When I was little and learning about Greek mythology in school, I was confused for the longest time about why my teachers kept mentioning the rainforest in South America. After I finally worked up the courage to ask what they were talking about, I was fascinated. I’d never before heard tales of a nation of battle-hardened women who caused headaches for Greek men everywhere, even the famously militaristic Spartans.
The Amazons elicited in me a mixture of fear and arousal. My first female crush was Lara Croft, and I’ve always had a weakness for women in fatigues. At the same time, though, it was rumored that the Amazons rejected all males born to them when they began to grow facial hair (and before that, treated them as tenth-class citizens). Fortunately for those boys and unfortunately for radical feminist separatists, there is absolutely no archaeological evidence that the Amazons ever existed. Despite this, they are held up as an example for “empowered” women to live up to. I put “empowered” in quotation marks because the very women who promote Amazons are, more often than not, the worst at living up to this ideal.
First, let us examine exactly who the Amazons were. According to the legend from which they sprung, they were an order of elite hunters who worshiped Artemis. They followed Hippolyte, the strongest among them, and their basketball games were boring as hell because they focused far more on fundamentals than dunking.
It was rumored that Hippolyte, an unmarried woman, would pledge herself to one man only: whatever man could best her with a sword. Hercules did so, according to some versions, and took her girdle (as one of his labors) instead of her hand in marriage. According to William Shakespeare, the latter honor went to Theseus, the Duke of Athens. In Act V of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, she openly disagrees with her husband, something which (presumably) was a big no-no in bronze-age Athens. Though the law of Athens gives him the right, he does not beat her for her disagreement. He doesn’t even rebuke her; by holding her own against him so well on the battlefield, she has earned his respect, so he merely offers his own reasoning to her, letting her choose whether or not to accept it.
It is this scene, in my mind, that offers the ideal that Amazons should be seen for; an ideal that, more than anything else, should shape relations between men and women.
Back in the Nineties, fueled by feminism’s rising Third Wave, the sort of man who was shown in the media as being the most desirable choice for women was the Sensitive New Age Guy. The SNAG was soft-spoken, attuned to a woman’s needs, always looking for some new piece of Sixties nostalgia to add to his repertoire, and above all, he never, ever, EVER spoke back to a woman. After all, that’s what women want, isn’t it?
No, not really. Putting aside the obvious implication that a man’s being kind to a woman always carries ulterior motives, no self-respecting woman wants a bootlicker. She’ll grow tired of him fast. True, a Nice Guy will never talk back to or insult a woman, but he’ll also never tell her when she’s going overboard or doing something stupid, and he’ll certainly never throw her onto the bed and tear her clothes off. If Hippolyta met a soldier on the battlefield who threw down his weapon when facing her simply because she was a woman, she’d cut him down without a second thought.
Amazons were warriors, and warriors are people who persevere, no matter what the situation. Warriors make their own way through life, and overcome whatever obstacles are laid in their path.
An Amazon doesn’t spend her day moaning about how horrible the Patriarchy is; she proves that she can’t be held down by it.
An Amazon doesn’t go around demanding the passage of laws giving her preferential treatment, because such laws would imply that she’s weaker than men.
An Amazon does not lose her temper because of a man making catcalls at her; doing so would mean that man has the ability to manipulate her. She just finds a way to make him look like an idiot.
An Amazon does not demand that her husband or boyfriend leave the toilet seat down for her because she has eyes and hands.
An Amazon does not pretend to be weak in order to get a man to do a favor for her; do I even need to explain this one?
So, if we want to have meaningful, equal relationships, men need to stop seeing women as helpless weaklings incapable of opening their own doors, and women need to stop encouraging this image.