Interpreting Myths with Feminist Theory

One popular way that myths have been interpreted is through a feminist approach. This method of interpretation requires attention to gender difference, patriarchy, and sexual politics. Gender roles reflect social constructions of behavior; the roles are malleable and can be constructed in other ways. Feminist readings of mythology, especially those of the Goddess, provide alternative mythology, history of power, and spirituality for people. Women are notably absent from these myths which emphasize unity and strength and therefore, women must look elsewhere to construct their worldview.

Mythology points to an ancient pattern: the oldest deities of warfare and destruction were feminine, not masculine. Examples are Inanna in Sumer, Anath in Uruk, Ishtar in Mesopotamia, Sekhmet in Egypt, Morrigan in Ireland, Kali in India, Pallas in Greece, and Bellona in Rome. All of these goddesses were concerned with birth, death, rebirth, love, and war, not conquest and territorial expansion. These goddesses served the purpose of balancing aggression and violence in a group – aggression, when it is repressed and denied, is psychologically dangerous.

Shame and guilt are necessary for the patriarch to repress spontaneous urges and promote discipline and obedience to the law. The result is apprehension, envy, jealousy, and possessiveness. People who feel isolated, either individually or as a group, react with fear and anxiety. As a result, natural desires and female deities are devalued in society. Thus, the patriarch is maladaptive to the natural world where nature is not valued for its beauty or mystery, but for its contributions to people. Yet, in the place of nature, new gods emerge technology, production of goods, and physical beauty. The devaluation of femininity is necessary for patriarchy where both men and women must repress the feminine components of their personalities.

Women and Mythology

The inferior status of women began six thousand years prior to industrialization with the advancement of Indo-European cultures moving into Europe. The evidence for this is found at Çatal Hűyűk where the excavated walls show mostly female figures with exaggerated breasts, buttocks, and hips surrounded by symbols of life and death. There are Goddess statues also found in Old Europe, Malta, Avebury, and Crete.

The traditional Biblical myths that dominate society are patriarchal. Myths, especially those of the Christian tradition, are used to subordinate and demean women. The secondary creation of women and the Fall in the Garden of Eden has associated women with evil in society. Rather, the Fall should be interpreted as a Fall into freedom, knowledge, and choice. Furthermore, in Genesis women were only included through the mediation of men.

Patriarchy is also responsible for covering up ancient gynocentric myths and reversing prior goddess myths. These myths can be seen as reversals of earlier female myths, such as Adam giving birth to Eve, or Zeus giving birth to Athena. In addition, in Judeo-Christian myths, there is active parthenogenesis to a passive “virgin birth” with Mary. On December 8, 1854, Pope Pius IX declared Mary a virgin and free from original sin; she was not an actual virgin. Furthermore, the triple goddess of Virgin, Matron, and Crone was replaced with the male trinity. One of the reasons that feminists have reinterpreted myths is that procreation has been reduced to a biological status, while creation is viewed as spiritual, or metaphysical, and expressed through rituals, belief systems, customs, and narratives.

Female creator deities are rare. It is only when creation myths tell of a cosmos generated through natural reproductive processes do female creator deities enact a significant role. Feminine creation is usually associated with water or earth and is created by the physical body. Male gods can only create with spoken word, breath, thought, dream, spirit, laughter, or speech. For this reason, the Christian god is abstract, remote, and separate from his creation. It is interesting to note that women give birth to all creatures, female figures are more likely to be depicted as destructive monsters rather than benevolent creators.


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