The Power

by Naomi Alderman

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The premise of the 2016 science fiction novel The Power is fascinating: women have evolved the ability to deliver electric jolts from their fingers, allowing them to become physically dominant over men for the first time in world history. Some of the most notable quotes in the novel reflect the idea that women do not have to use this power—instead, they choose to use it. This is a powerful commentary on the history of men's physical dominance over and abuse of women, demonstrating that such behaviors are not inherent and dictated by biology, but willingly chosen.

The power to hurt is a kind of wealth.

This suggests that women can not only physically control men with this power, but can accumulate wealth with it—if one extends the metaphor. Indeed, men generally make more money than women do for the same work, and women's domestic work in the household is usually unpaid, despite their doing most of the food preparation, cleaning, and childcare. These roles have been instilled throughout history, partly due to the vulnerability of women's bodies during pregnancy and after childbirth. Society has grown to assume women's physical powerlessness must be continuous and so female participation in financially-lucrative industries has been limited. The quote begs the question: what would the world look like if women had access to the world's wealth?

Another quote that stands out for its multi-layered implications is the following:

It doesn’t matter that she shouldn’t, that she never would. What matters is that she could, if she wanted.

This thought offers a parallel to a similar thought men could have regarding sexual assault. Of course, a man does not ever have to assault someone (and many never would); but the potential for this violence is always there due to the biological physical differences between men and women. The implication is that this newfound "power" women carry within them is something they must choose to resist using. To put it another way, once women finally have the power to dominate men, they should be discouraged from using that power, despite men having exploited their similar advantages for centuries. This line also underscores the ever-present threat of sexual violence that women have been conditioned to feel in the presence of men—and for good reason.

The following quote describes a romantic scene between a man and a woman and expands on the sexual implications of women's newfound power:

She is still giggling, soft and low. She leans forward and pulls him closer to her. She looks into his eyes, her irises are lined with lights of brown and gold, and her lower lip is moist. He is afraid. He is excited. He realizes he could not stop her, whatever she wanted to do now. The thought is terrifying. The thought is electrifying.

This quote is more controversial because it relays the sensations and emotions through the man's point of view, and for whatever reason, he finds the prospect of physical domination and harm from this woman to be sexually exciting. Does this mean that this is how men perceive women's responses to the threat of physical harm in a sexual context? Not necessarily. Instead, this line is a commentary on how perceived gender roles and behavior that have become normalized over time can seem absolutely absurd when they are reversed. This is indeed one of the main premises of this fascinating and innovative novel.

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