Goddess characters are revered as feminist heroes in the popular media of many cultures. However, these goddess characters often prove to be less promising and more regressive than most people initially perceive. Goddesses in film, television, and fiction project worldviews and messages that reflect mostly patriarchal culture (including essentialized gender assumptions), in contrast to the feminist, empowering levels many fans and critics observe.
Building on critiques of other skeptical scholars, The Goddess Myth in Contemporary Literature and Popular Culture: A Feminist Critique (University Press of Mississippi, 2022) deepens how our remythologizing of the ancient past reflects a contemporary worldview and rhetoric. Structures of contemporary goddess myths often fit typical extremes as either vilified, destructive, dark, and chaotic (typical in film or television); or romanticized, positive, even utopian (typical in women’s speculative fiction). This goddess spectrum persistently essentializes gender, stereotyping women as emotional, intuitive, sexual, motherly beings (good or bad), precluded from complex potential and fuller natures. Within apparent good-over-evil, pop-culture narrative frames, these goddesses all suffer significantly.
However, a few recent intersectional writers, like N. K. Jemisin, break through these dark reflections of contemporary power dynamics to offer complex characters who evince “hopepunk.” They resist typical simplified, reductionist absolutes to offer messages that resonate with potential for today’s world. Mythic narratives featuring goddesses often do, but need not, serve merely as ideological mirrors of our culture’s still problematically reductionist approach to women and all humanity.
Mary J. Magoulick is professor of English at Georgia College and State University.
Iqra Shagufta Cheema is a writer, researcher, and chronic procrastinator. When they do write, they write in the areas of postmodernist postcolonial literatures, transnational feminisms, gender and sexuality studies, and film studies. They can be reached via email at IqraSCheema@gmail.com
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