There was once a man who was visited by three goddesses.
They were attempting to settle a dispute between them, a trifling matter to determine which of them held claim to the golden apple that had been mysteriously rolled into the middle of their party. It had been enigmatically labelled “for the Fairest one,” though without its bearer to better describe who exactly it meant, the three chief aspects of Woman each attempted to lay claim over it.
Hera represented woman’s maternity. Her role was that which woman was born to accomplish. Not all women were pretty, nor all women smart, but all women were designed to be mothers, she argued. Therefore she was the fairest.
Pallas Athena represented woman’s power, intelligence, courage and heroic endeavor. After her was the greatest of Greek cities named. So long as women aspired, she was their champion, she argued. Therefore she was the fairest.
Aphrodite represented woman’s beauty and sexuality. Whether by war or progress, all actions required inspiration and desire. Even if men’s hands turned the world, it was women who made them want to turn it, she argued. Therefore she was the fairest.
Before they resorted to bribery, Paris admitted that each of them was equally fair. However, in today’s society, Paris’s settling on Aphrodite seems certain. She is everywhere; on billboards, in magazines and in every corner of the internet. However, we are just now beginning to see the dawning of an age where Paris’s judgement returns to the table; the qualities of woman which society holds in chief renown might no longer be her looks and sexuality.
In other words, there was not—and we’re returning to a time where there is not—any one archetype of sexy. To say, “This, this, and this are what make (all) women sexy,” is being recognized as not only subjective, but alienating to the parties possessing of different (though equally valid) qualities.
And I’m a firm believer that no woman likes to be told she isn’t sexy.
The Five Feminine Sexual Archetypes
Athena, Hera, and Aphrodite represent archetypes: broad brushstrokes of psychology given human shape. All three reside in each woman on the face of the planet (men, too, but they’re not the important part of this discussion). Before I delve into the feminine archetypes of sexuality, I must make clear a few things about archetypes in general:
1. Archetypes are incomplete pictures. Imagine that they are masks to be donned or removed at will. The actor beneath the mask (that is, you) does not change; no archetype can ever constitute the entirety of a human being.
2. Archetypes are all contextual. Look at the boy bands of the 90s. Normally, they were separated into five, because five is a great number for archetypes (as are three, seven and 12). Any of the five, in any other setting, would likely represent the same archetype—the singer/performer/pretty-boy. But when five of the same archetype are in the same spotlight, they rearrange themselves around one another, subdividing further: he’s the shy singer/performer, he’s the sexy singer/performer, he’s the funny one, etc.
3. Archetypes are how the brain solves a problem. When two people first meet, they have histories and stories that have already left their marks on them, manifesting as the trappings of archetypes. Archetypes are the brain’s attempt to find the shortest and most efficient “template” to describe the self’s relationship to the other: my mother, my (best) friend, a jerk, my rival, a really attractive girl/guy, my muse, my husband/wife, and so on.
These are the Five Feminine Sexual Archetypes most commonly found in today’s society. For the purposes of this exercise, I have given the archetypes the names and characteristics of the five planets visible without a telescope. And as we are looking from the one point of view around which they all revolve, I have taken the liberty of casting their partner as the Sun.
“What’s his type? Wilting flower? Bright and bubbly? Or smoldering temptress?”
~ Satine, Moulin Rouge!
Mercury: the Girl Next Door
I discovered her reading by the bank of the creek. From across the yard, I could tell that she was completely engulfed by her novel, probably something by Nicholas Sparks or Jane Austen. As I approached, I occupied my attention with anything else that could catch my interest along the way—she knew I was nearby, but would only put the book down when she came to a good place to stop.
“Hey!” she finally cried, leaping into my arms before I noticed she’d gotten to her feet. When she hugged me, her feet kicked off the ground.
“Well hello, Little One,” I replied, spinning around once obligingly. She giggled all the while, but then chided me for calling her Little One and took me by the wrist to the bank of the creek. Along the way, we passed some butterflies dancing in the wildflowers. How alike she is to them, I reflected.
“You should be cautious,” I teased as we came to the water’s edge. “If we keep vanishing into the woods together, people might start to suspect that I hold wicked thoughts for you.”
“Well? Do you?” she asked; though she feigned boldness, my remark had struck her; I could see from her side that her cheek began to rust.
Mercury is the closest planet to the Sun. As such, they are most often friends long before they become lovers. Mercurial relationships hide in coworkers and conspirators, best friends and secret admirers. They are marked by unburdened, almost childlike joy or whimsy. Mercury will happily endure the pain of watching their love love another, at times even serving to bring the two together to win favor for the Sun.
