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Islands of women and Amazons: Representations and realities

Batya Susan Weinbaum, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Historically, myths have existed about the separate existences of women. These include the Sirens that sang on the Aegean rocks; the Amazons in the jungles of Brazil; the islands of self-reproducing women in Polynesia; and utopias such as Charlotte Perkins Gilman's Herland. This thesis will explore some variant existences and congruent ideas and images of the archetype. The objective will be to show how the theme itself is neither progressive nor reactionary, but can represent different psychological needs arising from different historical contexts. The aim will be to shed light on certain major texts which have come to be considered classics of that genre. The research into history, popular culture, folklore, myth and narratives referencing societies exclusively of women or societies in which women dominate, some fantasized and created by men, will provide new prisms to look at political feminist material. A particular focus will be on how this imagery has been portrayed and developed in tourism on Isla Mujeres, off the coast of the Yucatan, Mexico, in the Caribbean. My readings begin with a statement of the Amazon archetype as it comes to us mediated through culture, and an analysis of various historical uses and interpretations. I explore the difference between a sign, pointing to something outside the text, and a symbol, operating within the text. Although the symbol of the Amazon as an archetype has primarily been explored as a sign, indicating that women might have lived a different more empowered sort of life at a different time, the women are also a symbol within whatever text they occur. I explore the initial Greek context, as originally glimpsed in The Iliad and subsequent aspects of Greek culture; how the Amazons lost their pre-Christian touch and developed as negative representation of paganism; and the exportation of Amazonism by a European writer, Montalvo, imitating the Greeks. I explore the changing reality behind the mythic representation of one "Island of Women" as developed for North American tourism on the site of worship of the Maya Moon-diety, Ixchel.

Subject Area

Womens studies|American studies|Literature

Recommended Citation

Weinbaum, Batya Susan, "Islands of women and Amazons: Representations and realities" (1996). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9619453.