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Female Mythological Monsters Have 'Patriarchy' Written All Over Their Face

Mythology governed many ancient civilizations, and thus, even then, patriarchy has taken over women.

Do you believe in monsters? Greek and Roman mythology point to more monsters or amazing creatures in the form of women than any other type of lore. Classicist Debbie Felton wrote in a 2013 essay, "Myths then, to some extent, fulfill a male fantasy of conquering and controlling women." Male writers of antiquity reflected their fears of women in their writings. We have the example of Homer in The Odyssey, where the Greek hero; Odysseus must choose between fighting Scylla and Charybdis. Both are described with female bodies. 

Why do you think this is, do you think it is a metaphor? Everything points to the fact that the creation of female monsters was a product of patriarchy.

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Jess Zimmerman, writer of Women and Other Monsters: Building a New Mythology, explained in an interview why she decided to study the female monsters that appear in the ancient history of Roman and Greek culture since Greek mythology had a great influence on Renaissance literature and art. And that influence forms part of today's ideas, which constitutes a white and cis masculine perspective.

Here are two examples of mythological female monsters and how they evidence the way in which patriarchy has shaped society's gender perspectives.

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Lamia

Lamia is one of the lesser-known demons of classical mythology. She appears in stories written by the Greek playwright Aristophanes.

There are different theories, and one of them holds that Lamia has the upper body of a woman, but the lower half of a snake. Lamia's main vice is: stealing and eating children.

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Lamia is motivated by grief; her children (fathered by Zeus) are murdered by Hera (Zeus' wife) in one of her classic rage moments. In her grief, Lamia tears out her eyes and wanders in search of the children of others; in some accounts, Zeus gives her the ability to gouge out her eyes and reattach them at will.  

Zimmerman attributes this to the fact that women are expected to care for children but society remains "constantly concerned that they do not fulfill their obligation to be mothers and nurturers. To deviate in any way from the prescribed motherhood narrative is to become a monster, a destroyer of children," Zimmerman adds.

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And this fear was not limited to Greek stories: La Llorona in Latin America, Penanggalan in Malaysia, and Lamashtu in Mesopotamia are other female figures known for abducting children after losing theirs.

Chimera

Chimera, featured in Homer's Iliad, was a monstrous hodgepodge of disparate parts: a lion in front, a goat in the middle, and a dragon or serpent at the end. The dangerous beast parts that Chimera had, such as the domestic goat in the middle, reflect the way women were perceived as symbols of domesticity and potential threats.

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Zimmerman writes, "Chimera's goat body carries all the burdens of the household, protects the babies, and feeds them from her body." The Chimera legend proved so influential that it even seeped into modern language: in scientific communities, "chimera" now refers to any creature with two sets of DNA. More generally, the term refers to a fantastical invention of someone's imagination.

What do you think of Jess Zimmerman's perspective? It kind of makes sense, doesn't it?

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Translated by María Isabel Carrasco Cara Chards
Images from Wikimedia Commons

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