You probably don’t pair Greek Mythology and the #MeToo movement, but in the last year I can’t help but connect the two every time I read certain myths.
The #MeToo movement exploded in the fall of 2017, launching a social media blitz that lead to media coverage and discussion of sexual harassment and assault. It was something that definitely came up in my classroom, especially as we read current news articles for our “Article of the Week” similar to Kelly Gallagher’s.
But last year as I was teaching the myth of Medusa for the thousandth time – it struck me. If Medusa were alive today, she would have a #MeToo story. So would Pasiphae, Leto, Persephone, Helen, and Daphne (and many others). I was teaching myths that had the gods seducing, raping, and punishing women.
In some instances there isn’t any mention of force, and many translations say that the gods, Zeus in particular, fell in “love” with goddesses and human. But through this new lens, I wondered.
So, I want to examine the Myth of Medusa through the lens of #MeToo.
Summary of the myth of Medusa
In case you haven’t read my blog post about Medusa, here is a quick recap.
Medusa was a priestess in the temple of Athena. One day she went to the sea. Poseidon saw her, “fell in love with her”, and followed her back to the temple. There he approached Medusa, who refused him. So he took her on the floor of the temple. She prayed to Athena for help and she appeared. Angry. She punished Medusa for denying a god by turning her into the Gorgon.
Greek Gods (and assailants) can do anything
Similar to the beliefs that many men in Hollywood, like Harvey Weinstein, in Greek Mythology the gods are allowed to do what they wish to humans. Humans were inconsequential. We see this clearly this in the fact that Poseidon wants Medusa, therefore, Poseidon gets Medusa. She has no voice and no choice.
But Medusa is strong – strong-willed and strong-voice. She runs from him. She calls upon Athena for help. She causes such a ruckus that her sisters (or fellow priestesses) come to her aide.
Athena’s response? “How dare you say no to a god – who do you think you are?”
This has never made sense to me.
- Athena hates Poseidon
- Athena was a virgin goddess and it was a requirement for her priestesses.
- Her temple was desecrated by this act.
Why doesn’t she defend Medusa!?!?
The short answer is – Gods can do anything and humans can’t say no. Athena hates it when humans see themselves as equal to or greater than the gods (remember what Athena did to Arachne?). By denying Poseidon her body, Medusa saw herself as deserving of respect and equal treatment by a god.
Mythology and the #MeToo movement connect in the sheer number of perpetrators that see themselves above the rules of society.
Victims are blamed
In the #MeToo movement was read story after story of women being subjected to unwanted sexual advances by men. Some were then labeled as frigid, prude, ice-queen, or tease. And unfortunately I read many stories of women who, like Medusa, were raped and then blamed.
Athena isn’t angry with Poseidon. She is angry with Medusa. She punishes Medusa.
Medusa was described as a beautiful maiden. So Athena turned her into a monster, with snakes in her hair, and a stare that would turn any mortal man into stone. She lives near the Underworld and becomes a trophy and prize for any mortal who wishes to hunt her down and kill her.
Can you see how the narrative around the myth of Medusa has changed from her being a victim to her being a monster, ultimately she is the one to blame, punish, and eventually kill. Why? Because she said, “No.” And then, after Perseus beheads Medusa, her head is given to Athena who carries it on the front of her shield for all to see. A terrifying sight indeed. But it also serves to send the message of “don’t cross me.”
Even worse, is that in many modern interpretations of Medusa, she is turned into a sex-symbol. An object. Just do a google search of Medusa and you will find any number of drawings showing her in little clothing and a voluptuous body. She is depicted as luring heroes into her lair only to try to kill them – much like many perpetuators of sexual harassment use the excuse that “She deserved it” or “Look at what she was wearing.”
Women hurting women
The other aspect that really bothers me about this Greek myth in the light of #MeToo is that Athena, a goddess, is the one who punishes Medusa beyond the initial rape. Women on women crime.
Many people try to explain away the myths or defend them because of the patriarchal society in which the Greeks lived. However, in this myth, it isn’t just the patriarchy that harms Medusa. Athena doesn’t defend Medusa. Athena turns Medusa into a monster. Athena helps Perseus kill her – even guiding his sword. Athena carries the head of Medusa on her shield.
This really could be a myth about Athena vs. Medusa.
How often do we (I’m talking about women) do the same thing? We question victims of sexual assault. We stay silent when we see other women treated poorly. We call each other names. We see each other as competition and ultimately enemies.
In the classroom
As I’ve been struggling with all of this in the myths I’ve been teaching – Medusa is just one of the myths, but the most obvious – my students have also been struggling with this.
I don’t think we can impose our own morality systems on the myths. But I also think that we can’t condone the actions of the gods. I think we condone them when we don’t talk about it. When we ignore the problems in Greek Mythology and the #MeToo Movement, we are silently accepting and approving of these actions.
You can find hundred of blog posts that list all the ways we see mythology in modern life. But this is one way that I wish we would have progressed more in the last 4000 years.
The discussion in my classroom since #MeToo have been enlightening. And let me tell you – I have hope in the rising generation. More often than not, it was my male students who were the most uncomfortable and wanted justice for Medusa. They spoke up and used their voices to defend her.
It may have taken four millennia, but Medusa, we finally have your back!