From Medusa to Palestine: It’s Time to Petrify the Patriarchy

Lina AbiRafeh
5 min readApr 2, 2024


This awesome attire was spotted by the clever Kit Nicholson and can be purchased here: We all need one.

In October of 2020, while we were collectively navigating the chaos of a global pandemic, a statue appeared in New York City. ‘Medusa with the Head of Perseus’ was placed outside the courthouse where rapist Harvey Weinstein stood trial in Manhattan earlier that year. This seven-foot bronze depiction shows Medusa, snake-haired and invincible, with a sword in one hand and Perseus’ head in the other.

The minute I heard she was there, I walked down to the courthouse, masked and dutifully keeping my requisite six-foot distance from other humans. And there she was. Seven feet is small for a statue, but to me she was larger than life. Magnificent.

I’d always been a fan, having first met her in the movie ‘Clash of the Titans’ — the 1981 (and far superior) version. There, as the legend goes, Perseus kills Medusa in order to use her head to defeat the Kraken, the sea-beast who murders the innocent and destroys civilizations. “Release the Kraken!” says Zeus, a line I’ve used more times than I can count.

And so Perseus is the hero, having murdered Medusa. Or is he? To me, Medusa was the real hero. After all it was her head that freed the world from the last Titan. We all survived because of her.

What was her deal, anyway? Why was she out there on the Gorgon island, hanging out with her two-headed dog all by herself? This doesn’t sound all that terrible to me, to be honest.

Medusa was cursed precisely because she’d been a victim. Poseidon, the sea god, pursued her and raped her in Athena’s temple. Athena blamed Medusa and turned her into a monster.

According to Valentina Di Liscia of Hyperallergic: “While predating modernity by thousands of years, the story of a woman who was blamed, chastised, and shamed for her assault is unfortunately timeless.”

Among other traits, Athena gave Medusa snakes for hair, tusks like a boar, bulging eyes, and most famously, vision that could turn any onlooker into stone for eternity. In her rage, she used this skill against her victims. Admittedly, I’m jealous.

In Greek myths, much like stories we tell today, women were just playthings for the men of the world. Their pain and suffering only fueled the “heroic narratives” of these men. Violence against women was as common thousands of years ago as it is today.

And much like today, Medusa was punished for being “seductive” to Poseidon. He, the perpetrator, was never held accountable and, instead, rose to great new heights and continued his violation of women and girls. This is sounding disturbingly familiar.

And today Medusa is still seen as a villain in popular media, and many mythology websites decline to mention sexual violence as a catalyst in Medusa’s story. For example, describes the story as an “ill-fated love affair.” Not quite.

Back to the statue. In principle, Medusa should have directed her rage at Poseidon. But her anger at Perseus isn’t wrong. He was coming to kill her, after all. The point is to reverse the narrative. Artist Luciano Garbati wanted to challenge conventional depictions of the myth, asking: “What would it look like, her victory, not his?”

The statue was created in 2008 but achieved fame a decade later as a result of the #MeToo movement. A social media picture of the statue infamously said: “Be grateful we only want equality and not payback.”

Photographer Bek Andersen led efforts to install the statue in New York. She also founded an art collective Medusa With The Head to reframe — and reclaim — classical narratives. And so Medusa was cast in a new light, one of empowerment and long-overdue justice.

The statue asks us to rethink who the victim really is, and what it means to endure years of violence. It also helps us understand the strategic need for female anger to right generations of injustice.

What’s more, it turns out Medusa was an Arab woman. Libyan, to be precise. Or so says the legend.

So we’ve got a few things in common, this powerful woman and I.

I’ve worked on, and written about, sexual violence for decades — like here, here, and here. These days I’m channeling my angry-Arab-woman energy to write about Palestine. A lot. I don’t have the ability to turn people into stone. My words are my only weapon. So I’m gonna wield them as best I can.

When it comes to sexual violence against Palestinian women, we’ve heard story after story. And, collectively, we are slow to believe. And even slower to act. Where is the outrage?

Recently, UN experts confirmed what we always knew to be true: there is credible and ongoing violence against Palestinian women at the hands of the Israeli military both in Gaza and in the West Bank. And shortly thereafter, the Middle East Monitor reported that credible reports have emerged of Israeli soldiers raping and sexually abusing Palestinian women and children in Israeli prisons and at checkpoints across Gaza.

People’s Dispatch also reported that, during the latest Israeli raid and slaughter at Al-Shifa Hospital, sexual violence was commonplace. One woman was raped for two days straight until she was unable to speak. Another woman was stripped naked in the hospital in front of her husband and various other men. The men were told that they would be killed if they looked away. And when another woman was stripped by Israeli forces, her husband and brother were murdered point-blank for trying to offer her their own clothing.

Have we heard enough? Do we need to get angry in order to be believed? Do we need further violence in order to achieve safety — and justice?

The statue of Medusa in New York wasn’t a permanent fixture. It was removed in April 2021. I don’t know where she is now, but I think of her often. It took centuries for Medusa to achieve the justice she deserved.

How long will it take for Palestinian women?



Lina AbiRafeh

Global women's rights activist, author, speaker, aid worker with 3 decades of global experience - and lots to say! More on my website: