Rape the Goddess:
A Brief Essay on Modern Portrayals of the Angel/Monster
Popular online fiction, both fanbased and original, seem mired in presenting one aspect of the female. In a case of gender equality going horribly wrong, the angel and the monster have not given way to a more realistic representation of women, but rather the angel has been made the norm and the monster locked even more tightly away until it becomes convenient to drag her out again. Symptomatic of popular culture, this warping of female nature has led to perfectly-positive goddesses, utopian matriarchies and evil witches.
The angel/monster refers to an early image in feminist theory. Representations of women are divided into two aspects, the angel in the kitchen and the monster in the attic. The angel is the "good" woman who takes care of the house, raises the children, vacuums in pearls and is obedient to her husband. The monster in the attic is the "bad" woman, fallen, immoral, insane. There is no middle ground and immorality is a big umbrella.
Great strides have been made reshape or destroy this dichotomy. However, in mainstream media and especially in online fiction, something equally damaging occurred. The angel was turned into a purely positive goddess and the monster was swept away until it was convenient to drag her out again. Numerous examples could be drawn from society (especially when including portrayals of the emasculated male), but the fiction written by many, many online writers provides a clear example of this paradigm of the unnaturally positive goddess figure.
Specifically, negative traits in any female characters are rare. Human or divine, females are usually beautiful, kind and nurturing. Goddesses are usually affiliated with the ocean or the forest, or the planet altogether, and encourage healthy co-existence between people and nature. The environmental sensibilities of the goddess are always perfect; the goddess is a benevolent deity and acts as a mother to her entire world. This is usually the case even if she isn't an aspect of the author, too.
The chosen social structure is usually matriarchal. Women run the planet much more sensibly than any man could; they are stern but fair and kindly. Sometimes the women will have overthrown a previous patriarchy and the men will be much happier under the women's rule. The reader will have to take the women's word for it, as the men will rarely have a chance to speak. If there was a god before, that god will have been cruel, hypocritical, demanded blood-sacrifices and oppressed women. As for the new female goddess, see the above paragraph.
If the author is forced to show the goddess or matriarchy dealing with violence, it is a decision forced upon them. They never begin the conflict, unless they have refused to do something immoral which would have prevented that conflict. They will then become Amazons, graceful female warriors that will probably have staffs and bows. In effect, they go from Athena to Artemis. Excuse me, perfectly-positive-Athena to perfectly-positive-Artemis. These women have no jealousy, no petty squabbles, and no dark sides that aren't sexually based. In other words, if they do have a dark side, it will be sexy and naughty, and they will be in complete control. Usually this will be made manifest in a Lilith demoness figure, empowered and confident, a flipside to the goddess but still the same coin. She is still beautiful and perfect. She is the goddess is a dark gothic dress.
To get the next analogy, you should know that Maiden, Mother and Crone are the three archetypal female aspects that just about every female character conforms to. This is not a bad thing, but rather simply one of those patterns that crops up and sends chills down your spine when you start recognizing them throughout the world. The Fates, the Graeae, Adam's wives, Artemis' three natures, the pattern repeats itself. So color my surprise when I found the pattern again online, a somewhat immature version of itself as it is recreated by a new generation, hopefully to be refined along the way.
The Maiden becomes the much reviled Mary Sue character, young, beautiful, and often mindnumbingly boring. Next comes the Mother in the form of the stern matriarch, quite like an older Mary Sue. The Crone becomes the evil witch, irregardless of the modern understanding of Wicca. Despite any evil woman's beautiful outer form, special mention is often given to her "ugly" inner nature. This woman is often quite recognizable, with or without magic, as the mean, super shallow, obsessed with surfaces bitch. Otherwise, the crone/witch is a caricature of all things considered negative, including any prejudices, socially archaic beliefs or simply anything else the author considers bad.
And therein lies the rape of the goddess. Or more specifically, the new rape of the entire female aspect. The angel and the monster have not been vanquished, but merely redefined. In an ironic twist, these writers have pigeonholed themselves. Either you are the goddess in all her forms, or you are everything else in the crone. Everything negative, everything unsavory, everything that might not be enlightened or at worse mischievous, is bad.
This leaves out a broad swath of human nature, to say nothing of other female deities and societies. What do we do about Kali, drunk with blood and receiving sacrifices? Or bitter Hera, cruelly tormenting sometimes hapless girls raped by her philandering husband. What about the Kindly Ones with their scorpion scourges? Or Hela, no beautiful Persephone but a true queen of the underworld, half rotted and decayed like her subjects. Lilith is emasculated in her own way, a beautiful independent woman whose defiance of God is praised and whose demon children are conveniently ignored. Artemis' kill of innocent children out of revenge against their mother is forgotten.
Women, whether goddess or mortal, are denied the basics of human nature, only this time it is the women denying themselves rather then men taking away their choice. Of course this is a simplification of modern society, but the crux of the shift holds. The positive goddess will not take joy in the extermination of heretics. She can only be a mother bird guarding her nest, never a mountain lion enjoying the thrill of her hunt as much as the blood of her kill. The goddess cannot be human.
In redefining the angel and monster, the roles remain black and white, two extremes with no middle ground. Regardless of how you define your extremes, you still deny yourself all the complexity of human nature that resides within the shades of gray between those extremes. In reality, the monsters easily blur with their goddess aspects. Kali, who wears a necklace of human heads, destroys demons. Vesta, goddess of the famous virgins, punished girls who broke their vows with live burial. Lilith was so strong her spine became a tail. Even Mary, mother of God, carried a child Joseph knew couldn't be his and risked being stoned to death for her supposed immorality. To consider any of them either a goddess or a monster denies them their full character, their full strength.
The extremes will always exist. They are natural and not inherently wrong or evil in and of themselves. But there is so much more to the female than simply angels and monsters. It excludes the whole range of qualities in-between that make up human nature. A matriarchy can be as oppressive and corrupt as a patriarchy. A goddess can be as blood-thirsty and destructive as a god. In essence, any social definitions set up by women are just as artificial as any set up by men.