The first half of Naomi Alderman’s The Power reads like a feminist revenge fantasy. Teenage girls suddenly have the power to electrocute people through touch. Even better, they can transfer this power to older women. The societal tables have turned and women now hold power over men. This flip, especially in a reality where my fundamental rights, such as access to healthcare, are being stripped away by sexist politicians, feels scarily gratifying. Alderman leans into this feeling to weave a story about gender that, despite the wealth of great feminist novels, has never been told before.
“It doesn’t matter that she shouldn’t, that she never would. What matters is that she could, if she wanted. The power to hurt is a kind of wealth.”
I am sixteen, the same age as one protagonist, Allie, at the start of the novel. I found myself salivating over descriptions of men being afraid to walk alone at night. I cheered when women took to the streets blowing up cars they were not allowed to drive. When women leered at men and men lamented this unfairness, I thought, it’s about time. The sane part of me knows that men do not deserve to be punished for society raising them to be assholes. But, the part of me that Alderman manages to catch in a rush of “equality” relished the flipped script. Maybe this is what makes The Power so captivating. Contrary to contemporary feminist novels where women are stripped of their voice or bodily autonomy, women gain power and use it to punish men.
The Power is deceptively fast paced. I read the first fifty pages at night before going to bed, then woke up the next day and read nonstop until I finished the book (yay summer!). Its fast pacing allows Alderman to guide readers, particularly female ones, into this trap of false feminism. Women are finally dominant and for a brief second, it seems like the world will transform into a Herland-esque utopia because women know how to run things better than men. But, just as everything seems perfect, Alderman forces readers to consider why they assume empowered women are not just as aggressive and power hungry as men? Isn’t that, what’s the word… sexist?
“Gender is a shell game. What is a man? Whatever a woman isn’t. What is a woman? Whatever a man is not. Tap on it and it’s hollow. Look under the shells: it’s not there.”
It’s evident Alderman is a mentee of Margaret Atwood. In The Handmaid’s Tale fashion, The Power is written as a “historical fiction” novel by authors 5000 years into the future, complete with finds from “archeological excavations” and notes from a future editor. Likewise, in typical Atwood fashion, Alderman forces the reader to reconsider their views on sex without ever feeling didactic. Because of this, The Power deserves the claims that it should be counted among great feminist novels like The Handmaid’s Tale.