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.
The Vampirical Witch, Aswang, Shows No Pity For Men's Souls
Nearly always female, the vampire witch, Aswang, hails from the Philippines and is not one to be underestimated - ever. On some islands in the Philippines she is known as "tik-tik," or "soc-soc," but whatever you call her, she is all bad ass. She has a frightful, demon-like appearance and has wings that allow her to fly great distances in search of dead human flesh. However, if none of that is available, she is happy to consume living human flesh and shows zero pity or compassion for anyone she encounters.
Baba Yaga Judges, Enslaves, And Eats Her CaptivesPhoto: Public Domain/Viktor Vasyetnov / Wikimedia Commons
Baba Yaga (pronounced Bahbah Yah-GAH) is essentially the wicked witch of Russian folklore. It's interesting how pretty much every world culture has their own version of an evil woman who goes about causing trouble for others.
Baba Yaga is like most wicked witches: she casts spells, roasts and eats children and adults, and is a general troublemaker. But rather than using a broom, she flies through the skies in a mortar, using the pestle to steer. She also has three male knights for servants - one who brings the morning, the afternoon, and the night. She enjoys collecting human skulls to use as lamps, and the fence around her house (which walks about on chicken legs) is made of human leg bones. If she likes you, she might let you work for her awhile, then free you. But she never suffers a lazy fool - male or female!
Murderous Mermaids Threatened The Lives Of MenPhoto: Public Domain/Frederic Leighton / Wikimedia Commons
Man's relationship with mermaids has a complicated and very long history - much of which is bound up in fear and loneliness. The tale of the homesick sailor who longs to see his sweetheart back home and imagines her face in that of a sea creature swimming below is an old story and totally understandable. However, there are a few other stories that have complicated these mermaid matters.
The first recorded example of a creature akin to the mermaid is a goddess from the ancient world. Arargatis, who hailed from Syria, was known as the goddess of fertility and good health - and was human from the waist up, but a fish below.
Then there is the story of Melusina, who was a watery European goddess also in possession of a fish tail. She married a king (while disguised as a human woman) and bore him children. The couple was apparently happy, and the king honored his queen's one request for privacy one day every month. One month, he forgot his promise and burst into her chamber where he found her bathing, fish tail and all. Melusina was so shocked that she and her daughters flew out the window, never to return - breaking the king's heart.
Somehow, by the medieval era, mermaids had come to symbolize prostitution and were seen as seductresses who would take a man's money or his life, depending on her mood.
Even the Hans Christian Anderson mermaid story is morbid. When the mermaid can't have her prince (who has fallen in love with another), she stabs him to death and then kills herself, turning into sea foam. Disney's take on Anderson's story is also a far cry from any sort of female empowerment. The mermaid, Ariel, happily gives up her family, her home, and her voice in order to keep her man.
Frightening Harpies Instilled Dread And ResentmentPhoto: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons
In some of the earliest stories in Greek mythology, Harpies were creatures that were half human female, half bird, half reptile, or even half fish. Their job was to serve as the winds that would carry people away. Sometimes these Harpies were associated with the Underworld, or they were simply considered ghosts. However, none of them were terribly malevolent until the myth of Jason and the Argonauts was first told. The Harpies featured in this story were truly vile, as they were ugly bird-like women who were appointed to punish a king for mistreating his children. Among other insults, the harpies stole food from the king's table, leaving a horrid smell in their wake. At any rate, this is just another example of women being portrayed as troublesome to men.