Mad Like The Devil

August 10, 2020 / 

It’s easy to get swept into the allure of sirens. They’re otherworldly — wild hair, wild eyes, and a delicate, mystical charm akin to the intoxicating aroma bees must feel in spring.

With effortless intention, the siren seduces its victims with calculated feline prowess. Any man that hears her song, whether they know it or not, gets lulled into the riptide of a category nine hurricane.

When a woman has power, she’s seen as a threat to men. In the case of the siren, this power is her voice. How can someone that can, with just their voice, bring an entire crew to shipwreck not be taken seriously?

Sirens might not have always been the beautiful temptress ⁠— or even female for that matter ⁠— but for some reason, they are never the heroine. They’re always the antithesis to the male protagonist’s journey.

Homer’s “Odyssey,” a story written by a man about a man, reduced the purpose of sirens to be only a deadly foil in the male hero’s story. Odysseus, who embarks on a great voyage with daunting adventures, comes across a group of women destined to be just a bump in his road — a plot enhancer, a symbol, but never an actual character. Which is funny since aren’t their voices like a big peril to the overall plot?

It took until 2017 for a woman to write an English translation of one of the oldest and most important texts of Western culture. Now, don’t get it twisted; this wasn’t because of a lack of women who could have translated it. On a personal level, why would any woman want to translate a text that so brutally punishes women with every page you turn?

In the text, sirens were said to be the dangerous hypersexual female temptresses that lusted over Odysseus and his crew. Sirens risked, and ultimately died for, the mere chance of salivating and devouring these men. Go off, I guess, but in what world has a woman ever drowned in the depths of man? 

Up until three years ago, having only been written from the male imagination, the “Odyssey” was uncomfortably sexist. It might not have been intentional, but perhaps a subconscious reflection of their status and privilege. Still, women have read this text and looked at it for what it was: a universal, albeit misogynist, story of justice and loss and fate and triumphs. This is what makes the new interpretation so powerful. It might’ve taken some time, but the lips that once were silenced and beat into submission are now taking full, unapologetic ownership of every word written.

With the growth of Christianity in the coming centuries, the taboo elements of temptation, sex appeal, and death established the siren trope. Eventually, it became one of the ways people interpreted their social fears or anxieties about women disobeying gender roles and patriarchal norms. This could only mean one thing: Yes, sirens will definitely kill you, your entire crew, AND will wreck your ship — all while looking as hot as ever.

In this tale as old as time, one of the few ways women could assuage power outside of factors given by birth, such as class or age, was through their purity. The anti-siren resembles a young, fertile woman untouched or seen by any other. She is fetishized and commercialized into marriage. The western world standardized this idea of marriage as to pass along equally high-status offspring, continue their legacy, and amass wealth. Virginity, which is nothing more than a patriarchal concept, is aimed to control how a woman is supposed to behave. The siren, with pearls in her hair and glossy lips that sing like honey, invites readers to think about the danger in sweet temptations we are told aren’t good for us. Good for men, at least.

Sex has and continues to be weaponized by men over women as a means to assert their power, but I do think times are changing for the better. In order for this myth to have withstood the test of time, it must have evolved into something more reflective of our collective understanding of the modern woman. The contemporary siren tells a feminist story of amplifying, not empowering. They have their power, and they’re reclaiming it. With their physical allure, powerful persona, their intelligence, and resourcefulness, women are owning and turning the tables. The role of men in the lives of the modern baddie is minimal, or at least not essential. The control men have exerted over women and their roles in society is ricocheting right back to them.

Everything that exists:

our thoughts,

our words,

our actions,

our manifestations,

Everything is about power.

When a woman has power, she is seen as a threat to men. In the case of the siren, this power is her voice.

As a writer, I’m constantly reminded of how much I don’t want to be watered down by people that don’t see the value of my words.

If I’m bringing a man down, it won’t be with the sweetness of my lips, but with eyes that pierce like shaken bees.

There won’t be any allegations, or he-said-she-said, but clear enunciations and intentionality that’ll make you understand why they call it spelling. Remember your power. Own it. Claim it. The last time someone underestimated our power, they were seen twenty thousand leagues under. ■

Story by
Divina Ceniceros Dominguez.

Jessica Nguyen.

Photographer Paige Miller.

Doris Umezulike & Zaha Khawaja.

Adrianne Garza & Yasmine Daghestani.

Maggie Deaver, Ifeoluwa Kehinde & Julia Vastano

View the full spread as it appeared in Issue No. 18 here.
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