Saturday, June 9, 2012

PBP: Gender-roles in Hellenic mythology

Alright, I feel better so lets move on to a lighter topic, shall we? Gender-roles in Hellenic mythology. Hellenic myth isn't the most balanced or forward mythological system when it comes to gender roles. In fact, I strongly believe it's a gender package no one comes out of, looking better. Women have three choices; rejoicing their femininity and inherent sexuality and leaving themselves open to kidnap and/or rape, tempting and/or raping in return or becoming warrior virgins who (only go through attempted rape but) will never know love. Men have two choices; either they become brutes who chase every bit of tail that comes their way or they become tricksters, harmless to the females around them as well as the egos and reputations of the males. I've seen better options.

Lets look at the women first; The first option is to be so beautiful and/or innocent and/or conveniently available that the male God or hero can not restrain himself. He must have her and so he takes her from her home and (often) has sex with her. Persephone is a textbook example of this. These rapes (although the sex sometimes is concensual) often end in pregnancy and the birth of a new hero. Examples include Perseus and Kastor and/or Polideukes. Often the women get punished severely for their part in the sex/rape. Just look at Médousa.

The second option is to be in control of one's beauty and sexual prowess but eternally alone. The Odysee is full of examples of this one; the sorceress Circe, Calypso as well as the Sirens. All tempt Odysseus to various degrees of success, sometimes taking his faculties from him so they can take from him what they want.

The last category for the women is to become a warrior and remain a virgin. The only way to find love is to revert to one of the other two options. The Goddesses Artemis and Athena are amongst these, as well as the Amazons.

The men have different options but it comes down to two words; power or trickery (or a combination of both). The men-who-become-brutes tend to be the ones who chase women down in lust until they have her and can make love to her or rape her or until she is taken from them by the intervention of another deity. See Médousa for the former and Daphne and Minthe for the latter.

The tricksters include Gods like Hermes and perhaps even Apollon; They find love but only by avoiding the men and women that the brutes are attracted to. More often than not, the tricksters get assigned their partners by the brutes.

Now, this is an overgeneralization. There are many shades of grey here. Rape, in Hellenic myth shouldn't even be interpreted as rape as we know it; in myths it's the pouring out of Divinity over mortals. In general, it can even be seen as a blessing, of sorts.

I do not condone rape in any way, shape or form. I am merely saying that women in ancient Hellens were considered to be property of the men in their lives. Any sexual encounters they had was rape, by definition, as it was a property crime. So consensual sex was still rape... well... a property crime, because the word 'rape' did not exist in ancient Hellas. Of course, this whole thing is still a tangled web of hurt that is beyond the scope of this blog post. Perhaps when we get to 'R'. For now, I will limit myself to the gender-roles listed above.

There are lessons to be learned in these stories. While the Theoi are fully fleshed out entities, who are perfectly capable of thinking for Themselves, most of Them did get pigeonholed into certain stereotypes in the myths that survived the ages. There are many, many cases of UPG and SPG that give light to a whole other side of these Gods and Goddesses. Often, Their stories also distract us from what They did have and from the stories that were never told or not often focussed upon. Zeus, for example, has children with many mortal (and immortal) women but he returns to the bed He shares with Hera every night. While She may spurn him for his dalliances, She seems to be very aware (as is He) that His needs are really only sated with Her and Hera rules the daily going on's on Olympus in His stead. Persephone might not hate the time She spends with Hades at all; She seems to have taken Her rightful place by His side as Queen of the Underworld and who knows? Perhaps She ate those pomegranate seeds of Her own free will?

I admit that the gender roles of ancient Hellas bother me. Reading these myths can leave a sour taste in my mouth that only washes away when I look beyond the words, to the messages themselves. By filling the gaps between myths, one can often reconcile their worries about the myths with their personal creed as well as moral guidelines like the Delphic Maxims. It's also very important to note the time period in which these myths were formed; Hellenic culture has its source in Mycenaean Hellas, starting roughly 3900 years ago. That's a lot of time to go by and women's rights weren't really a part of ancient living. Men were expected to provide, and healthy, powerful man simply had more prowess. It's not odd to think the Gods mirrored these societal bounds.

I doubt many (if any) Modern Hellenics long back for a time when men ruled over women in the way that is portrayed in myth. Rape is not condoned. Modern Hellenics try to read beyond the words to get to the message(s). The myths tell us something about the Gods but, like us, They have had a lot of time to evolve. This is a thought that must not be forgotten.

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