When we think about the tale of Medusa, most of us bring to mind a monstrous beast, with snakes for her hair, who could turn men to stone with just a look. But, just like most history and mythology, this story has been told in a way that serves to continue the ideology of females as inferior. Our historic telling of Medusa seeks to sustain men’s control over women by insisting that they be attractive and available to the male gaze. History and mythology require a modern re-examining to uncover the ways in which details have been contorted to suit our patriarchal society.
As the story goes, the allure of Medusa's golden locks were far too desirable for Poseidon, who rapes her in Athena's temple. Athena then, in a fit of jealous rage, curses Medusa into a monstrous gorgon, whose image is fatal to the gaze of the mortal man. The original story would have us think of this as a punishment because pitting women against other women caters perfectly to the male gaze. Although framed as a punishment, it could be seen as more of a gift, for now Medusa has the power to strip men of their ability to subject her to unwanted attention and objectification – also meaning, she can no longer be raped.
We are expected to feel empathy for all of these poor mortal men, trembling in fear at the idea of looking at this monstrous, angry woman because they will meet their fate. But what exactly is the mortal man? Is it not just our patriarchal society as a whole? The original telling of this story convinces us to crucify Medusa and to feel sorry for the mortal man. But when you look at the specifics, Medusa was taken to an unknown place and raped because she was too desirable for Poseidon to control himself. When she becomes angry and tries to tell the world of her pain, she is painted as the villain.
Although the story of Medusa is mythological, her story is relevant to our current society. The culture of our patriarchal society repeatedly finds reason for rape which de-centres the man’s responsibility in it, thus maintaining our prominent rape culture. It could be said that the inability for men to look is more of a refusal to look at her, for looking deeper into these issues with a clearer lens might lead to an exponential amount of change, and that would be detrimental to the survival of the patriarchy.
Many, perhaps most, female bodied people in the world can relate to the anger and revengeful acts of Medusa. Her beauty is blamed for Poseidon’s rape. Her anger is used to vilify her and take away from the crime of Poseidon. Haven't we all wanted to get that angry when we’ve been subject to unwanted male gaze, or after having our bodily autonomy taken from us, then had it blamed on our appearance or attitude? Medusa is no monster; Medusa is a victim that refused to stay silent about her assault. She wanted the whole world to feel her wrath.
Rage is a perfectly reasonable response to minimising a man's agency in rape, and victim blaming. We exist in a society which demands we must be sexy and always sexually available, but not in a way that is asking for assault. The story of Medusa is a perfect illustration of the discourse of rape culture and victim blaming in our patriarchal society. Essentially, we are damned if we do and damned if we don’t, either way, the blame is never centred around the man’s involvement.
Introducing guest blog post by new staff member Finula Greene. Finula was recently published in Archer magazine with a piece about masturbation, gender and stigma. They major in gender and sexuality studies, while actively incorporating these interests into everyday life and creative endeavours. This blog hits a personal note with them, coming straight from the heart.