When portrayed in movies and stories, Mercurial relationships often end sadly, as for one reason or another one party “friendzones” the other, or—in more extreme cases—Mercury dies just before or as the Sun realizes the depth of their connection.
However, in many cases, Suns will hold their long-term relationships to the standard of their best Mercurial relationship, even if that Mercurial relationship never became romantic.
Mercurial women enjoy literature, and are good at writing themselves. They are the most likely to keep their own journal. They will likely have something written that they are too shy to show anyone but that one special person. It is a rare honor to be granted a Mercury’s secrets, and they must be handled with care. This is the archetype of the journalist, the writer, the unofficial therapist, the intern and the librarian.
Notable Mercurial women in stories: Eponine (Les Miserables), Nancy Callahan (Sin City), Meg (Paperman), Eliante (The Misanthrope), Indiana (Indiana)
“If Celimene should choose to wed another,
I’d feel no shame to stand in as his lover.
His tender heart would be no sad abasement
When his affections find a fond replacement.”
~ Eliante, The Misanthrope (IV.i.)
Venus: the Painted Lady
It was perhaps the most important test of my entire education. Not just what college I went to, but the question of my attending college at all might just have rested on my performance during the next two hours. So imagine my dismay when I hear the chair across from me grunt as it was scooted out and down in it sits the most beautiful girl in the entire school.
Her name I’d made a synonym with beauty (and recited it from time to time). Her talent in my mind was unquestionable. Had I the hands for it, I’d make sculptures to preserve in three dimensions her shape, her figure, her smile. She was everything that set my passions aflame: big doe eyes, a dancer’s figure, laughter like windchimes…
Some even say she kissed a girl during a party once.
To make matters worse, not only was this goddess sitting across from me at a time that I required focus more than anything; she had just gotten out of what appeared to be a particularly rigorous ballet class, and she was still in her leotard and tights. She had sweat just enough that it made a reflective sheen under the ugly white lights of the classroom, and one single bead crawled down from her collarbone, following the contours of her flesh as if it were an artist’s pencil tracing the curve of only the top of her breast before it vanished into the valley where the leotard stretched, leaving the rest to the artist in my head.
At some point, people had started to fill out the front of their tests. I had sat frozen for I don’t even remember how long.
“Hell,” I thought to myself, “is temptation in the shape of angels.”
Venusian women start stories and wars. In today’s society, they are our sex icons, our swimsuit and runway models, our strippers and our whores. They live, walk and breathe sex, when it isn’t oozing effortlessly from their pores—and they know it, too. When aggressive, Venusian partners talk dirty and like to be spoken to as such, for they have forgotten the meaning of shame; when this is done poorly, it may create distance, and they push themselves towards the orbit of Jupiter.
Not all Venusian women are prostitutes; they are simply the women who champion their beauty and/or sexuality. This is also the archetype of the head cheerleader, the ballerina, the debutante and the princess.
Depending on the time and nation of the story, the Sun may find he loves someone other than the Venus in his life. But it will almost always be the Venus that sends him on that journey of discovery.
Notable Venusian women in stories: Beatrice (The Divine Comedy), Satine (Moulin Rouge!), Inara Serra (Firefly/Serenity), Angela Hayes (American Beauty), Lolita (Lolita)
“Every boy in the village was in love with Victoria Forester.”
~ Neil Gaiman, Stardust
Mars: the Femme Fatale
Our game of pool was merely to give the illusion of decorum, though at this point why we kept it up was anyone’s guess—her parents had long since gone away, and her little brother was either playing video games or asleep in his room two floors up. The convenience of having a pool table in the basement was such that there were no windows; none to spy, none to fool.
No, the game between us was not one of 8-ball, but rather a game in that we both knew what each other felt, we both knew that the other knew, but who would be the first to crack and admit it?
So we passed more than an hour, as she nonchalantly demonstrated the proper stance (as I had, until this point in my life, never actually played pool), talked of the rules of the game and mildly complained at how little room there was in her little basement, which she used to justify why she kept bumping into and brushing past me as we negotiated with one another for shots.
Even when she was in the lead, she would attempt little distractions, like blowing gently on my ear or grabbing my thigh. She was not in danger of losing, but like a killdeer she feinted fear and weakness to draw in a predator. As the game came closer to ending, we became more bold with our distractions. When, as these little amateur games so often end up, only the final ball remained on the table, she set her cue aside and looked me straight in the eyes with a look that I would later discover meant only one thing: hunger.
