From Eve to Dawn: A History of Women in the World by Marilyn French (2008) Volume 1: Origins. Foreword by Margaret Atwood.
Marilyn French has a smooth writing style that is easy to read but still packs a punch by her coherence and context for absorbing new information.
The book is divided into 3 basic parts: 1. Parents, 2. The Rise of the State, 3. Gods, Glory, and Delusions of Grandeur. Under the States part it is a treat to go back all the way to Peru, Egypt, and Sumner. Other nations include a chapter on China, India, Mexico and a concluding analysis on the State in the abstract. She adds descriptors to identify the nature of the respective states: Secular=China, Religious = India, Militaristic = Mexico.
Under the Gods portion she covers Judaism, Greece, Rome, Christianity, Islam. There are number of supplemental notes, a glossary, a bibliography, and and index as well as some maps.
Here’s a bit from Margaret Atwood’s foreword:
Women who read this book will do so with horror and growing anger: From Eve to Dawn is to Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex as won is to poodle. Men who read it might be put off by the depiction of the collective male as brutal psychopath, or puzzled by French’s idea that men should “take responsibility for what their sex has done.” . . . However, no one will be able to avoid the relentless piling up of detail and event — the bizarre customs, the woman-hating legal structure, the gynecological absurdities, the child abuse, the sanctioned violence, the sexual outrageous — millennium after millennium. How to explain them? Are all men twisted? Are all women doomed? Is there hope? French is ambivalent about the twisted part, but, being a peculiarly American kind of activist, she insists on hope. (p.x)
Her intention was to put together a narrative answer to a question that had bothered her for a long time: how had men under up with ALL THE POWER — specifically, with all the power over women? Had it always been like that? If not, how was such power grasped and then enforced? Nothing she had read had addressed this issue directly. In most conventional histories, women simply aren’t there. Or they’re there as footnotes. (p.xi)
Atwood also reference the notable classic Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond (a good read). This was a comparison to there Origins section on under-gatherer societies.
No society, says French, has ever been a matriarchy — that is, a society in which women are all-powerful and do dastardly things to men. But societies were once matrilineal: that is children were thought to descend fro the mother, not the father. Many have wondered why that state of affairs changed, but change it did; as agriculture took over, and patriarchy set in, women and children came to be viewed as property — men’s property, to be bought, sold, traded, stolen, or killed.
As psychologists have told us, the more you mistreat people, the more pressing your need to explain why your victims deserve their fate. A great deal has been written about the “natural” inferiority of women, much of it by the philosophers and religionmakers [sic] whose ides underpin Wester society. Much of this thinking was grounded in what French calls, with wondrous understatement, “men’s insistent concern with female reproduction.” Male self-esteem, it seemed, depended on men not being women. All the more necessary that women should be forced to be as “female” as possible, even when — especially when — the male-created definition of “female” include the power to pollute, seduce, and weaken men.
With the advent of larger kingdoms and complex and structure religions, the costumes and interior decoration got better, but things go WORSE FOR WOMEN. Priests — having arguably displaced priestesses — came up with decrees from the gods who had arguably replaced goddesses, and kings obliged with legal codes and penalties. There were conflicts between spiritual and temporal power brokers, but the main tendency of both was the same: MEN GOOD, WOMEN BAD, by definition. Some of French’s information boggles the mind: the “horse sacrifice” of ancient India, for instance , during which the priests forced the raja’s wife to copulate with a dead horse. The account of the creation of Islam is particularly fascinating: like Christianity, it was woman-freindl at the start and supported and spread by women. But not for long. . . .
Then came the French Revolution. At first women as a caste were crushed by the Jacobins despite a key role they have played in the aristocracy-toppling action. As far as the male revolutionaries were concerned, “Revolution was possible only if women were utterly excluded from power.”
Liberty, equality, and fraternity did not include sorority. when Napoleon got control “he reversed every right women had won.” Yet after this point, says French, “women were never again silent.” Having participated in the overthrow of the old order, they wanted a few rights of their own. . . .
And so things move on and women, while participating in revolutions, and struggling for emancipation, disappointed awaited.
“Sexual freedom meant liberty for men and MATERNITY for women,” says French. “Wanting sex without responsibility, men charged women who rejected them with “bourgeois prudery.” . . .To treat women as equals without reference to women’s reproduction. . . is to place women in the impossible situation of being expected to reproduce society and maintain it, all at the same time and alone. (pp. xi-xii)
This material must be in another volume, indeed she references volume 4 and this one is volume one. So that will take a lot more reading. I was particularly interested in this volume because of the material on totalitarianism.
The book took her more than fifteen years to write. Originally 10,000 pages long. But just think about how many pages have been devoted to the male experience! Einstein’s life is one man with dozens of books on him and much more. I would like to see a visualization of all the books in the library of Congress that predominantly are about men and their activities in a pie chart and see if there is even a big enough sliver to see books about women visible in the chart. Publishers were intimidated so she had to cut some material which she now rejects and can’t easily repeat. The world changed as she wrote and so she cut parts that she predicted for example because by the time the books were near publishing her predictions had happened and were virtually done and over with. One change she notes was the fall of the Soviet Union and their odd transformation to a capitalism while retaining dictatorial government. The fools adopted industrialization without regulation and in China people can barely breathe. They bought into the false doctrine of “free trade” and have also had the gap between rich and poor spread.
