What Greek Mythology Teaches Us About Women’s Resistance
After some hard-fought victories, women’s rights are threatened again in many parts of the world. In the United States, the Supreme Court overturned women’s right to abortion in June 2022; women have also been leaving the workforce since the COVID-19 pandemic, in many cases to care for children and elderly relatives. In other parts of the world, especially in developing countries, women are disproportionately affected by climate change.
As a scholar of ancient mythology, I’m aware of many female characters in Greek mythology who offer us models for today’s challenges. This may be a little surprising, because ancient Greece was under strict patriarchal rules: Women were considered minors under the guardianship of their fathers or husbands for their whole lives and not allowed to vote. Yet women in these myths spoke truth to power and fiercely resisted injustice and oppression.
Female rebellion is at the heart of the Greek story about the creation of the world. Gaia, the Earth goddess, rebels against her husband Ouranos, the Sky, who smothers her and refuses to let her children be free. She orders her son Kronos to castrate his father and take his throne. Once Kronos comes to power, however, he becomes afraid of being dethroned by his children, so he swallows all the babies his wife Rhea gives birth to.
Rhea rebels against this horrific act. She gives Kronos a stone wrapped in a blanket to trick him into thinking that he is going to devour this baby as well. Rhea then hides her child, the god Zeus, who grows up and throws his father down into the depths of the Underworld. But history repeats itself, and the new leader of the gods again fears that his wife may plot to overthrow him. As the king of the gods, Zeus is forever afraid of his wife Hera, who exacts vengeance for all his transgressions, especially his innumerable affairs.