The Judeo-Christian tradition has given us one narrow archetype for women. Virgin or Whore. A choice between the Virgin Mary or the whore Mary Magdalene – except the Catholic church has now admitted that Pope Gregory’s version of Mary Magdalene was wrong.
The Greco-Roman tradition however, gives us several archetypes of ‘womanhood’. A far richer set of narrative options.
Two are of importance to the debate over the sexualization of girls: Aphrodite and Artemis (or Venus and Diana).
Aphrodite is the goddess of beauty and sexuality. The original meaning of ‘glamour’ was a kind of spell or enchantment. In this sense Aphrodite uses beauty and sexual allure as a way to bewitch. She is also connected to sacred prostitution.
In this sense she is a perfect metaphor for the modern ‘glamour’ industry; fashion, cosmetics and diet.
When Christianity took over, the early Church fathers vigorously attacked this archetype. Tertullian argued that a good Christian woman, ever mindful of her link to the sin of Eve, should be modest in dress and not resort to any sort of artifice or ornament. In this way Aphrodite was turned into the Whore.
The sexualization debate is a rather crude recapitulation of this old debate. Girls should dress like Virgins, not Whores.
But there are other options. Artemis is the moon, a primal nature goddess. She roams the wild places with her nymphs (more on them later). She is untamed, the goddess of the hunt.
One day the hunter Actaeon spies on Artemis bathing naked with her nymphs. Outraged at his intrusion she turns him into a stag, turns her hounds onto him and they dutifully rip him to shreds.
It is of no surprise that the strong girls of Sparta (see my earlier post) preferred to worship Artemis above all other Greek goddesses. Sadly the Artemis archetype is completely missing from the Judeo-Christian mythos. Perhaps she appears briefly as the greatly disgraced Eve.
Whatever the case, modern Western civilization seems to allow no space for wild, fearless girls. They are forced to be Virgins or the debased Aphrodite as Whore. What is missing in the sexualization debate are the many different archetypes for women’s sexuality found in both the Greco-Roman and Hindu pantheons.
Btw, there is one male who can watch Artemis and her nymphs bathe without fear of retribution. Her twin brother Apollo, the sun. Also called Apollo nymphegetes, Apollo of the nymphs. Understand the archetype of Apollo, patron of the arts, and you understand the way to view Artemis’s wild beauty.