Posted by: jenbollinger4614 | January 17, 2019

Mythology & Social Roles

While sitting in my Greco-Roman Mythology class, I couldn’t help but notice the explicit gendering and emphasis on masculinity throughout the readings and lectures. What made me even more interested in Ancient Greece’s views on gender was the constant theme of women being a curse on men. Although there are many myths that portray women in a negative light (Pandora, Aphrodite, Helen of Troy, etc), the one that stood out to me was Pandora’s story. From these stories, I can see how myth contributes to gender stereotypes and social roles throughout culture: views on gender which have continued until modern times.

I have always wondered why women are constantly to blame for what seem like natural misfortunes in mythology. To understand, I needed to look back at the context of the myths. As a patriarchal democracy of individual city-states, the Greeks had a social and political system of government only men could be a part of. During this time, women were considered property of men and were used to breed their children. Not only were they denied citizenship of their city-state, but they were completely stripped of all natural rights. This was part of the Greek’s culture and had been an accepted, injunctive norm and way of life.

Myths are stories that are orally passed down through generations and eventually recorded. Because they began orally, there are many variations of myths. Although variations exist, there is common trend of women being the catalyst to humanity’s cataclysmic decline. In one myth, the Titan known as Prometheus stole the eternal flame from Mount Olympus and gave fire to humans. To punish Prometheus and humanity, Zeus, king of the gods, crafted the first woman: Pandora. Made with the face of a goddess, imbued with domestic skills, and equipped with attributes of sexual allure, Pandora was considered a “great infestation among mortal men” (Harris & Platzner, 2003). Pandora is sent to earth and given a jar full of all the miseries that now effect humankind. Of course the jar is opened because her curiosity gets the best of her, while everything is released from the jar except hope. This single moment shatters the link between divinity and humanity, while plunging earth into a downward spiral.

All throughout Ancient Greece, Pandora was understood to be the feminine entity that is responsible for all of our subsequent misfortunes. Just like in Christian mythology, Eve is similarly to blame for breaking the divine-human connection with the introduction of women. Now taking these two scenarios, we can see how humans used these myths to validate their schemas of gender roles and social hierarchies. Humans used mythology as a framework to account for differences in social behavior by using the Social Role Theory. In Ancient Greece’s culture, this made sense to why women had no position of power in their lives because it was an injunctive norm. After analyzing myth and culture, it is appropriate to conclude that mythology has contributed significantly to societal views on gender roles. Primarily, I believe that the strong value of tradition can allude to why these roles have taken thousands of years, until recently, for women break out of.

sources: Harris, S. L., & Platzner, G. (2003). Classical mythology: Images and insights. Boston, Mass: McGraw-Hill.


  1. I love how you looked back on history, ancient history in fact, to comment on how women have been painted as misfortunes for a long time and we’re thought of as property and objects for even longer. Your story about Pandora and Ancient Greek’s views of women reminded me of the Witch Trials, where it was almost always women who were thought to be plaguing the cities/towns with misfortunate disasters.
    I find it so frustrating but also amusing that women were often to blame for cataclysmic events that, now that we know a bit better, were completely out of their hands. It makes a person question if people actually believed women were curses or if it was an excuse they made up for their own errors or impure feelings/thoughts.

  2. I love the topic here! I actually studied abroad in Greece this past summer and, while I was there, I actually learned something kind of awesome about women in Ancient Greek culture. While the myths of Medusa, Pandora, and others portray women as inferior to men, the art of Greece actually tells us a different story. Often in ancient mosaics, sculptures, murals, and the like, females were represented as powerful and otherworldly beings, namely in their ability to exert control over animals, which was a sign of extreme power in Ancient Greece. In art, men of the time are depicted as bowing down to women, fanning a woman on a throne, and other acts that clearly place men beneath women. One particular example of this is depiction of the infamous Amazons, the tribe of powerful, magnificent women that resided close to the Grecian islands. When represented in art, these Amazonian woman are shown as clearly dominating over men–which I think is really cool! I went to Greece with this same expectation of male/female power dynamics due to the studying Hamilton’s “Mythology” in high school, but it was really neat to see an actual representation of women as being powerful!

