As a young girl, I had many passions, but two in particular always stick out to me: Greek mythology and witchcraft. Today, in my introspective and reflective processes, I know my childhood interests have a profound impact on my psychological foundations and identity. However, using what sociologists call the “sociological imagination,” I can connect my individual identity formation to larger social identities. In this case, I will analyze how mythology and witch folklore influence modern day gender norms, particularly femininity.
During the lecture, Professor O’Neill mentions the old hag/beautiful enchantress dichotomy several times. In this case, the female witch is either seen as an old hag–often the “go-between,” always accused when in fact it’s the accuser who is at fault–or as a beautiful enchantress–a stunningly physically attractive woman who uses her body to control men. It is not a large leap to compare this antique hag v.s. enchantress comparison to the modern day virgin v.s. whore debate. In both instances, women are reduced to an either/or existence, simplified for man’s benefit, and dehumanized by stripping her of complexity and identity autonomy.
Furthermore, while modern female witches often symbolize empowered women harnessing their energies into great power, the images of the old hag and the beautiful enchantress disempower these images by routinely forcing these witches to depend on men for validation of power. Not only does this reinforce heteronormativity, but it also forms the foundation for female sexuality’s inextricable relation to male validation. The old hag archetype is rooted in the inability for an old woman to be sexually attractive; thus, by stripping the hag of her sexuality, she becomes both the victim (the scape goat) and the villain. In contrast, the beautiful enchantress’s power lies wholly in her sexuality as perceived by men. While Helen of Troy may at first seem to symbolize sexual autonomy, the flashing of her breasts to control men was not actually an action of her own accord but rather a service to the male-powered state. As is seen across time, the female body is used as a weapon and a tool by the state.
The beautiful enchantress archetype also reinforces the concept that female sexuality is an evil entity, capable of destroying (or even just distracting) men. The female body’s villainization in antiquity remains remarkably present in modern society. It is ingrained in the mass populous from the earliest ages that the female body is inherently sexual and that sexuality is dangerous to men. How? School dress codes. The discourse around the dress code all perpetuate gender norms and oppressive myths about women. First of all, the language is heteronormative. Secondly, the phrase “it’s a distraction to boys” reifies the concepts that men are weak to their sexual urges and quite frankly that men’s education matters more than women’s education. Moreover, arbitrarily claiming certain body parts sexual during early adolescence perpetuates the dehumanization and objectification of the female body. And the claim “no one wants to see all that,” a comment which is often made to women about short shorts, reifies the idea that a body is for the viewing pleasure of others rather than autonomous purposes.
Clearly, the myths of antiquity are not so antique. I leave this analysis with a question. With myths so deeply rooted in society, how do we reverse such normative yet oppressive language, thought, and behavior? Can we create new myths? And are there myths to hold on to?