Tag Archives: goddess mentality

The Goddess Mentality – Part 3

Artist: Alex Ross (Credit: DC Comics)
Artist: Alex Ross (Credit: DC Comics)

Let me start by saying that I do not respect powerful people simply for being powerful.  I respect people for being humble, conscientious, empathetic, and compassionate and for doing what they can with what they have. I can’t recall how many times I’ve heard the following argument:

“They resent her because she’s aggressive, abrasive, egotistical, etc. (fill in the blank), but it’s okay for a man to be that way.”

When it comes to these types of attitudes and (alliteration warning) pugnacious, pugilistic behavior, it is not okay for a man to be this way. It is not okay for anyone to be this way. I respect powerful people when they wield power ethically, responsibly, and with humility for the benefit of others.  I know that not all of my readers share my Christian beliefs, but a saying of Jesus Christ taken from the Parable of the Talents seems appropriate to this week’s topic. It says, in essence, that much is expected of those to whom much is given.

Artist: Alex Ross (Credit: DC Comics)
Artist: Alex Ross (Credit: DC Comics)

Please consider the above statements while considering what I have to say next. I think it is responsible to ask the following: If women are encouraged to cast off traditional societal protections and to draw a sense of empowerment from “bad ass” female characters (please refer to Part 2 before getting mad at me), is this a potential recipe for disaster? Are they isolated in a game which requires them to compete using tools which favor men?

Credit: DC Comics
Credit: DC Comics
Credit: DC Comics
Credit: DC Comics
Credit: DC Comics
Credit: DC Comics

I am alarmed and dismayed by the promotion of competition rather than cooperation between the sexes, and this applies to our entertainment as well. I’m not talking about competing for the same job or political office or demanding fair and equal treatment (e.g. wages). I’m talking about a more general animosity based on gender. This can feed wrong attitudes in which men regard women as physical competitors, and it can be a potent driver of pornographic fan art, sexual assault, and domestic violence. To strengthen my argument, let me mention a comment about the above panel in which the writer gloried in the fact that this proved that Wonder Woman can “take a punch.” I am alarmed by anything that encourages men to look at women this way. I say this as a husband, as a father of three daughters, as a grandfather of two granddaughters, and as a professor who has worked for the last quarter of a century at a women’s college. One of my former students runs a women’s shelter in the town where I live, and another used to work there full-time. Yet another was a victim of domestic violence, which I discovered when I noticed she had a black eye in class. When I asked her privately how it had happened (as faculty at our institution are instructed to do), she confirmed my suspicions and was referred to a counselor.

I don’t object to the existence or development of “bad ass” female characters per se. Superheroes (members of our more modern, albeit fictional, pantheon) such as Wonder Woman of DC Comics, the Scarlet Witch of Marvel Comics, and Winged Victory and Cleopatra of the Astro City series are portrayed as women who can take care of the themselves and handle adversaries, including those of the male variety.

Artist: Alex Ross (Credit: DC Comics)
Artist: Alex Ross (Credit: DC Comics)
The Scarlet Witch by Frank Cho (Credit: Marvel Comics)
The Scarlet Witch by Frank Cho (Credit: Marvel Comics)
Winged Victory
Winged Victory
Cleopatra
Cleopatra

The responsibility is on us as readers, viewers, and consumers to evaluate how such characters are represented and how they should be regarded. I have said in previous posts (Graphic Mythology: black strip on the left) that I especially like the Winged Victory and Cleopatra characters. For the most part, I believe their portrayal to be socially responsible. Those of us who are adults can encourage our children (male and female) and each other to require higher standards in our role models, real and imagined.

Artist: Alex Ross (Credit: DC Comics
Artist: Alex Ross (Credit: DC Comics

The Goddess Mentality – Part 2

For those whose ire might have been raised by last week’s post, please keep in mind that I am posing questions to stimulate thought and that I have settled on few, if any, answers to which I would care to commit. The questions I am raising have occurred to me in the course of observing the society and culture in which I live. I was noting an apparent increase in the acceptance of the goddess mentality since the 1960s. I am not referring to the appropriation of “goddess” as a term to deal with contemporary women’s issues. That is a matter of artistic and literary taste, and it can be quite clever. It also affords opportunity for the redefinition of the term.

