Women in Power (Text and Audio)

As for Athena, it’s true that in those binary charts of gods and goddesses that we make for ourselves, she appears on the female side. But the crucial thing about her in the ancient context is that she is another of those difficult hybrids. In the Greek sense she’s not a woman at all. For a start she’s dressed as a warrior, when fighting was exclusively male work (that’s an underlying problem with the Amazons too). Then she’s a virgin, when the raison d’être of the female sex was breeding new citizens. And she wasn’t even born of a mother but directly from the head of her father, Zeus. It was almost as if Athena, woman or not, offered a glimpse of an ideal male world in which women could not just be kept in their place but dispensed with entirely.

The point is simple but important: if we go back to the beginnings of Western history we find a radical separation – real, cultural and imaginary – between women and power. But one item of Athena’s costume brings this right up to our own day.
— Mary Beard