Economic changes hit the most vulnerable people hardest, and everywhere in the world, women and children are the most vulnerable. Women and children make up FOUR-FIFTHS of the poorest people on earth. one consequence of these economic developments is a huge increase in slavery, trade in human beings, which particularly affects women, who are nowadays bought and sold across the globe for use as PROSTITUTES and SLAVE LABORERS — and in China, as SLAVE-WIVES. Unlike earlier forms of slavery, this form is illegal, yet thrives everywhere.
But women continue to fight for egalitarian treatment despite the double-standards, women in Iran (a religious dictatorship) and Egypt (a secular dictatorship) try to work within the law. The Iranian government frequently imprisons, whips, and even kills women who challenge its standards; Egypt imprisons them. Government does not get involved in Pakistan, Afghanistan, or the former Soviet Republics, where women who appear to deviate from the oppressive more code are PUNISHED AND ILLED BY THEIR OWN FAMILIES — their fathers or brothers [or females too] — or their village councils. Yet women go on protesting. (pp. 2-3)
One of the most terrifying peer control or Shiria police is the hacking to death of anyone deemed to have blasphemed even if not your religion because that is maybe worse to be a nonbeliever and a blasphemer. The book shows some of its datedness given the upheavals in the Middle East since, gosh, where to put the start point? Kuwait? 9/11, Iraq 1, Iraq 2? Current Iraq, Syria, argh, pretty much everyone plus Russia decided to get all international again.
Here is a big DUH:
Men involved in fundamentalist movements see feminism as a threat. Feminism is simply the belief that women are human beings with human rights. Human rights are not RADICAL claims, but merely basic rights — the right to walk around in the world at will, to create the air and drink water and eat food sufficient to maintain life, to speak at well and control one’s own body and its movements, including its sexuality. Fundamentalists deny women this status, treating them as if they were no human being created by a deity to serve men, who own them. Fundamentalist movements thrust the history of women into a tragic new phase. Across the globe, men who see feminism as a threat to their dominance are clamping dow with religious fervor on women in order to maintain their dominance.
Control over a woman is the only form of dominance most men possess, for most men are merely subjects of more powerful men. But so unanimous is the drive for dominance in male cultures that men can abuse women across the board with IMPUNITY. A man in India who burns his wife to death in a dowry dispute has no trouble obtaining a second wife from another family that allegedly loves its daughter. Latin American and Muslim men who kill their wives under the guise of an “honor” killing have no trouble finding replacements.
Misogyny is not an adequate term for this behavior. It is rooted not in hatred of women, but in a belief that women are NOT HUMAN BEINGS, but animals designed to serve men and men’s ends, with no other purpose in life. Men in such cultures see women who resist such service as perverse, godless creatures who deny the purpose for which they were created. In light of the ubiquity and self-righteousness of such men, we need to consider the origins of their beliefs. (pp. 3-4)
The phrase pecking order comes to my mind. The white woman wife of a plantation owner who beats the black slave girl her husband rapes. Sex is not the only hierarchy humans have made to organize and classify themselves into, each worth more or less than people around the based on luck, work, talent, education, brains, brawn, whatever and anything that can arbitrarily found as a visible target. Women=breasts, blacks = skin color, attractiveness=blonde (?), eyes=blue, tall versus short, thin versus fat, married / not married, kids /no kids. The opportunities to despise are everywhere and I didn’t even get to RELIGION or COUNTRY OF ORIGIN or PATRIOTISM related issues (gun control). You can add marital status (married 50 miserable years – y=hooray, (4 marriages, non worked out = boo), cat lover or dog lover. Heck I think these are all things that dating sites are putting into their mixes to come up with compatible people. For example, as a serious cat lady, allergic to dogs, I would not even consider dating a man with dogs. Anyway, the point is that ultimately bullies will find something about you and shame you for it, particularly when it is nothing you can change. If it is something you can change and you do, then they laugh at you for changing! There is some deep evolutionary flaw in human beings to lead us down this path of mutually assured destruction.
Tall, white, blond men, with blue eyes, law degree from Harvard (standing in the class unknown), walks in a bar. Eyes a short black woman with brown eyes and braided hair. He thinks, I could rape her. She thinks, I better leave before he comes after me. Mix the characteristics anyway you want and you still come down to the most imaginable scenarios being the man wanting to “tap that” and the woman being afraid of being raped or killed. Males are predators and females are their herds. And they want to keep it that way, even if it is not consciously on their minds as ongoing hostility to women. The “little murders” of daily life, leaving the empty coffee pot to be refilled in the office kitchen. Mansplaining and interrupting and outright idea theft with a dash of gas lighting just enough to convince the rest of “boys” that that little gal was trying to poach the man’s idea. It is endless, really. Men should be attuned to it and see how they would feel if their privilege were neutralized. They’d be screaming little pigs. Loss of privilege doesn’t feel like equality to them, it feels like INEQUALITY.
She describes some of the usual reasons given for why society began with women in charge — they were capable of having children and the men didn’t figure out that sex 9 months before meant they had a claim on a child too. Of course in order to be sure the first born is killed after the man hooks up with a woman because they were not sure how long between act and consequence. Naturally this meant they had to make sure no one else had sexual access to “their” women and thus began the various control mechanisms still in effective use today.
