While I’ve seen Wonder Woman twice, and no doubt I’ll see it again, right now I’m living in the world of another powerful woman from mythology, a woman whose story is much darker, a woman whose story doesn’t find its way into comic books and graphic novels as a heroine, but as a villain, her name taken on mostly by evil characters. I’m talking about Medusa. She is very much at the forefront of my thoughts as I finish up the final rewrite of Blind-Sided, book 2 of Medusa’s Consortium. It hit me the other day as I was out walking that these two women of myth and legend could easily be the opposite side of the same coin. While the darkness and grit of the Wonder Woman film is refreshing, making her story more three dimensional, more human, there’s no doubt she brings light and hope into a broken world. Medusa, not so much.
While Wonder Woman’s Diana is raised in the isolation of an island of supportive and loving women warriors, who train her and prepare her for a world they hope she never has to face, Medusa draws the unwanted attention and lust of a god who rapes her. Then she is betrayed by the very goddess who should have protected her in one of the most horrendous examples of victim-blaming ever.
Both mourn the loss of innocence, in their own way. Both pay a high price, Diana for the choice she willingly makes, Medusa for the choices taken out of her hands. Because Wonder Woman is Diana’s story, we see her evolution from an innocent to one who understands that there is darkness in the world and yet she makes the choice to stay on and fight that darkness. We know little about Medusa’s choices after her forced loss of innocence, other than that anyone who looks into her eyes turns to stone.
I find it very interesting that Patty Jenkins, the director of the new Wonder Woman film, was also the director for the 2003 crime drama film Monster about serial killer Aileen Wuornos, a former prostitute who was executed in Florida in 2002 for killing six men during the late 80s and early 90s. While we embrace characters like Hannibal Lector and Dexter as anti-heros, half rooting for them, even as they terrify us, Aileen Wuornos, is the monstor. A woman super hero must be the bringer of goodness and light and love, while we rejoice in a male super hero who brings vengeance, even very ugly vengeance. Is it possible that a woman Hannibal Lector, a female Dexter, a modern-day Medusa, is just too disturbing for us to be comfortable with?
Both stories are tales of the archetypal woman. The Virgin Mary, who is allowed to bring the savior into the world, if you will, and Kali or Sekhmet, whose destruction, when called upon, cannot easily be controlled. Perhaps the inability to entirely control or predict what’s at the core of a woman’s heart is a part of what makes the negative anima such a terrifying beast. There is a part of each of us longing to be the bringer of light and love in a world sorely in need. But that we also rage at our core, long for revenge at our core, fantasize about making the oppressors suffer and pay is something fewer of us are willing to embrace. By embracing those parts of us, we run the risk of being labeled ‘monsters.’ And even we fear the results of allowing that negative feminine loose on the world. I find it very interesting that Medusa embodies what happens with the embracing of that inner darkness, pushed down, hidden away and denied. While it’s perfectly acceptable to embrace our inner Wonder Woman, we’d rather keep our inner Medusa’s raging revenge as far away as possible. Diana Prince wears a golden diadem. Medusa wears a crown of angry vipers – the golden reward for love and light or the poisonous sting for darkness and rage.
The dichotomy of who we are and how we see ourselves is the subject matter of a million psychology and self-help books. What we embrace in order to be seen as good women, and what we must push down into the dark caves of our unconscious and repress at all cost is the split we all bear. While we may be part Wonder Women, we are just as much Medusa, whether we like it or not.
While one is the daughter of a god and sent into the world of men to bring hope, the other is raped by a god, cursed by a goddess and cast out from all she knows and loves. While one brings a virgin’s curiosity and an innocent’s delight in all things new. The other brings rage and bitterness for what’s been done to her, for all she has lost.
The way in which the story of both women is tied to their sexuality is also perhaps a telling tale of the archetypes we, as women, find safe to embrace. While the Wonder Woman of the film is enlightened enough about sex, she is also an innocent in the love of men, and she is led to the experience by the love of her heart, Steve Trevor. This is the tale of true love embraced and then lost too soon. Medusa’s past, we see little of. Her story begins with an ugly rape in a place where she should have been protected, followed by a horrible curse. And now we see why the two women are the opposite sides of the same coin. While Diana’s story of love and loss inspires, Medusa’s story of rape and humiliation disturbs, and yet ultimately both women, hero and monster, stand alone, adored or feared from a distance. They are what we strive for and what we fear, they are, each alone, complete in themselves and yet broken in their completeness.