What makes a woman a hero? Is she defined as one by her ability to fight or the power that she wields just from being a woman? That was the core question that was posed during Jennifer Besse’s lecture, “Wonder Women: Amazons, Warriors, and Witches in Greek Mythology,” held on Monday, March 18 in the High Library. As the name of the lecture suggests, Besse explored several famous mythological women, ranging from Pandora to Hippolyta, who are featured in Greek Mythology. Each possesses their own individualized set of strengths and weaknesses that made them a hero within Ancient Greek society.
Besse also spent much of the night discussing ancient socio-political issues that affected the way women were regarded in ancient times and even stretched to and invaded modern day’s issues.
“It was interesting to see what Ancient Greeks considered to be the definition of a hero and their criteria for one,” Julia Raup-Collado a senior English literature major who attended the event commented.” It differs from today’s [criteria], although you can also see where such themes were adopted and reformatted for modern times.”
Besse didn’t just focus on mythological figures in her presentation. Instead, she drew a connection between much of the points she raised in her lecture and drew a parallel between it and modern pop culture. Utilizing two large content conglomerates that much of the audience was familiar with: Marvel and DC.
Of the many points that Besse brought up concerning the parallels of Greek Mythology and modern content that is consumed, much of the lecture was heavily focused on the usage of hypersexualization.
Hypersexualization is the act of making the object within the consumer’s gaze sexualized or making the consumer aware of the sexuality of the object in focus. Instead of drawing a contrast between the word and the core focus of her lecture, Besse instead hones in on the fact that the sexualization of women in Greek Mythology or their own sexualities were a source of their strength.
Using the mythological tribe of the Amazons as an example, Besse recounted tale after tale of Amazonian women who used their own sexuality to their strengths and even their abilities. While pointing to both Lynda Carter and Gal Gadot’s own versions of Wonder Woman as a portrayal of the modern female superhero who is both sexualized yet still regarded as a hero within their own right.
Besse does highlight that there are still issues within the theme of hypersexualization of female heroes.
“Everyone must know this image,” Besse said to the audience in attendance, as she displayed an infamous image from the variant cover of Marvel’s first issue for Spider-Woman. Before adding on to her earlier point that the image was “unrealistic” as the pose and sexualization of the character detracted from her heroic values.
The very opposite of the ideas she was presenting in her lecture.
It also detracted from the core message of her overall presentation in which even despite the sexualization or lack of autonomy that women had in ancient Greece, they were always in control of their own lives.
Instead, Besse spent the night informing her audience that these women in these ancient Greek Mythologies and modern times were heroes. A point that she reiterated in her closing remarks at the lecture.
“[These women were heroes] not because they were descended from powerful deities or born into wealth, but they were heroes because they recognized their worth and their own abilities. That’s where they drew their power from.”
Jennifer Besse is an adjunct professor for the English department since August 2012. Much of her classes focus on teaching Latin and Greek and Roman literature. As an undergraduate, she earned her bachelor’s in classics and archaeology at the New College of Florida. Before pursuing her masters in classics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Sherika Marshall ’19 is a Japanese major and English PW & Asian Studies minor.