The Laugh of Medusa


“The Laugh of Medusa” by Helene Cixous, 1975:

In her most well-known essay, French feminist writer Helene Cixous reclaims Medusa and encourages women to take control of their own narratives and write. Pushing back against patriarchal representations of women in media and literature, Cixous reclaims Medusa — one of the most evil and appalling female figures in mythology. Cixous’ version of Medusa differs from the Medusa of traditional myth, in Cixous’ essay Medusa is “beautiful and she’s laughing” (Cixous, 885). Additionally, in her writing Cixous often uses the pronoun “us” when talking about Medusa, suggesting that Medusa is representative of all women in her mind.

In a broad sense, the point that Cixous is trying to make is that men have controlled women’s narratives for all of history, women have never been able to take control of their own stories and write about themselves from their own perspective. The reason that so many women in literature and myth are evil, associated with death, monstrous, etc. is because men do not understand women and they fear what they do not understand. Cixous urges women in her essay to write — to write about their bodies, their emotions, and their stories from their own point of view. In Cixous’ mind, this is a way for women to better understand and connect with themselves and, thus, a way for them to liberate themselves from the patriarchy that has controlled female narratives for so long. Here, Medusa is not a monster; she is a symbol of feminine power whom men are afraid of — something that Cixous believes all women are. As a feminist writing in 1975 during the height of the women’s movement, Cixous’ repurposing of a female mythical figure that has traditionally been thought of as abhorrent and evil into one that represents feminine power serves as a nice mirror to women who have been historically deemed inferior rising up to secure their rights and privileges in society.

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