Curated from a series of interviews by Indian born actress and author Zoë Sallis, Voices of Powerful Women reaches out to a broad selection of women – from activists and politicians, to presidents and Sallis’ fellow actresses – asking a series of questions about feminism, religion, and war. Veteran actress and activist Jane Fonda, artist and activist Yoko Ono, Paralympian Tanni Grey-Thompson, and journalist Mariane Pearl are just some of the names appearing on Sallis’ guestlist, each with their own stories to tell and wisdom to impart.
As a sort of roundtable discussion, Voices of Powerful Women operates quite well, with plenty of predictably insightful and interesting answers on display, but there’s a certain soullessness to the Q&A format, and it’s perhaps best to think of it as a jumping off point for Google searches about the various names featured. Small biographies appear at the end, but the book would have been better served placing them earlier on, to contextualise responses.
What’s very clear is that this project has been a while in the works. Benazir Bhutto, Marie Colvin, and Wangari Maathai have passed away (Bhutto all the way back in 2007); Aung San Suu Kyi, an inspiration to and respected by many of the women interviewed here, hasn’t quite the same reputation these days; and Sinead O’Connor, who speaks so vehemently against religion, is now a Muslim.
Does the timing of the project impact things massively? Not in the grand scheme of things, but it’s a sure sign of a rapidly changing world, and it’s a world that this book might just struggle to keep up with.
It’s disappointing too that in a book celebrating successful women, so few of them paid homage to any female creatives when asked about their favourite literature, art, and music. The lack of LGBTQI+ representation is troubling too (though lesbian comedian Kate Clinton’s responses are a recurrent highlight throughout), and few of the women interviewed fall below the age of fifty. That’s not to say there isn’t value in their words – and with such a vast cross section of countries, races, and careers encountered, there certainly is value – but to hear from a few younger voices would have lifted the work a little, and likely made the “Any advice to the younger generation” feel rather less like an attack on us for checking our Instagram feeds every once in a while.
There’s a few killer lines in here – Former Irish President Mary McAleese’s “I think we have been living in a world that has been flying on one wing when we were given two” to describe the lack of agency and power granted to women throughout history was a particular favourite of mine – and there’s much to be gained from it, both in an historical perspective and a forward looking one. But I’m loath to join in with any reviews of Voices of Powerful Women that might throw the word “empowering” around, like a vocabularic version of a feminist seal of approval.
That’s not to say it won’t inspire or invigorate (it likely will), but ultimately this collection lacks any real resonance, particularly with the younger readers it’s no doubt aiming to motivate.
Zoë Sallis’ Voices of Powerful Women is available through Penguin Random House