What we call the state arose first in Sumer and Egypt, and soon afterward, in China. It arose because certain men, not satisfied with dominance over women, wanted to dominate men. To this end, they introduced the two major instruments of patriarchy: WAR and RELIGION. (p. 12)
She discusses the varieties of gods and goddesses and such like.
Unlike the goddesses, male gods made decrees: they dictated rules. All present world religions are patriarchal and male-dominant, and willfully deny godhead to women, from the early and very harsh laws of Manu, which form Hindu las, to the Jewish man’s daily prayer thanking god for not making him a woman, to the founding mystery of the Catholic Church, a Trinity made up of a father who alone creates a son, who together with him creates the Holy Ghost. Mohammed, who started out treating women as almost equal to men, himself changed as he aged, and the Hadith, the books commenting on the Koran, present a long record of Muslim leaders increasingly confining women and DENYING THEIR HUMANITY. (p. 13)
The clever rascals, or strongest and most ruthless, found that having power was useful and the move to patriarchy began starting with “authoritarian rule by the fathers.”
Early states were formed by one warrior who set himself up as king, general family claimed to be humanly superior to all others by virtue of their relationship to deity. This was the beginning of a class system. Some early class systems may have been related to color. Caste, the Indian word for class, means color in Portuguese. (p. 13-14)
The conjoining of male authoritarian leadership to a deity gave them the would be “divine” kings more authority than they could claim on their own merits. The Greeks came along and had an “extremely” discriminating set of laws against women.
In the beginning, upper-class women may not have been bound by rules binding other women. . . . until Alexander . . . . There are records of women pharaohs (although they have been partly erased) women were rulers and military generals in China, empresses in Japan, and the heads of households in Egypt. But over tie as the goddesses were demoted into barmaids and prostitutes, women were all treated as servants, whatever their class — consider Athena, waiting on Achilles in The Odessey.
Early states were ruled by men who filled the position of chief general, head of state, and head priest. . . . Increasingly rulers required the supremacy of a male god. The people demurred, they liked their goddesses and would not switch. As late as the Roman Empire, governments tried various stratagems to displace goddesses. The conflict is apparent in inadvertent slips in the sacred books — in the Vedas, the Old Testament, and Persian history. (pp. 13-15)
Basically, it seems like once men figured out that women were no different that a cow in terms of dropping a child and it was not a miraculous goddess functionary, they began to treat women like cows they owned. Since the women found themselves legislated out of humanity and turned into chattel, denied access to education, genitally mutilated to prevent them from experiencing sexual pleasure, even some African tribes that sewed young girls’ vaginas closed (no anesthesia) to preserve their virginity and these stitches were not even released upon marriage but were simple jammed and torn open by the male penis penetrating the child bride.
Women in America have made some progress but there are serious, deadly serious, people actively working to repeal the hard won rights to abortion, for example. Or contraception. We still do not get equal pay much less comparable worth pay. However, as the author points out, women who have benefited are geographically isolated and still the benefits are often class-based. We still have double standards that doom us before we even try something (too fat, too bitchy, too this and too that and never good enough).
But think of the horror, the absolute horror of women living elsewhere in the world. Multiple wives, sex slaves, house servants, not showing face in public, not being allowed in public without a male relative (even a male child makes it acceptable). FGM – atrocity! The punishments for men and women are way out of scale for the offenses: death for blasphemy, or for apostasy, or for adultery (women). The fucking Pope stills sit on his purported deified sanctified throne in his castle and continues the mandate the some churchmen back in the day made a rule that NO SPERM be wasted, and therefore Catholic converts are not allowed to wear condoms in Africa. And so they all die from AIDS. Very godly, cursing generations with diseases and death on principle. Ditto birth control, and the usual sexual controls like slut shaming women, but encouraging men to fuck as much and as often as possible. What a system!
I remember reading about how Indian wives were thrown on the bier when their husbands die. Can’t have any old infertile infirm woman around to take up resources and take up some of the estate that otherwise would go to sons I am sure. I recently read that the practice, though illegal, still does take place and the law looks away.
In America, during domestic disputes, the police often end up walking away or arresting both parties. People claim to want equal pay for equal work but no one does anything to make it so. For example, the IRS has access to all the data and could do pattern recognition to find out who was cheating their women and/or people of color out of wages. Or, instead of specially identifying bad behaviors by companies, just accept it as a given and let the government pay cash equivalent out to all women to make up the difference between equal pay and cheater pay. ditto for Social Security funding as well. Women get short-changed by women dominated labor depressed wages by losing time to be caregiver to babies and parents for no pay, and loose seniority, and promotions because they have to pick the kids up at school so the man in the office gets the big project to lead.
None of this is petty, just as cat calling, and pussy remarks, and being called bitch and slut routinely is not as bad as female genital mutilation, but the fixes for both are not mutually exclusive. We just have to change hearts and minds to become kinder and considerate and respectful of women who are also human beings with all the rights that brings with it.
I wish I knew how to do that, but I don’t understand the pervasive hatred of women throughout history.
