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  • Alison Newvine LMFT

Seeing Medusa's Eyes

We all know the story of Medusa. She is the terrifying female creature with snakes for hair who turns good, heroic men into stone. We are supposed to be relieved when the hero cuts off her head, for now he, and the rest of the world, are safe from her unjustified and irrational female vengeance. This is the part of her tale that we are all familiar with. But when you read the entire story, you learn that before she was transformed into this violent monster, she was raped.

There's an eerie resonance between the mythological transformation of Medusa from rape victim into monster and the torture and murder of millions of women during the European witch hunts of the Middle Ages. In the collective psyche, woman is a threat, and must be destroyed. The women targeted were often the holders of wisdom and power- the healers, midwives, counselors/mediators and women who were not married and not under the control of men. Indeed, the transformation of the Great Mother Goddess herself, whose image painted the archeological landscape for tens of thousands of years, into the temptress Eve responsible for the fall of humanity echoes the desecration and pillaging of Mother Earth under the latest version of corporate patriarchy. The silencing and/or villifying of women can occur following acts of violence, as with the Medusa tale and the rampant victim-blaming we find in our society today. Or it can be wielded as a weapon to justify and carry out this violence in the first place, as with witch-burning. Oftentimes, it is both.

The rule with Medusa is this, “Don't look into her eyes.” Looking into the eyes, at least for men, means a total loss of power, complete impotency, the inability to move or speak. And, certainly, the inability to commit rape. All too often in our world today, the victims of male sexual violence are children. Child sex trafficking is big business and sexual abuse of children by family members and other trusted adults steals the innocence of one in seven boys and one in three girls. The damage is lifelong, no matter how much healing happens in the subsequent years, the harm doesn't get undone.

I wonder, what would have happened if Poseidan had looked into Medusa's eyes that day in Athena's temple? Whether he, and other perpetrators, look into the victim's physical eyes or not, there's a turning away from the soul, from the humanity of the other, that is required to commit such vicious acts of violence. There's also a collective desire to avert our eyes from information and images that convey the reality of sexual violence in order to minimize and deny it, to not feel the pain. Through this denial, we perpetuate it.

Looking into Medusa's eyes, really looking, makes rape impossible. When you look into her eyes, suddenly you are feeling the terror she felt run through your own body, feeling the paralyzing, horrific freeze state evoked by the utter impossibility of escape when every cell in your body is screaming into fight or flight. In that moment, the rape victim transforms from object, from the thing the man is doing something to, and becomes a full person again. You feel her and she becomes you and you can never look away again. We need Medusa now more than ever. We need to look into her eyes.

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