I’m thinking today of the mythical Amazons. I say “mythical” not to make any statement about their actuality, but because I’m thinking specifically of the mythology. That is, what does this mythic idea mean?
The idea is of a woman warrior, but she’s more than that. She is a person who occupies the space between sexes. She cuts off one breast, the better to shoot arrows, but leaves the other: a combatant who can nurse children. All her life is dimorphic. Women are her friends and comrades, men her enemies; her daughters are treasured children, her sons left out to die.
I am being somewhat ahistorical here. I’m interpreting this idea from my vantage point as a 21st century dyke, wondering what the symbol means today — I find its simple endurance as an idea noteworthy — and, to a lesser (and less informed) extent, what it might have meant once, what purpose this idea serves.
So. The Amazon is, I think, the visceral reaction to the gendering of violence. We code violence as male and tenderness as female and, therefore, men as dangerous and women as nurturing. Trapped in such a system, people respond in many ways — most frequently by performing these roles and behaving as if they are natural and inevitable. But I don’t think of any of us is truly comfortable with this incredibly reductive picture of human nature. The life of the Amazon is a life of both protest against this system and capitulation to it: a rejection of the system on the system’s own terms. The Amazon is following an older, crueler Golden Rule — treat others as they treat you. In a world where men, and only men, are brutal, and women, and only women, are kind,* the Amazon, in an imperfect stand against cruelty, becomes callous to men and considerate to women.
This is a profound assent to the premises of the gender system — she accepts that women are one way and men another. But it also, inevitably, gets her kicked out of that same institution. As soon as she practices both violence and tenderness, even in her sexist way, she is no longer qualified for membership in the group “woman.” This contradiction embodies the essence of life under this regime: we are trapped and re-trapped in the system even as we are constantly kicked out of it, constantly deemed unworthy of our assigned class. And that’s the real cruelty of it.
Even in exile there is no escape.
* This is not the real world. It is the world the gender system tells us we live in, though.
Cross-posted at Revolutionary Act.
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