Posted by: allisonbz628 | September 1, 2016

Zeus What Have You Done?

These past two weeks our class discussed the wide range of issues women face in leadership. In Through the Labyrinth by Alice H. Eagly and Linda L. Carli (2007), they describe the numerous challenges women face as leaders. The root of these complications according to Eagly and Carli (2007) arise from society’s implicit and explicit gender expectations. We form stereotypes based off certain behaviors and expectations we hold for certain genders, ethnicities, and races. As a matter of fact, we truly do not realize how much these stereotypes guide and bias our thinking. In regards to gender, people associate certain behaviors and qualities with men and women (Eagly & Carli, 2007). Routinely associated with women include the communal qualities such as caring, nurturing, empathetic, and so forth. Men on the other hand are associated with agentic qualities such as aggression, dominance, self- promotion and more. People polarize the spheres of influence between men and women to the home and the workplace. Society expects women to take care of the household responsibilities including childbearing. Men, however, are required to work and financially support the family (Eagly & Carli, 2007). As a result of these classifications, men become associated with leadership because society believes masculine traits lead to success. Conversely, society views women as having, “the wrong stuff for leadership” due to their natural qualities and assumed roles  (Eagly & Carli, 2007, p.83) . These gender expectations and stereotypes have prevailed in our society for years, and they have been imprinted through history and culture. Could such stereotypes ever be changed or reversed? We look to the mythology of the Mediterranean for answers.

Greek and Roman mythology, along with many other cultures, help serve as an understanding and therapeutic approach to the numerous fears and worries of everyday life in ancient times. These myths help explain phenomena that modern medicine now provides. Many of these fears focused on womanhood and childrearing (Purkiss, 2000). However, these ancient cultures’ mythology shows stark indications of held stereotypes and expectations for women and men. Can we look to mythology to help explain the deep-seated beliefs about men and women? Does mythology create the foundation for the labyrinth that women must navigate in leadership? Diane Purkiss’ book (2000), Troublesome Things: A History of Fairies and Fairy Stories helps illustrate such an idea.

According to Purkiss (2000), Greek culture, in particular, highly valued bravery and overcoming fears. Heroes were respected for their uncanny bravery and strength to overcome demons of the underworld. Of course, heroes in Greek or any culture’s mythology included only men. As Purkiss (2000) writes, “giving birth was the adult female equivalent of the male warrior’s confrontation with death” (p. 21). Females automatically become elicited with the domestic sphere. As a result, a woman’s task includes the birth and rearing of children along with the typical behaviors associated with women. Many ancient cultures featured demons as girls that could never grow up—girls that could not or did not marry and have children (Purkiss, 2000). These evil spirits work with vengeance pulling other mothers and children into their same misery. For example, in Greek mythology, Hera punishes the Greek demon Lamia for her affairs with Zeus. Hera kills all of Lamia’s conceived children and prevents her from ever having a child. Lamia retreats defeated and envious. She turns into a monster filled with revenge that steals and eats other children since she cannot have her own (Purkiss, 2000). Lamia becomes worthless and defeated because she cannot fill her societal role since childbirth remains seen as, “vital to social identity” for women (Purkiss, 2000, p. 24). We begin to see the darkening of gender stereotypes through such tales. Women were required and expected to become mothers and men were required and expected to be brave warriors (Purkiss, 2000). Interesting enough, these basic depictions of men and women still underlie our society’s expectations. One can even go as far to say that such ideas about the male warrior comprise the early expectations for the assuming male leader. A leader and warrior spark similar necessary qualities such as aggression, assertion, strength, and influence. Sound familiar?

Another area where Greek mythology describes stark gender roles focuses on the lives of nymphs. Nymphs cannot create a story for themselves, but rather, they occupy the stories created by others. Furthermore, nymphs like other demons, illustrate being stuck in a life transition (Purkiss, 2000). Nymphs personify being stuck in the life transition of girlhood to womanhood. For example, in the Odyssey, the nymph Calypso captures Odysseus. She keeps Odysseus as her prisoner aboard a beautiful island where he becomes completely miserable and longs for home. Calypso along with other nymphs continue to fulfill their expected domestic household roles– cleaning, singing, and keeping house (Purkiss, 2000). Their household chores provide the only means of expression since they cannot marry and have children, which would allow the nymphs to fulfill society’s expectations. When Calypso releases Odysseus the epic of the Odyssey can finally begin, because of course, “there can never be an epic about a girl” (Purkiss, 2000, p. 41).

It becomes blatant that mythology can be held responsible for helping to create gender roles in society. Such stories place the emphasis on male dominance and superiority, relegating women below them. Males assume the hero roles and defeat the demons, yet alternately, women bear the children and become the homemakers. These beliefs closely link with success and acceptance in society. So yes, I do believe that mythology helps polarize gender stereotypes that continue to this day. Such stereotypes hurt women and make leadership much harder to obtain when compared to males. As Eagly and Carli (2007) nicely put it, women must navigate the labyrinth which, “captures the varied challenges confronting women as they travel, often on indirect paths, sometimes through alien territory, on their way to leadership” (p. 1). The labyrinth blurs the path to leadership, and the effect of gender stereotypes places women in lower status to men. This further emphasizes the association between masculine traits and leadership. Mythology can be seen creating a major obstacle in the labyrinth that women must navigate—the power of history and tales.




Eagly, A. H., & Carli, L. L. (2007). Through the labyrinth. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press.

Purkiss, D. (2000). Ancient worlds. In Troublesome things: A history of fairies and fairy stories (pp. 11-51). New York City, NY: Penguin Group.



  1. That quote, “there can never be an epic about a girl”, really resonated with me. I can’t help but remember two of the shows I watched as a kid, Kim Possible and Teen Titans. I thought they were the coolest things in the world because both had such strong women. It was something that I craved so badly, because I wanted to be a strong woman myself. In other shows and movies, I thought the male protagonists were cool–how could they not be with so many choices?–but I never felt the same connection I felt with a great female protagonist. When I could visibly someone like me–a girl, who everyone expected to be frilly and weak–be strong, independent, funny, and powerful, it inspired me. It made me think that I myself could become that. In short, it showed me an epic about a girl, one that let me believe that my life didn’t just have to be about fashion, beauty, and barbie dolls (or that it COULD be about those things and more).

  2. This is extremely interesting because I have read so many Greek mythology stories and I never stopped to think about it. Going back through my head I remember many stories about thee females in these myths, and most don’t have a happy ending. Either they mess up or the men they are suppose to follow (their fathers, husbands or lovers) fail. The story of Echo is also about a nymph that is tricked by Zeus. He tries to seduce her and is almost successful. But Hera places a curse on her to only repeat words said to her. Now in this senario why isn’t Zeus cursed? He was the one to cheat on his wife. Both Hera and Echo are portrayed as the “bad guys” because they “stepped out of line”. Thank you for pointing out how since they beginning of times gender roles existed then.

  3. Who really conquered the Labyrinth? Was it Theseus or Ariadne? Ironically the Labyrinth is also from a Greek myth and after going back and rereading it we can see how the Greek culture at the time viewed women and men. All Theseus wanted was to be a hero, but what he had in courage and brawn he lacked in cunning and always seeming to tackle his trifles with brute strength. Ariadne was motivated by her love for Theseus and gave him a spool of yarn to trace his way out of the Labyrinth. From a leadership perspective it shows that men are more impulsive seeking to tackle problems with brute strength and one problem at a time which can lead to more work in the end. Where as women are more long term oriented seeking a specific goal for the future. With this simplistic view of gender and leadership it would be very simple supposedly choose who you would want to lead a company depending on the situation. Unfortunately leadership is not so black and white. Although it does show that despite how women are depicted in mythology they are capable leaders and important to the leadership process.

  4. While I agree with your point that Greek Mythology has influenced some of the gender stereotypes, I do not agree that it creates a major obstacle in the labyrinth. We have studied Greek mythology for centuries, and although it is useful to see the similarities of gender stereotypes in the stories themselves, I wouldn’t argue that it creates any major barriers for women in leadership. It is now 2016 and the idea that women are supposed to be childbearing, kitchen-dwelling, communal beings is further behind us than most are willing to admit. Women have been proving that they are capable of leadership since the 1800’s. The only people who have yet to accept this, are men who still believe in the Great-man theory of leadership. However, I do see how Greek mythology could have influence these ideas that women have fought to reverse. The stories and mythology of the Greeks do shed a great light on how the Greek society at the time felt about women and their social expectations. In this century, however, Greek mythology is no longer studied from the lens of truth but merely as an education on how Greek society operated a very long time ago. Therefore, I cannot seem to agree that women’s leadership and social expectations rely so heavily on the stories presented by the Greeks centuries before our time.

  5. I like the different angle but I agree with the previous post. I think it would be very hard to point at the Greeks for setting the standard. I think looking at the Greek culture, however, would be beneficial to view our society. The men would go off to fight long wars and the women, regardless of their education were left to run the farms, businesses, and different realms of society. Yes, the women did not have the same rights that we did today, but the Greek society would have failed if the women were not capable of taking over. I think a part of that stems from the way they were raised, but many of them did not want to pursue a different avenue because they liked what they did.

  6. “Society expects women to take care of the household responsibilities including childbearing. Men, however, are required to work and financially support the family”
    What if the roles were switched? Women who work or place a higher value on their careers are negatively viewed because they are “expected” to do household chores and take care of children. A woman working late in an office to be financially stable is viewed as selfish but if men do it, society accepts it. I find it very interesting that there are standards that women have to live by but not men.

  7. I actually agree that ancient greek society impacts our modern leadership problems. Our society has been heavily influenced by the greeks, much of this impact in found in societal structures like government. While I do not think it’s as directly linked but the echoes are still there. We based our society on these people and picked up on their habits. There are a lot of parallels between our societies in the roles of women and men .In both women stuck in the domestic sphere while men are traditionally the breadwinners. You would think that there would have been progress over the last 2000 years but there hasn’t been much. And in relation to the previous post the is literature from poets like Sappho and plays like the assemblywomen which showed the strength of women. And since their history was written by men, we cannot get their true perspectives.

  8. I appreciated that you looked at this issue through the eyes of Greek mythology. The idea of a woman being a clever warrior was once considered strange, and the idea of a man being a stay-at home dad is equally strange. I agree that each individual should the option of pursuing what lifestyle they prefer — working inside or outside of the home (both are so important). Sometimes I down feel like the idea of working inside the home is looked down upon. There’s this idea that some women “just” work as mothers and wives while motherhood is far more than “just” a thing some people do. I would argue that raising a child is one of the most important jobs an individual can do. Regardless of gender, I feel like it is easy to elevate glamorous leadership positions, such as political or managerial positions, while degrading equally important leadership positions such as raising a human being.

  9. You provided a great frame of reference for the concepts Eagly and Carli discuss. Most people look at greek mythology and focus on the heroes, but this allows us to look at these tales from a different angle and find new meaning behind the story! It used to be widely understood that women found their fulfillment in domestic spheres, so taking that away leads them to feel lost. Despite the fact that women are now encouraged to find fulfillment elsewhere, it is still a very common goal for women to have children and raise them, and the loss of a child is still enough to drive one to madness. So these stories aren’t completely outdated. Instead, we might conclude that they are comparable to fewer real-life scenarios.

  10. This is a really interesting outtake on the relationship between women and leadership and mythology.. I never would have thought to make that connection. It’s definitely easy to point to ancient civilizations and recognize the disregard of women in every day life. It’s even captured in the fictional stories of the ancient world, which you gave examples of via Greek mythology. I do find it worth mentioning though that apparently it was considered by the Greeks that “giving birth was the adult female equivalent of the male warrior’s confrontation with death”. I think that’s almost a flattering statement to females, especially in the ancient world. The sacrifice that women make in carrying children and birthing them is rarely discussed and never glorified the way it should be- women are the bearers of new life. And that process is an extremely difficult and painful one. Much like a man confronting death- because at that time to be a warrior and to die in battle was glorious. It made you a success. And childbirth is glorious. So while today this may not be the ideal way to flatter a woman considering matters of child birth, at the time of the ancient Greek civilization, it seems pretty outstanding to me that the Greeks considered childbirth equal to a warriors confrontation with death.

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