In a recent seminar I attended, one participant was waxing enthusiastic about the “awesome” TV series “The Power” (2023) and how it’s all about how “young girls gain power!” While the series is certainly on my list to watch – and when I do, I’ll update this post – it’s based on Naomi Alderman’s 2017 novel. In my review in The Brooklyn Rail I wrote “The nightly news has become a flood of narratives of sexual harassment and the rape of women and young girls by men in positions of power which lends a decided appeal to Naomi Alderman’s tale of young girls suddenly getting “the power”—an ability to zap others with their own self-generated electrical charges. While several reviews of Alderman’s prize-winning new novel reference the violence enacted on men (and boys) in specific scenes, there are few who seem to understand the devastating appeal of a world where girls and women quite literally have more power than men. Alderman does a fabulous job of seducing the reader with her split narrative of individual characters coming into their own power.” But it’s important to remember that it’s a SEDUCTION. I still remember the betrayal I felt when the novel shifts the narrative from one of possibility for change to a lesson in power: “at the heart of Alderman’s tale is the idea that neither gender is capable of holding to the moral high ground when all the power is in their hands. Women can be just as violent and self-serving as men.” And I want to acknowledge the binary operating in this fiction – there seems to be no space for the non-binary unless it’s through the characters whose power is deemed “faulty” or “abnormal.” Because in Alderman’s world the critique of gender rests on a binary view of gender: “Gender is a shell game. What is a man? Whatever a woman isn’t. What is a woman? What a man is not. Tap on it and it’s hollow. Look under the shells: It’s not there.” And what of those who don’t fit into the binary? They seem to be left out altogether. As I wrote in my 2017 review, “The point here is that inequality is a terrible thing whether men or women are in power. And while there is solace—and titillation—for women in the revenge fantasies at the outset of this novel, there are also lessons to be learned: the brutal imbalance of power that many of us suffer under cannot be solved through a simple reversal.” Nor can it be solved if we continue to think in binary structures of gender.
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