Sunday, 6 August 2017

Goodreads feminist reviews - Four Greek myth adaptations

Today's review post is about four books with adaptations of Ancient Greek mythological tales in the Spanish Anaya collection 'El Sendero de los Mitos'. The individual reviews can be found in my Goodreads account.  

Warning (kinda): Long post! Also, heavy criticism of Ancient Greek misogyny.

For all four stories:
+1 The version is engaging and enjoyable to read.
+1 I really like the way this collection is illustrated with colour and black-and-white renditions of original Greek art.

1. Atalanta, la de los pies ligeros: 5/5. Review on Goodreads here.

+1 Story revolving about the feats of the huntress and warrior woman Atalanta. Goddess Ártemis and her nymphs also make an appearance.

+1 Feminist content in this version, both narrator and plot: 

-Female bonding and criticism of Greek misogyny: Ártemis curses men for abandoning female children to die in the wild: 
"-(...) ¡Oh, Ártemis, qué crueles son los hombres!" ; "-(...) lo considero como una ofensa personal. Maldito sea el padre que desprecia a su retoño por ser mujer. No se saldrá con la suya."

["(...) Oh, Ártemis, how cruel men are!"; "(...) I consider it a personal insult. Cursed be the man that despises his offspring for being female. He will not get his way."]

-Amazon feminism regarding Atalanta and her warlike and huntress prowess:
"no sólo vencía a las mujeres, sino a los hombres, y no a cualquier hombre, sino a los mejores y más rápidos de su época. Y no sólo eso: además de correr como un gamo, (...) manejaba el arco y la flecha como nadie. (...) se hizo fortísima, y conocía la selva (...) mejor que nadie (...) cuán extraordinaria había de ser la habilidad de Atalanta para que toda Grecia estuviera pendiente de ella".

-Ancient Greek misogyny and gender roles are critisized more than once:
"Naturalmente, estas cualidades - excepto la de la belleza -no se explicarían si Atalanta se hubiera criado como el resto de las niñas de su época, dedicada a las faenas tradicionales de la mujer"; "En aquellos tiempos -como en los de ahora -algunos hombres eran así, extraordinariamente brutos, y creían que una mujer no puede hacer la mayor parte de las cosas que hacen ellos. (...) con un padre así, los problemas no podían tardar mucho"

-1 Emotional dependence and the 'taming of the shrew' cliché: In spite of her misogynistic and abusive father, Atalanta stills wants to gain his approval :/ ("demostrando que ella valía tanto a más que un varón, esperaba que su padre comprendiera su error, y la reconociera por fin como hija suya. (...) [Atalanta no quería casarse] mas, como tampoco quería contrariar a su padre, cuyo amor tanto le había costado conseguir (...)"). 
She also ends up being forced and tricked into marriage with a man. Although it's stated that she kept on hunting and stuff with him (woah, thank you nice guy!), she has to end up in a traditional heteropatriarchal marriage even though she had the intention of never marrying ("Atalanta no quería casarse por nada del mundo").

-1 The problematic myth of 'virginity' as undertood by a patriarchal society, and of Atalanta having the obligation to remain 'a virgin' because she was a follower of Ártemis (as opposed to saying that she was simply not interested in men and/or preferred to remain unmarried to retain her freedom in such a restrictive society). Of course, the misogynistic Greeks thought that the logical alternative of not being married in their heteropatriarchal system was to remain 'chaste' and 'a virgin' (a concept which is also extremely heteropatriarchal), without even considering all remaining options.

-1 Goddesses going against women - Ártemis seems keen to protect Atalanta in key moments, but seems to ignore her when she's tricked into having to get married, for example (also, the concept that Ártemis also cares for the 'virginity' of her followers is nothing but deeply patriarchal). Aphrodite helps Atalanta's future husband to trick her into getting married. Cibele punishes Atalanta (and husband) for entering her temple (in other version, it's Aphrodite, who's apparently offended because Atalanta didn't thank her for the gold apples that tricked her into getting married - which is just ridiculous).

