Thursday, July 3, 2014

Understanding Women's Regression

To help women progress, we need to understand why we have always held an inferior role in society. Our first line of defense is to fault religion

When we study women's roles in a historical perspective, we find that women were actually more repressed before the monotheistic religions were ever introduced and after their practice in society. Why this is so remains to be understood, but a little reflection will put some misunderstanding in perspective.

Ancient Greece was a prime example of a democratic society. Contemporary writers still refer to the golden ages of the time, when famous philosophers introduced the notion of a free society - and free thought. Only this did not apply to women, who were viewed as second-class citizens. Their first obligation was the household and the family, and any attempt at independence was either squashed or publicly scorned. We see this in the historian Thucydides' account of the Peloponnesian war, where the role of men was the main focus. Women were only mentioned as far as being sold into slavery and Thucydides's advice to keep women hidden from public because their wailing was disruptive to the war's efforts. It is assumed that the influence of this account led to the later repression of women during Athen's democratic glory. Thucydids' chronicle was to later be memorized and cited by Athenian statesmen and philosophers alike.

When we study the position of women during this period, we find hypocrisy as well. Socrates and Plato both believed women should be inferior to men, but at times advocated on their behalf. It is believed that Socrates was married to an independent and strong women who had some control over the household, but it seems that control was limited to Socrates' authority.

As for Plato, he believed that men and women were separate but equal in some respect, but the women's place was the home. But in his utopia, both genders were suitable to serve as guards of a greater Athens. In The Republic, he argues that just as men were allowed to wrestle in the nude as a natural sport, so should women. However, a communial living arrangement is proposed where all men and women who served as the mighty guards of Athens lived and mated together, so that children identified with all adults as their guardians. It can be argued here that Plato's perception of women never really changed, not even in this utopia, since he does continue to assign women specifc roles. While they are to serve in a capacity that may theoretically be perceived as equal, in actuality women were still inferior to men.

Aristotle was no hypocrite. He believed women were inferior and respectfully discredited Plato's utopia. He went as far as to write that a "women's glory is in her silence," which has been attributed to Thucydides' opinion in History of the Peloponesian War.

This blatant disregard for women is to carry on until the late century BC (before Christ). Although during this latter period when the Roman empire ruled, women did find a voice to revolt against sumptuary laws of that period, where women were expected to live and dress modestly to respect the loss of lives in wars. But they found harsh critics in the second century BC from historians, who according to second-hand accounts, accused Athens of falling into a moral decline since women were starting to assert their independence.

Once the Bible was introduced, we read stories of women receiving the respect of the prophets. There are passages where women are dismissed, but the reverent role Mary was to later play in the new Testament reveals she was to elevate the role of women. Maybe not as high as we would have preferred, but compared to prior centuries, women enjoyed a higher level of respect during her time.

Fast forward to the sixth century AD, we find that women were highly regarded after Prophet Mohammed introduced Islam. Before his time, women were once again sidelined under the control of the Arabian regime who, like the ancient Greeks, practiced idolatry. The Prophet Mohammed raised the status of women during his time by allowing to serve as advisors and fight in wars under his influence. He was to marry his first wife, who was a successful and wealthy entrepreneur, and his youngest wife was rumored to be an individual in her own right. The prophet was to turn to both women for advice and guidance during his lifetime.

Religion has been faulted for regressing women because certain passages of the scriptures are interpreted in isolation. We can point to specific areas of the scripture where women are undermined, but the Bible as a whole can be seen to give women that level of respect that made them valuable members of society. Hypocracy is human nature. The United States is a prime global example of democracy, but gender equality has not yet been fully achieved.

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