Artemis by Michael C. Hayes
Artemis by Michael C. Hayes

I am referring to more overt examples from the world of fantasy. I have read that strong female characters in literature, comics, and movies can be empowering to girls and young women (not to mention their elders), so please allow me to repeat some questions and pose some more. Are women being let down by a version of feminism that isolates them from older societal protections, thus making them more vulnerable to male exploitation? Is the offering of such protections in itself demeaning or degrading? Is the adoption of exaggerated role models from fantasy also degrading in that it could represent weakness in real life? Since some protections can be used to restrict the freedom of women, and since I have advocated the use of fantasy as a perspective from which to address reality more effectively, I have no definitive answers to these questions. As with so many things, the efficacy of fantasy depends on how it is used.

Photo credit: Yaro Jane Photography
Photo credit: Yaro Jane Photography

 

goddess-4

Artist: Alex Ross (Credit: DC Comics)
Artist: Alex Ross (Credit: DC Comics)

One trend that has caused me some concern is the extolling of a feminine superhero ( in essence, a type of goddess or demigoddess) as “bad ass.” After all, what’s wrong with a female character who can kick a substantial amount of masculine derriere? Strictly for purposes of entertainment, I see nothing inherently wrong with this if it is done tastefully. When such imagery is employed as a sense of empowerment, however, things can get a bit more dicey.  Perhaps whether or not this is healthy is a matter of degree.

Wonder Woman by William Moulton Marston and H. G. Peter, Sensation Comics (credit: DC Comics)
Wonder Woman by William Moulton Marston and H. G. Peter, Sensation Comics (credit: DC Comics)
Credit: DC Comics
Credit: DC Comics
Artist: Alex Ross (Credit: DC Comics)
Artist: Alex Ross (Credit: DC Comics)

Oh, well. I’ve basically exhausted my self-imposed quota for words this week. I think I can wrap this up with one more post. Typical male attitude, huh?

The Goddess Mentality – Part 1

 

Painting by Jan Styka in which Athen inspires Odysseus to take vengeance
Painting by Jan Styka in which Athen inspires Odysseus to take vengeance
The Call of Perseus by Edward Burne-Jones
The Call of Perseus by Edward Burne-Jones

I remember being a somewhat insensitive adolescent male – well, insensitive and confused, actually. I mean, why did some women object to traditional roles, and why did they reject pursuing what I had been taught they had always pursued? Why wouldn’t they want men to regard them as beautiful and attractive? Of course, who gets to decide what is beautiful or attractive and the purpose that this serves? Although this was and is a complex, nuanced area of debate, I see now that many of the objections were against being defined by the expectations and desires of men. Let me say as a man that these are not always bad, but I know also that they are certainly not always good.

Zeus and Thetis on Mount Olympus (1811) by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres.
Zeus and Thetis on Mount Olympus (1811) by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres.

 I’m afraid the title of this post might promise more than it can possibly deliver. Let me concentrate on an irony. In the 1960s and 1970s, I heard arguments that women should not be placed on pedestals and treated as goddesses because this created impossible expectations and societal pressures which they could not hope to satisfy. Oddly enough, such unrealistic standards also have a tendency to sell real women short by ignoring  many other facets of their skills and personalities.

Detail from Pearls of Aphrodite by Herbert James Draper
Detail from Pearls of Aphrodite by Herbert James Draper

Perhaps due to my age, I am struck by the contrast between then and now. While it is true that many women felt empowered by strong female characters from various works of fantasy during the time in question, it seems to me that this approval is much more prominent at present. I’ve even read at least one allegedly feminist post on the virtue of the goddess mentality. Why might this be? Perhaps it reflects the fact that the need to improve the ways in which women are regarded and treated is ongoing and that people who feel disadvantaged or mistreated may be prone to seeking exaggerated examples of equality or even superiority.

Pallas Athena by Jan Styka
Pallas Athena by Jan Styka

With all the emphasis that feminism receives in current society, this raises some interesting questions.  Does feminism meet the needs of women, or does it leave them isolated and even more vulnerable to male exploitation by stripping away conventional protections? Then again, what does “feminism” actually mean? There are a number of definitions out there, and the version to which one subscribes is of importance when considering the previous question.

bvs4

Okay, now I’ve done it. I was originally going to make this one post, but I have the distinct impression of choking on more than I can swallow. Before I bring down on my head the wrath of over 50 percent of the human race, please allow me to defer continuing this discussion until next week. Don’t excoriate me yet. Trust me – I’m a man.