Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: Where are My Goddesses?

During these troubling times, I like to go to my safe space for a while so that I can process things, and for me that often means diving into comics. Recently I was thinking about the 2017 Wonder Woman movie, which I loved, but also had some troubling religious aspects. We talked previously about how Wonder Woman was heavily Christianized, with Ares acting more like the Christian devil and less like the God of War, putting Wonder Woman in the Christ/savior role. But today I want to focus on the lack of goddess figures in Wonder Woman, excluding Wonder Woman herself, of course. Why, in a society of just women, was there so much focus on Zeus as the main god they followed, especially when previous comic incarnations of the Amazons did have them worshiping the Greek goddesses over the gods?

In my review of the Wonder Woman movie I briefly explained why this was such a problem for me:

Honestly, I was super annoyed that the Amazons seemed to focus their worship on Zeus. It was Zeus who protected Themyscira, stopped Ares, and gave them the god-killer, and we see the Amazons praise him in the movie. However, in all previous incarnations of Wonder Woman that I am aware of, the Amazons always primarily followed a female goddess. In some versions it’s Hera, Athena, or Artemis, but it’s always a woman. The Amazons respect all of the gods, but their main devotion is to a female deity. With all the patriarchy that we see in mainstream religion, I was really looking forward to see a group of women celebrating a goddess, but I guess it was not to be.

Because the story was Christianized, Zeus comes off more like the Abrahamic God. In the original Greek mythology, Zeus looked at humans only as slaves to the gods. Zeus even punishes the titan Prometheus for giving humanity the gift of fire, and only seems to care about humanity as worshipers and servants. And of course Zeus is known for how often he rapes both goddesses and mortal women. However, in the Wonder Woman movie, similar to the Abrahamic God, he loves humanity and fought against Ares to try and save them mimicking the battle between God and the devil. He also creates the Amazons to help humanity and protect the island of Themyscira. In the comics, the Amazons exist away from the patriarchal world of men and their home is considered a utopia and they certainly weren’t created by Zeus. So if we look at the original mythology and the comics it makes little sense for Zeus to be a part of that. Zeus is very much a patriarchal character; most of his dealings with women involve him having sex with them and even raping them. Even the queen of the gods, Hera, was raped by Zeus before becoming his wife, so, even though the comics weren’t particularly faithful to Greek mythology either, I just don’t see him being someone the Amazons would look up to and worship as this great and merciful god. Furthermore, in a female-dominated society that rejects the company of men, why would the Amazons worship a male god?

When the Wonder Woman comic was first created in 1941, the Amazons primarily worshiped Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty. It was Aphrodite who fought with Ares, and she created and protected the Amazons from Ares and all other men. Later in the pre-Crisis comics, Athena, goddess of wisdom and war, was added to the Amazons’ worship along with Aphrodite. Post-Crisis, other goddess were added as well such as Athena (goddess of the hunt), Hestia (goddess of the hearth), and Demeter (goddess of the harvest). The only male god that ever seemed to be given much recognition at all by the Amazons was Hermes, the messenger of the gods and god of thieves. In the Justice League animated TV series, Wonder Woman often references Hera as the primary goddess of the Amazons.

If I had to choose a female god for the Amazons to worship in the Wonder Woman movie from the gods the Amazons worshiped in the comics, I would go with Aphrodite. This fits Diana and the Amazons perfectly and is definitely a better way to represent the Amazons and their religious beliefs. Of course, how Aphrodite is portrayed in the comics isn’t accurate to the mythology either — in the original Greek mythology, Ares and Aphrodite are actually lovers (though she’s married to Hephaestus), so they obviously aren’t at war with each other. However, this rewrite does fit better with the Wonder Woman narrative than the one from the movie does. Wonder Woman may be a fighter but she is primarily someone who loves and cares for people deeply. She doesn’t want to kill people, she wants to stop the war and Ares, so showing Wonder Woman worshiping a goddess of love makes sense. While it might not be accurate to the mythology, it is a better rewrite than the one created for the movie. Aphrodite is a goddess so it fits that the Amazons would worship a female deity instead of a male one like Zeus. Furthermore, with Aphrodite being the goddess of love, it already sets up the Amazons’ main virtue of being loving, caring, and compassionate, instead of trying to turn Zeus, who is not a god of love, into a more caring god.

This is so much more important than it might appear to be at first. We live in a world where most religions, especially major religions, are extremely patriarchal. Not that things haven’t improved somewhat — many women are now allowed to be priests in their respective churches and certain religions now no longer view women as lesser beings (I know, the bar has never been lower). However, for the most part, religion seems to still be the domain of men. Gods are more often portrayed as male and even in polytheistic religions with female goddesses, a male god is often still considered the most powerful one. What this does is it tells women that because God is a man or because the most powerful gods are male that women are lesser beings. There has been a shift away from this mentality, but it is sadly still a persistent problem that affects many religions today. Having a movie like Wonder Woman show a strong female society that worships female deities would have been a major step forward for women like me, who want to see a more feminist religion. Sadly though, while Wonder Woman is still a great feminist movie, this is one of the moments where it falls flat.

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3 thoughts on “Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: Where are My Goddesses?

  1. I agree with much of what you’ve said here–and as a polytheist, it really pisses me off that they missed the mark so badly with this film in terms of how divine involvement worked.

    I wonder if the reason they did what they did with Zeus is to thus make Wonder Woman a daughter of Zeus, and thus also sister of Ares, in order to not only make it a “family issue,” but also to justify how incredibly powerful she actually ended up being…the idea that all of the other deities were destroyed and only Zeus remained is pretty problematic. Aphrodite is also a very capable war goddess in a minority strain of Ancient Greek myth (and Homer’s comments on her fleeing from battle in the Iliad were a reaction against that, actually–not unlike a great deal of Homer’s stuff that attempts to counter or lampoon certain cultic trends in Greek religion!), so there’s no reason that she couldn’t have had a more major role…and in the mainstream Greek cosmology from Hesiod, Aphrodite is older than Zeus.

    I wonder if Wonder Woman being named Diana is a nod to the goddess Diana (the Roman counterpart of Artemis), and thus making her Zeus’ daughter essentially says that she is Artemis, therefore…but that brings up a whole further set of issues, needless to say (!?!).

    They really could have done it so much better…yet another missed opportunity.

  2. A very good point and a very good exploration of why it would have been so much more powerful to have a goddess. I agree that it would have made much more sense to have Aphrodite. It would have reinforced so much the idea of love and of power that made the film great because it wasn’t just fight, fight, fight.
    (PS: You wrote Athena twice in the list of goddesses instead of Artemis the second time.)

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