This dystopian world reveals a patriarchal, repressive society that sexualizes women with a culture of compliance.
Recently, it feels like it has been hard to be a woman. A few weeks ago, a YouGov poll revealed that 97% of women aged between 18–24 in the UK had experienced sexual harassment in some form. Amidst women on social media opening up about their experiences of harassment in the wake of Sarah Everard’s disappearance, it has highlighted just how mainstream this has become.
Although The President Show is set in a fictional dystopian, totalitarian state, many parallels can be drawn between that world and ours in the wake of recent events. The abuse and sexualisation of women are normalised, so much so that it becomes part of the furniture. Women are manipulated, drugged when necessary to keep them quiet and forced into a culture of repression and ownership dictated by powerful, male politicians. And when they attempt to speak out, they are forcibly silenced.
The President Show paints a picture of a highly patriarchal society. Women exist solely for sexual purposes and are judged by their appearances and ability to stay silent and act as a cog in a grand machine — dictated by powerful men. On the one hand, it feels like a faraway world or a state we can’t even imagine being real. But on the other hand, its depiction of the treatment of women mirrors some of society’s ever-present attitudes.
About the Author
Costanza Casati is a writer, screenwriter and freelance journalist. Born in the US and raised in Italy, she gained a first-class degree in English and Film Studies from Queen Mary University of London in 2017. After, she went on to gain a distinction in writing from the University of Warwick in 2018.
She has covered the 75th and 76th Venice Film Festivals for HOLR Magazine, as well as authoring a set of short stories appearing in Nothing in the Rulebook.
The President Show is her debut novel and is available to buy from Amazon.
Please note, the author kindly sent me a copy in exchange for an honest review.
Costanza Casati tackles so many themes in this book that I was naturally drawn to. Interwoven within a suspenseful plot, filled with intriguing characters, is an overriding critique of a deeply patriarchal society. Set in a totalitarian nation, The President Show serves to highlight the persistent sexualization of women at the hands of powerful men.
The women featured in the novel are handpicked to appear on the reality TV programme, The President Show. Iris, the protagonist, it picked from a poor district which highlights just how the selection process can prey on the vulnerable. If she wins, she has the prospect of a cash prize and notoriety, which will put her in good stead and potentially change the course of her life. Naturally, then, it forces a type of compliance and gratefulness.
“As for the poor families from districts like mine… they know how girls are taken from their homes and they don’t expect they’ll be treated better once on the show.”
Once inside, these women are expected to perform sexual acts with powerful men, and they are judged based on their willingness to comply and deliver. Iris is one of the more outspoken characters, but this is always discouraged. The women inside know the only way to stay truly safe is to accept the way things are and do what men say for a chance of winning the competition and having a guaranteed way out.
Frequently, women are drugged into silence when they try to speak out, and it’s just another stifling tool used at the disposal of these powerful men.
“Pills are like men. The closer you get to them, the more they take from you. It’s like living in a world in someone else’s shadow and praying all day that the person’s merciful.”
Because the pills are so horrible to experience, women try to keep silent to avoid being given them. It is one way in which they can be used to erode their identity and personality. Therefore, women are treated as objects that purely function for powerful, male politicians inside the show. Their only way to get out is to perform these duties, ever to have a chance to see the outside world.
What I loved the most about this book was the brilliant characters — Iris is strong, outspoken, and a fantastic protagonist because of all of these reasons. I like to think that if I were stuck in that situation, I would be able to stand up for myself like her — despite being fully aware of the consequences this could bring.
You (as a reader) will vehemently dislike characters such as the President himself and some of the other women contestants, but that’s a sign of a very talented writer — in being able to make you feel something for somebody who has a fictional existence.
For me, one of the main characteristics of a good book is the ending and whether it is satisfying enough. It’s got to tie up all the loose ends and not make my mind wander (unless it’s a series) — and this ticks all the right boxes. I’m not going to tell you what happens as that would be too revealing — but I will say — I was pleased and satisfied with the outcome.
The plot itself naturally drew me in, as I wanted to see how Iris’ experience on the show would pan out, and it was fast-paced and addictive to read. Every page felt like another surprise, and I always wanted to keep on reading.
These factors, combined with the important feminist message of the book and how it draws on the current moment for women, have made me an avid fan of this book. If you like dystopian novels influenced by contemporary politics, this is definitely a must-read for you. Also, for fans of The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, The Shelf by Helly Acton and more broadly, women’s or dystopian fiction — this is an ideal read.
As a dystopian fiction lover, I will gladly add this to my list of favourites within the genre. Reading this made me pause to reflect on our current world and how it treats women, especially by those in positions of power, and realising what could become if we’re not careful.
Dystopian fiction always seems too abstract and unlikely to become our lived realities — but that’s part of its power. It reveals what is possible. This is an eye-opening and haunting debut novel from a very talented writer.
“Once I read that politics is like dogs barking. The people who make noise are the ones who are listened to the most, while the patient ones get drowned in the clamor. Better to be loud, don’t you think?”
Please note – this was originally published on Medium.com