Our media may have changed over the years, evolving from pottery and vases to movie screens, but the reception of the latest stories from Themyscira show us society still both reveres, and is incredibly frightened by, powerful women.
While the myths depict all-female clans of fierce warriors, the realities on which these stories were based were quite different. All the Amazons had were pants, pockets, and simple equality, and yet all they were labeled with remains today in stories of wild, angry women hellbent on the destruction of men — a recurring mythology that sounds familiar for any feminist wave.
A “special time” for women indeed.
The real people behind the Amazon myths were part of a nomadic horse tribe that roamed and ruled the Eurasian steppes. From early ages, boys and girls in Scythian tribes to the north of Greece learned to ride and hunt together. Both sexes sported sprawling tattoos, inhaled copious amounts of marijuana, guzzled fermented mare’s milk, and shoved lances into the ground outside their tents to let visitors know they were otherwise engaged. On the field of battle, they fought side by side, riding horses stirrup-less and, sometimes, reins-less and backwards, unleashing relentless fusillades of arrows at the same time.
“Horses and bows were the great equalizer,” said Adrienne Mayor, a Stanford University classicist and author of the grounding-breaking book, “The Amazons.”
Unearthed tombs and mummies of these nomadic clans tell us girls as young as 10 were buried with their trusty hunting horses and quivers of arrows, while men were often found with similar after-life accessories or, sometimes, their finest jewelry, weaving, and pottery tools. The emerging theory is that in these harsh climes, what each person could offer for the tribe’s survival was more important than artificial gender roles.
“In a culture where everyone is a stakeholder, it was natural that everyone would do what’s best for the tribe,” Mayor said.
If a woman was the best hunter and fighter, she led the warriors into battle. If a man could bead like nobody’s business, he was in charge of finding the perfect clam shell for Thanksgiving decor. In other words, it didn’t matter who brought home the meat when winter was coming.
Yet, so odd and perplexing was this simple egalitarian society that the ancient Greeks created endless myths about wild, all-women civilizations that, above all else, hated men.
Ask any feminist yearning for simple equality in today’s “me too” horrorscape of sexual abuse, and he or she will probably say it sounds familiar.
Roughly 3,000 years later, the threads connecting the ancient and modern mythologies — and their cultural realities — persist in striking ways.
In ancient Greece, girls had clay dolls of Amazon warriors to play with and fantasize about one day becoming — until, that is, they grew up and were passed from fathers to husbands and expected to maintain the house.
In today’s society, girls can buy Wonder Woman Amazon dolls off the shelf at Target or Wal-Mart to play with and fantasize about one day becoming — until, that is, they grow up and perhaps take their husband’s name and are expected to do most of the chores within the home, even though most women now work outside of it.
In ancient Greece, girls and young women had pottery, vases, cosmetic jars, perfume bottles, and epic poetry with tremendous depictions of Amazon warriors as feisty, fearless role models, never mind the girls grew up to have few rights of their own and watched as all-male legislative bodies controlled their lives.
In today’s society, girls can look to the silver screen for depictions of strong, fearless Amazon warriors, never mind they grow up learning to smile for men, to be silent for them (even in the United States Senate), to be called liars and sluts for having the audacity to speak of the men who raped or molested them, and to wait for all-male panels of legislators to decide on their healthcare.
In ancient Greece, men both feared and were enthralled by the stories of all-female civilizations hell-bent on their destruction, never mind the real Amazons on the Eurasian steppes simply enjoyed an egalitarian meritocracy.
In today’s culture, men lust over the movie versions of leggy Amazons, yet fear the idea of equality, labeling feminists as man-haters hell-bent on their destruction.
Our media may have changed, but our cultural stories remain the same: America is once again enraptured by the fantasy of powerful, all-women civilizations, even while we treat our real women leaders as “nasty” and relegate the rest to second-class citizenry whose health and basic human rights are perpetually up to a vote in male-dominated legislatures.
Yet, if another reality persists and connects the modern age to antiquity, it’s this: We’ve never needed more role models of brave, daring, fearless women. They’ve always been there, whether on vases, poems, or on silver screens. What perhaps we’ve needed all along is simply more decent, less frightened, and less angry men.
And perhaps more horses.