My Bitch Face & Medusa

My Bitch Face & Medusa

Lessons from a Goddess on the Power of Ugliness

A former partner used to tell me that my anger—or more specifically, my bitch face—frightened him. It was thanks to him, thanks to the pyrotechnics of our conflictive dynamic, that I came to know my capacity for rage.

Do you know what it feels like to embody the word “fuming” as your anger walks you down the street? To play metal music (which you hate) at maximum volume so you won’t have to scream alone? To become mute with rage, any words at all lost in the blizzard blanketing your mind?

I didn’t. But I do now.

my bitch face

Recently, I have been delving deep into wide-ranging interpretations and re-storyings of the Medusa myth. Market research, if you will, for a new project I am co-creating, Medusa Media Collective.

Feminist retellings of her story abound. Survivor, Rebel, Victim, Witch—Medusa can also be a symbol of subversion, of resilience, and of the life-giving cycle of destruction and creation.

Perhaps best known for the serpents in her hair, Medusa’s gaze, as referenced in Homer’s Illiad, is just as fascinating.

“Medusa’s eye petrifies. Her “evil” eye brings death.”—Miriam Robbins Dexter, Ph.D.

What kind of expression, when encountered on a woman’s face, is so terrifying it can turn people to stone? My guess: her “bitch face” (a term, incidentally, which I am choosing to embrace). 

You know, the one that comes with blinding rage and metal music. It is so chilling that men the world over must beg women to smile in the street. From the ancients to the moderns, no one likes an angry woman; that’s why we learn young to keep that stuff under control.

However, while this gaze may bring death, I do not believe it is “evil.” Rather, I think it has been vilified, demonized along with women’s rage. 

Anger is not evil, but it is transformative. And change is very scary. Wicked, even.

That partner of mine told me that my rage was ugly—and frightening. He couldn’t bear to look upon it.

Far more upsetting, for a moment I believed him. I turned away from the ugliness of my own anger, for fear it might turn me to stone. 

Embracing Anger as an Agent of Change

Of course, this was not the case. Perhaps Medusa’s gaze causes another kind of death: creative destruction, the necessary death of the old to create space for the new. Death-as-transformation. My anger petrified both of us, but it eventually allowed me to burn down old cycles and create anew, far from people who would dismember my less “attractive” emotions. And therein lies the other interpretation of the “evil eye,” rage that protects us, wards off ill intent and turns it back on those who would do us harm.

Challenging relationships typically compensate with certain gifts, and this one granted me an intimate familiarity with my rage, which I had scarcely touched before. It took me a long time to set aside that anger when it had overstayed its welcome. I think that’s because it felt good…

My anger set me on fire, and I forged so much in those flames: creative projects, businesses, strength, sisterhood. Seeds burst open in that destructive heat and birthed new life. And when it had carried me through, I set it down on an out-of-reach shelf, there if I ever needed it. Only now am I remembering to turn around and say “thank you” to the bitch face, the “ugliness” that gave me so much power, protection, and life—just as effigies of Medusa were said to do for sacred sites and cities.

Up until now, I still couldn’t decide whether to repent of my ugliness, my anger, my bitch face—or to revel in it. Yet the deeper I penetrate into the snaky caves of Medusa’s lore, the more certain I become that I should embrace this power, precisely disregarding the patriarchy’s instructions to decapitate it, to look away in shame, disgust, and fear.

Medusa hisses at me from the shadows, “Don’t listen to them, sweetie. Your bitch face is beautiful!” And you know what? Today I believe her.

toby israel

Toby Israel is Medusa’s Chief Brainstormer. She is a vagabondess and a storyteller who has a metaphorical closet full of hats, including: Author, Editor, Marketing Consultant, Movement Artist, and Empowerment Self-Defense Instructor. Toby holds a BA in Anthropology from Middlebury College and an MA in Peace and Media Studies from the University for Peace. She speaks four languages, but only edits in English.

You Are the Revolution

You Are the Revolution

Lessons from Medusa on Sexuality, Power, & Subversion

“La subversión sumergida en belleza es revolución.” — Colectivo Las Tesis

(Subversion, submerged in beauty, is revolution.”)

