Medusa With the Good Hair
If human history has taught us anything, it's that real solidarity is built on othering people, and when it comes to the solidarity of that most basic unit of modern society - the nuclear family - nothing spells fortitude like condemning the other woman.
Perplexing in its way, because the onus of blame is always on the person inside of the relationship. Trust only really means anything within those walls - a breach of which would be the real crime, not whatever carnal things consenting adults do when the lights are down.
This splitting, though - between the Real woman and the Other woman - has served sexism well. Neatly straddling that perforated line, we see Madonna and Whore.
And in that coded language, we can discern a civics lesson of a kind: instructions for how men can have their cake and eat it, too.
Because we attribute all sorts of things to the Other Woman: evil powers of seduction, single minded intent to destroy, uncontrollable libido, selfish, animalistic, cruel.
And if one feels the need to do bestial things, better to it with a beast, somewhere in the darkness on the edge of town, and then return to your human of a wife whose familiar complexities make her unsuitable for the kinds of things you can do with the Other Woman.
Yes, better to blame the beast, the monster, the outsider, the Siren, than to acknowledge and face the messy contradictions that frustrate the ordered life you've made. To take any sort of responsibility. To navigate the world the way an adult should.
On the other side of things, sirens are neatly positioned in myth as villains. Literally possessing that single-minded intent to seduce wayward men to their death. The Siren gets off on destroying relationships. We are taught not to trust her, because she has no reasoning, no motivation, no human qualities. She is just death.
Cautionary tale for men with a mind to cheat, cautionary tale for women about the kinds of women that are out there.
However these stories say nothing for the Other Woman because, by the stories' logic, Other Women don't read, anyway. They aren't Real Women. Other Women only do one thing.
But inconveniently, Other Women are people, too. And, like all people, they don't see themselves as villains.
That's because they aren't. Not really. Again, that matrix of trust that exists between a couple excludes outsiders - such is its nature, making it improbable that the Other Woman could really break it. Impossible that she could break it all by herself.
Yet, here she is scapegoated - sacrificed on the alter to monogamy, her blood strengthening the bonds of that trust. Washing away accountability from anyone within the relationship. Such is the fate of monsters.
But monstrosity is in the eye of the beholder. In that way monsters are made, not born.
Greek mythology is home to a dazzling gallery of female monsters, but the most notable is the Gorgon, Medusa, whose hideous demeanor and serpentine hair literally turns the men who view her into stone.
Only, according to myth, Medusa was once lovely. Care free and young and lusted after by the god Poseidon.
She rebuked him and he raped her in the temple of Athena.
Crucial to the story, it is Athena who punishes her for her own rape and transforms her into the monster of myth. Her disfigurement comes at the hands of another woman, thereby artificially diminishing the importance of the horrible things Poseidon does.
Thence, a monster is born, but not because she did anything wrong or monstrous at all. Rather, she is a victim, her monster status a moniker forced on her by others who'd rather not deal with the problems and actual monstrous behaviors of those who exist amongst their ranks, within the matrix of their society. Better to other a person, to shun them from your eyes and mind, than to admit all that monstrosity is actually your own.
The lesson of these siren stories and of Greek myths for a modern audience should be that a propensity for division is one of the things that makes us monstrous in the first place.
That, and when actual monsters walk amongst us, we had better rethink what it means to be on the outside.
Hence, there are no Other Women.
Michael is a writer who lives in Virginia with his girlfriend and their pet turtle. Find him on Amazon here, or read his monthly column here.
Meanwhile, for more on these and other themes, check out the Sirens anthology: