Root of all evil

For the dverse prompt. Late because we had a power outage yesterday evening. The Judgement of Paris probably says it all.


They stand in the shadows, Deirdre and Étain,

Andromeda and Persephone,

Eurydice, Penelope, Helen,

all the women who took the blame

for their beauty, the greed and lust of men,

for not being their father’s sons.

They stand in the shadows and watch

as we stalk the catwalks or cringe behind veils,

as we walk always two paces behind

but with a simpering smile of complicity.

They stand, they watch, and they judge.

So long, their stony eyes say in silent reproach,

and still we mince and pout and take the rap,

the punch in the face, the unwanted touching,

or we wrap our shame in black

scuttle like beetles to deflect desire.

When, they ask, will we turn to the adventurer

returned from his wars and his conquests of female flesh

and say, what kept you?

Slap Paris in the face and tell him,

I am not a prize to be won;

I too will fly on a winged horse to sun and moon

to pluck golden and silver apples,

spit the pips in the eyes of all your gods.

My prize is not a bedslave,

but the liberation of the world.


Published by

Jane Dougherty

I used to do lots of things I didn't much enjoy. Now I am officially a writer. It's what I always wanted to be.

32 thoughts on “Root of all evil”

  1. I like this, Jane. It’s a great cry of anger for all those marginalised women. Have you read The Silence of the Girls? It’s a good read. At least at the moment, there are lots of people creating voices for those forgotten women.

    “all the women who took the blame

    for their beauty”

    sadly, still true.

    1. Thanks Sarah. I really hate Greek mythology. The models of behaviour it presents us with are truly despicable.
      I haven’t read The Silence of the Girls but I’ve heard of it. I’ll try to get around to it. You’re right, there are a lot of (high profile) voices raised against gender inequality, but there are big holes in most of the vocal women’s movements. They’re actresses for actresses, really wanting to be paid as much as men. None of them are shouting for equal opportunities for poor women or better rates of pay. There are political parties patting themselves on the back for having equal lists male/female except the women stand for the seats the party is bound to lose. And there’s what I find the so despairing wrong-headedness of equating feminism and equal rights with defending obscurantist religious ideas of female comportement.

      1. I think the Greek myths are very easy to do modern interpretations of, because they work with such fundamental symbolism – and I guess have passed into our collective subconscious. Narcissus is vain – you see him in every gym, taking photos of his flexed muscles. Athena is wise, vengeful. Hera is the wronged wife. Aphrodite is sexy. Herakles is the wronged superhero. The Celtic myths are much stranger, much more complex, without that clear moral/symbolic side to them. I’m not sure how you’d do a modern retelling of the Children of Lir, for example, without just doing it in modern dress. It’s almost like they are part of some parallel history, with all its chance events and inconclusive endings, rather than a stand alone mythology. Does that make any sense at all?

      2. I think it makes perfect sense. The Greek myths are easy to transpose on a superficial level and we see it in about a thousand YA novels where some high school kid wakes up one morning and discovers she’s Aphrodite. What’s sad is that it is so easy to transpose those awful gods into a contemporary setting. We don’t seem to have changed our moral and judgmental outlook much.
        The Celtic stories are much more morally complex. They don’t fit in with the Greek version of womanhood nor the Christian one. Sometimes you can see the join where the monks have been tampering with the story. At least the women in the Celtic myths get the chance to say their bit and choose husbands and whether they’ll stay with them.

      3. The literary world does a better job of fighting the women’s cause than the celebrity voices, I agree. The Penelopiad I know and liked a lot. Puts Odysseus in a different light.

      1. Read it. You did a great job of thumbnail sketching female stereotypes. I was surprised nobody queried the morality of the whole idea. One of the problems of our modern society, I think. The ‘boys will be boys’ ethos is still very strong. I could hear you laughing up your sleeve at the whole bunch of them (characters not readers).

  2. Very powerful, Jane — you sketch the inherent misogyny so prominent in Greek myths and many of their retelling efforts. I would like to give my support to your discussion with Sarah — I find a certain thread of connection between the two poems, in how you both have addressed the lack of individual agency of these women, curtailed by the decisions and choices of heroes and gods. Yours is scathing with a pinpointed reflection and thought-provoking stance, hers with a more satirical reference/portrayal of the stereotypes and of course that disconcerting male gaze. Kudos! I have gleaned from your poem as well as this exchange of ideas in the comments.
    I think that it is so significant to speak more often about the need for a certain intersectional perspective to feminism and not mere tokenism. Thank you for linking in. 🙂

    1. I noticed that of all the comments on Sarah’s poem, yours was the only one that hinted at the purely male gaze of the Greek outlook. A woman had no value except for reproducing her husband. The world was constructed by and for men, and I wish women and women’s rights campaigners would stop pussy footing around the role of patriarchal religious cultures in its persistence.

  3. I haven’t read anyone else’s because I just put up mine. I agree, of course. “Slap Paris in the face and tell him,
    I am not a prize to be won;
    I too will fly on a winged horse to sun and moon
    to pluck golden and silver apples,”
    I like yours, and I’m going to read Sarah’s. I enjoyed the comments above. I wrote about Orpheus and Eurydice (because I wanted to use the image you used the other day), but I altered my first version because I wanted to give Eurydice some agency–not just have her a passive victim.

    1. I’ve just been to read yours and like it a lot. You give the myth modern ‘costume’ but also a modern slant that poor Eurydice wasn’t allowed. The Greek myths are all like that though, women getting dragged from pillar to post, raped, dumped then blamed. I hate them.

      1. Thank you. You’re right–and I definitely see them differently through my modern “Me Too” viewpoint. Though I can’t say I hate them. I wonder how women then thought of these stories?

      2. But the women talked amongst themselves. It’s just no men bothered to record their thoughts, or didn’t save them–except perhaps for Sappho–and I just read Pope Gregory burned her work. Big surprise there. 😉

      3. I imagine it would be much the same as the conversation in an Ottoman harem. The idea of society not being completely male oriented probably wouldn’t have occurred to them. They’d maybe focus on the small gestures of kindness and been glad of them. I don’t know.

  4. You gave voice to the plight of women since the beginning of time, from myth to legend to history to today, objectified and subordinated. Well done.

    1. Thanks Beverly. There was a story on the news today that made me roll my eyes. Women (plump women) protesting in Paris against the tyranny of the skinny ideal not because it’s imposing an image and self image on women, but because they were demanding the same rights as skinny models to take part in fashion shows! They wanted to walk down the cat walks too, to be exactly the same objects of admiration/envy/fantasy too. We’re going wrong somewhere.

  5. I find the Greek Myths very like the Bible. God could be Zeus, except they never pretended Zeus was good.
    I’ll take one of those winged horses…(K)

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