What if the power to hurt were in women’s hands?
Imagine a world where teenage girls awake one morning with extraordinary physical strength and power that outstrips their male counterparts. Thanks to a newly acquired section of muscle near their collarbone, young women can now conduct electricity like electric eels: inflicting pain or electrocuting to death as they wish. They can even waken this power in older women too. In Naomi Alderman’s The Power, the balance of the world is irrevocably altered overnight.
Naomi Alderman had a brilliant idea. She had a brilliant idea at the perfect time, with an audience thirsty for electrifying reads about gender issues. I enjoyed the ride, I even stayed up on a weeknight finishing the book. It was intense and tried to touch upon several aspects of life and how it’s affected by the “Day of the Girls”- religion, politics, education, society. It’s the perfect commute companion, fast-paced and intense. There are also some very interesting subversive sections, where we see how the power has turned society upside down. Men are now afraid to walk in the dark, they are forced into sexual acts they do not consent to and are then told that “they wanted it”.
One of the things that I was skeptical of from the outset was what women did with the Power. I kept thinking whether this is really what women would do if they got overwhelming physical strength – inflict pain and terror? Create cults and take advantage of people? Women, as people who were systematically oppressed and only recently managed to get equal rights (that are still barely equal), surely would be more logical and prudent in their use of the Power. However, I can admit that this is just what I would like to think – wishful thinking for my own gender. Reading through the book, I could see why something like that might be possible, but certainly not to the same extent or form. The execution slipped away from the realms of possibility, approaching the boundaries of oversimplification. Sure, women who have been systematically abused and silent victims of violence, such as Allie, could follow that path. Sure, women such as Roxy, who have grown up in crime, would make use of their Power in what they know best. But it is a gross oversimplification suggesting that women in the Middle East would rise up, throw away their traditions and embrace sexual freedom right off the bat. It reminds me of the hijab debate, which is anything but simple, as Muslim women are not necessarily waiting for a western “hero” to save them.
Another issue that I had with the book is how much I didn’t care for the characters. Each one of them could have had a very interesting background and development, but they all felt like puppets simply serving plot development. Allie has years of baggage and clearly intense trauma. Roxy witnessed her own mother being murdered. Margot was a white privileged career woman and single mother of 2, and it would have been interesting to see her subtler struggle in a different light other than simply her political career. Tunde is a Nigerian man whose life has been turned upside down. He’s suddenly part of the powerless population, but we only touch upon this shift in his status superficially, while we focus more on how the Day of the Girls has affected his career. I didn’t like any of them and didn’t care for anyone’s fate, up until the last 80 pages of the book, which felt forced and rushed.
Overall, I enjoyed the ride. I enjoyed the not-so-subtle allegory, it is safer to go with something less subtle, when trying to make a point about a society that has been built on patriarchy and in which even the simplest argument for equality must be substantiated. People need the shock element, and the Power delivers.
OST: Beyoncé – Formation