  • Feminist infographic:
-Number of women (named): 5- Atalanta, Ártemis, Aphrodite, Cibele, Atalanta's mother Climea
-Other women (unnamed): Ártemis' retinue of  nymphs
-Bechdel: Yes
-Female bonding: Yes (and no, see above)
-Proactive female characters? Empowered traits in at least one female character?:  Atalanta is a huntress and athlete. Ártemis is a huntress goddess.
-Subversion: Atalanta defies and subverts traditional gender roles
-Problematic stereotypes or relationships?: Myth of virginity. Atalanta being tricked into marriage. Atalanta's emotional dependence when seeking her father's approval.

2. Los trabajos de Hércules: 3/5. Review on Goodreads here.

-1 As is the usual norm with Greek myths, there's quite a lot of sexism and misogyny around
I gave this tale a 3/5 instead of a lower rating, though, because, even though the misogyny content is still significant (although lower than in other tales in the collection, such as Apolo's sexual harassment of Daphne, or Helena being seen as the ultimate downfall of Troy), I find this tale to be more adventure-driven and more engaging to read.

+1 Appearance of the Amazons, who in this tale seem not to be described in an overly negative light - as is usually the case of Ancient Greeks, who saw the (originally Steppe) warrior-women as a threat against their patriarchal order and tended to demonize them as much as they could in their myths.
-1 However, in this tale the Amazons are probably not demonized as much because Hippolyta and many Amazons's main role in the plot is to admire Hercules's feats, so much that they're surprisingly compliant when it comes to handing him over Hippolyta's belt. This part of the story also includes the male hero battling the Amazons and acquiring the belt by force later on, so it can also be seen as a male fantasy where the strong male hero defeats the warrior-women who threaten patriarchal order. So the Amazons are not seen in such a good light after all - their main function here is to uphold the male hero's supremacy, and they're also seen as another monster that the male hero has to battle.

+-1 There are, of course, no main female characters, but, apart from Hippolyta and the Amazons, a handful of goddesses make an appearance - Hera, Athena and Artemis, mainly.

-1 However, they are either seen in a bad light (Artemis, Hera) (and so, they're the baddies who oppose our male hero), or, once again, they are used mainly as a means to help the male hero and uphold his supremacy (Athena) (and the gods (xD) know I hate the trope where empowered female characters are just in the story to help men with *their* issues).

Ártemis antagonizes the male hero and is described as "the most vengeful of gods" (which I highly doubt, seeing the excellent options we have with many other gods, especially the male ones, who will destroy your everything if you reject them sexually, for example). In the Ártemis scene, Apollo, the serial rapist and vain entitled brat extraordinaire, is not given any negative comment even though he threatens Hercules alongside his sister (double standards ftw!). 
Also note how our dear patriarchal Greek dudes choose to give Ártemis a head-covering in this particular depiction! To the unmarried huntress goddess who gives zero f*s about patriarchal modesty mindsets and gender norms! 
Meanwhile, Hera is constantly antagonizing Hercules as a way to get her revenge from Zeus cheating on her with Hercules' mother Alcmena - and yes, she's seen as the 'villain' of the story, the baddie who goes against the male hero, because her husband is a serial cheater and rapist. But she's the bad guy in the equation, of course! (double standards ftw!) (of course, it's also a patriarchal sign that Hera would choose to rain misfortune on the women Zeus harasses and the children they end up having instead of just kicking Zeus' a*s and becoming the independent sky goddess she was before patriarchy destroyed Pre-Hellenic goddesses' lives).
Athena and Hera looking 100% done about all those entitled men they have to put up with
And then there's Athena, one of the most empowered Greek goddesses, the warlike goddess of wisdom and strategy...who, as is the norm in these patriarchal myths, instead of doing awesome empowered stuff, usually spends whole stories just assisting the male heroes. This version's narration also comments how she does it partly because she is against Hera for some reason or other (yay female bonding) ("Pero allí estaba Atenea, que sin duda debía tener alguna cuenta pendiente con Hera, cuando tanto se empeñaba en ayudarlo"), and how Hercules' reaction to her help is often to dish out compliments to her ("most beautiful Athena", which is certainly the best compliment you can give the goddess of strategic war, wisdom and crafts! Keep it simple!). Also yay to Athena's glorious OoC reaction - the goddess who quite literally shouldn't give a d*mn what men thought of her (not only because she's like 0% interested in them, but also because she'd probably feel offended that they chose to focus on her appearance), feels oh so flattered and probably decides on the spot that she's going to keep on helping the male hero because her priorities are now 100% fulfilled - She's doing it because she's against another goddess, because she's supporting her father's son (who is not only a cheater, but swallowed up her mother because of MRA fears, so you know, so much respect), and now bonus points if said half-brother showers her with positive (and creepy) comments on her appearance! So thank you, Ancient Greeks, for wrecking a perfectly awesome character in so many of your tales.
This depiction pretty much sums up all my rant about Athena and Hercules, actually xD 
  • Feminist infographic:
-Number of women (named): 7- Alcmena, Hera, Athena, Ártemis, Admete, Hippolyta, Rhea.
-Other women (unnamed): Amazons
-Bechdel: No 
-Female bonding: No
-Proactive female characters? Empowered traits in at least one female character?:  Ártemis and Athena are warlike goddesses, but all they do is either help or oppose the male hero, so not really. Same with the Amazons.
-Subversion: Not really. Maybe the appearance of the Amazons, who do subvert traditional gender roles.
-Problematic stereotypes or relationships?: Ártemis as 'the most vengeful of gods'. Hera as the baddie who opposes Hercules because her husband cheats on her (but she's the evil one). Athena only there to help the male hero.

