and Brave New World in its own feminist dystopian genre. Alderman creates tension, executing plot twists and sharp tiers to the story that left me gasping “oh god, oh no” on more than one occasion. It is not a light or comforting read.
There are so many layers to pick and unpack, it’s a book club’s dream read, probably prompting more than an evening discussion, but rather igniting the feminist fire in the bellies of so many females that will burn for weeks.
After inhaling comments and reviews post-last page, my suspicions became clear: this book, while appearing so, is not really about gender equality, but rather a harrowing look at the world we currently live in.
The electric power is a metaphor…for penis. Or rather toxic masculinity. And the power it has over women. The electricity they’re gifted with is the only way women would feel powerful enough to know they could take a stand. They have the power to enforce an erection in a man and rape him. These women become crazed with power. They want revenge for the years of suppression, patronisation and fight for equality that they’ve been put through. They’re unrelenting and take no prisoners. This is the patriarchies comeuppance, where women are dominated by men and fear them, just on a much larger scale. Girls and boys became separated, reinforcing the segregation of the sexes and the power men currently have over women, that they need to be forcibly removed out of harm’s way. Alderman not only perfectly captures what it feels like to be vulnerable, completely out of control, but also allowed women to understand what it would feel like if the roles were reversed.
If it came down to it, I really hope women wouldn’t go to such a place, but power is power. And after not having it for so long, it seems plausible that women would create such an uprising. The plot proved that the problem is not men, the problem is humans. Yes, men are naturally dominant, but this novel turns that notion on its head and we quickly realise that, if given half the chance, a war between the sexes would ensue.
Men currently grow up with power, but the power women are given here is nouveau power, given to them so suddenly. This makes me think the anarchy is a product of not ever having the utmost dominance and control over the opposite sex before. This proves therefore that women’s power and right to equality has to be slowly drip-fed into society as it is being done. These small wins are leading to a victory, not of that where we are the winners or the stronger sex, but that we all live in an equal world together harmoniously. Too much at one time would force men to cower and try to fight back, while women feel the need to inflict pain, only creating a hypocritical point.
It may seem slow and it may seem frustrating, but like any big movement, it has to be gradual. Feminism, climate change, the lot, it’s all being done bit by bit – any radical movements would create far more problems.
When reading, I so badly wanted the power to exist just for a moment. I felt powerful in the moments that Alderman wrote about women taking a stand. I wanted the power to exist for the sex workers that could break themselves free, for the women in abusive relationships, for the women who’s culture is so dominated by men, for the girls who would finally feel like they can be and do anything they wanted, knowing it wasn’t their gender holding them back. That is, however, where I would want it to stop. I wouldn’t want an all-woman army, I wouldn’t want women using this power to their advantage. I would want to see a world where women are taken seriously and seen as equal.
The book’s ending definitely reflects how I feel towards feminism. I love being a woman and a feminist and I love teaching people about what it means to be a feminist, but as soon as you become angry and you teeter on the side of exclusion, where you want to hurt men for what they’ve done to us, you’re only as bad as the patriarchy. You’re only as bad as their level of suppression. We should be able to rise up in a different way, a dignified and secretly smug way.
I hope men read this book. I hope they read it and understand how women feel. Some men will read it and completely miss the point. Like that of the most popular comment, by a man, on Goodreads, which read “What would happen if an author wrote a book about men having the power to electrocute women to death?”. The reply by many is simply, “That’s history”.