Rupsa is a professional Content Writer who loves to explore cultures and write about social issues. She holds a masters degree in History.
Mythology is a fascinating subject for history lovers; it unfolds stories that cannot be found in evidence-based historical scripts. I feel mythological stories contain insightful information regarding socio-cultural trends and gender role perceptions of a particular country and a particular period. We, as readers, need to find them or interpret them.
The patriarchal social system tends to treat women as the lesser sex, the weaker half of the human population. We often time feel bounded by gender role stereotypes even today. A gender role is nothing but a perception regarding individuals’ behaviours defined by socio-cultural norms. Being a part of the social system, knowingly or unknowingly we also take part in gender role stereotyping sometimes.
The Social Role theory and Gender Role Stereotyping
As per the Social Role Theory, the primary reason behind gender differences is the uneven distribution of women and men in various social roles. In industrialised societies, for example, women generally assume the role of a primary caregiver to children. Men, on the other hand, are considered as the family providers in most cases. Battlefield is one of those domains which has always been under-represented by women. Female gender role stereotypes do not approve them of being a soldier. Even though the scenario has changed a lot these days, it cannot be said that we have reached the state of equality. As per a report published by the Business Standard (2020), Women in the US and the UK started assuming frontline combat roles in 2016 and 2018 respectively. China’s PLAGF consists of only 5 per cent of female officers. Only 10 per cent of the Russian armed force is represented by women. So, we can say that battlefield could not become a place for women even in the 21st century. Epic poems such as Mahabharata and Iliad celebrated male warriors with a larger than life approach; did they celebrate female warriors in the same way? I don’t think they did.
However, some tales concerning ancient warrior goddesses made me reevaluate my perception of traditional gender roles allocated to women. They tell a different story. Several ancient cultures from different parts of the world used to worship female deities as warrior goddesses. When people in a society consider someone as weak, they do not allocate the role of a warrior to that person. Then what made these ancient thinkers do that? Is that a question mark on the traditional gender role perceptions? In my opinion, this is not. These female deities were also performing the traditional gender roles.
In this article, I will be talking about four ancient goddesses that are apparently beyond these gender role stereotypes. They are admired for their bravery, power and protective nature. However, when I analysed these characters, I felt they were performing the roles of a caregiver, a spiritual mother.
Athena, the Patroness of the Ancient City of Athens
The Greek goddess Athena was a bold female figure associated with qualities such as wisdom, justice, and art. She was a warrior. Her very identity is closely associated with the modern concept of nationhood; her name clearly states that she was the patron of the ancient city of Athens. Athena's temple in Parthenon is still a popular landmark for tourists. She was the protectress of numerous other poleis across ancient Greece. Many of her responsibilities were (so-called) masculine in nature; take, for example, horsemanship, metalwork, and shipbuilding. However, she could not disdain the feminine gender roles completely. She was the goddess of childbirth, music and health. To some extent, she was a spiritual caregiver; a mother who protects her children from danger.
Goddess Durga and Goddess Kali, the Hindu Goddesses of Energy and Power
Goddess Durga is one of the most popular female deities even in modern India. She represents pure and sacred feminine energy. Durga is the force or reason behind everything that exists; she is the spiritual mother to mankind. She is invincible and immensely brave; all the male deities turn to her in moments of need and desperation. She rides a lion which is the embodiment of bravery. In essence, she is a protective mother that fights demonic and dark forces to protect her children. Goddess Kali (Kali means someone who is black) and goddess Durga are believed to be the same entity; however, goddess Kali is the raw form of female energy. She is fiercer than Durga and she is uncontrollable. Her beautiful black skin represents the time when the universe was unborn, the time when there was no light, which means she is eternal. Goddess Durga unleashes this form of herself when she comes across the darkest and most demonic forces in the cosmos. Even though the image of goddess Kali does not match the traditional gender roles asserted to women, she is a mother at the end of the day. Modern Hindus still refer to her as maa Kali (mother Kali).
Sekhmet, the Eye of Re, the Mistress of Life
Egyptian goddess Sekhmet represents the concentrated form of energy derived from the sun god Re. Her very appearance (lion-head) clearly describes her nature; she is brave, furious and destructive. At the same time, she is a protectress and a healer. According to ancient tales, Ptah, her partner created the universe and she protects her partner’s creation. On one hand, She spreads diseases that demonstrate her destructive side; on the other hand, she cures illness which represents her protective nature. She simultaneously performs the roles of a protective warrior and a loving mother. She guards the Pharaoh and always runs ahead of the King’s chariot. Every individual is her child and she is a mother who can do anything to protect her children. Just like Hindu goddess Kali, she also had a gentler form, goddess Hathor, who was believed to be a nurturing mother.
Inanna, the Mesopotamian Equivalent of the Greek Goddess Athena
Inanna is the Mesopotamian equivalent of the Greek goddess Athena. Her area of influence was wide; she was the goddess of warfare, prosperity, love and sexuality. Even though Inanna was a woman, her qualities were quite (so-called) masculine; triumphing battles and seeking sensual satiety were some of her characteristics. She has been referred to as 'the woman' in ancient Mesopotamian writings. An interesting fact about Inanna is that she also appears with a lion under her feet which symbolises bravery. This brave goddess was also a fertility figure and a protectress of the storehouse. Primarily, she is a mother who is responsible for making sure that her children are safe and being fed well.
The role of a caregiver and a warrior may seem contradictory, but they are complementary in reality. A mother is a protectress; she keeps her children safe. In these stories, the protective nature of a mother is the major theme and her being a fierce warrior is probably a minor one. Thus, we cannot say that these warrior goddesses nullified the traditional gender role stereotypes entirely; instead, they strengthened their identities as protective mother figures and caregivers.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
S Banerjee. on October 08, 2021:
Very good and interesting.