Inspiration from the Story of Medusa
Beautiful maiden, snake-headed monster,
Medusa once had charms; to gain her love
A rival crowd of envious lovers strove.
They, who have seen her, own, they ne’er did trace
More moving features in a sweeter face.
Yet above all, her length of hair, they own,
In golden ringlets wav’d, and graceful shone.
– Ovid, Metamorphoses
The Story of Medusa
Medusa was one of three Gorgon sisters, and of the three, only she was mortal. She was a beautiful young woman with stunning blond hair. Ovid described her golden ringlets as shining gracefully. As the story goes, the god Posiedon raped young Medusa in the temple of Athena, which enrages the goddess Athena.
And who does she punish? Medusa. Athena turns Medusa into a hideous monster of a woman, and her beautiful shining locks into snakes.
Medusa’s gaze becomes a weapon–a weapon against her own sexuality, and against any man who looks upon her or shares her gaze. With her gaze, she turns men to stone, literally petrifying them.
Athena has robbed her of beauty and sexualiity, but has given her a unique power as well.
Medusa as Told by the Patriarchy
The story of Medusa is filled with examples of harmful patriarchal norms. Victim-blaming. Fear of female sexuality and power. Competitiveness and mistrust between women. Rape. Sexual and physical assault and domination of women. Unequal power dynamics. It’s all here.
In the Medusa myth, man (Poseidon), seduced by the power of female sexuality, is not to be condemned for succumbing to her allure, nor for assaulting her. Medusa is entirely to blame for attracting his desire. Paradoxically, he is also regarded as weaker, unable to control his own passions, and therefore less responsible than Medusa. Man is expected to be seduced. Or to rape. It is Woman’s responsibility to prevent it.
The narrative of Medusa is a story of fear of women–fear of their sexuality, their self-sufficiency, their inherent power. In some versions, she is a seductress and is punished for her sexuality. Other versions tell she is a victim of rape, which leads to her being punished for having been assualted.
In either case, the outcome is an all too familiar scenario: Women are punished for the actions of men, criticised for everything, blamed for their very existence. Men, especially those with power, can dominate, control, abuse and then toss a woman aside, facing no accountability while she becomes a hideous monster.
Women In patriarchal narratives are pitted against each other. Whether from the original mythological tale or from the continued patriarchal lens through which we retell these stories, this competition and mistrust between women is one of the features of patriarchy that enables it to persist. As with any oppressed groups in any society, their isolation and mistrust among them keeps oppressors in control, stops them from empowered connection.
Ancient Tales, New Narratives
It is time to change the narratives. It’s time to stop victim-blaming, slut-shaming, women-condemning. It is time to hold men (and women) accountable for the ways we all participate in unhealthy expressions of patriarchy.
In the patriarchal telling of the myth, the ultimate hero of the story is Perseus, who eventually beheads Medusa to use her power as his own. (Naturally, a man swoops in to become the hero of the story.) The focus of the original violence done to Medusa in the form of rape is quickly shifted to focus on her as a hideous monster with a head of snakes, a woman deserving of her fate.
But in our new narrative, the one where we stop patriarchy from expressing itself with such shameless audacity, Medusa is not an unfortunate victim; rather, she is the ultimate survivor, the true hero.
Medusa shows us that we have the right to defend ourselves. We have the right to speak up.
We are not here to quietly accept injustice around us or the ill intentions of others. Medusa inspires us to also hold up a mirrored shield and reflect what we see–that we turn our petrifying gaze to those who would harm us, to patriarchy itself.
Empowered Maiden and Self-Loving Monster
Perhaps we all have a bit of beautiful maiden and a bit of monster within us. Medusa empowers us to embrace both the beauty and the hideousness. To tend our gracefully shining locks when we desire, or let the snakes out to play. To be our fullest sexual beings or petrify unwanted attention with our gaze. Medusa inspires us to be the most empowered version of the maiden, owning our sexuality and our power. She inspires us to love and accept ourselves fully, even on the days we feel like monsters, because we are beautiful and fierce in all our forms.
At Medusa Media Collective, we are ready to embrace them both – the maiden and the monster. We let no one else define them for us. We will be who we will be, and it will be on our terms, when and how we choose.
And always, we will be unapologetically outspoken.
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