I’m just going to jump around here and there to comment on things because I am in a fragile emotional space between Hillary cheating Bernie and the rise of Trump and the ignorant unwashed masses who wear hand made T-shirts urging Trump to grab their pussy. Honestly, we do need a civil war of sorts; one that puts all the stupid authoritarian theocrats in one half of the country and anyone with an IQ of 100 or higher in another location. Maybe a third territory for lawyers. I am sick of living in a country where women are considered breeders and sex objects and get no respect or even equal wages. Plus women do virtually all the “emotional work” as it is called these days (keeping social connections necessary for work and community), care taking of children and aged parents, and are still supposed to be ready for hot sex on demand for their “man” and by god, you’d better be wearing useless sexy lingerie and not be one pound more than when you were married even if the man is a couch potato with a beer belly so big he hasn’t seen his penis in years.
We owe a huge debt to the Greeks for basically all of Western Civilization. It would be wonderful to go back in time and rescue some of the many works of literature and art and science that were lost through war or the loss of the Alexandria library. Greece is the subject of chapter 8, starting on p. 204 and right away I learned things I had no clue about despite considerable study of Greek art, some Greek language, and much of the writing of the period.
Ad hoc leaders led religious functions; justice was handled privately. . . . The king and the bureaucrats counted and recorded all peoples’ material possessions: average, animals, even pots. It was a slave society, and most, if not all, slaves were women. (p. 204)
I did not recall ever hearing about a society where justice was handled privately. The mind boggles. How can anyone think that justice can be handled in a family authority structure where women are required to behave one way unquestioningly and no other options were acceptable? How can there be justice in that?
Not entirely surprised to learn that most of the slaves were women. Women are disadvantaged from birth by being weaker. By puberty nature does the punishing with menstruation that can often be disabling and though the men all want to put their dicks in there, there is nothing but shame about all things related to lady parts unless, of course, the man wants to suck it or do something sexual to the woman. Men love big breasts in general, but only as squeeze toys, not when they are used for feeding a baby. EVERYONE KNOWS WOMEN HAVE PERIODS. WTF is the problem that some asshole men decided to have this perfectly natural event — for at least 40 fucking years once a month (40 years x 12 months = 480 periods potentially lasting up to 5 days, which means the average women will be bleeding out of her wherever 2,400 days over her life, barring pregnancy or surgical intervention. That’s a lot of time to feel like crap worse is the possibility of having a kid every year until you die. A fate especially likely if you are a slave or bound to a brothel.
And the first aspect of the Greek religion we get in all its glory is when Hades (god of hell) kidnaps and rapes Persephone, the daughter of the goddess, Demeter who searches for Persephone when she does not come home.
Angry with Zeus (the top god) for permitting the violation of her daughter, she make the Earth barren and creates winter. Fearing the destruction of the Earth, Zeus promises Persephone’s release if she has not eaten anything. But she has eaten some pomegranate seeds (the number varies), so she may spend only six months (or two-thirds) of the year with her mother and the rest in Hades. The cult of Demeter was open to Greeks of all sexes and classes. (p. 205)
A culture with a (presumably somewhat omniscient) top god that allows a goddess’s daughter to be kidnapped and raped, does not bode well for the authority of women in their society. And then too, one might presume that Zeus was already aware that Persephone had eaten the seeds. While not specified, she was gone a considerable period of time, so gosh, big surprise she ate something. How was she to know that her release would be conditional on something so arbitrary? Reminds me of all of the history of the lives of women that they are controlled and beset by laws, and rules, and beliefs, and superstitions about them as women that has no comparison with the treatment of the male sex.
Despite signs of ancient goddess worship, women are men’s domestic and sexual servants in the earliest Greek records. In the Homeric epics . . . noblewomen make beds, do laundry, spin weave, and prepare and serve food. (p. 205)
She does not discuss (at least not right here) what obligations men have towards their domestic and sexual servants. One presumes a bed, food, and clothing, but I wouldn’t count on it since that would literally take money out of a man’s pocket and fully at his discretion. I will have to look that up to confirm my suspicions.
She makes a fascinating point that I had never even considered as significant before but it really is a game changer relating to the power or lack thereof of women.
Around 800 BCE cities arose, centered on a marketplace and surrounded by fortifications. Each was a state like the Sumerian city-states, a polis ruled by a king and council. Conflict often led councils to depose kings. Rule by a group of unrelated men — oligarchy — allows women less voice than any other form of government. Rule by a man — king, emperor, pharaoh — with family frequently grants women influence and sometimes even public power, because women often have power within families. This is true in family-based feudal or aristocratic regimes. But group rule by UNRELATED MEN evokes male solidarity, because men are in constant rivalry. Since unrelated men are connected only by their difference from women, men in oligarchies must demonstrate independence of, even CONTEMPT for women to prove they are “real” men. The term “oligarchy” usually denotes ancient states, but most modern governments are oligarchies. . . .the United States. . . are governed by groups of unrelated men. (pp. 205-206)
I had to look up oligarchy because I had not seen it used as a sex based power group before. Although I am pretty sure the oligarchy of the U.S. is probably completely male in character. The few token women, in Congress, on the courts, and potentially in the White House do not seem to me to be enough quantity to make a difference. Especially since these women are all bound by wealth as a class en par with the men. Remember our toady politicians are merely a puppet show for the real ruling class, the powerful wealthy men of corporations. The rule by the rich is distinguished as a plutocracy. I’m not sure anyone I have read tossing the word oligarchy around is even aware of the sex-based criteria.
