Week 8: Recent Research Ramblings & Myth To Movies
Hey everyone! This week I focused on feminist theory, more specifically on motherhood and family dynamics, and even more specifically reading about the experiences of women of color and their familial communities. Medea is most infamous for killing her children, a key moment carried over into both of my contemporary texts, though the event itself raises several questions concerning the values of motherhood, social regard for mothers, and their unique relationship with their children.
This Week’s Work:
I think that the best way to tie Salvage the Bones with The Hungry Woman is to examine both Moraga and Ward’s approaches to not only Medea (or representations of her) as a character in her own right, but also to her relationships with her family members. For Ward’s novel, this would involve examining Esch’s unique circumstances as an adolescent girl experiencing an unexpected pregnancy without the support of a female role model while taking on maternal duties when caring for her father and three brothers. Though there aren’t many direct references to her family’s African American heritage, their ethnicity and socioeconomic circumstances significantly affect their story and should be considered when reviewing Esch’s experiences of losing her mother and becoming one.
In Moraga’s play, there are clear connections made to both Mexican and Greek mythologies in an effort to unite them in a contemporary work reflecting diverse identities. Diverging from Euripides’ play, Moraga creates an independent character for Medea’s son, Chac-Mool, and explicitly states that the play is about him as he is the only “real male” in the cast, the source of conflict, and the youngest character thus setting him up to be the “future” of their society as well as the continuation of their cultural history. As argued by Patricia Hill Collins, a fair and thorough understanding of a woman of color’s maternal role can only be achieved through consideration of her social, cultural, and economic contexts; that is why understanding the cultural references (or lack thereof) in Moraga and Ward’s works as well as the socioeconomic status of the characters is crucial.
That’s why I read scholarship discussing the important (though often excluded) niche topic of motherhood within feminist discourse and read essays by Andrea O’Reilly and Patricia Hill Collins to gain a better understanding of “matricentric feminism” and the role of ethnic backgrounds in maternal efforts. Though I won’t go into the details of what I read here (I’ll save that for my final paper), I’ll briefly explain my understanding of some of their ideas. O’Reilly clarifies that her term “matricentric feminism” applies motherhood as a practice rather than an identity, and that she uses “matricentric” instead of “maternal,” since the latter holds more implications towards a woman’s “natural instinct,” empathy, or inclination to take care of children rather than suggesting it to be learned or chosen. She also gives the example of a “matrifocal society” where a woman’s role as a mother grants them a certain level of respect in the community and outweighs their expectations as wives. Though the dystopian setting of Moraga’s play holds a patriarchal view of the family and social dynamic, the chorus is a reference to Aztec mythology where the Cihuatateo were warrior women who died in childbirth and were therefore respected for giving their lives for the creation of new ones.
Patricia Hill Collins adds insight into the unique circumstances that ethnically diverse mothers must overcome to guarantee a safe future for their children. She broadens her definition of motherhood to include not only blood-related mothers, but also “othermothers” (community members who take on maternal responsibilities for non-blood related children) and family friends regardless of gender; her idea of a “mother” focuses more on any individual that takes on maternal responsibilities for a child in their community, a beautiful idea that builds community trust and guarantees a support system for both child and guardian. I found that this relates to Esch (the protagonist of Salvage the Bones) in that she finds support with her elder brothers, family friends, and even her father (who acknowledges his own fear of the situation but promises to take Esch to a medical professional). She is able to find solace and sisterhood with China (her brother’s prized fighting dog), and strength through Medea, thereby building her own network while being protected by those in her community.
Greek Myth & Movies: Amazons and Wonder Woman
Elements of classical reception studies are embedded into countless forms of popular media, one of the most famous being the Amazons in the Wonder Woman comics and movies. While their stories are not directly related to Medea, I thought it would be interesting to learn about another group of “foreign” females from antiquity who were also famed for objecting to the traditional roles of Greek women. Though the Greeks did not know every detail pertaining to the female warriors, they were intrigued by their conflicting depictions as both powerful fighters and alluring females. A common trait shared by all versions of their story was their direct contrast to the classical Greek woman who was expected to remain confined to the house and barely had a voice of her own; the Amazons were instead independent, physically skilled with weapons, and fueled by emotion while maintaining a separate and female-run society. I learned more about them during a presentation by Theodora B. Kopestonsky in the 2022 AIMS conference, where she analyzed the modern renditions of the Amazons in the 2017 film Wonder Woman.
Kopestonsky opened her presentation by describing the complex understanding of the Amazons in antiquity, acknowledging that accounts varied, though commonly regarded the female warriors as both ferocious and alluring. They were commonly included in myths involving Herakles, Theseus, Achilles, among other heroes, and were often described as the female counterparts to such figures. Known as the children of Ares (god of war) and Harmonia (goddess of harmony/ peace), the “unconstrained women warriors” had established their complex matriarchal society, separated from others at the “edge” of the Greek’s known world. They were depicted as “manly” for their interest in war and values of bravery and well-regarded for skills in horsemanship and extensive knowledge of weaponry, especially adept with bows, arrows, and javelins. Some accounts included men in their matriarchal societies, though these male roles were limited to taking care of children and the home (reversed gender roles). For their reputation as fierce, independent women governing a separated society, they were regarded as the “other” by Greek societies as they contrasted Greek ideals for the restriction of women to the domestic sphere. This holds a similarity to the ancient characterization of Medea as she was labeled a “foreigner” for coming from a land outside the borders of Greece and feared for her independence and power.
Kopestonsky then points out specific details carried over from myth to the movie Wonder Woman, explaining the relevance of the setting of Themyscira as well as the individuality seen with each female warrior. Themyscira, displayed as a luscious green landscape bordering the Black Sea, contrasts the industrialized city of Paris from the movie’s opening scenes, further showing the separation between the Amazon’s homeland and the rest of society’s known world. Another significant scene is where young Diana watches the Amazons train, sharing the audience’s awe when witnessing the warriors bending backwards on horses, jumping through the air, flawlessly aiming arrows, and mastering their chosen weapons. Their movements appear deceivingly effortless and symbolize their freedom from the social restraints of both ancient Greek and modern societies. A key detail observed by Kopestonsky is the designs of their outfits which play on both functionality and fashion and hold an underlying unity while possessing differentiating details to reveal the individuality that each warrior holds.
Here are some images from the 2017 movie. The right shows a training scene where the warrior’s movement depicts a certain freedom and flexibility to her fighting style. The left shows Diana standing with her mother, the Queen in the Amazon’s matriarchy, as well as her aunt and fellow warrior; while the four outfits show an underlying connection to one another, each is customized with specific details depicting status, fighting style, and other notes of individual identity.
For the upcoming week, I’ll be finalizing my reading for matricentric feminist theory by reading the works of Toni Morrison. I also hope to make some progress on my final paper (as scary as that sounds), and work on my slides for a recorded video of my initial presentation.
Thanks for reading!
- Moraga, Cherríe L. The Hungry Woman: A Mexican Medea. West End Press, 1995.
- Ward, Jesmyn. Salvage The Bones: A Novel. United States, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2011.
- Collins, Patricia Hill. “Shifting The Center- Race, Class, And Feminist Theorizing About Motherhood.” Berkeley Law, Https://Www.Law.Berkeley.Edu/Php-Programs/Centers/Crrj/Zotero/Loadfile.Php?Entity_key=9DPI88WW
- Theodora B. Kopestonsky’s Presentation, “From Ancient Greece To Hollywood: Amazons In Wonder Woman (2017)” Presented In The Antiquity In Media Studies Conference, December 2022