3. Helena y la guerra de Troya: 2/5. Review on Goodreads here.

-1 I don't like the inherent misogyny of this mythological tale. I usually give The Iliad a very high rating because it's so well written, even just judging from a translation, but the patriarchal values and misogyny present in the tale merit a heay criticism from a feminist point of view
Ancient Greek women are incredibly subjugated, and in this case we also have, with Helen, the infuriating sexist cliché of the woman as the 'home-wrecker', 'bad wife' and 'femme fatale' who brings about the downfall of men and cities because of her beauty and lack of 'fidelity' (such a nice way to excuse the way men can't stop themselves from being violent against women, and from objectifying them). This misogynistic topic sadly appears in many tales and myths as well (Deirdre, Isolde, Gráinne in Celtic myth, for example - although these women are allowed more agency and strength than the deeply subjugated Greek women). I personally see Helen as a clear victim of Patriarchy, forced with dubious consent into a traditional marriage with Menelaus and then used by the equally sexist and entitled brat Paris - and while she is clearly oppressed by both men, who control and objectify her, it is she who is seen as the 'evil one' in the equation ("[Menelao] tiene derecho a matarte. Le has hecho sufrir tanto..."), something which of course suits Patriarchy and men very much.

-1 I'd also like to reference the mentions in the text and depictions in the illustrations to the Greek misogynistic modesty mindset and the head-and-body-coverings women usually had to wear, very similarly to today's Islamic societies and other religious-based gendered coverings. Helen is described as veiling and covering herself to go out, and depictons of veiled women and women with head-coverings are to be found in all four books in this collection. See here for more about this issue.

Apart from the portrayal of male violence against women here, see the fascinating double standard regarding clothing: While women are nearly always wearing ankle-length tunics with most of their body covered, and have to cover themselves with veils,mantles and practically burkas when going outside, men are allowed to wear little clothing with no problems whatsoever - even frankly illogical situations like having their genitalia out when in armour because I don't know, fragile masculinity issues? *facepalm* And no one assaults men in these stories for that! I know, it's crazy!
  • Feminist infographic:
-Number of women (named): 4- Helen, Leda, Clitemnestra, Aphrodite
-Other women (unnamed)
-Bechdel: No. Helen talks about Clitemnestra, but about men, so doesn't count; and Aphrodite opposes Helen in a sexist way and it's also about men, so nope either.
-Female bonding: No
-Proactive female characters? Empowered traits in at least one female character?:  Helen tries to get away from her restrictive position, but gets another similar situation with an equally problematic man. So not really :/
-Subversion: No
-Problematic stereotypes or relationships?: Abusive, controlling and problematic relationships (Helen with Menelaus, Helen with Paris). The misogynistic stereotype of the woman as the 'femme fatale' and 'home-wrecker' who 'causes wars'.