Long story short the rich, ruthless, and powerful set up puppet pretense of government but was really ruled by “the ephorate, a board of five men who presided over the council and the assembly, controlling most aspects of Spartan society.”
There were three classes: Spartiates, perioeci (dwellers around”), and serfs. Spirtiates, a twentieth of the population, had ALL THE POLITICAL RIGHTS. The perioeci — a free, mainly Laconian middle-class subject to Sparta — were permitted to trade and manufacture, but were obliged to serve in Spartan armies. Helots, 80 percent of the population, could keep what they they produced beyond what was taken by the Spartiates. They could leave the Pelopnneus, but if they returned they would be totally enslaved. They were treated shamefully, but most remained. (pp. 206-207)
It would have been useful here if she more clearly identified male and female roles in these classes. I don’t recall women being forced to serve as soldiers. Periods and weakness and vulnerability to disabling pregnancy never has made women optimal for combat. All due respect to those that can. Would that we all were that strong, then we would not have been sex slaves for most of history. And serfs, there always seem to be serfs. In science fiction dystopias there are always serfs. But mostly there are always PROSTITUTES, the world’s oldest profession ha ha ha. Most of the time they fall into the hooker with a heart of gold these days, as if that makes their profession less demeaning. The hero of the story invariably gets laid for free, the prostitute enjoys the sex act, and willingly wants more sex from the hero, again at no charge. A whole thesis on the nature of prostitution and marriage or at least monogamy must be out there somewhere.
Sparta regulated citizens as strictly as the serfs: barred from agriculture and business, they were trained as an exclusively military class (like Aztec males). Boys began military training at seven; at twelve, they were taken from home, never to return. They learned music (battle songs) and law, but they were frequently and brutally whipped to teach them obedience and to suppress individuality. Youths drafted into the secret police were sent to infiltrate the helots and to murder potential rebels or subversives. At maturity they entered the army and spent the rest of their lives in austere male institutions, in HOMOSOCIAL AND HOMOSEXUAL activities., living in barracks and eating in mess halls. [I wonder if the women did the cooking and cleaning?] The talented were REWARDED by being sent to the front lines of battle.
Sparta was sex segregated. Women often thrive in such societies. In simple societies like the Hopi, for instance, men have higher status, but women have considerable power in their own realm because it is their own realm. Accounts of life in harems often stress the relative freedom and scope available to women within them. Since a major drive of male supremacy is to prove control, it requires a caste or class to be controlled. Usually, this group is women. But Spartan men had to spend all their energies controlling the 80 percent of the population that was enslaved, so they did not have energy or interest left over for women.
So women had considerable freedom [!!!!]. Sparta had MALE infanticide: all girls were reared to adulthood, but boys, examined at birth, were exposed if they showed signs of weakness or sickliness. In contrast with other Greek cities, Spartan girls were decently fed and trained in philosophy, rhetoric, racing, wrestling, and throwing the discus and javelin. Boys were trained to be soldiers; girls, strong mothers. Both performed athletics at public festivals naked or wearing a chiton (a short tunic that exposed one breast), a custom considered scandalous in other Greek cities.
The structure of society fostered homosexuality, and men shunned marriage. But the city needed warriors, so passed a law denying any unmarried men citizenship. Marriage was prearranged rape — men kidnapped women at night. But men spent little time with their wives; Plutarch rebaked that Spartans “had children before they ever saw their wives’ faces in daylight.” Female homosexuality although not mentioned, probably existed. Adultery was not a serious crime, nor was paternity an issue: Sparta wanted soldiers and did not much care how it got them. Like the Aztec, Spartans saw childbearing as a service to the state: the only tombs with names were those of men killed in battle and women killed in childbirth.
Spartan women had more freedom and autonomy than women in other Greek city-states. Leaving household work to slaves, women managed the home and reared the children, knowing that their sons were destined to become state property. They spent much of their time working out in gymnasia and making music. After land (previously owned by the state) could be bought and sold, Spartiate women, who could manage property, grew rich. By the fourth century BCE they owned two-fifths of the land in the sate and were so powerful that Aristotle blamed Sparta’s decline on them. (pp. 206-208)
Typical everything is always the women’s fault even when they are compelled to follow the rules set by the men! Ha ha ha. She goes on to mention that “Other Greek cities [though admiring Sparta] did not imitate the Spartan model because they thought its perfect order was a result of freeing women — which they were unwilling to do.” (p. 209)
I guess this type of tidbit is what I find enraging. I understand she had to cut a bunch of stuff for publication but the phrase “freeing women” implies that women of all classes were not free at one point, and all or some were still not free based on class, and obviously on slavery. Too little information is given to have a real understanding of how the women in particular lived. She describes the barracks but not the homes of the women. Were they communal with the wives moving into the husbands’ parents homes? In terms of lesbianism, did some young women, mothers or not, take up communal living? Did they have dildos back then? How did they practice birth control or was it all about getting pregnant all the time? For all the thousands of pages and research, so much is left out that it is hard to get a sense of the home sizes, number of slaves, how household income and expenses was managed what with the men off in barracks. Did the State pay for the soldiers’ food, but not the wives doing their duty of making more soldiers? As usual, I am sure the women were screwed and got nothing but whatever their husbands tossed their way after drinking and gambling with the other fellows. This book just tell us enough to really assess the degree to which women were truly free, if at all. Did they practice abortion on the sly? Did they deny sex to their husbands for fear of pregnancy too close to one just delivered? Did they have a clue about the relationship between sex and menstruation and birth and orgasms and breast feeding nutritional benefits?
