|Jupiter and Io, Antonio da Correggio|
(Yes, I just saw Magic Mike, and my mind's on double standards. Can you tell?)
Take the Greek gods. Hera's seduction of Zeus in the Iliad is possibly the only time in the entire mythos when we see its central couple engaging in mutually consensual sex, and this is well after she's given birth to at least two kids. (She's also the mother of the goddesses of youth, childbirth and discord; analyze that, Dr. Freud!) Aphrodite has a very famous roving eye, and what does it get her? Trussed up in a net by her husband, as well as being bad-mouthed forever as the biggest slut in a pantheon of sex maniacs. Echo's shy advances to Narcissus are brutally rebuffed; Eos claims a man and has to watch him wither into a grasshopper, while her sister can only sleep with her beloved while he is actually asleep. And it's never made universally clear whether Persephone was a product of rape or not.
|Isis and Osiris, Susan Seddon Boulet|
So what are we talking about here? Is female sexuality too much to handle, even in primal tales of basic urges, even in pantheons with characters like Zeus and Odin and Jacob? Did the mostly-male mythologists shy away from really discussing women and sex out of blind fear? If myths ignore or censor women harnessing their sexuality free of judgment, isn't that really just an age-old manifestation of the madonna-whore complex?
Well, maybe not.
Female sexuality is an astoundingly powerful force, in myth and in reality. Women hold the power to create life as a direct result of their sexuality. You get early matriarchal society because early humans recognized and acknowledged that power. And you get creation myths like the Greek one, where Gaia trains her children to destroy her selfish and unsatisfactory consort, harnessing the product of her sexuality to annihilate Uranus once he's given her the missing ingredient to make life. And she turns that same power on Cronus when he too displeases her. It is no accident that Cronus' final defeat is Zeus castrating him; by going against the will of the female - that is, the one in charge - Cronus brings on himself his unmanning, by all the classic Greek rules of hubris.
|Jupiter and Juno, Annibale Caracci|
|The Awakening of Adonis, John William Waterhouse|