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exhibition bannerThe Dangerous Feminine

Introduction

The feminine persona was not only seen as a nurturing, benevolent one, but also as cunning and destructive. The cross-cultural appearance of the dangerous feminine exemplifies the idea of female as a threat to male order and stability. This may be attributed to the perception that women are predisposed to be scheming, seductive and carnal, tendencies that lead to unpredictable and destructive behavior. Such tendencies are often defining characteristics of the dangerous feminine, and are exemplified in sirens, Greek monsters who seduced their victims to their deaths, and in the Hindu goddess Kali, a bringer of death and destruction who accessorized herself with the severed arms and decapitated heads of her victims. Since the dangerous female is typically unassociated with a male deity, her independent nature reinforces her propensity for threatening, unconventional behavior.

In the Graeco-Roman world, images of deadly females could also have a protective function, with ability to ward off evil. Apotropaic figures like Medusa, sirens, and the sea monster Skylla often appeared in burial contexts to protect the deceased. In the East, erotic scenes represented on Hindu temples could also carry an apotropaic function, though lethal females such as Kali do not.

Today the dangerous feminine is often perceived as an embodiment of female liberation and empowerment, quite unlike the concept behind earlier perceptions, especially among ancient cultures. Originally, it was interpreted as a manifestation of the cunning and carnal qualities that the female was expected to suppress. It represented a divergence from acceptable female behavior and thus a sinister threat to the male order.

(Use the links on the right to see this online exhibition.)

The Sacred Feminine Links:

The Sacred Mother
- Introduction
- Objects

The Dangerous Feminine
- Introduction
- Objects (opens new window)

Beyond Human: Female Sainthood
- Introduction
- Objects (opens new window)

Models of Knowledge and Power
- Introduction
- Objects (opens new window)

Devotees and Consorts
- Introduction
- Objects (opens new window)

The Divine Queen
- Introduction
- Objects (opens new window)

The Cult of the Virgin
- Introduction
- Objects (opens new window)

Contemporary Interpretations
- Introduction
- Objects (opens new window)

exhibition illustration

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