4. El laurel de Apolo: 1/5. Review on Goodreads here.

-1 As is the usual norm with Greek myths, there's quite a lot of sexism and misogyny around - In this case we have topics from sexual assault, to victim blaming, to societal pressures to marry and have children.

-1 I especially dislike this tale because it deals with the bratty entitled serial rapist Apollo, who stalks, sexually harasses and tries to assault the 100% unwilling poor nymph Daphne. This version seems to sympathise with Daphne (as it should logically happen), but that is actually not the case of other versions I have read - in some cases, the whole issue is referred as 'tragic romance', claiming that Apollo was 'in love', so poor Apollo, and I don't know in which universe you can call sexual assault 'romantic' and 'being in love' in any way. Especially given that Daphne has to get literally dehumanized and turned into a tree in order to get Apollo to leave her alone.
This version, following the original, is full of problematic and potentially quite triggering aspects having to do with Apollo's male entitlement, and stalker-harasser-rapist mode.

-1 I also deeply resent that they somehow try to justify, in this tale, the explicit sexual harassment and assault, by saying that Apollo could not contain himself because he had been struck by Eros' 'love' arrow. Of course, let's keep on promoting the fact that men 'can't control themselves' so we should let them keep on harassing women. They also try to explain Daphne's distaste and fear not because she is logically afraid and repulsed by the rapey Apollo, but rather because Eros has also struck her! With a 'hate arrow' of sorts! Yay patriarchy trying to justify sexual assault everywhere!
It's not harassment and sexual assault if they're being controlled by 'love' and 'hate' arrows! Misogynistic assholes justifying and glorifying rape culture since forever. Also misogyinistic jerks getting off on portraying violence against women since forever :/ (Cornelis de Vos, Apollo Chasing Daphne)

-1 And it's not just about the arrows, it's actually Daphne's fault that people harass her, really! It's totally Daphne's beauty that's to blame, obviously! ("-Eres demasiado hermosa como para que te dejen en paz. Un buen marido te daría el sosiego y la seguridad que necesitas"; "la belleza de Dafne no dejaría de acarrear consecuencias"
It's Daphne's fault for being beautiful, being alone in the woods and not wearing a burka!
-1 Daphne's father keeps pressuring her daughter and tries to guilt her into marrying and giving him grandchildren ("-(...) si no por tu propio bien, deberías casarte por respeto a tu padre, que bien merece, en su ancianidad, el premio de ver a sus nietos"), even though she repeateadly states that she wishes to remain unmarried, thank you very much ("-No lo quieran los dioses (...) Sólo de pensar en el matrimonio se me ponen los pelos de punta. No, yo quiero vivir siempre como vivo ahora, y no permitiré que nadie se me acerque") (and given that men usually pounce on you trying to assault you in these tales and also in real life in too many cases, I cannot but totally understand her choices).

-1 I also find it...interesting that when Daphne is being pursued by Apollo, keen on assaulting her, it's her father who 'comes to her aid', and by dehumanizing her - Ártemis was said to have a liking for the nymph earlier in the story, why didn't she help her? Especially given that the attacker is her brother?? Like, she should have been angered and upset?? Why do the Greek people keep wrecking Artemis' character by turning her into a vengeful goddess who doesn't actually care about women in too many instances? And why did Peneus think that the only way to save her daughter was to dehumanize her, couldn't he have done something else? I get it that he's a lower god against an Olympian, but I don't know, do some water tricks or whatever! If you can change her to a tree, surely you can also give her super speed so that she can safely escape! Her end is also so sexist :/
  • Feminist infographic:
-Number of women (named): 2- Daphne, Ártemis
-Other women (unnamed): Nymphs
-Bechdel: No
-Female bonding: No
-Proactive female characters? Empowered traits in at least one female character?:  Sadly, no.
-Subversion: No
-Problematic stereotypes or relationships?: Sexual assault and harassment issues. Father trying to guilt her daughter into marriage.