Attitudes About Women in Society (The Odyssey by Homer Book Review)



Why is society tougher on women? Why is a woman “bossy” and a man “hard-working?” Why is a woman a “slut” when a man is a “stud?” Why does a woman “overreact” when a man is “determined?” Hillary Clinton, Marissa Mayer, and Calypso; three powerful women whose names are not often heard together. Their commonality is their intelligence, power, and respect, but it is also how they have each been pushed down by sexist double standards. Calypso, the powerful Goddess of Ogygia, plays a crucial role in Homer’s Odyssey. On Odysseus’ journey home to Ithaca, he washes up on Calypso’s island. She provides him with food and shelter, free of cost. For seven years, Odysseus lingered on Calypso’s Island: eating, drinking, and sleeping together, transforming innocent emotions into feelings of love. Although her feelings for him were strong, they were not reciprocated. Odysseus longed to be with his wife Penelope but still slept with Calypso. While Greek gods were celebrated for having affairs with mortal women, like today, there were double standards in ancient times, and Calypso was scorned and shamed for falling in love. Through its exploration of femininity, the Odyssey helps contemporary readers understand concepts such as gender inequality and double standards. Today this might be the negative connotations and disrespect towards women in leadership roles. In the Odyssey, it is the god criticizing Calypso’s relationship. While powerful males Gods like Zeus and Poseidon could sleep with and fall in love with mortals, there was a double standard for Calypso and other goddesses. 

When word spread that Calypso was sleeping with Odysseus, the gods became enraged. Sleeping with a mortal man was highly frowned upon, and any goddess was punished and saddled with a bad reputation; and the man, killed. Orin, a mortal man, was “attacked and killed” (5.124) for sleeping with “rosy-fingered Dawn” (5.122). Lasion, another mortal man who slept with a goddess, was killed by Zeus, who “hurled flashing flames [at] him.” (5.128). These punishments were cruel and outrageous when compared to how society treated women after sleeping with Gods. Zeus, Posiden, and other gods’ hypocrisy was exemplified when they behaved precisely as the Goddess’ they would shame and punish. Alcmene, a mortal woman whom we meet when Odysseus goes to the underworld, “who by great Zeus/conceived” (11.278-279) bore a child, Hercules. That child grew up to be widely celebrated throughout the world of greek mythology. Another woman introduced, Iphimedeia, “proudly said Poseidon slept with her” (11.308). The reactions to mortal women sleeping with Gods is much different from that of mortal men. Women were considered lucky to be chosen by a god, even if it was rape, while men were killed. 

Unlike Zeus and Poseidon, when Calypso slept with Odysseus, the actions were mutual and, for her, out of love. “She no longer pleased him” (5.153) was the excuse used when Odysseus grew sorrowful and began to miss Ithica. Does this mean that at one point in time, Calpsyo did, in fact, please Odyseuss, and isn’t sex most often for pleasure? When powerful gods raped women, it was probably not a pleasing experience. Calypso had the upper hand in her relationship. She was the powerful one; she was the Goddess. Nevertheless, Odysseus’s sadness came from when he was no longer pleased. It is apparent that Calypso’s actions were justified and far more innocent than her fellow male gods. Due to Zeus’ actions, Odysseus arrived on Calypso's island after losing all of his crew members and needing a place to stay. Stranded there for seven years, it was almost inevitable that they would sleep together. However, after this setup, the Gods were still mad at Calypso because she was a Goddess, and Odysseus was a man. The male gods became “upset” (5.129) with her for “living with a man [she] saved” (5.130) from them. Calypso was heavily targeted because she defied norms and challenged the sexist Gods. 

The Odyssey and Greek mythology’s recurring theme might seem outdated and irrelevant, seeing as no one is as powerful as the gods were. However, our current male and female leaders with preeminent jobs have also been punished differently for similar mistakes. Therese Huston proves this through various real-world situations in the article “Research: We Are Way Harder on Female Leaders Who Make Bad Calls,” in the Harvard Business Review. In the article Victoria Brescoll, a social psychologist, gave her colleagues a fictional news story about two police chiefs, one male and the other female, who made crucial mistakes that resulted in 25 people injured. The male police’s “rating as an effective chief dropped by roughly 10 percent,” while the female’s “dropped by almost 30 percent,” and included talk of people wanting “to demote her.” Unequal treatment does not stop there. Politician Hillary Clinton had a thread of private emails exposed to the public in 2016, while her candidacy took place. The emails ``left her open to harsh attacks from both the right and the left during the presidential race,”; a defining factor that led to her loss in the presidential election later that year. Marissa Mayer, Tech CEO, spent over $2.5 billion acquiring other businesses and made a number of strategic and hiring missteps” after entering the C-Suite. Both women made mistakes but “have also done many things right.” Their accomplishments are overlooked, perhaps too quickly, because of one wrong action. Like Calypso, in the Odyssey who saved Odysseus, gave him food, water, shelter, and helped him on the rest of the journey, but is only acknowledged for sleeping with him.

Women have made colossal strides in terms of equality. There was a time when women were prohibited from voting, and now a female Vice President is getting ready for her inauguration. The progress has been tremendous, but the fight is not over yet. As women take on more leadership roles, they need to commemorate the actions of those who fought for them to be there, those who proved they were capable and did not deserve the rash of a double standard. Young women worldwide should find inspiration from the stories found in the Odyssey, so they can learn how to handle and grow from mistakes like Calypso once did. So they can learn to fight for love and find the strength and beauty in femininity like Calypso once did. So they can learn how to defy norms and challenge their opposers like Calypso once did.