Athens is what everyone thinks of when they think of what represents Greece. The culture of Athens “is held up as the pinnacle of human achievement; its thought and values still inform philosophy, politics, and literature.” [and ART!] (p. 209)
Yet this culture defined humans by omitting most of the human race, just as Athenian “democracy” omitted most Athenians.
From the start, elite Athenian men’s sense of themselves and their city was explicitly HOSTILE TO WOMEN. Greek scholar Eva Kreuls shows that the earliest, most widespread myth of the founding of Athens was a battle between Greek heroes and the Amazons, a mythical society of warlike women who were as brave and strong, and skilled as men. There is a possibility that Amazons existed: Herodotus wrote of a battle between them and greek solders in the fifth century BCE. According to legend, these fierce women cut off their right breast so as to improve their skill at archery. (p. 210)
I disagree that it would improve their skills but it would be easier to do archery without big soft protuberances in the way. Charming aside refers to “portrayals abound of a band of Greek men stabbing attacking, and clubbing naked Amazons and carrying them off to rape them. Over eight hundred [800!!!] depictions survive in painting, sculpture, pottery, in the western metopes of the Parthenon, in the Temple of Theseus, and in the Stoa Poikile (Painted Porch). (p. 320)
Charming decor for the ladies to enjoy.
In any interesting note relevant to our growing economic inequality, she describes how the discovery of iron helped them become more prosperous but that did not mean that everyone benefitted from the gains:
But “prosperity,” a deceptive term, often intensifies stratification, enriching a few and impoverishing others. Many small farm families lost everything and were enslaved. Their rebellion led to political reorganization and the appointment of an aristocrat, Solon, to reform the legal code. Called a father of democracy, Solon prescribed reforms that, modified by later rulers, created a wholly new for of government. He limited the amount of land any man could own, prohibited enslavement for debt, established a governing council and court system, and gave all citizens suffrage and the right to serve in the assembly. He even offered Athenian citizenship to craftsmen from other cities. (p. 211)
Father of democracy my ass. Democracy cannot exist if women remain chattel and slaves and economically dependent on men as well as forced to be breeders for men who can just leave with little legal or financial consequences.
Once again maddening that she doesn’t specifically state at this point if women were included. On the following page she does say that “only about 6 percent of the population were citizens: women and slaves could not be citizens, and women were rigidly constricted.” More specifics did come on later pages.
The legal term for wife, damar, means “to subdue or tame.” Brides were welcomed with the same ritual as new slaves . . . . Women and slaves were unprotected in law, but fathers or husbands could not murder adult women [!!!!] as they could in Mesopotamia. (p. 212)
WTF? Does that mean they could kill girl children with impunity?
Solon legally distinguished between “good women” and “whores” (who were put in state-owned brothels), regulating where “good women” could go, how far they could walk, what they could eat and drink, what they could serve at feasts or were when mourning, and what could be included in their trousseaus. He even established secret police to spy on them.
Female infanticide was common: families might choose to raise more than one sone but thought it unnecessary to raise more than one daughter. Some killed all their daughters; others raised their daughters as servants in their own homes. Killing babies was illegal, but abandoning them was not. Disposal location determined a baby’s fate: those left in conspicuous places were found and raised AS BROTHEL SLAVES; the hidden died. [a mercy!] Girls were fed little, and almost no protein. The state was not concerned about the low proportion of females in the population because many men were homosexual and married late; females married successively. Girls of twelve or fourteen were married to men over thirty, who often died in Athens’ frequent wars: many were dead by forty-five leaving widows under thirty who were passed on to another husband to bear more children. Despite high war casualty rates, men lived longer than women, averaging forty-five years to women’s thirty-six — probably because poor diet and early motherhood, before their bodies were fully grown. (pp. 212-213)
Gee ya think? Basically girls and women were sex slaves and servants who were fated to bear children until they died in childbirth. And since the men were often homosexual they were not even loved.
Like Spartiates, Athenian men married reluctantly. But only male descendants could maintain a family’s legal existence; only males could memorialize ancestors in religious rituals, so the state appointed a magistrate to ensure that no family became extinct (lacked male descendants). MARRIAGE WAS MANDATORY FOR MEN.
