Julia Baird makes a sound case when observing “many women I know are really, really angry” over the behaviour of Luke Foley and David Elliott.
As she observes, “powerful men can be extremely dangerous for women” and draws on the Greek Myth of Medusa to make this point. The three brothers Poseidon, Zeus, and Hades are indeed nefarious and capricious figures, and reveal the violence inherent in sexual relations.
The Greeks were of course aware of the fraught relationship, Plato’s Republic for example, asks “what is the nature of this community of women and children, for we are of the opinion that the right or wrong management of such matters will have a great and paramount influence on the State for good or for evil”.
The Greek solution to the inherent dangers in the relationship between men and women is in plain view. Greece’s capital is called Athens and the temple on the acropolis is dedicated to the goddess Athena. The temple to Zeus, Athena’s father, is small and insignificant by comparison. The Greek golden age had this sorted by making a woman the protector and patron of the state.
There are things we can learn from the Greeks. The choice of Athena Parthenos, the virgin goddess, as patron is a deliberate one. Athena’s virginity is not by way of patriarchal subservience. It is instead a symbol of disavowal of the social contract that asks men to enter the social world by penetrating it, and women to enter it by receiving it. Athena is impervious to the seductive forces of men and is renowned for using her skill of warcraft in pursuit of just causes. Athena has a distaste for frivolous gender games such as the judgement of Paris involving herself, Hera and Aphrodite. Athena was a reluctant and distant participant in the Trojan war over the most beautiful Helen that resulted from Paris’ judgment.
The goddess Athena is evident in the present day through leaders like Julia Gillard, Penny Wong, Jacinda Ardern and Angela Merkel. The recent election of Kerryn Phelps is further proof that in the main, people embrace the leadership of women when it is cast in terms of the public good, and in search for truth and justice. Matters of state are not matters of gender games but matters of ensuring a good life for all citizens.
Gender games in politics is not about the two opposing forces of men and women, but about managing complex dynamics the Greeks understood through a polytheistic pantheon. The complexity of this relationship is most recently evident in the phenomena of Trump, supported into office by 53% of white women who continue to support him to this day.
In the Greek pantheon, the subjugation to the patriarchy comes through the goddess Hera (Juno). Where Athena’s interest is in matters of state, Hera addresses the feminine relationship to a dominant patriarchy through a concern for family and childbirth. One can’t but help think that Baird’s intervention is an invention in the spirit of Hera, and not in the spirit of Athena. It is not an intervention of matters of state that addresses the interests of all. It is instead an intervention presaged on patriarchy to set up a sexual game in the nature referred to by Eric Berne as Let’s You and Him Fight.
The perspective of Hera is important to society, but it is also important to note that it does not address matters of state. Matters of state and political journalism requires active repudiation of the violent alcoholic seductive forces of Zeus and brothers. Journalism is not in the realm of the hapless Persephone abducted by Hades while picking flowers over whom Demeter mourns. Matters of state, and matters of journalism, are in the realm of the virgin goddess of war Athena and her sibling Hermes (Mercury).
The most pernicious issues of sexual and domestic violence are silent. I was recently in discussion with one child abuse survivor who described abuse in terms of an absence of language. This echoes the thinking of Gramsci and Spivak who ask if the subaltern can speak. But this is not the realm of journalism. If journalists cannot speak truth to the behaviour of Foley and Elliott, who can. The field of journalism needs to sort itself out.