We are going to dig up two ancient stories and use them to shed some light on how women came to be oppressed by men throughout history. The first story is that of "Adam and Eve," and the second story is the lesser known "Pandora`s box." When we look at all the great achievements in the history of humanity; we will find that in most fields with very little exception, that men have been credited with all of the major contributions. In the field of music we readily recognize the names of Beethoven, Mozart, and Chopin. I wonder how many have heard of Camilla de Rossi who was a female composer in the 18th century. In science we readily recognize Einstein,Tesla,Edison and great male figures; but Madame Curie sticks out like a sore thumb. It is a miracle in itself that woman were able to even get a proper education during the middle ages. So any woman that came to prominance during these times must be doubly praised. We are going to discuss some ideas; on how and why we live in a "man`s world." We are going to talk about the negative effects of having a strictly patriarchial society. Now we look at how this "inequality" started.
When we look at our religious heritage, we find many roots of our societal customs that we practice today. Many are so deeply ingrained, that we may consider it to be at a sub-conscious level. The old ideas of the man being the "provider" or the "bread winner" stem from ancient beliefs. In the story of Adam and Eve; we find that Adam was created first(Genesis 2:7). God placed Adam in a deep sleep; during this sleep God took a rib from Adam and created the woman(Gen 2:21). This is a critical point of the story already because it is establishing that the woman came from the man; and man came from God. This is used to establish the order of authority in the world. God, Men,Woman and then the rest of creation. Second part of the story: With all of this "perfection" around in the garden of Eden; of course there had to be "potential" for something to go wrong. So we have "the tree of knowledge of good and evil." So the stage is set; Adam and Eve can eat from every tree in the garden of Eden except this tree. So then enters the serpent; now here is where the storyline is at a critical point once again. The serpent first deceives the woman; and she eats the fruit. Then the woman brings the fruit to Adam and he eats. Why is this important? It is important because this is the justification used for thousands of years to place woman in a subjugate status; to justify pain in childbirth; and to keep them from getting an education. The idea is that sin entered the world via the woman`s folly and by deduction all the problems after that are due to the woman giving in to temptation. We will return to strengthen these arguments briefly; but first I want to share with you the lesser known but interconnected story of Pandora`s box. This is a Greek myth; so is not as well known as the Christian stories but the theme is exactly the same. According to the myth, Pandora was the first woman on earth. Pandora was given a jar (commonly known as "box") which contained all the evils of the world. As you can predict; she was told not to open it; but guess what? "Curiosity killed the cat," Pandora opened up the jar and all the evils of the world came upon the earth. What is the point? The point is for you to notice how the stage is set for the oppression of women for ages to come; make the woman a scapegoat,justifying her oppression.Speaking of the Greeks; it is important to note that they are credited (in Athens) with starting democracy. In the Athenian democracy woman were not allowed to vote. The philosopher Aristotle(wrongly) felt that women were naturally inferior to men."Again, the male is by nature superior, and the female inferior; and the one rules, and the other is ruled (Aristotle,p.1254 book 13 Politics)." Aristotle unfortunately would have great influence in this regard as Women would wait until the 20th century for the right to vote in this country! I want you to follow the logic and see how the combination of these religious and social ideas adversely affected women. Lets look at Hesiod`s comments in "Works and Days" concerning Women. "From her is the race of women and female kind of her is the deadly race and tribe of women who live amongst mortal men to their great trouble, no helpmates in hateful poverty, but only in wealth (Works and Days,590).Women; have you ever considered why you give up YOUR last name in marriage? Let us continue. The Apostle Paul In I Cor 14:34 says "Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith." Churches;preachers and ministers have debated over the "meaning" of this passage for centuries. The results have been that women have traditionally held either no role at all in the church or a secondary role.Believe it or not; it wasn`t until the 1800`s that we saw women being ordained by churches. In 2009 Britain almost had its first female Bishop but she lost out to a male canidate (oh the suprise!). "One of three candidates, she lost out to Reverend Gregor Duncan, 59, who is already dean of Glasgow and Galloway -- the diocese for which the election was being held (Macllelan, & Ormsby, 2010)." It is the combination of the above ideas; ingrained in the mind of men for generations that have led to the historic oppresion of women. Although some progress has been made in the western countries; in the middle east we see the barbaric treatment of women on a daily basis. In some African nations, India and in some middle eastern countries Woman are being raped, stoned, and prostituted without penalty. It was only in 1848 that the feeble "Married Women`s property Act" was passed by the New York legislature. Before this, women had no property rights. Therefore, if a woman had an inheritance and then decided to get married, all of that inheritance would transfer to the new husband.Why? "The very being or legal existance of the woman is suspended during her marriage (Sir William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England,1765)." This is just another example of the viewpoints traditionally held by men concerning woman, these ideas were manifested in laws and customs in our evolving societies. We could go on and on speaking about the wage disparity between woman and men or the lack of women in high corporate positions. However the point has already been made and I wish to move on to what I feel is the greatest tradegy of all of this. The greatest tradegy of holding women down for so long; is that we have cheated ourselves as a race of humans For each Albert Einstein, Nikola Tesla and Niels Bohr; we could have had a female just as brilliant.For every Marcus Aurelius, and Antonius Pious we could have had female equivalents.Have you ever heard of Zenobia? The woman who led a famous revolt against the Roman Empire. Yes there are exceptions throughout history; these exceptions show us what we have cheated ourselves out of. Today primarily in more "civilized" nations, we see women being effective in high positions. Imagine all of the talent that we men have oppressed,raped, and discriminated against for hundreds of years. All because of a misguided belief that took hold early in our cultural formation. There is still a long way to go; as many are stuck in the barbaric and primative mindset, that places woman in a secondary role.Unfortunately;Woman have been held down so long; that they themselves are struggling to find their idenities outside of what men have defined them to be.We will never know what we have lost; perhaps a cure for cancer; or a great writer, singer, leader, we will suffer unknowingly in silence. I close with a quote from Sara M. Grimke (1792-1873). "I have sometimes been astonished and grieved at the servitude of women...she merges her rights and her duties with her husband...women ,among the lowest classes of society,so far as my observation has extended, suffer intensely from the brutality of their husbands.Duty as well as inclination has led me, for many years, into the abodes of poverty and sorrow, and I have been amazed at the treatment which woman receive at the hands of those , who arrogate to themselves the epithet of protectors .Brute force, the law of violence, rules to a great extent in the poor man`s domicil; the woman is little more than his drudge. They are less under the supervision of public opinion, less under the restraints of education, and unaided or unbiased by the refinements of society.Religion, wherever it exists,supplies the place of all these; but the real cause of woman`s degradation and suffering...is to be found in the erroneous notion of her inferiority to man; and never will be rightly regarded...until this opinion is exploded (Schneir,1972,p48)."
Hesiod,Works and Days (590)
Aristotle, . Politics.
Macllelan, K., & Ormsby, A. (2010, January 16). Church votes not to elect britain's first female bishop. Reuters, Retrieved from http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE60F1JQ20100116
Schneir, M. (Ed.). (1972). Feminism:the essential historical writings. New York,N.Y: Vinatage Books.
Women without Superstition "No Gods No Masters" ed. A.L Gaylor It is a great compilation of women writers; and will provide a great understanding of their perspective.
A thousand spendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini: A great historic fiction novel. It gives great insights on the lives of two woman living in modern Afhghanistan. If you think women in America have a long way to go, read this book!
Read as much as you can because "to know is to be free (B.Spinoza)" :-)