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 us, are safe from her unjustified and irrational 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.
A central theme in our music is the silencing of women's voices, particularly women who have survived sexual abuse and other forms of patriarchal violence. Gender-based violence is inextricably linked to other forms of violence such as racism, colonialism, xenophobia and heterosexism. 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 burnings of the Middle Ages. In the collective psyche, women are a threat, and must be destroyed. The women targeted in witchhunts 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. The transformation of the Great Mother Goddess herself, whose image paints tens of thousands of years of archeological landscape, into the temptress Eve responsible for the fall of humanity echoes the desecration and pillaging of Mother Earth under present-day corporate patriarchy. The vilifying of women can follow acts of violence, as with the Medusa tale and the rampant victim-blaming we find in our society today. Or, as was the case with witch-burning, it can be wielded as a weapon to justify and carry out this violence in the first place. Oftentimes, it is both.
The rule with Medusa is this, “Don't look into her eyes.” Looking into Medusa's 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. Our song, “Look Into the Eyes,” is a plea to do the very thing the Medusa myth warns against. “Look into the eyes of a child in fear,” in order to see, and through seeing, to feel the terror and the agony of victims of violence. All too often in our world today, these victims 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 Poseidon had looked into Medusa's eyes that day in Athena's temple? Whether he, and other perpetrators, look into the victim's eyes or not, there's a definite turning away from the soul, from the humanity of the other, that makes such vicious acts of violence possible. There's also a collective desire to avert our eyes from information and images that convey the reality of sexual violence and all forms of oppression. In closing our eyes, we are able to minimize and deny that these horrific realities exist. We do not feel their pain. But, through this denial, we have a hand in perpetuating such violence.
Looking into Medusa's eyes, really looking, makes rape impossible. When you look into her eyes, suddenly you are feeling the terror she felt. That terror runs through your own body, and you feel 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, when you look and feel, 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.