The Siren Myth and Facebook
Here’s a little explanation about my decision to listen to the Sirens of Facebook, chance the perils of sailing towards its luring shores, and join fellow travelers as they explore the offerings of the port city.
For those of you who are wondering why I’m using the Siren metaphor (who are female) and, which, if you think about it a little, is clearly sexist and even misogynistic (a word which also has ancient Greek origin). There’s no clear explanation in mythology for the existence of these beings or why they want to attract ships to rocky shores and sailors to their doom, but I’ve got my own ideas. I believe it’s just a way to blame women for a male’s poor judgment, in this case as a sailor.
Now, to be fair, the reverse does occasionally happen too; but we’re talking about the Siren myth now and how it enshrines a very common male trait. So I’m using this Greek myth as a metaphor because it has interesting imagery of human frailty. And, I also like it because I view it all slightly differently, with a little twist as to how it came to be.
You see, I think the real story is that some women of the Greek islands got tired of sailors taking advantage of the hospitality that they gave these poor, sea-weary men when they came into port to unload and load cargo. The worst of the lot was that Odysseus character who just sailed from port to port on some kind of “mission,” he said. These gals gave them food, a bath, a bed to sleep in, and company for conversation—and some other comforts that both sexes seem to enjoy. And what did they get for it all? Broken promises of returning someday, empty cupboards, and sometimes a kid they didn’t want. Bad deal.
So what did the girls do? They sent out word to women on other islands about the irresponsibility of these guys and how to teach them a lesson. Pretty simple: use their charms to attract them to the rockiest shores of their islands so the slobs would crash their ships. Beautiful songs, revealing clothing (or none), and welcoming gestures should do the trick.
And it did. Hooray for the gals and woman-power! Ships crashed, sailors died, and shipping merchants got ticked off. Lesson learned—for some.
Being human, the sailors looked for a scapegoat for their incompetence—a universal trait of humankind. Now, because the sailors were male and the ship wreckers were female, of course, all women were universally blamed for it—completely ignoring the reasons why the island women were driven to do it in the first place.
The obvious question to ask is why didn’t the sailors notice the misty clouds in the distance and broken wave patterns in the sea and avert disaster? “Well, it was those darn Siren women who distracted me—and not the drunken party me and the boys were having—and were the reason I didn’t wake up from my Siren dreams in time for my watch on deck to relieve the poor guy who fell asleep. Of course, it’s the women’s fault. Couldn’t be mine.”
So, the myth about strange female creatures as scapegoats was created, with Odysseus being its worst promoter, and the myth’s underlying sexism continues to this day. People still create scapegoats without seeking or understanding the reasons why they create them, and women still end up being blamed unjustly for male incompetence. There is progress being made on this front regarding laws and social standards, but it is happening way too slowly.
And that’s my take on the real story of the Siren myth. It’s also my hope that the Sirens of Facebook I metaphorically alluded to (both female and male—yes, there were such in the myth originally) are learning some lessons about their use of power before we all crash and burn on that island’s rocky shores because we can’t resist those Sirens’ call.