“What do you say we make a bet?” she growled, as she hooked her thumb under one of the straps that held her top up.
Where Mercurial relationships are based on proximity and equality, Martian romances often look more like competition. These are fiery encounters where the participants often climb and clamor over one another for dominance. They dance the tango and wear pointed high heels. They won’t settle with being just as good as their partner at the things they do. Not only do they strive to be better, but they’ll look damn good doing it.
Masculine fantasy has a tough time dealing with Sun-Mars relationships. To compensate for the Sun’s own inability, Martian women will often be granted “super-human” traits to explain their prowess: perhaps they’re half dragon, entirely inhuman or possess larger-than-normal body parts (e.g. Lana’s hands in Archer).
They are the expert fighters, but also dancers and assassins, Amazons and gunslingers. Dominatrixes, we’ll discover, fit more into the Saturnine archetype: not only would a Martian frown on using tools to do their dominating, their purpose is not conquest, but competition.
Notable Martian women in stories: Annie Oakley (Annie Get Your Gun), Nini (Moulin Rouge!), Beatrice (Much Ado About Nothing), Beatrix Kiddo (Kill Bill), Lana (Archer)
“…learn me how to lose a winning match.”
~ Juliet, Romeo & Juliet (III.ii.)
Jupiter: the Guys’ Girl
“So tell me again why you don’t like Radiohead.”
I opened my eyes just enough to check the clock. Yep, I would certainly not be making it to that thing-I-had-to-do today. She was already on her way to make a pot of coffee, having taken only the time to slip on a pair of boxers and the button-down I’d been wearing the night before while we strolled through the art gallery opening—which I began to recall was where this ill-fated discussion on Radiohead began.
“I said I don’t like Radiohead as much as I feel like I should.” It was the same retort I’d more passionately delivered at the dive bar after the art gallery. My mouth still had that cottony taste leftover from cheap beer and pot, both indulgences I’d remembered promising myself I’d never do again a long time ago.
I found some of my clothes scattered about amongst the records we’d listened to as she tried to convince me of this or that band’s worthy contribution to music and began to dress myself.
Back she came with two mugs, which she set on the stand beside the bed and set the vinyl to play where it had left off the night before: “Everything in its Right Place.” A gentle but firm hand pressed me back to the bed. My shirt on her was still unbuttoned, and I wondered why she’d bothered to put it on at all.
But with her hair and my shirt draped down towards me, I couldn’t help but notice how hot she looked in it.
Maybe it really was the music.
Jovian women drink their Sun’s beer, wear his clothes and steal his music. They listen to classic rock on vinyl and wear flannel. They’re handygirls, likely as good with tools as most of his other friends. Their idea of a good time might be putting up new shelves or painting that room with their Sun. They probably drive either big trucks or beat-up hand-me-downs. This is the domain of the hippy, the stoner and the vegan, but also the carpenter, the artist, the guitarist (who runs her own band) and the girl working most trade professions that are normally considered “masculine.”
In storytelling, trappings of the Jovian archetype include some level of fine dexterity and coordination with the hands (not just knitting and makeup, but surgery, car mechanics and machinery, science that involves microscopes, video gaming and other crafts/do-it-yourself projects all fall under the Jovian scope) and a penchant for sexual humor—though they make sex jokes all the time, it’s rare that they ever actually “get laid.”
These are the most easy-going relationships, as Jovian woman are the most comfortable with sexuality, drugs and taboo without romanticizing them. They make the poorest manipulators, as they’ve never seen enough reasons to practice lying so as to be good at it.
Notable Jovian women in stories: Kaylee (Firefly/Serenity), Abby (NCIS), Summer (500 Days of Summer)
“I am such a nerd. I’m not one of those girls that goes, ‘Ha, ha, hee, hee. I’m a nerd!’ No, no, no, my brain mentality is the same as a 12-year-old little boy. The video games that I play, the things that I like to watch…I’m a Trekkie.”
~ Mila Kunis
Saturn: the Enigma
She had been dancing with another man, for all the world to see. But what they did not see was that over her shoulder, her eyes kept finding mine. Against the wall, across a table, he tried to chase her down, but in a fateful moment she grabbed my wrist and ran with me down a long hallway.
