I used to have a silver ring that I have given to someone who needed it more than I did, but for a while a long time ago I wore it often. I needed it. A talisman. A remembrance. A shield.
From a distance it looked like a rough coin, or maybe the type of emblem that that would be pressed into hot wax to seal an envelope or an edict. If you moved a little closer to me you might see that the detail was a woman, in an art noveau style, her small face framed by her hair. Only very close up, my hand in yours, the silver ring close to your eyes, would you see that you were looking at Medusa, snake hair and all.
I called it my Medusa Rage Ring.
The story of Medusa, like all myths, is subject to various interpretation, but there was a time in feminist circles that Medusa was claimed as a protector against violence, and that was the spirit in which my Rage Ring was given to me, and the spirit in which I passed it on. Here, wear this to remember you are healing. Here, wear this to remember it wasn’t your fault. Here, wear this to turn men to stone, should one ever dare again.
I want to give Medusa Rage Rings to women everywhere right now. The news has been reminding us (again and always) that our bodies, privacy, safety, lives don’t matter. I want to give rings out to have something to do. One to celebrities whose private photos are stolen, one to mothers of murdered children, one to women beaten in elevators and elsewhere, one to women who may approach a porch in the hope of receiving help. One to whomever wants one or needs one for reasons big and small. College ball or NFL. It’s all the same, it's all connected. Abuse scales.
The way things are, I’m going to need a lot of rage rings. I’m going to need a fort full of silver ore and a massive smelting fire. I’m going to need lightning and a big-mooned night and hammer that travels in a tornado of women’s torn-nail memories.
Medusa was raped. She was perfection, a celibate priestess to Athena, and she was raped by Poseidon in Athena’s temple. An enraged Athena replaced Medusa’s beautiful hair with snakes and made her so ugly/fabulous that one look at her would turn onlookers to stone, and she was shunned for that superpower. (Because men can only be in the presence of beauty?) Ovid said this all was punishment to Medusa for sullying herself with Poseidon and for breaking her vow to Athena; but I prefer the opposite interpretation: that the making of the monster of Medusa was a transmutation of pain and victimization into castigating rage and empowerment. Athena eventually used Medusa’s severed head as part of her shield. Here. look at this, I dare you Athena would challenge. But before that could happen, before Perseus had severed Medusa’s head, before the glorious winged-horse Pegasus emerged from her dead body, drops of Medusa’s blood spawned dark and light, both vipers and the beautiful coral of the Mediterranean.
Enduring violence can do both to you, you know. Can attract punishment to you, can cause villagers to heap blame upon you. Can change everything, including your very DNA. Can steel your senses and your spine, giving you untold power. Can make you wild and monstrous in the best and worst ways.
I’m not surprised at the victim blaming and abuser apologies we’ve heard in the last few weeks in response to crime after crime. I’ve heard it my whole life, and you have too. Somehow it makes people feel safer to pinpoint and blame, because they think their blame is a roadmap keeping them away from victimization-if they would never do X, then certainly Y or Z won't happen, that they will never be beaten, or shot, or hacked, or raped, or fill-in-the-blank. It’s taking us a long, long time to chip away at that delusional defense mechanism. I hope it doesn’t take forever, but part of me knows that it might.
Now we also have all of this gawking, too. In the past weeks people I know to possess empathy and care have clicked on stolen nude photos and elevator security cam footage that they know they don’t need to see. It used to be impossible to get people to talk about domestic violence or be willing to serve on a jury. Now everyone thinks they are CSI-trained and wants to see the evidence themselves. Let’s wait and see. Isn’t it obvious that that is not the way to justice and creates secondary trauma? It’s regressive, we’ve moved beyond stockade trials, why the rollback? Click, and people have analyzed images as though they were in a jury box presented with forensic charts and toxicology reports. The video shows a woman punched out cold in an elevator, simple nouns and verbs don't suffice? I don’t know why they would want to expose themselves to that material, why they want to be bystanders after the fact, why they want to traffick in stolen, private images, knowing full well they were viewing against the victims’ wishes and compounding victims’ shame and trauma.
I used to sit on committees that would guide how images of victims were to be handled by medical personnel, employers, property owners, bosses, university personnel, legislators, you name it. And of course, the media. Complex ethical discussions supported by research from Poyner Institute and the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma as well as victims rights leaders and survivors themselves informed policies and best practices about who saw what when and how events were framed. All of that seems laughably lost now. Media has abandoned proper investigative journalism and lost all good ethical boundaries about how victims should be shielded in reporting, and instead we are left with the worst possible version of “you won’t believe your eyes” Internet clickbait. If our friends said Here, a snuff film, look, would we? We have a lot to think about in order to reduce bystander and voyeuristic behaviors that create an environment that allows violence to thrive. Images without consent are not content for mass consumption.
Lately I’ve been wishing that Medusa could be on the other side of those Reddit and TMZ postings. I wish looking where you have no business looking could turn people to stone, if only for a moment, if only for long enough for viewers to reconsider being voyeurs to victimization. Click on the wrong link, and a snake-headed woman full of righteous rage will stare back. Look her in the eyes. I want to Medusa Roll the Internet’s voyeurs.
I guess I need a new Medusa Rage Ring. I’ve had my eye on a gold logo ring from Versace that might do the trick, but I don’t know. Something about silver feels right. Silver is a purifier. It’s used in bandages and to filter water. Silver nitrate, lunar caustic, reflects us back to ourselves in film and in mirrors. I think that might be the medicine that’s needed. I just need to find that ore and that fire and get back to work. Let me know if you need one.