Nearly three years since the #MeToo movement became a global form of protest against sexual harassment, a statue of Medusa with the severed head of Perseus is being installed in Manhattan in the United States.
In an attempt to rewrite the narrative around sexual harassment and violence against women in the 21st century, a group of artists and activists has started the "Medusa With The Head Project". The group, which includes sculptor Luciano Garbati, will be installing the statue of Medusa holding the severed head of the Greek hero Perseus outside the courthouse in Manhattan to draw attention to one of the most vilified women in folklore who in reality was really just a victim of sexual harassment.
Just in case you missed it (because no one ever talks about it) Medusa was not actually a demon born with a curling head of venomous snakes. And she did not always turn men she looked at to stone. According to Greek mythology, she was not an immortal at all and was instead a priestess at the temple of Athena. It was only after she caught the eye of the powerful sea-god Poseidon who went on to rape her in the temple that she was cursed by the Goddess.
As a priestess, Medusa got punished for breaking her vow of celibacy. She grew hideous snakes on her head and a gaze that could turn men into stone. Perseus, the son of Zeus, was later sent to slay the monstrous gorgon Medusa and he did. Not only did he kill Medusa by severing her head, but he also wore it on his shield as a badge of honour and kept it as a weapon to turn enemies to stone.
But it was Poseidon who should have been punished for raping Medusa in the first place in what is perhaps the first glorified case of shaming and punishing a victim after she faced sexual harassment. The mythical Poseidon's crime was never called out. To put it bluntly, he got away with rape (and the subsequent killing) of an innocent woman, just like many of the powerful men in our own very real times who easily get away with sexual harassment and assault, thanks to systemic patriarchy and misogyny.
The "Medusa With The Head" project reimagines this bit of history by adapting Benvenuto Cellini's 16th-century sculpture of Perseus holding the severed head of Medusa with an aim to change the narrative around sexual harassment and victim shaming. It shows Medusa as an empowered woman who was not slain as a monster but lived to fight yet another fight against her oppressors.
The statue, which was made possible with the help of the NYC Parks Department, will be on display outside the courthouse for six months.
This is not the first time that the statue has made waves. In 2018, at the height of the #MeToo movement, the reimagined Medusa sculpture by the Argentine-Italian Garbati, became a symbol of feminist power and resistance. And now it is getting the most coveted spot for display.
Why choose a courthouse to put the installation? In an Instagram post sharing the news, Garbati wrote, "The place chosen is not accidental, since there they judge cases for crimes related to violence against women".
The phrase #MeToo was first coined by activist Tarana Burke in 2008 as a platform for solidarity and support for victims and survivors of sexual harassment. The phrase became a globally known call to protest against sexual harassment in 2017 when actress Alyssa Milano used it to call out Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein. Several women have since accused him of rape and harassment.
Weinstein was convicted on Feb 24 for rape and sexual abuse.
The #MeToo movement also spread to India in 2018-19 when a number of women took to social media to call out their abusers and harassers, most of whom were very powerful men. Actress Tanushree Dutta accused actor Nana Patekar of sexual harassment, journalist Priya Ramani accused politician and journalist MJ Akbar of sexual misconduct.
While Patekar was given a clean chit with by Mumbai Police in 2019 itself, Ramani is still fighting a defamation case that Akbar slapped on her, accusing her of attempting to tarnish his image with her posts. Ramani has maintained that she did not reveal his misdeeds to shame him but for the greater public good.
In the latest case that has drawn some media attention, a 19-year-old Dalit girl died after she was allegedly gang-raped by four upper-caste men in Uttar Pradesh's Hathras.
A fortnight after she was attacked, she succumbed to severe assault injuries at a Delhi hospital, which was followed by a hushed up cremation at night, allegedly forced by the district administration. The brutal injuries suffered by the woman and the administration's move to cremate her body late at night triggered massive outrage, resulting in a pitched political battle from Delhi to Hathras. "Shocked" by the murder and alleged gang rape of the Dalit woman and the subsequent cremation, the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court had on October 1 summoned top government officials.
Even as India's #MeToo movement struggles to find its foothold, the reimagined image of Medusa is perhaps what India - riddled with violence against women-- needs the most. Perhaps it may lead some to inspect some of our own myths and cultural narratives.