Inspiring Thursday: Mary Beard
“I actually can’t understand what it would be to be a woman without being a feminist. (…) Feminism taught me a way to find out how to be me, and that´s a lot more internally important than some of the more measurable things.”
Mary Beard is an English scholar and described as “Britain´s best-known classicist”. She is Professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge, is a fellow of Newnham College and teaches Ancient Literature at the Royal Academy of Arts. She also writes a regular blog “A Don´s Life” as the Classics editor of The Times Literary Supplement. On top off all of this, she has also published many books, is very active on social media, always trying to find the time to reply to every comment and especially the most misogynistic and violent ones, and frequently appears in the media. Most recently, she has been named as one of the three presenters of the new BBC Two series, Civilisations.
Before entering university, she was not particularly engaged in feminist issues, but during her time in Cambridge, where almost all of the professor and a large majority of students were male, she started to realise the pervasive existing gender issues and gender inequities and she began attending women´s group and joining campaigns to open the university further to women. Her work as a scholar today is not specialized on women´s history or gender in the classical period. She has written about Roman religion based on the letters of Cicero, on social histories of the Parthenon and the Colosseum as well as about Pompeii. She always seeks to include how ordinary people used to live and their experiences in those times. She combines academic rigor, always questioning and dissecting even her own work, with a relaxed and approachable style.
Beard does not pretend to be someone she is not, and especially when she appears in the media, she does not try to look any different than what she is. She does not wear makeup or colour her grey hair, she dresses casually and looks comfortable in her own skin. This has won the hearts of many middle-aged and older women, as well as the young, or anyone who cares more about what you think and say than about what you look like.
Throughout her career, she has been the prey of violent online misogyny and horrific online abuse but Beard has a thick skin and always responds to her attackers. “It doesn’t much matter what line of argument you take as a woman. If you venture into traditional male territory, the abuse comes anyway. It´s not what you say that prompts it – it´s the fact that you are saying it”. She is even known for having gone out for lunch with some of her online attackers, who apologised to her, and they ended up being on good terms while keeping contact over the years.
One of her most recent books, Women & Power: A Manifesto, is a powerful recount of the different ways in which women have be silenced since the Greek and Roman Antiquity. With her book, adapted from two lectures she gave in 2014 and 2017, she tries to explain some of the roots of contemporary misogyny, to be able to combat it better. She does not stop in merely presenting where the problems lie or come from, but also seeks to find new ways of dealing with it and finding answers to the question of how women can be heard.
“We are not constrained by classical antiquity, thank goodness. We can do better. But if we really want to get to a position where women are taken seriously, then we have to take our focus away from being exclusively on a particular form of elite woman. We have to retell stories of women’s power, re-evaluate what power is”. (…) And it has to involve a corresponding readjustment for men. “All power given to women in our current culture has to be power that men lose.”
By Teresa Iglesias, WAVE Intern
Chhibber, Ashley. “Interview: Mary Beard.” The Cambridge Student, 3 May 2013, www.tcs.cam.ac.uk/interviews/0028855-interview-mary-beard.html.
“Civilisations: Masterworks of Beauty and Ingenuity.” BBC, 9 Mar. 2018, www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/GThNCvQtxsgJfJrxCxFJb2/civilisations-masterworks-of-beauty-and-ingenuity.
Cooke, Rachel. “Women & Power: A Manifesto by Mary Beard – Review.” The Guardian, 5 Nov. 2017, www.theguardian.com/books/2017/nov/05/mary-beard-women-and-power-review-modern-feminist-classic.
Curtis, Nick. “Mary Beard: We Are Living in an Age When Men Are Proud to Be Ignorant.” Evening Standard, 20 Feb. 2017, www.standard.co.uk/lifestyle/london-life/mary-beard-we-are-living-in-an-age-when-men-are-proud-to-be-ignorant-a3471061.html.
Day, Elizabeth. “Mary Beard: I Almost Didn’t Feel Such Generic, Violent Misogyny Was about Me.” The Guardian, 26 Jan. 2013, www.theguardian.com/books/2013/jan/26/mary-beard-question-time-internet-trolls.
Higgins, Charlotte. “The Cult of Mary Beard.” The Guardian, 30 Jan. 2018, www.theguardian.com/news/2018/jan/30/mary-beard-the-cult-of.
Mead, Rebecca. “The Troll Slayer.” The New Yorker, The New Yorker, 1 Sept. 2014, www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/09/01/troll-slayer.