Gender-bending among the Ancient Gods


Cycladic figurine, 2400-2300 b.c.e.

The figurine to the right, made in the Cyclades around 2400 to 2300 BCE, is on display in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. It has, obviously, a penis as well as pronounced breasts (because of the angle of the lighting, the left breast isn’t clearly visible in my photo). The museum’s description says, “It is conceivable that the sculptor began making a woman and modified the statuette because of a change in his commission.”

I suppose that’s conceivable. I am in no way an expert in Cycladic art, but I’m having some trouble buying that explanation entirely.

There’s nothing about the figurine that looks unfinished or haphazard. It has perfect little toes. The hair is perfectly combed back.

And even though I’m not an expert in Cycladic art or in art of any kind, for that matter, if I were making a female figurine (with breasts), and then the person who was paying me to make the thing said, “Actually, make the figurine a dude,” and then I took the trouble to give the figurine a penis, would it be really be that much more trouble to do a kind of breast-reduction move on it to make it more dude-like?

Continue reading

Posted in art, gender issues, gender/sexuality | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Sporting Girls”

So I guess I’ve been neglecting the blog at bit. I’ve been swamped with work and other forms of chaos since about November.

A break in the work allowed me to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which is always recommended for sanity and general refreshment, especially when they have charming and bizarre little exhibits like:

The "Polka Dot Nine"

The “Polka Dot Nine”

“A Sport for Every Girl”
Women and Sports in the Collection of Jefferson R. Burdick

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, tobacco companies produced small advertisement cards, sort of an early version of baseball cards. They weren’t limited to baseball—or even sports in general—but featured series of cards like “Actors and Actresses,” “Famous Generals,” “Birds of America,” “Natives in Costume,” and “City Flags.” Women who appeared in the series who were usually actors, and there were sets of cards with names like “The World’s Beauties” and the tantalizing “Parasol Drills.” But “sporting girl” cards also became popular, and they are the subject of the Met’s exhibit.

Continue reading

Posted in art, feminism, sports | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Sirens

Everyone knows the Sirens. They sing their enchanting songs and lure men to their deaths.

And that’s pretty much it, isn’t it?

Seductive. Dangerous to men. What else do you need?

Oh, but why end there, when you can speculate about how the men die? Shipwrecked on the rocks? Torn to shreds and devoured by the Sirens?


Sirens, on the shoulder of a Chalcidian neck-amphora, c. 540 b.c.e.

In appearance, the ancients stuck to a standard bird-woman combo, a bird’s body with a woman’s head.

Some later depictions went with more of a woman’s body than just the head, because if you’re going to be fantasizing about describing the dangers of seductive women, why stop at the neck?

Continue reading

Posted in mythology | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Richard Mourdock, Rape, Pregnancy, and the Greek Gods

[I’ve been working over this post off and on for days. It’s weird and a bit disjointed. Not sure if it conveys what I want to get across, but I’m sick of looking at it in my drafts queue. It’s a weird, disgusted post about Mourdock and his perverse beliefs.]


[Poseidon] loosened the maiden’s girdle and cast a sleep over her.
But when the god had finished the act of lovemaking,
he took her by the hand and spoke to her, saying:
“Be happy, lady, in this love, and when the year passes
you will bear glorious children, for the unions of the immortals
are not fruitless. You must look after them and raise them.
Go home now and hold your peace and tell nobody
my name, but I tell it to you: I am the Earthshaker Poseidon.”

Poseidon’s rape of Tyro (Homer, Odyssey 11.245–52),
which resulted in the birth of the twins Pelias and Neleus.

Richard Mourdock, Republican candidate for the US Senate from Indiana, said that a pregnancy that results from rape “is something that God intended to happen.” And, in a remarkable display of acrobatic argumentation, he later insisted that he doesn’t think the rape was intended by god to happen, just the pregnancy.

Are you trying to suggest that somehow I think that God pre-ordained rape? No, I don’t think that. That’s sick. Twisted. That’s not even close to what I said. What I said is that God creates life.

So the pregnancy was “something that God intended to happen,” but not the act that created the pregnancy.


Continue reading

Posted in feminism, mythology, politics | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Comments


Theseus and Ariadne

Theseus and Ariadne, with Athena calling Theseus away. A small winged figure, the god of Sleep, sits on Ariadne’s head, keeping her unaware of the betrayal.

In which I play games with mythology:

The usual story is that Ariadne fell in love with Theseus and told him how to find his way back out of the Labyrinth when he set off to kill the Minotaur. Theseus took Ariadne with him when he set sail back to Athens, but then he abandoned her on the island of Naxos (or Dia). Dionysos saw her there, fell in love with her, and whisked her away and married her.

In one Attic red-figure vase painting depicting the story, Athena appears to call Theseus away, as if telling him of some destiny that he must fulfill that doesn’t—and can’t—include Ariadne. Theseus seems to protest the demand. On another vase, it’s Hermes who arrives to take Theseus away, who pauses to pick up his sandals, dutiful to the gods as he abandons his love.

Continue reading

Posted in flash fiction, mythology | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Lost Cause—Flash Fiction

“I know I’m not going to succeed. That doesn’t matter. What matters is that I took a stand. I don’t like people bringing their dogs out of the building and just letting them urinate everywhere. I’ve had it. Whatever happened to common courtesy? There’s a park three blocks away. Why don’t they take them there? Doesn’t anyone have any goddamn sense anymore?”

Posted in fiction, flash fiction | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Mr. and Mrs. Chester Dale Dine Out

Mr. and Mrs. Chester Dale Dine Out

Guy Pène du Bois, “Mr. and Mrs. Chester Dale Dine Out,” 1924

An elegant hotel restaurant on Fifth Avenue. A beautiful woman, a handsome man. Evening clothes worn with the grace of people who wear such clothing regularly.

He is a powerful, important man. You can see that in his strong profile—the set jaw, the intense gaze—which is echoed in his reflection in the mirror behind them.

It is fascinating, however, that his wife has no reflection at all.

Continue reading

Posted in art | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments