The ancient Greek poetess Sappho led a nomadic existence and possessed a unique freedom to express her thoughts. Yet it’s only in the last century we women of Western cultures could ‘boast’ that kind of freedom.
“And whom should Persuasion summon;
Here, to soothe the sting of your passion this time?
Who is now abusing you?
Who is treating you cruelly?
Give me All I long for,
In all my battles, Fight as my comrade” (1)
Why can’t women wield power in all its feminine forms? Well, we can. To echo Sheryl Crow, I am a bitch and a tease, but also, a goddess on my knees.
I can understand why you are so confused…
I’m a bitch, I’m a lover,
I’m a child, I’m a mother,
I’m a sinner, I’m a saint…
I’m your Hell, I’m your dream…
So take me as I am
this may mean you’ll have to be a stronger man (2)
In a world where females are frequently presented as suffering and often guilty victims of tragedy and emotion, it is refreshing to have female icons, in all their forms, rise to power.
Strong, seductive women are the very definition of humanity: They have sense and sensuality.
Hence my disappointment with the United Nation’s decision to dump Wonder Woman, handing her a pink slip before she had a chance to prove her worth. The sexy comic book heroine was deemed by feminists, academics and “experts” as harmful and deceptive… A blow to women’s empowerment. Really? This Wonder-babe not only helped police the world against evil super powers, but she did so wearing badass boots and yes, baring her breasts. Even Superman succumbed to her seductress powers and let her take control. (If those tights could talk!) Ironically, she triumphed not with fists or firepower, but with love and emotion.
Take the Greek warfare goddess Athena. Though mythical to us, she wielded as much power and influence in classical Greece as any macho male, mortal or immortal. Protectress of civilized life, she used her art of disruptive wisdom to guide the navigator of all navigators, Odysseus, in steering his vessel, his confidence and his restraint.
I have come down from Heaven to stay your anger…
Three times as many glorious gifts shall be yours
on account of the King’s arrogance (3)
Let’s end with a formidable historical figure of the earthly kind. Abigail Adams, wife of the 2nd President of the United States. An intellectually open-minded woman for her day, she lobbied her hubby in a ‘love letter’ for women’s rights:
“I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.” (4)
Had Abigail Adams been at the table (with the founding boys club), she may have edited the famous line in The Declaration of Independence this way:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all people are created equal…”
It would take another 150 more years before women’s rights were recognized – slightly – with the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920 (thanks to suffragette Susan B. Anthony, who was once forbidden to learn long division because of her gender).
Over a century later, we continue the struggle with female roles and power. And electing a woman president.
(1) Adapated from Sappho’s Hymn to Aphrodite
(2) “I’m a Bitch” – Sheryl Crow
(3) Athena to Achilles from Odysseus
(4) Letter 1776: Abigail Adams to John Quincy Adams