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Illustrated: Which Female Monsters Epitomise Male Fears


Siren – The Temptress

Sirens are a warning from one sailor to another to beware of pretty and sweet-tempered girls with melodic voices and manipulative ulterior motives. They are meant to steer a hero off his course and to tempt him away the quest at hand. In Greek mythology the powerful enchantress Circe warns Odysseus that they “enchant all who come near them. If anyone unwarily draws in too close and hears the singing of the Sirens, his wife and children will never welcome him home again, for they sit in a green field and warble him to death with the sweetness of their song.” Translation: don’t let hoes seduce you away from yo wife and yo kids but if she does, she’s the monster, not you.

Banshee – The Nag

Hailing from Celtic folklore, the Banshee is a restless and angry spirit with a grotesque appearance and piercing wail. Typically she will either appear as a weathered and cloaked ‘hag’ with tangled white hair or as a flawless and youthful ethereal woman. Her ‘shrill’ call is an omen of death. Her name ‘banshee,’ is derived from the Irish ‘bean sídhe’ and the Scottish ‘Bean Nighe,’ which translate to ‘fairy woman’ and ‘fairy washer woman’ respectively. Hag, shrill, shrew, weeping, and keening, are all negative descriptors associated with this heavily gendered monster. Despite the unpleasantness of the sounds of her sorrow, a banshee’s foresight was, according to Irish legend, welcomed.

Harpy – The Scorned Woman

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. In Greco-Roman classical mythology Harpies are fearsome “maiden-faced” bird creatures with “taloned hands.” Like many other female monsters their unholy form is made up of both beauty and animalistic horror. These creatures function as punishers and abductors of men. In the legend of Jason and the Argonauts they leave the blind king Phineus of Thrace starving to death after having stolen his food, the King’s punishment for ill-treating his children. In this story the harpies are dangerous nuisances killed by Jason in his quest for the Golden fleece.

Witch – The Feminazi

Our cultural and historical views on witches have drastically changed over the centuries. In medieval times early witches were believed to be satanic cults that practiced harmful magic. Perceptions of witches changed with the foundation of universities in Western Europe during the 12th and 13th century whereby systems of magic were discovered and translated from ancient Muslim texts. The idea that rudimentary forms of medicine which involved combining herbs to make “potions” or reciting healing or protection spells, as natural healers or “wise women” did, took on a harmful connotation. From the 1400s to the 1700s witch hysteria continued to grow with around 50 000 people, predominantly women, being executed in Western Europe during this period. The 1692 Salem witch trials marked the beginning of the end of such practices. In the 1970s toxicologists noted that the symptoms of “delusions, vomiting and muscle spasms” exhibited in Salem may have been due to the fungus ergot, found in rye and wheat. Lately with shows like The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and the 2018 reboot of Charmed, witches have become a feminist icon. The ethos being that throughout history women who demonstrated extraordinary capabilities have been punished by small minds in small towns. Remove the fantasy element in these stories and they are simply about women of power.

Medusa – The Other Woman

Medusa is most famous for her head of snake-hair and steely gaze that turns anyone who looks directly at her to stone. Her origin story begins when Medusa is a young and beautiful human maiden. The god Poseidon rapes Medusa in the temple of Athena and as a result Medusa incurs Athena’s wrath in accordance with ancient standards of victim blaming. As punishment for the rape which defiled the goddess’ temple, Athena turns Medusa’s hair into snakes so that she will never again attract another man. In his own separate quest the hero Perseus decapitates Medusa, the blood from her neck giving birth to her mortal son Chrysaor and the winged horse Pegasus. “The stories of Medusa suggest that female powers include procreation, magic, and art—alluring properties that threaten to transform men and their world in ways they cannot fully control (Classical Mythology In Context, Lisa Maurizio, pg. 550).”

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