moon jellies and powerful women
“Like many jellies, moon jellies have an interesting life cycle that includes a combination of sexual and asexual reproduction. Sexually mature moon jellies are the animals we see swimming around the open ocean (known as medusae), with which we are most familiar. The distinct horseshoe-shaped structures at the top of the medusa’s bell are the gonads. These adults reproduce via external fertilization, where females release eggs and males release sperm into the water column. Once the egg is fertilized, a larva hatches and lives in the pelagic environment for some time. As it grows, the larva searches for a suitable place in shallow water and eventually attaches to the sea floor where it grows into an upside down medusa known as a polyp. During the polyp phase, an individual asexually buds off several clones of itself that swim away as medusae and eventually grow into sexually mature moon jellies. This alternation of sexual and asexual reproduction may be a means of quickly increasing numbers while preserving the importance of mixing genes with other individuals.” oceana.org
I took Sophie to the Long Beach Aquarium the other afternoon and walked around in a daze with her and Maria, Sophie’s caregiver. I’m not sure why I’m still in a daze about the recent Supreme Court clusterfuck ruling because it calls for some razor-sharp response. I’m trying to figure out what my response is beyond daze. At the aquarium, I lingered at the jellies’ tanks — mesmerized, like Sophie, by the blue water and the slow and undulating movements of these mysterious sea creatures. Sophie has hair like the tentacles of a jellyfish; it undulates, and such is my imagination that I think of her as a sea creature, silent and beautiful and graceful. She also has a kick-ass gaze.
In Greek mythology, Medusa was the most famous of three monster sisters known as Gorgons. She had a head of hair that was made of snakes and had the power to destroy her enemies. She was not immortal, but her gaze turned those who looked at her to stone.
I’m fumbling here, trying to connect these disparate things that I don’t believe fall into my lap at random. Or, I do believe they fall into my lap at random, and it’s my job, my purpose, to wrest meaning from them. The word wrest. I went to the aquarium with Sophie and Maria. We were three women. We gazed into the dark blue of the jellies, phantasmal, sexually mature. The medusa stage is the reproductive stage.
The Roman poet Ovid wrote of Medusa as the only beautiful one of a trio of sisters, as well as the only mortal. Her face was exquisite, but it was her hair that was the most mesmerizing, long and flowing. The legend goes that she was only beautiful until she was seduced — raped — by Poseidon in the temple of Athena. Because she was raped and Athena was jealous, Medusa was punished and turned into a hideous, snake-haired, stone-faced monster. Eventually, the god Perseus would seek her famous snake-writing head, use the reflection in Athena’s bronze shield to avoid looking at or receivingj the gaze of Medusa and decapitate her.
So, yeah. there’s the connection.
According to Charlotte Higgins, writing in Prospect Magazine in 2020, Medusa became “progressively more monstrous in post-classical retellings of her story.” Higgins includes a note from classics scholar Mary Beard, who pointed out that “it is hard not to see in Medusa’s snaky, phallic locks an implied claim on male power, which has to be symbolically cut off at the root (Freud’s castration fantasy).”
I was also thinking about the woman who testified the other day about one of the other great American clusterfucks, the January 6th “insurrection.” I was thinking about all the people who were praising her, calling her a hero, praying for her “protection” given her sworn testimony. What she shared was explosive, and I’m really glad that she did the right thing, but I don’t think she’s a hero. I suppose that’s my own version of a stone-cold stare. I care more for the millions of women and men that have been and will continue to be harmed by her party’s policies. She’s worked for the Republican party in some form or another her entire short adult life. She attached herself to some of the most vile men in that party. Perhaps she’d have continued to work in that party for the rest of her career. She did say, at some point in her testimony, that she believed Trump was doing great things for America, but she was horrified at what was happening on January 6th. She knew that her boss bragged about grabbing women by the pussy, but she believed in what he was doing for the country. I suppose there’s some bravery in ultimately going against the creeps, the former POS in Chief, but the bar is awfully low in these times, isn’t it? Perhaps she’s changed, and if she does make it out alive, which I doubt given the incredible venality of the people whom she worked for, I hope she puts her formidable intellect and bravery to better use.
I think that under the daze is anger. Lots and lots of it, simmering there. I’m no Medusa, only a menopausal woman with a sharp tongue, but I need it to be razor-sharp. Patriarchy. We need our gaze to turn these men and women who uphold it to stone.