Friday, February 3, 2012

Day 315: Fun Fact Friday - Myths of Medusa, a Feminist Inspiration?

Caravaggio's Medusa.  1595
Speaking of bad hair days (see yesterday's post for more on this topic!)... this week's "Fun Fact" draws on the classic myth of Medusa.  What most of us remember is that Medusa was a reportedly a horrifyingly ugly monster: a morph of serpent and woman, with fighting snakes for hair and a horrifying gaze that turned men to stone.  Legends holds that the hero Perseus killed Medusa by using a mirrored shield (a gift from the goddess Athena) to approach Medusa without having to look directly at her deadly face.  He sliced her head off with his sword, and then takes it with him, and turned his enemies into stone by forcing them to look upon Medusa's dead-but-still-deadly gaze.

Versace reportedly picked the image of Medusa for its logo,
because "she is the epitome of fatal attraction." 
This story, alone, qualifies Medusa as an excellent "fun fact" for those interested in the (mythical) history of mirrors.  More interesting to me, however, was learning that Medusa's horrifying ugliness was not gifted at birth, but due to a curse put upon her by Athena.  In Ovid's Metamorphosis (yes, the same source for Day 301's Fun Fact), Medusa began as a ravishingly beautiful maiden.  She was a priestess in Athena's temple, and "the jealous aspiration of many suitors."  Medusa's stunning beauty and vanity angered the jealous goddess Athena.  When Medusa was caught "hooking up" (my term) with Poseidon, Athena punished Medusa by transforming her beautiful hair into serpents, and her lovely face into a site terrible to behold.

Thanks to my googling skills, I've learned that Medusa has earned a special place in the hearts of some feminist scholars, who believe her story (and face) to be an apt symbol for female rage.  In these accounts, it is Medusa's anger, not her ugliness, that becomes the focus.  Her rage is seen as righteous and powerful, as something women should use "as a map to guide us through our terrors, through the depths of our anger into the sources of our power as women," (as published in the 1978 issue of Women: A Journal of Liberation, which also featured an image of Medusa on its cover).

After all this, I'm left wondering:
*Was Medusa a monster or a victim?  
*So many classic tales are rooted in violence between a jealous women and a beautiful one.   (Snow White, Cinderella, The "I'll get you my pretty!!!" Wizard of Oz, and many more, I'm sure)  What does this teach young girls about what it means to be a woman?
*Finally, in our modern culture, what is treated as the greatest evil: ugliness, vanity, or rage?  

What do YOU think??
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  1. I guess what it teaches us is that we can't blame the media for everything. As much as we might want to blame tv, film, magazines, etc for making women feel desperate to hold onto youth with every chemical and surgery available, and to hate ourselves as we get old (while men only get sexier) the fact seems to be that it's nothing new. Media didn't invent it, it merely capitalized on what the Grimm Brothers saw centuries ago, and the greeks millennia before that. How sad.

  2. The battle of sexes has been going on since the dawn of time and male bonding has always prevailed. Women should learn from that example. If only they would. Women are supposed to support, encourage and mentor other women but that is usually unfortunately not the case. Women are the ones who sell their daughters into sexual slavery. Women are the ones who stone other women in places like India. Women are the ones who sexually mutilate their daughters at a young age. Women are the ones who abandon, kill or terminate a pregnancy in places like China when the fetus or baby is female. Women are usually the first ones to be competitive and catty toward other women. Look at the girl that was killed in Texas just so another girl could have her spot as a cheerleader. And... when it comes to a man... some women know no bounds.

    Women do amazing things. Our bodies create life and then produce milk to feed that life and most of us do it while working and raising a family not to mention trying to hold our ground while trying to make strides forward in a male dominated world. More women than men are entrepreneurs. More women than men graduate from college and with higher grades. We spend a lot of money on clothes, make up and gym memberships, not just to impress and win male approval because we all know that men are not as critical of us as we are of ourselves, but to win the approval of other women. I love it when I hear a woman talking about another woman and say something like “she must be 50 if she’s a day” like the woman is guilty of something. Greater strides in the world will be made when woman learn to support each other instead of criticize each other.

  3. I would have to say that in our culture as it is, rage would be seen as the greatest evil. And, yet, as evidenced by the Komen/Planned Parenthood flap this week, enough women together can put their rage to good use.

  4. I read of some writings tell of Medusa as being raped by Poseidon (instead of willingly "hooking up" with him) but still punished by Athena (out of jealousy) claiming that it was Medusa's own fault she was raped. In this way they say, Medusa becomes the image of the plight of so many women out there who get punished by a sexist society for sins they did not commit.

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