Wedding ritual denied the purpose of marriage to be the “plowing of legitimate children.” Sexual pleasure was not expected: it was considered OBSCENE to combine marriage and desire. Women had to be virgins at marriage and faithful after it. “Respectable” women probably never undressed in front of their husbands: female nudity was associated with prostitutes and hetaerai (women trained in social and intellectual graces, like India’s courtesans and Japanese geishas). Men hired them for dinner parties, to which they never took their wives. MARITAL SEX WAS OFTEN RAPE: a passage in an Athenian work describes a “doorkeeper.” perhaps a common attendant at weddings whose job it was to guard the bedroom door to prevent the bride’s women friends from rushing in when they heard her scream. (pp. 212-213)
Charming huh? Kind of like the democracy we brought to Iraq where you still don’t see women out in public alone, or the Saudi women forbidden to drive. I am not sure that there has ever been a society that esteemed and worshipped women for their ability to bring forth the next generation. The very early matriarchy systems still had issues I expect of domestic violence and rape. It seems to be in the DNA.
Marriage was unhappy, by law. Athenian law held a man’s acts INVALID if her was sick, constrained, senile, or under the influence of drugs or a WOMAN — and in marriage, mutuality means influence. Spouses were separated by age, experience, and education: boys were educated, girls not; girls were sequestered, boys not. Women were confined not just to the house but to a SECTION of the house for LIFE. A women’s police monitored their activities. Female slaves, locked in the women’s quarters at night, could not have children without their male owners’ permission. Compared to luxurious foreign cities, Athens was poor, with small dark houses and narrow streets. Women spent their days in cramped sweatshops, working and supervising slaves, bombarded by commands not to be seen or heard. A Greek writer held that proper women were ashamed to be seen even by members of their household; a fourth-century orator rebuked the “respectable women” who hovered in their doorways asking for news after Athens was defeated in war, for letting themselves be seen, bringing “shame on themselves.” Pericles said a woman who leave her house should be of such an age that those who meet her would ask not whose wife, but whose mother, she is.
Women were also nameless. Only male children were listed in phratry (tribe) records. To claim citizenship, boys had to be descended from two citizen parents, but what was recorded were the fathers’ and the maternal grandfathers’ names. Daughters must have been called something, but women’s names rarely appear.
Rape was an obsession in Athens. The number of rapes in Greek mythology is shocking even if one follows only the career of Zeus or Apollo. The Love of the Gods in Attic Art of the Fifth Century B.C. lists 395 cases of rape by major Olympic male gods. Several easy myths connect rape with marriage, giving it social sanction (as in Sparta).
The Athenian world was arranged to provide nourishment, leisure, and well-being for male citizens. Men spent little time in their dark, squalid, unsanitary, smelly houses; rather, they passed their days gossiping and politicking in light-filled public squares and buildings. Taught the opposite ethic from women, en were idle and scorned those who worked; leisure was the prerequisite for citizenship according to Aristotle. The only activities proper for men were games — philosophical debate, athletics, and war. Boys were taken from the women’s quarter at six, after which they ate with the men of the house. They were educated professionally outside the home, trained in athletics at public palestras and gymnasia, and given military training. . . . (pp. 214-215)
Pederasty (sex with a child) was a rite of passage: boys were forced to submit to anal sex with older “lovers.” Receiving the penis was considered humiliating, and sodomizing was used to initiate boys into male supremacist behavior. Mutual sex between adult men was not accepted, yet this form of hierarchical homosexuality was practiced, suggesting that Athenians were wary of sex that did not involve power. (pp. 215-216)
It just gets worse from there. Even sex with prostitutes “also involved force.” Paintings illustrated with men beating women, with the women always portrayed naked, and often performing fellatio, or anal copulation with prostitutes or hetaerai. In other words, women were worth less than farm stock, treated worse than any human deserved to be, and lived to pleasure men by submitting to violence in all its forms. Like the ability to easily recognize an outsider in a neighborhood by the color of their skin or other characteristics, women were obviously and visibly identifiable and dared not show themselves on the street at all because death or confinement to a brothel would then be their fate. Uneducated, and knowing nothing about biology, and being treated like shit since you were a baby certainly was not conducive to raising up a protest or leaving for the great unknown where they were as likely as not to be similarly enslaved. Plus no doubt there were threats and repercussions for disobedience, apart from physical torment, denial of food, killing of children or relations seems to have been condoned.
Women had some rights. Fathers or husbands could not KILL THEM FREELY. [also know as hunting accidents in Utah] Able to make financial transactions under the value of one medimnos of barley (which could keep a family for a few days), women were small market dealers. The daughter of a propertied family had the right to a dowry. Her husband got it at marriage; she could not use it or approve its use, but if he divorced her, he had to return it with interest. [blood from rock] Men “owned” everything and the law required them to support wives living with them, but, in fact, women supported men by their household labor and household production. By law subject to a kyros (“lord”) father, husband, or some FOREVER, women could not be independent. A female could inherit if she was the only child, but she had to marry her father’s nearest male relative to guarantee that the property remained in his family. If her father died after she was married, she had to leave her family to marry an uncle or cousin less than a generation older than the deceased. She never controlled the property of which she was the vehicle.
Adultery by a “citizen” woman (a woman whose father was a citizen) was punished by mandatory divorce and exclusion from festivals and religious ceremonies — the equivalent of being denied any freedom. [no details on rape as a factor] A man who copulated with a married woman was KILLED. This punishment may seem a reversal of customs elsewhere, but the Athenians; major concern was guaranteeing the “integrity” of the “family” — the sons’ legitimacy. For a man to retry this male code was a serious crime. Men who raped or seduced unmarried free women were fined, and the women were SOLD INTO SLAVERY. (pp. 216-217)
Okay, I can’t take any more of this shit. It is a wonder that women didn’t commit suicide by the hundreds. I sure would have, but I would have tried to take my rapist or “husband” down with me.
