By Kerry Cue
I want to start very near the beginning of the tradition of Western literature, and its first recorded example of a man telling a woman to ‘shut up’; telling her that her voice was not to be heard in public.
Mary Beard, The Public Voice of Women, LRB, 20 MAR 2014, p11.
Mary Beard is the Professor of Classics at Newnham College, Cambridge, the Classics Editor of the Times Literary Supplement and contributor to the London Review of Books. Beard recently spoke out about the silencing of women’s voices in public in lectures at the British Museum and in the LRB article (above).
Beard quotes the ‘wet-behind the ears’ Telemachus in Homer’s Odyssey silencing his mother, the savvy middle-aged Penelope: ‘Mother,’ he says, ‘go back up into your quarters, and take up your own work, the loom and the distaff … speech will be the business of men, all men, and of me most of all; for mine is the power in this household.’
We talk of online trolls viciously attacking any women with an opinion today on Twitter, say, but Beard points out that ‘silencing women’ has been ingrained in Western Culture since it’s conception. Following an appearance on television, Beard became the target of such trolls, who compared her genitalia to rotting vegetables. When she Tweeted that she found these comments ‘gob-smacking’, one commentator in a leading British magazine reported Beard’s Tweet with the following words: ‘The misogyny is truly “gob-smacking”, she whined.’
‘It’s not what you say that prompts it’ explains Beard, ‘it’s the fact you’re saying it.’ Women, apparently, whine, bleat, whinnie and yap. This is the language used to described women’s voices over two millennia.
The viciousness of the online attacks cannot be overstated. ‘Shut up you bitch’ is a fairly common refrain’ said Beard. ‘I’m going to cut off your head and rape it’ was one tweet I got.’
Beard wants us to look at our culture and the tradition of silencing women in public. If women are not allowed a voice of authority in public, we have no voice at all..
And ‘We need to work that out before we figure out how we modern Penelopes might answer back to our own Telemachuses …’
We the Sibyls salute Mary Beard.