Powerful women in myth and art

American writer and activist shares the story of women throughout history


Photo by Raina Beutel

Story by Raina Beutel, Staff Writer

From harpies to witches, mermaids to goddesses, women have been captured in multiple ways, some more powerful than others. Some of these women may be thought of as unforgettable, while others have been lost through the course of time.

During her presentation, titled “Women’s Hidden Histories: Goddesses, Witches, Hags and Wild Women,” American writer and activist Starhawk aimed to bring back the “suppressed memory” of powerful women that lives on in art and myth Tuesday night in Davies Center.

“When women begin to reclaim power, we’re seen as fearful and scary,” the event page read. “Yet those images of goddesses and witches, hags and harpies can lead us home to our wild, creative, world-changing selves.”

Starhawk told stories of powerful women through time and art, extending as far as the prehistoric era, seen in cave drawings of women that cover the stone walls, and ranging from women of life, fertility and death.

What was once war became organized perspectives, changed from the idea of preservation of life to fighting wars of conquest, Starhawk said. This was a point when the fear of women’s power and women agencies became scary to men, to the extent of believing they would be better off dead than likened to a woman.

“We’ve been taught to fear our inner harpies, our own cycles of our lives,” Starhawk said.

Starhawk urged the crowd to put more stock into the values of life, growth and regeneration. She said society has lost its way in protecting the earth and investing in future generations.

“Now, instead of god and angels, we’ve transferred our faith to profit,” she said.

And these profit-seeking lifestyles are killing the earth, Starhawk said. She pointed to “sequestered” resources held by the rich, and “frantic” attempts to control resources of land, education, money and power.

“There’s a lot of fear in (the rich) because they know it won’t last,” she said.

Starhawk said the construct of what makes us weak or strong is associated with blood, killing and aggression, and today’s understanding of power is motivated by the fear of losing control.

“Real strength is about bringing life into being,” Starhawk said. “To care for it, to nurture it, to provide. Those are the things that really make us strong.”

Junior Kate French said events like this one give a different type of exposure to micro-aggression, adding another element to the discussion of how women have been perceived in art through time.

French said learning about these issues is “a really good first step to ever making a change.”

“Events like this really help to bring that to light, and help move people forward,” French said. “Being educated and learning is what’s going to make a difference.”