In London, the distant hollering of police sirens echoes through sleepy city streets, singing salvation to those in peril, a saviour to those in need. Likewise, the sirens from mythology sing a strange, sweet song that lulls across the ocean, heard by sailors long at sea. Depending on the story you read, they rescue poor swabbies from watery graves, warning them of unseen dangers beneath the waves, or lure their ships onto hidden rocky shoals, taking eager pleasure in the havoc they wreck. Whether a siren sings with the intent of helping or harming these unwitting seafarers is a matter of interpretation.
Since the winged sirens of Ancient Greece right up until today, women are still perceived as strange and dangerous creatures. Mythologised, a siren can tempt a man to his doom. Weak and powerless to resist her otherworldly allure, he abandons his family, forgoing all better judgement and reason, surrendering to her charms. He squanders his wealth to buy her love, all so she can spurn him and leave him wretched and broken in the gutter. But somehow the burden of bad choices is lifted from his shoulders and the blame for his demise is laid squarely albeit unfairly at her supple feet.
The siren’s song harks of a metaphor for many modern women, our gender lending to this dichotomy of virtue and depravity all wrapped up in one. This narrative is presented to us over and over again in art, movies, literature and social press. It’s a tired and worn out rendering of the events, all too easily accessible, it still remains the basis for some captivating lyrics: “I call her the devil, Cause she makes me want to sin, And every time she knocks, I can’t help but let her in.” Catchy as it may be, swallowing this biased story hook, line and sinker is more dangerous than the siren could ever be.
We could easily argue that the siren represents the “other” in all of us. I wonder how many sirens cried for their true love only to be scorned by Narcissus. In spite of all appearances, the siren really has no power over what she is because, like Jessica Rabbit, she was merely “drawn that way.” The onus is on us to shake the hold of the traditional narrative. The siren’s myth is full of contradiction and complexity, one that challenges the way we see each other and ourselves – powerful, beautiful, wicked, divine. At the very least, a siren represents the two sides to every story and it’s up to us to decide which one we embrace.
To see beautiful photographs of real mermaids look at the Fabulous-Femme website.