  3. I thought that this was a super cool way to look at gender differences, especially when considering how society today views gender. Your point on how the myths and stories of the past have shaped much of society’s views today was interesting because I had never really taken the time to think on how much we are shaped by stories we grew up with. While I do love learning about mythology, it is sad to see how the Greek people treated women within their society when there are a number of stories that depict women as powerful and empowering. I just hope that these women were able to look up to and be inspired by powerful women such as goddesses and Amazonians during times where they were subservient to men, rather than focus on the stories that depicted women in a negative light.

  4. I appreciate your post on women in mythology because it is true, they are portrayed in a very demeaning way. I have taken latin all throughout middle and high school and “evil beings” were overwhelmingly female (Hera was portrayed as evil for being jealous even though it was Zeus who had numerous affairs). But also take the sirens for example – half bird half woman – they were seen as disastrous and “lured” men into destruction by singing a beautiful song. Not only does this excuse men from being seduced and therefore sinning through lust, but it makes it seem that it was the sirens fault, creating a notion that females are sex symbols and will use men as prey. Unfortunately that is still evident today in some ways when some people say women “earned it” for “dressing a certain way” in regards to sexual harassment.
    In terms of Pandora, I believe that it is worth researching why she and Eve are both depicted as being responsible for humanities fall from grace. Although Adam and Eve both sinned in this biblical story, it was Eve who originally listened to the Devil and convinced Adam to do likewise. Even though Christianity is far younger than the mythological times of ancient Rome and Greece, perhaps there is a reason that women are recurringly the first to fall from God’s grace (strictly narratively speaking). Perhaps there is an even older parable that was taught long ago which blamed woman for humanities sins.
    Humanity has come a long way since the ancient times in terms of women’s rights, but it makes me wonder if all suppression towards females are due to the ingrained mindset that we were once suppressed, and therefore need to work harder to earn equal rights (not a mindset I agree with!)

  5. Ever since I was a little kid I have always loved Greek mythology. From the Percy Jackson books to the ancient history classes that I took in school. I have never looked at in this light before but it is very eye opening. Thinking about it in this way I can definitely see the way that women are slandered and gender roles enforced. Take the myth of Persephone and Hades. In a version that I found Persephone is portrayed (in my eyes) as a flighty girl who cannot stay away from the pretty flower, the narcissus. She is then kidnapped by Hades and forced to be the queen of the dead. Trying to draw some positives from this myth however, Persephone was allowed to live with her mother Demeter (goddess of the harvest) for six months out of the year and that is where the Greeks thought the harvest season came from. Not super positive but women were responsible for one of the most important times in the year. The Greek culture put women very far down on the social ladder and that is supported by the religious myths that arose from that time period. While we as humanity are not fully equal yet in terms of women’s rights, I do believe we have grown by leaps and bounds. It has been a loooong time since those myths were prevalent and most people look at them as just fun stories to tell children now. I appreciate you for showing me a different side of the myths that I grew up reading and I hope as a society we can continue to strive toward a more equal ground between men and women.

  6. This topic is really interesting to me. We all know that this inequality between men and women started way back when. It makes sense that even in ancient greek mythology the women are portrayed as delicate and fragile. It seems as though in the past, a curious woman is seen as a bad thing. Pandora is sent to earth and possesses these qualities to intrigue the men- such as beauty and domestic capabilities. However, when she opens the jar out of curiosity and the misery spills out over the world, it makes men not trust women. I’m not saying that stories like these are the reason why women had a glass ceiling in the first place, but because these stories were told so long ago, it has over time shaped a stereotype for women over time. If this story was new today, I do not think that people would hear what Pandora did and blame all women for it. Nowadays we know better and women are fully capable of being trusted just the same as men.

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