“You painted a naked woman because you enjoyed looking at her, put a mirror in her hand and you called the painting “Vanity,” thus morally condemning the woman whose nakedness you had depicted for you own pleasure.” ― John Berger, Ways of Seeing
When people think of the Goddess Aphrodite, they think of sex. Of lust. Of cheating and scandal. They think vanity. Every version of Aphrodite I saw or read growing up went the extra mile to also portray her as a dumb blonde. Part of that is because of myths that did not portray her in a positive light. She did cheat on her husband, she was promiscuous, and her vanity did kind of start an epic war in Troy.
But then again, why is Aphrodite, a goddess who was forced into marriage to Hephaestus despite her long-term, established relationship with Ares, judged more harshly than Zeus for cheating on Hera? Why is her promiscuity viewed more harshly than the fact that Zeus was a serial rapist? The Trojan War was bad, but remember that time Zeus unleashed Pandora’s Box on human kind?
The way we interpret and reinterpret stories is a window into our values. The fact that Zeus is often a multi-dimensional character with some flaws whose worst crimes never seem to come up in most retellings and reimaginings, and Aphrodite is a stereotypical vain, mean-girl slut, says a lot about our current values.
Double standards are nothing new, but there’s a particular insidiousness to the double standards surrounding women who are confident in their beauty. Don’t believe me, check out what happens when a group of women start responding with “I know,” to compliments.
“Oh my gods.” Adonis threw up his hands in frustration. “Could you be more conceited?”
“Why is that a bad thing?” I demanded. “I honestly don’t get how anyone manages to function in a society with such a contradictory social code. You claim to value honesty, yet you thrive on lies. Calling a plain person plain is somehow an insult instead of a statement of fact, meanwhile the only acceptable form of validation is from other people giving you compliments and then you have to deny them?”
It’s no wonder so many women are plagued with self-doubt. Women are socialized to constantly belittle themselves “What, this old thing,” and downplay their achievements, “Oh, thank you, it was nothing, really.”
That’s why rewriting Aphrodite into a complex, actual character was so important to me. Here was a woman who was confident in her sexuality and her appearance and played by the exact same rules as the men in the Pantheon. Historically speaking, that’s huge. That our modern-day society took a character from an ancient society that was totally cool with things like rape and owning people and reduced her to a more offensive, one dimensional, cardboard cut-out of every stereotype negatively portraying women you can think of, is frankly terrifying.
The final book in the Aphrodite Trilogy, Venus Rising was released June 9th. Please enjoy this spoiler-free excerpt.
I’M NOT PERFECT. But I was designed to be. Once upon a time, Zeus sculpted me from foam and death. He made me into a puppet. A box. A symbol. A thing designed to be perfectly obedient to him.
I bent and twisted beneath his onslaught of lightning and thunder, but when the storm cleared, I remained. Fragile and broken, but still alive. His death released me from his vision of perfection, leaving me free to find my own. That’s when I discovered how far from perfect I truly was.
I’ve been called promiscuous, shallow, arrogant, self-centered, annoying, and worse by beings who physically can’t lie. They’re not wrong. I’m riddled with flaws. I am neither strong nor brave. I cling too tightly, love too freely, and fear that without my beauty, there’s nothing left of me. Nothing real.
But life goes on, regardless of my uncertainty. As time passed, I had no choice but to learn to stand on my own two legs, shaky as they might be.
Here’s what I’ve learned. I’m nobody’s statue or posable doll. I am neither a box nor a symbol. Yes, I’ve been loved by war, struck by lightning, hugged by spring, and mauled by the sea, but I’m more than a victim. I am greater than my story.
I’m real, flaws and all, and that’s terrifying. Every day, I become someone else. Someone stronger. Wiser. Better. I’m becoming myself.
But that process isn’t always pretty.
If you want to learn more about Kaitlin Bevis, visit her website www.kaitlinbevis.com for bonus content.