Before she is turned into a fearsome snake-headed monster, Medusa is a beautiful maiden. Ovid describes her hair as the, “most wonderful of all her charms.”

The ancient Greeks sure had a knack for dramatic irony. The very feature that made Medusa seductive and irresistible as a woman is what renders her “terrifying” and “repulsive” after her transformation: her hair.

Beauty & Sexuality: The Ultimate Revolution

So let’s dig into the power, seduction, and revolution behind that symbol.

revolution

Throughout history and across cultures, women’s hair has been a symbol of: fertility, sensuality, feminine energy, sexuality, and so much more. Why do you think so many religiocultural injunctions demand that we cover up? That stuff is dangerous!

As the logic goes:

Sexuality = Power. Power = Danger (at least when in the hands—or hair—of a woman)

Or something along those lines.

In 2020, Las Tesis (a feminist collective born in Chile) made international waves with their performance, “un vialodor en tu camino” (a rapist in your path). In their manifesto, published to contextualize the performance piece, they write:

“El violador eras tu.” Photo originally published in La Tercera. November 2019.

“Subversion, submerged in beauty, is revolution.”

I wonder if the reverse can’t also be true: “Beauty (or sexuality) submerged in subversion, is revolution.”

In these words we have the outline for (yet another) feminist retelling of the Medusa myth:

Medusa’s hair, “most wonderful of all her charms” is her beauty, symbolically tied to sexuality and power, or the potential for power.

That beauty, submerged in subversion, could describe her transformation following the trauma of sexual violence perpetrated by Poiseidon. The snakes are the embodiment, the realization of her potential to be powerful. Her refusal to cower after suffering violence is, in of itself, a powerful act of subversion.

Beauty, submerged in subversion, is revolution. Medusa, the “monster,” IS the revolution. A woman claiming her power. A woman who has channeled the fury of her injustice into sacred rage. One who inspires fear, perhaps not because she is hideous, but rather because she has harnessed her energy (her hair, the snakes), to do her bidding, and no one else’s. 

In this Medusa, I see a role model and a blueprint for rising above trauma, raising a fist (or a head of snakes) in the face of the patriarchy. She inspires us to live life on our own terms. Read thusly, Medusa can teach us to live unapologetically, with agency, with full autonomy over our body, sexuality, creative energy, and—at the core of it all—our power.

So go ahead, create! Dance! Flaunt your perfections and your flaws.

Raise your snaky head with pride. You are the revolution, and you can do whatever the hell you want with your charms.


Need a nudge in the revolution direction? At Medusa Media Collective we want to support all your creative and entrepreneurial rebellions. Reach out here to see how we can work together!

toby israel
Toby Israel is Medusa’s Chief Brainstormer. She is a vagabondess and a storyteller who has a metaphorical closet full of hats, including: Author, Editor, Marketing Consultant, Movement Artist, and Empowerment Self-Defense Instructor. Toby holds a BA in Anthropology from Middlebury College and an MA in Peace and Media Studies from the University for Peace. She speaks four languages, but only edits in English.
Are Your Dreams Big Enough?

Are Your Dreams Big Enough?

 Before You Birth Your Dreams, Be Sure to Fatten them Up

“…I dream things that never were; and I say, ‘Why not?’” —George Bernard Shaw

What is your dream life? If you could launch your dream creative or entrepreneurial endeavor, how would it look, taste, and feel? What are the dreams you’ve been afraid to share with your family and friends, the dreams you hardly dare to tell yourself?

Whatever it is, I am going to go out on a limb and guess that it could be even bigger

In fact, maybe you haven’t even dreamed it yet!

I could be wrong. I’m basing my hypothesis on a sample size of one human: myself. All the same, I think we have a tendency as a society, as a culture, to try to cut down our dreams to fit inside that cramped, uncomfortable box we call “being realistic.”

We love to talk about making our dreams come true. The sky’s the limit. Shoot for the moon. And other bland cliches that are supposed to be inspiring.

