Opinion: Reclaiming Medusa as a symbol of female strength


Published: 06-14-2022 6:01 AM

Devin McDonald is a junior at St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire. Founder of The Medusa Project, McDonald has devoted much of her time outside of classes over the last several years to researching the connections between women in antiquity and modern-day gender issues.

Last October, while sitting in my dorm room at St. Paul's School doing research for a Latin assignment, I came upon a collection of t-shirts and coffee mugs for sale online that featured an image of Donald Trump as Perseus holding the severed head of Hillary Clinton as Medusa.

As a young feminist and Classicist (I plan to major in the Classics in college), I was outraged by the image. How could Medusa, a symbol of female strength, be hijacked in this way and used to demean and denigrate one of the world's most influential and inspiring women? There is nothing wrong with t-shirts and other products that feature political messages, but this image went too far. It was damaging, discriminatory and dangerous because it promoted the idea that influential women should be silenced. To know the threat is real, one need only consider the plot to kidnap Gretchen Whitmer, the Governor of Michigan. 

I knew I had to do something, so I finished my homework and turned my thoughts back to that image. I started researching it and happened upon an article about the modern interpretations of myths that referenced a book, Women & Power by Mary Beard, the renowned classics professor at Cambridge University. I ordered the book, read it, and loved it. In particular, I was inspired by Beard's point that classical myths have been created and retold for centuries, primarily by men who have shaped them. 

I thought to myself, could this image of Donald Trump as Perseus and Hillary Clinton as Medusa represent a moment when someone is trying to appropriate and shape the myth of Medusa to hurt women? The answer was yes, and I decided I would not let that happen.

In December, I founded The Medusa Project, an initiative to reclaim Medusa as a ubiquitous, empowering, and unifying symbol of female strength and to stop people from using the Medusa image to suppress the advancement of women.

One of the first things I did was email the CEOs of Redbubble and Zazzle, two of the world's largest e-commerce platforms and the primary sellers of products featuring the Trump/Clinton image, and ask them to remove from their sites all 60+ of those products. I am grateful to both CEOs for removing all of the products within days of receiving my email. Now, when you Google "Trump Perseus Clinton Medusa," no products with that image come up for sale anywhere on the Internet. 

As I move forward with The Medusa Project, I will continue to look for ways to support those who are using the image of Medusa to advance women and stop those who are using the image to undermine women. I am launching a podcast this summer called The Medusa Project Podcast, which will feature conversations with "modern Medusas," women leaders from various fields who have shown exceptional strength.

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My goal with the podcast is to bring the stories of these women to a Gen Z audience and inspire a new generation of women leaders. I will also continue to post on The Medusa Project website links to articles, essays, and books that are relevant to the initiative. 

Symbols matter in society, and I plan to continue to do all l can to reclaim, protect, and advance the image of Medusa as a powerful, unifying, and inspiring symbol of female strength and influence.