What's up with the patriarchy and its ancient obsession with women being the embodiment of fear? What are men so afraid of? Why do they feel so threatened? A look back into the mists of time and myth reveals some startling, and interesting, answers.
Legendary tales about the mythical women who represent men's deep-seated fear of their own mortality and startling myths about the immensity of female power are the norm rather than the exception. Ancient stories that reveal men's fear of women are found throughout history and in all cultures around the world. Nearly all of these fears are irrational and ridiculous, yet they still have a strong impact on today's social culture and even on the relationships held between men and women.
Western culture celebrates Spiderman - an entity who works for the good of all. But in Japanese culture, the ancient spider woman, Jorogumo, is definitely not out to help anyone. She is an enormous spider, yet has the power to transform herself into a beautiful woman. Sometimes she even mixes it up and goes around as half woman, half spider. What a frightful prospect! But that is exactly Jorogumo's intention.
Her job, as she sees it, is to attract men and lure them into her web where she wraps them up in silk threads, poisons them, and then eats them - much like a regular spider treats its prey. When Jorogumo is feeling particularly festive, she appears to men in her human form as beautiful as ever - only this time she's carrying a sweet baby in her arms. She then approaches the man of her choice, and asks him to hold the baby for her. If the man obliges, he is in for a tremendous shock, as the "baby" turns out to actually be a mass of thousands of spider egg. The eggs suddenly burst open and in moments the man is covered in tiny spiders. That's enough to give anyone the creepy crawlies!
Variations of the night hag story appear in cultures throughout the world and concern the frightening and somewhat unexplainable experience of sleep paralysis. This is a condition in which the individual is trapped in a state somewhere between actual sleep and conscious awareness with no way of pulling themselves out of it. It has been described by many as waking up and feeling as though something heavy is sitting or pressing down on one's chest.
Traditional cultures have maintained that it is caused by the presence of some sort of evil spirit, or demon, that is preventing its victim from moving. Of course, female spirits are typically blamed as the culprits, though some cultures do tell stories of male night hags as well as sexless hags.
The mysterious (and sometimes deadly) Deer Woman comes to us from eastern Native American cultures - particularly the Cherokee, Choctaw, Muskogee, and Seminole tribes. Other American tribes also tell similar tales - some even including a Deer Man rather than a woman.
The Deer Woman's purpose has to do primarily with fertility and the preparation of young people for the seriousness of marriage. In some of the Deer Woman stories, though, a beautiful young woman appears to a young man, seduces him, and tempts him into sexual experiences. The young man is then so overwhelmed that he may have no desire to return to the real world, his community, or his family. He also often fails to notice that the beautiful woman actually has hooves for feet. The men who remain lost in the world of the Deer Woman eventually fall into despair and die in their isolation.
History has not been kind to women - and heaven help a woman if she is beautiful, because beautiful women (bearing in mind that beauty is highly subjective, so really this applies to every woman) are frequently accused of deceiving men to their death and doom.
One of the most popular instances of this trope is found in the image of sirens, who made their first big appearance in the Iliad, when Odysseus and his men attempt to pass by the island where the sirens live. Odysseus makes his ship's crew plug their ears with wax so that they will not hear the alluring voices of the women, while he has himself tied to the mast so that he can still hear their songs, but cannot escape and join them. What torture he endures! Odysseus survives, barely, but had he been able to, he would have sailed straight for the island's shores where the beautiful, lyrical sirens would have utterly devoured him and his crew. And not in a pleasant way, either. Such is the power of women!