When I saw the above portrait of Medusa (Caravaggio) in a book when I was a kid, I was haunted by it. I've probably mentioned on here before about my childhood fear of decapitation, needless to say seeing this painting didn't help. It wasn't just the headlessness or the snakes, it was the look on her face. Shock. Rage. Hurt. I never forgot it. Ever since, I became not only fascinated by Medusa, but felt heavy sympathy for her. In a way, we can give credit to Caravaggio for making me feel all of this, but besides the painting, I knew her story. And as I get older, I understand it even better.
Medusa has forever been and will continue to be seen as a monster. After being raped by Poseidon, Medusa was cursed by Athena who was jealous. She gave her a head of snakes and the ability to turn anyone who looks at her to stone. After years of turning to stone the warriors that sought her out, a young man named Perseus outdid her and chopped off her head.
This classic greek myth shook me has always shaken me to the core. In the words of the Wicked Witch of the West, "what a world!" Not only did she get taken advantage of, but she was punished, humiliated, and killed. And her death, a victory to everyone else.
I feel just as upset about Medusa's mythological death as I do about the true and historical ones of say Mary Queen of Scots, also beheaded. Did you know they burned her clothes in front of her before her execution? I visited Holyrood whilst in Scotland two and half years ago and felt a deep sense of sadness for Mary as I looked upon her home, her trinkets, and her friend David Rizzio's blood that still reddens its famous corner. Locked up and beheaded. What a life.
Or even Marie Antoinette, our favorite "party girl." When people speak of her death, it's in mockery. There's a secret pleasure to knowing that someone was killed, and brutally, for not being "the best" at her job. Why do we look at Marie and laugh?
Why do we look at all of these women, real or not, and feel their deaths are just? Or at even just how it is?
I chose to dress up as Medusa last Halloween because this recent year was a tough one. Sure I didn't get my head cut off, but I realized that many people I had loved turned out to be the types who laughed at Marie, or told Mary to shut up and stay locked away, or rooted for Medusa's head to hit the floor. Last year, I lost and said good-bye to many friendships, women I grew up with. I was heartbroken by each one of them, as well as by the few men I had naively given my heart too throughout the year. It was a year of disappointment and hurt. A year of being misunderstood and mistreated. A year of being humiliated, that lead to me losing all humbleness. I had always identified with villains, but now I felt I had really "understood" them.
With the recent year involving friendship drama with the women in my life (something I hardly ever experience) combined with the hurtful realizations that men don't take most women seriously, I figured out why I felt such fury for these historical and mythological deaths. I guess, sometimes, the world is one that enjoys putting down women. That headless women are celebrated. That whatever they have to say or feel is disposable. Not to mention the constant desire for only their bodies, but that's a whole other talk.
I had written an essay about this topic (headless women and their significance) a few years ago, but this was the year that really taught me just how present these hidden beliefs are in our culture - and sometimes amongst those we least expect. It sounds far fetched and a bit dramatic, for sure. But I still feel and know that generally the world is harsh on women (both men and women to each other). I realize it's probably just a rough patch, a tough age, a difficult generation, etc. I know too that things are much better now and if anything, I'm so grateful for all of the lessons I've learned, and wouldn't trade that for anything. And I'll always value random insightful experiences like this one, even if they are not easy to go through. Either way, I'll forever be a woman, living amongst the rest of us, doing everything I can to keep my head up high.