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Persephone, Aphrodite, Artemis, or Athena

Camille Paglia got really tired of the stereotypes around young women, especially the labels "virgin" and "whore." There's more to the identity of our daughters than these very quick and simple caricatures.

Paglia suggested two other categories, identities that may be considered more empowering - "vamps" or "tramps."

Vamps are active, seductive and dangerous. Where the whore might be bought or sold like an economic commodity, the vamp has power over life and death, and demands respect.

Tramps are roamers and unsettled pursuers of their own fortune. Unlike the desperate but potentially ineffective virgin waiting for someone else to act, the tramp goes out and makes her own way in the world.

When I came across Paglia's Vamps and Tramps, I was drawn back to the myths of Greece. There are many archetypal "daughters" in Greek mythology, but four of them stood out as another way to understand the virgin - whore - vamp - tramp identities.

Persephone is often portrayed as the naive virgin in her story. She is taken by Hades to the underworld. Her mother Demeter gets very emotional at losing her daughter. It's almost like Demeter enjoys keeping her thumb on her passive daughter. In the end, I don't think anyone these days would want their daughter to be so a submissive.

Aphrodite is a goddess that attracts the eye. She is often an erotic and sexually charged image. But is there anything more to her? What responsibilities does Aphrodite hold? She might not be as passive as Persephone, but she is certainly open to the idea of letting nature take her course. Again, is this an appropriate archetype for daughters today?

Artemis is independent and skilled, but she is also wild and ferocious, passing judgement quickly over life and death. In one story, the youth Actaeon saw her bathing naked. For the boy it was a mistake, a wrong turn in the forest. But vengeful Artemis destroyed him for the violation of seeing her. The justice of Artemis is not tempered by mercy. It is not even balanced and fair, like an eye for an eye. It is disproportionate. A mistake means death, without consideration of circumstances. Artemis does stand as an important lesson about the power the female judgement and the costs of even innocent mistakes. But she is hyper-sensitive to the social world and unable to regulate her emotions with the quality of justice. Is this what we want for our daughters?

Athena races to her goals and overcomes obstacles in her adventures. She is resourceful, wise, aware, and vigilant. And though she berates and circumvents and even argues with her father Zeus, she never seeks to destroy him outright. She is beautiful, tough, and smart. She has a real sense of justice. Heroes trusted her advice. Cities looked to her for guidance. And for these reasons, she is a remarkable archetype for today's daughters.

Families can get really messy. What Mom or Dad wants for a child might not be what the child wants for herself. That's just one thing ancient mythology can teach us. But these stories also give us a chance to think about the role our daughters have in our lives.

Virgin - whore - vamp - tramp? How about Persephone - Aphrodite - Artemis - Athena?

When you look at your daughter, who do you see?


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