All throughout history, powerful and successful women were shamed for having such qualities and were either forced to be broken down or deemed devils for eternity if they persist in their power. Somehow, the symbols that represented powerful, strong and intelligent women have been then used as symbols that represent devils and sin.
Exhibit A: Cleopatra
We all know Cleopatra was a powerful woman, powerful as a leader and well, as a seductress too. Perhaps the most iconic feature of Cleopatra is her Cobra headpiece. Snakes symbolized sovereignty, royalty, deity, and divine authority in ancient Egypt. The last one to hold these symbols as per ancient Egyptian ideals was Cleopatra herself, as she embodied all these qualities. Later, however, it all backfired. The symbol of a powerful and intelligent woman who managed to get her way was then used to symbolize demons and sins. The first word that comes to mind now when you hear or read the word ‘serpent’ is evil.
Women being associated with demons and hell isn’t really new. In fact, it existed ever since humanity was created. According to Jewish mythology, and some older versions of the Old Testament, Adam had a wife before Eve. Her name was Lilith, and she was created at the same time from the same soil as Adam himself. The problem was, however, that she was Adam’s equal. Yes, they did not have the same reproductive organs, but they had the same strength of character; they were made of the same dust and filth after all.
Conflicts arose between Adam and Lilith because Lilith refused to be subservient to Adam. Adam tried to assert his authority over his wife by insisting she lie beneath him during sex, but she refused to be the one who has to always lay under the other, because she believed that she was his equal and he hers. Of course, the dispute between them is not actually about sex, it is about what the sex itself entails, and that is power.
When they did not agree and Adam insisted on being the dominant, Lilith uttered God’s name (apparently that is forbidden) and flew away. She was later expelled by god and its angels to drown in the depths of the Red Sea amongst the demons, until she became the most notorious devil of them all.
God replaced Lilith with Eve, which it purposely created from Adam’s rib in order to be obedient to him. Adam was satisfied with Eve and eventually she gave birth. Lilith, filled with envy and hatred, became a demon and made it her life’s purpose to kill babies, as opposed to her intended role: making babies.
This beautiful story is a model of our society. Progressive or primitive, one way or the other, it strives to bring powerful and successful women who speak their mind down. Be aware of your inner prejudices and sexist nature, because we all unintentionally belittle women who dare have their own free will.
Tribute to my incredible Literature teacher: Ms Amal.