Sex for men is a right to be wielded. However, for women, sex can be thought of as a mark of shame if not engaged in a manner deemed virtuous by American society. Sex can be perceived as a tool where one is able to draw power, and yet society has implanted the idea from the very start of women’s inception that they are dirty; shameful, even.When a woman sleeps around, she is typically labeled a whore and is consistently judged as she treads further in her “walk of shame,” conversely, sexually active men will receive praise and be seen as masculine, while receiving little to no flack for the way in which they conduct themselves.
Bilquis, powerfully and seamlessly portrayed by Yetide Badaki, is a standout in American Gods and across the general TV landscape. While we meet Bilquis (a goddess of love who delivers her worshippers into her vagina nebula where they eternally feed her soul) earlier on in the season, the closing episode, “Come to Jesus,” is where the goddess truly comes into her own. She has a message that resonates with all women: we are powerful. We can dare to be.
Bilquis is striking in how she shuts down the double standards that are frequently set in place against women, particularly standards pertaining to sex and power. Bilquis reclaims sexuality and the conduct of women’s bodies by unashamedly being who she is: a goddess who not only receives pleasure (which every woman should be able to experience freely and without shame) but who reclaims the power of a woman’s body, sexuality, and autonomy.
Women are instructed to keep themselves modest and subservient. Don’t stand too tall. Don’t speak too loudly, be too smart, or take up too much space. Stay small, stay convenient. Stay desirable for the men who need to feel bigger in order to be bigger. Bilquis is a monumental, radiant “no” to all of these “don’ts” and more. Bilquis, even when compromised, and forced to kneel, never stays knocked down. She owns herself, freely and fully. Men, of course, are threatened by her: her power and the fact that she dares to be instead of resigning herself to merely existing; her refusal to be compliant in a patriarchal world. Bilquis is a queen whose power represents the power of all women: the power of rebirth and creation, as Mr. Nancy so wonderfully articulated. He goes on to forewarn that in the face of such power, some men will submit and give themselves over freely, while others will not be so willing. For the men in opposition to a queen, anger will be what dictates their behavior and decision making.
Despite Mr. Nancy’s words to live by being “angry gets shit done,” he is aware of anger’s consequences; its reveal of unspeakable cruelty. He and all others know that there’s no shortage of such cruelty when it comes from the men who are intimidated by strong women. Even in Bilquis’ earliest days, kings preyed on her and the position she held, always seeking to dislodge her from her throne. However, any victories kings achieved were short lived. Ultimately, they would meet their end the same as all of Bilquis’ worshippers had, but these ends never kept men from being persistent in their attempts. Eventually, as the many years progressed, and Bilquis continued daring to be the queen she’s always been, men found a way to overthrow her. Through the weaponization of sex, angered men forced the goddess and all women into their “rightful” place: crammed into the back seat; too afraid to be, let alone disobey; the power within each of them forgotten. Women got on their knees and took what men served against their wills. Society simply looked down upon them with harsh judgment, justified by the false belief that they themselves would do anything different if shoved and held down in their submission.
Fear, arguably the direct byproduct of anger, never permanently sustains the change in which it is cultivated, however. Men may have claimed the queen’s power as their own out of fear; they relentlessly behaved with vast means of cruelty until their fear of Bilquis’ power was abolished by the destruction of that in which men believed was her essence: the mere act of love. The men never truly owned nor realized what Bilquis always gives: love. Love was removed from the act as soon as the act itself was weaponized. Men, so fueled by their rage and lust for the sexual dominance which they believed was so rightfully theirs, missed that love is a gift to both those who bestow it and those who receive it. Love is a freedom. Love is a right that belongs to all, and does not discriminate. Bilquis only came to those out of love, never out of violence. That’s why she persists in spite of how they forcibly took and controlled those who came to worship her; they stranded her by destroying her temple, and denounced her until she was alone, forgotten and forgetful of who she truly is: a queen.
Men’s reign over Bilquis may have gone on for a while, but even when she was at rock bottom, she never abandoned herself. As Mr. Nancy eloquently imparted an important truth: so long as Bilquis lives, she can adapt. While she having been temporarily forgetful of her true self, she always fought her way back to who that is. Her symbolic temple was destroyed, yes, but never her body‒ the temple that has always been and continues to be. In a way, Technical Boy brings Bilquis to this realization when he presents to her an offer in the fabric of yet another compromise: reclaim her power via social media’s dating services. Worship has since evolved into what Technical Boy brands as a “volume business,” where the only way to attain success is to be the most desirable, as indicated by the prime amount of followers one has. Bilquis adapts and flourishes, and although she owes Technical Boy, and is perhaps, to him, at his mercy, she stands strong. Bilquis remains a queen despite the cards that have been dealt to her consistently throughout history, in all of its colorful, tumultuous evolution. Returning to herself; owning herself so completely and breathing life into the living truth for all women that for all the patriarchal world tries to control our bodies, our sexualities, and our very decisions, we can never be broken. At the end of each day, we still belong to ourselves and our fight is one in which we fight together. Like Bilquis, we remain queens, even when perception shows that we are at the mercy of men.