The Fairer Sex: Ancient Women

Hello, welcome to week two of my nine weeks series about the history of women. If you remember from last week I wanted to address some of the mistreatment of women that has happened in the past and currently. I also stated that the goal is that I hope to challenge the way you think about women and I hope that some day in all areas of the world women will be respected and seen more as people and less as objects.

We will begin as all stories do, at the beginning. Before the plants, the creatures, the sea, sky, there was nothing. Except for God. Then one day God decided to create light, and as the story goes on he creates the sun, the planets, the plants, the animals, but most importantly he created us.

Of all God made, humankind has been the pinnacle of creation. The reason being, because we have been endowed with Imago Dei, Latin for The Image Of God. Genesis 1:25-28 says this:

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

27 So God created mankind in his own image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.

28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

Notice how it says that he created them in his image? Notice how it says that both the men and the women are supposed to work together and rule the earth?

In the beginning everyone was happy, no one was controlling the other. Everyone lived together in perfect harmony. Adam and Eve were the perfect couple.

But then when the fall came everything changed. When Adam and Eve ate from the tree, that was when the battle of the sexes began.

The Ancient Israelite Culture was one of the most male-dominated cultures of its time. I believe that the rules set in place were put there to protect women. But as time went on the purpose was forgotten and the grace of the rules were not being carried out.

For example the ancient law states that a woman’s husband were to die and she didn’t have a son, she should marry his brother. Now the reason initially for this was so then the land land could stay in the family, but also so the woman could be cared for. In that time and age women could not get jobs.

Women were very limited to what they could do. In order to leave the house they had to have the permission of either their father or husband and be doubly veiled. Then even when they were out they could not speak to any men that were not their brothers, husbands, or father.

A woman could not be a witness in court. According to the Talmud the reason is because: “Women are temperamental and light-headed.” Also because in Genesis 18:9-16 Sara lies to the man that she laughed when he tells her that she will have a son in a year.

However despite all this, when Jesus came he was extremely radical when it came to the issue of women. He spoke to them in public, he taught them, he even touched a woman who was suffering a bleeding disorder, which in that day in age would have been scandalous. But we shall save all this for another post.

 Another culture that did not treat women quite as well were the Greeks, specifically the Athenians. Despite everything I stated about the Israelite Law, I think I would rather be a Jewish woman than an Athenian woman. The view of women in the Athenian culture was poor.

Aristotle once said this about women: “Man is by nature superior to the female and so the man should rule and the woman should be ruled.”

Hipponax also wrote: “There are two days on which a woman is most pleasing—when someone marries her and when he carries out her dead body.”

Euripides, a famous Greek Playwright had female characters in his plays say disparaging things about their sex. For example:
a) I am only a woman, a thing which the world hates.
b) No cure has been found for a woman’s venom, worse than that of reptiles. We are a curse to man.
c) Men of sense should never let gossiping women visit their wives, for they work mischief.

And finally it was said “A man who teaches a woman to write should know that he is providing poison to an asp.”

If that doesn’t give you an idea of what Athenian men thought of their women I’m not sure what will.

The Spartan women however were different. While they were still seen as vessels to bear children and to run the house while the man was gone, they enjoyed more freedoms then their Athenian sisters. For example, Spartan women had would be given an education, they would learn poetry, dance, art, and basic fighting skills. They also would leave the house and compete in competitions such as races, javelin throwing, and wrestling, something that would have been unheard of in Athenian Culture. Spartan women could also inherit, however it was only half of what a son would receive.

Lastly we have the Egyptian Culture. Of all the ancient cultures the Egyptians were the most sophisticated in its treatment of women.

The Egyptian culture actually mirrored much of our own American Society today. Women could own land, have jobs, they could borrow money and sign contracts, they could appear in court as witnesses. Egyptian women could even initiate divorce, something that only men could do in other cultures.

In conclusion, as we see most ancient societies looked down on women and it was a common thing to do. Some were crueler to women than others and some had good intentions that got lost somewhere along the way.

Thank you for reading this long post. Next week we will move on ahead to the Medieval Ages and see what life was like for women then.


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