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Doing Justice to the Classics

Violent misogyny, white nationalism, and anti-Clinton apparel

A store on, an online marketplace for customized merchandise, sells shirts, tank-tops, and coffee mugs featuring a violently misogynist image that appropriates classical antiquity: Cellini’s “Perseus with the head of Medusa” (1545-1554), with the face of Donald Trump superimposed on that of Perseus and that of Hillary Clinton superimposed on the severed head of Medusa.

Update 9/18/22: Thanks to the hard work of The Medusa Project, both Zazzle and Redbubble (another online site that sells custom products) have removed these products from their platforms.

This image invokes the cultural cachet of the Greco-Roman past to sanctify the beheading of a woman and deploys one of the most common misogynist images from that past: as Mary Beard has pointed out in Women and Power: A Manifesto, Perseus and Medusa is a story that “western literature, culture, and art have repeatedly returned to” as “the classic myth in which the dominance of the male is violently reasserted against the illegitimate power of the woman.” (p.73)

Pharos’ focus is on hate groups, not political candidates and their supporters, but this (indisputably classical, patently misogynistic) image falls under our purview because the store selling this apparel is an example of the blurring of the line between traditional political advocacy and support for hateful movements. In addition to the misogyny of the image, the store aligns itself with white supremacy by beginning its “About” page asserting “With Europe falling apart and Western civilization being destroyed…”, a narrative of decline familiar from other white supremacist and misogynist sites we document. The designer of this store is acting independently, but Donald Trump himself, both as candidate and president, has not consistently rejected the support of avowed white supremacists, and his public statements and actions on the topic have been at odds with themselves. For example, he signed a resolution (written by Congress) condemning white supremacy only one day after reiterating a more equivocal position that has drew criticism even from Republicans.

According to Zazzle’s policies the following content is not permitted: “excessive violence,” “content that can reasonably be viewed as harassing, threatening, or otherwise harmful,” “content that can reasonably be viewed as discriminatory based upon … gender, gender identity or disability.” It is up to Zazzle’s Content Management Team to determine whether this image can “reasonably be viewed” as hate speech, but in making this determination the presence of classical themes should not allow this image to be treated less strictly than others that do not incorporate material that is often traditionally and unreflectively idealized.

View the merchandise without actually visiting the store on Zazzle.

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