Medusa: She was Punished

Submitted by Emma Howard on Thu, 01/23/2020 - 11:50 - 0 Comments
This article contains themes of sexual violence.
National 24/7 Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673
Throughout history the Greek myth of Medusa has classically been used to demonize strong, angry women, portraying them as requiring conquest and control by their male counterparts. She
is portrayed as enticing and intoxicating to men leading
to her rape by the Greek god Poseidon in Athena’s temple. As punishment for breaking her vow of virginity, Athena transforms her into a horrifying gorgon, with hissing snakes replacing her hair, and eyes that could turn anyone who looked into them to stone. She was feared, hated, and blamed for the crime of a great god. Eventually, she is murdered by the hero Perseus and her vicious face is emblazoned on Athena’s battle shield. Her narrative is classically told by men, charactarizing Medusa as a monster and a scapegoat for men afraid of female desire, and craving sick control over the women in their lives. She is raped, blamed, and silenced.
In the20th century, feminist theorists have been reclaiming her as a symbol of female rage. In the age of Me Too, she is an original survivor, and a portrayal of the grit, pain, and pure fury that powerful, oppressed women feel. Elizabeth Johnston’s November 2016 Atlantic essay
labeled Medusa the original Nasty Woman following her comparison to 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
Medusa’s enraged face is an effervescent symbol of female anger arriving whenever men become angrily threatened by female rage and power. She represents so much more than just an angry
woman. She is an example of the control of women using the social construct of virginity, the weapon of rape, and the silencing effects of trauma and blame. She is a warning that sexuality, power, confidence, and strength are not acceptable qualities of a woman. She represents every woman who is disempowered and oppressed by the patriarchy, a warning to stay silently, and remain obediently in our places.
Feminist theorist Hélène Cixous tackles the myth in her famous essay, “The laugh of the Medusa”. She calls women to take arms and claim their female identity, and overthrow the patriarchal capitalist western society. She highlights the weaponization of writing as a tool for the feminist movement to not only ‘realize’ the decensored relation of woman to her sexuality, her womanly being, and giving her access to her native strength,” but to “give her back her goods, her pleasures, her organs, her immense bodily territories which have been kept under seal.”
The story of Medusa represents so much more than one mythic woman, she represents so many women throughout history. She is our rage, our pain, and our injustice. She is all of us and as Cixous says “You only have to look at the Medusa straight on to see her, and she’s not deadly. She’s beautiful and she’s laughing”.

About the Author

Emma Howard's picture

A passionate advocate for social issues through the lens of education, intersectional marxist feminism, anthropological theory, and political activism, with a constant focus on people, and human connection.