Part of the agreement of this little event was that we were not to speak, no matter how strange things became. I had no idea of her name, nor she of mine. When we escaped her pursuer, she led me into a room and sat down on the corner of a table. I thought she was about to light up a cigarette.
Instead, she bade me come closer by curling her finger, until she seized my shirt and tugged my face down towards hers, brushing her lips along my jawline.
“Fair is foul, foul is fair,” she whispered into my ear, in a voice so devious that I could hear the effect of the wicked grin on her lips. It was then that I noticed the company we kept in the room: birds. All manner of birds, in drawings and paintings on the wall, or stuffed and perched on the bookshelves. They stared about and at us, like something from a Hitchcock movie.
I hadn’t time to solve the mystery; the phone beside her began to ring. She placed the receiver next to her ear, listened for a few moments, and then she giggled wickedly. She drew a finger along my jaw and handed me the receiver before dancing out of the room and out of my life. Lacking any other option, I slowly put the phone up to my ear.
You have no idea who she is, or where she came from, or what she’s doing here. Suddenly, however, there might as well not be anyone else. Rather than seeking to end all the mysteries, Saturnine relationships thrive off the unknown, the anonymous and the hidden. The Lady in Red is an iconic American Saturnine archetype. This is also the domain of the dominatrix, the gypsy girl, and anyone who restricts the senses or hides behind an alternate persona during sensual encounters. Writers of erotic fiction who adopt pseudonyms call upon a Saturnine archetype.
Sun-Saturn relationships thrive in darkness and mystery, as the partners find themselves emboldened by sensory exploration, as well as by being able to take action without repercussion. Blindfolds, lights out, handcuffs and ropes sit in the purview of Saturn, often coupled with exploration of other senses: feathers, food, sudden changes of temperature and so on.
These are the rarest of relationships, because they are the least sustainable: the Sun-Saturn relationship is one of distance, and as such, is incredibly fragile. If the Sun closes the distance between them, she finds another orbit, perhaps as his Venus or his Jupiter. More often than not, however, she leaves his orbit entirely, leaving the Sun to dream and tell stories about a woman he only saw once, across a way—a woman who might never have existed at all.
The aptly-named group Enigma plays heavily on Saturnine relationships, invoking the sensuality of the unknown and forbidden. The music video for “Gravity of Love” demonstrates this.
Notable Saturnian women in stories: Vesper (Casino Royale), The Customer (Sin City), Adelle DeWitt (Dollhouse)
“Woman, especially her sexuality, provides the object of endless commentary, description, supposition. But the result of all the telling only deepens the enigma and makes woman’s erotic force something that male storytelling can never quite explain or contain.”
Archetypes are jewelry to the Self.
It’s a temptation to go looking for which of the shoes fit. Don’t; all of the shoes fit, but no one’s wearing gym shoes to the investor meeting. When picking an outfit to go out in, the shoes must be considered. Just the same, when with company, a person must consider their archetype. When it comes to expressing sexuality and courtship, there is no one right way to go about it, or believe me, sex would be one of the most boring activities of human concern.
Next time you’re in a solid group, look around the room and “cast” it, like life was a TV show. Who in the office (or wherever) is the funny one? Who’s the one everyone wants to sleep with? Who’s the jester, the one who takes charge and the antisocial one? From here, a person can figure out both what they need to work on, and what people will notice about them because of the people around them.
This can be done for multiple circles. Where someone in one circle is a Venus, they may in other circles find themselves cast as Jupiter. It is absolutely a possibility for someone to move from one archetype to another. Archetypes are not who someone is, but rather how they fit in to and complete the circles around them.
Rather than chaining oneself to an archetype, use them as tools of expression. When looking to evoke a certain archetype, consider the trappings I listed above. Confidently don a mask, play a character, surrender to a role. What you’ll hopefully come to realize is that you have an arsenal at your disposal.
And when someone points out, “You don’t seem like the same person,” quietly smile a little smile to yourself, and go about your way.
Bonus: We could all learn something from the woman:
Kevin Macku is a 20-something fledgeling yogi with a love of words. He is a trained actor who occasionally appears in local movies and on stage. His preferred methods of expression are based in movement: Suzuki’s Training for the Classical Actor, Viewpoints and Butoh to name a few, all of which benefit from the practice of yoga. In the midst of a rigorous physical practice, he discovered he was undergoing a spiritual transformation, and began to document the experience. These entries can be found at http://doafy.posterous.com/. Kevin himself can be reached at [email protected], or you can now “like” his page on Facebook!
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Ed: Kate Bartolotta