The United States of Athena

By Stephanie Miller

Women in the United States have made extraordinary strides and we enjoy opportunities that are not available to women who live in other countries. Women aren’t allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia. Women in Africa are discriminated against and are subject to laws that make it possible to rape, mutilate and marry against their will legally. We should be grateful for our privileges, and we should consider how much power we actually have and what it’s source is.

The myth of Athena[1] helps illuminate the archetype for the modern American woman. (I learned about these archetypes from the work of Dr. Jean Shinoda Bolen) Athena was said to have been born of Zeus, she was a daughter with no mother. She became one of her father’s chief allies and advisors. She was the goddess of war.  Athena became invested (and perhaps intoxicated) with the power she acquired as her father’s favorite. Didn’t we all adore Princess Diana as the quiet force behind Prince Charles? We love the legends of the woman who made the man more than he could have been on his own. We love these women, Jackie O, Eleanor Roosevelt and Coretta Scott King. But give us Yoko Ono or Martha Stewart exerting power over a man or on her own and we make a sport out of disliking her. There was a dark side to Athena’s character, she was a virgin and never bore children, she fostered and used relationships for power and while subjugating other aspects of  her femininity. By doing that she became part of the patriarchy, a natural result of not having a mother.

If we extend Athena’s myth to our present day, many of us have become like Athena. We have become the faithful advisor to the executive or the politician or even our husbands. We have agreed that the world as a patriarchal society is as we want it to be. Many of us have acquired praise, power, and self-esteem for our excellence which we find gratifying. Along the way we, like Athena, have lost our ability to experience feminine power. And, what is troubling, is that we are so loyal to the existing system we have begun to hate something in ourselves that is unwilling to conform. We are faithful Athenas and we don’t want to rock the boat.

When we see a woman acting in her feminine power or threatening to upset the status quo it makes us angry. We wonder, why doesn’t she just go along? Why does she have to be so shrill? Why does she have to be so nasty? What we fail to see is that this is a rejection of ourselves. It is a subtle form of self-hatred. We all fear the archetype of the irrational woman, from the jealous Medea, to Kate the untamable shrew, to Maleficent and the old crone in the woods. Our lore is littered with powerful, dangerous women. Aside from not wanting to seem crazy we also fear the awesome power that women can summon that seems so separate from reason. 

We are a nation of Athenas. We have fostered and encouraged an environment of patriarchy for too long. We have acquired power by standing next to power instead of being power. And when we see women trying to BE power we have failed to support  them for it. The time has come for profound self-reflection. We need to spend time learning to embrace our femininity. We need to dig deep into our hearts and really look at them, discover who we are and where our true power lives. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that the Athena archetype is bad. I’m saying that we could also be Aphrodite, Hera, Hestia and Persephone. I’m just saying there’s more to a woman, so much more. We don’t have to wait to be given power, we already have it.

[1] See the work of Dr. Jean Shinoda Bolen especially The Goddess in Everywoman a book I think every woman should read.

Laura Smith BiswasComment