And yet, when it actually comes to doing it, to dreaming those dreams, we peak in Kindergarten. From then on it’s a downhill battle of practicality, shaping our dreams to suit college applications, job interviews, first dates, and family dinners. 

creative consulting
Visioning is a creative start.

Will they like our dreams? Will we be accepted for our true desires, or is it safer to water ourselves, and our dreams, down?

I think it’s great to have practical goals and aspirations—the stuff of family reunions and job applications. They keep us focused and challenge us to grow. However, I would argue that when we limit (yes, limit) ourselves *only* to what “makes sense,” two things happen:

1. We dream small, because we are scared to dream too big. 

I notice this in myself all the time as I vision new projects. That’s why it took me years to finally sit down and write my first book. A travel blog was an “achievable” dream. But a book… What if I failed? Or worse, what if I succeeded?!

If I set a goal, dream a dream, and make it real, then I suddenly have a responsibility to see it through. What if I write the book? Then I feel compelled to publish it, market it, and sell it. If I start the business and it begins to grow, then I must live up to the promises I’ve made in our mission statement, and prove myself worthy of the venture I myself have set into motion. The stakes only get higher as our projects grow into their full potential. Failure is scary, but then, I think success can be just as terrifying. 

dream

2. We don’t know what we don’t know. 

I can’t plan a future full of people I haven’t met yet, experiences I have yet to live, and information I haven’t yet learned. I can only set goals that exist within the realm of conscious possibility. But what about all the possibilities I can’t even imagine?

I’ve had a lot of conversations recently about the gnarled, labyrinthine trails we call our life path. (Of course, in retrospect, it always seems to make more sense.) Ten years ago, I never could have imagined that I would be living in Costa Rica, working with an amazing agricultural storytelling platform (@producersmarket), running a holistic self-defense project (@mujeresfuertescostarica), publishing a book (@vagabondesstravel), or co-founding a certain creative consulting business responsible for this very blog (@medusamediacollective).

I didn’t dream up this life; I lived it into existence, one day at a time. In fact, I couldn’t have dreamed it even if I’d tried! So many key ingredients hadn’t come into my path yet. 

How can we dream big if we can’t even possibly imagine the future possibilities ahead of us? Ay, there’s the rub. There is a fine line between allowing our life to flow according to its own plan, and giving it a supersized, wild-dreaming nudge in a certain direction. I don’t think we have to choose one or the other. We can be both outlandishly imaginative in our dreaming and goal-setting, and also exceptionally fluid in our willingness to follow the unexpected plot twists and seize the undreamed opportunities that arise. 

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That’s all to say, I may not know you or your dreams, but I’d still like to challenge you to consider what your dreams might look like if you weren’t limited by pesky things like, “being realistic,” or “managing expectations.” 

What are the dreams you’ve never dared to entertain? The possibilities that haven’t even entered into your orbit of awareness? What if the sky isn’t the limit?

Today, I know that I have *no idea* what my life will look like ten years from now. The people, places, ideas, and projects that will populate it—maybe I haven’t even met them yet. I certainly haven’t dreamed them. I also know that the dreams I’m terrified to chase are probably the ones most worthy of my attention. These are the wild creatures calling me to be bigger and more daring than I thought possible.

For me, that is all exhilarating! What about you? 

What are your deepest, darkest dreams? The ones you’ve been afraid to tell your family and friends. The ones still gestating deep inside your soul. 

What are the dreams you haven’t even dared to dream

We want to help you birth them!

“Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.” —Mark Twain

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Ready to birth your dream book, business, or project? Sometimes, it takes a bit of creative consulting—and some really deep breaths. That’s exactly why we’ve created Medusa Media Collective, to help you through the process. Reach out to us at medusamediacollective@gmail.com to get started!

toby israel

Toby Israel is Medusa’s Chief Brainstormer. She is a vagabondess and a storyteller who has a metaphorical closet full of hats, including: Author, Editor, Marketing Consultant, Movement Artist, and Empowerment Self-Defense Instructor. Toby holds a BA in Anthropology from Middlebury College and an MA in Peace and Media Studies from the University for Peace. She speaks four languages, but only edits in English.