I had thought the culture that gave us so much intellectual thought would at least treat the “citizen” women better. I should not be so surprised. But at least I cannot blamed such evil minded hatred of women solely on religious dogma then since these were all manmade rules and laws, with no imaginary deity commanding women be sold into brothels for having been raped.
Fascinating side note, “Theano, a mathematician expert in medicine physics, and psychology, articulated the theory of the “golden mean” credited to her husband, Pythagorus.” (p. 217)
So men have been taking credit for women’t discoveries forever! Wikipedia doesn’t have an entry for her and his entry makes no mention of a wife, much less a learned one. There is no footnote for a source for this assertion, but Wikipedia does say that colleagues and others were also said to have discovered the theorem, so maybe a wife. He sure as hell wouldn’t give her credit since she was a woman. Vanity thy name is man.
Does the name Septimius Severus Snape ring a bell? Readers of Harry Potter will know (slightly spelled differently). So will readers of Machiavelli’s The Prince (usually a mandatory read on some college or high school lists). I suspected there was a story behind the choice, but didn’t know until now that there was a Roman military leader who seized the throne of Rome in the third century. Machiavelli listed Severus as the best of 50 Roman generals. He was by Machiavelli’s often twisted interpretation of what was praiseworthy, but not actually necessarily a good person.
The name came up in a discussion on women in Rome on page 235. Rome started off having strong women and then the men gradually eroded their rights over time. The author asserts it was the action of the behind-the-scenes women of nobility that allowed Roman peace to flourish over the centuries, but after they were excluded more and more, that is when problems arose. I’m not so sure. I watched (and read “I, Claudius” and have read a number of other fiction but historically accurate books, and I am sure some stuff came along in my five years of Latin class, anyway I am pretty sure the women were just as vicious as the men. She describes quite a bit of the old trope that it is always the mother’s fault when little boys grow up to be bad men.
But historians from Tacitus and Suetonius on blame rulers’ brutality and the empire’s brutality and degeneracy on women. They claim that Livia murdered all other claimants to Octavius’ throne to promote her son Tiberius [successfully], that Agrippina the Elder cultivated the army to popularize her son Caligula [big mistake]; and that Claudius’s third wife, Messalina, committed every imaginable sexual excess and sadistic cruelty. She was eventually executed, but his next wife, Agrippina the Younger, was said to be even worse. [I don’t think this was in the PBS version.] They blame Nero’s behavior on his mother’s allegedly using sexual wiles on him, yet fail to mention that he had her executed. (p. 234)
Septimius comes into significance in that he married Julia Donna, who had a sister Maesa, and Maesa had daughters Soemisas and Mamaea. Bear with me, it’s complicated.
Donna, a philosopher, DESTROYED all those who challenged her influence on the emperor, even killing on how her sons to seize the throne for the more tractable Caracalla. When Septimius died, she ruled in Caracalla’s name. But he also died, and Maesa [Donna’s sister] took command of the army in the name of her grandson, Soemias’ son Elagabulus. When troops turned tail in defeat, Maesa and Semis leaped from their chariots to stop them. Soemias got what Livia and Agrippina had wanted — a senate seat with power to sign decrees.
Elagabulus [nephew of Septimius and Julia Donna] believed he was the god whose name he had taken; he married a Vestal Virgin to unite the religion of Rome with his own [????] and spent his time working wool. He could not rule, and Maesa [sister-in-law to Septimius, deceased] had him and Soemias [the sister-in-law’s grandson, now in the Senate] killed, then conspired with her daughter Mamaea to promote Mamaea’s son, Alexander Severus [Obviously named to be similar to, I think it would be, his great-grandfather but am to lazy to go back over the family tree to figure it out.] When Maesa died [the sister of Julia Donna who I guess died somewhere along the way here, naturally or not, and sister-in-law of Septimius], Mamaea [her daughter and mother of Alexander Severus] out-manipulated her son [Alexander Severus], took power for herself, and established a Senate of Women to complement the male Senate. [!!!!] Alexander abolished it, but it was occasionally restored later. (pp. 235-236)
Wow! I never knew any of that! A woman Senate! What a cool idea! I wonder which women she got to participate and if there were any risk of death to do so? This will make an amusing little research side project.
Anyway, I think all the killing and deposing and so on pretty much establishes that women by nature of their sex are no better than the men since absolute power corrupts absolutely. The author confirms this when she continues by stating that women rulers did not care about “the rights of women as a caste, and ordinary Roman women were not allowed to vote, run for public office, sit on juries, plead in court, or be legal guardians of their OWN children until Justinian in the sixth century CE. Only those with the Right of Three or Four Children could manage their affairs.” (p. 236)
The Three and Four thing is discussed previously, essentially women who popped out three children (either sex I think) gained some rights if they were citizens, other women had to have four children to qualify for whatever it was (not that much as I can’t even recall what it got them).
Meanwhile, common, poor, slave, and illiterate women, WHO WERE NOT GIVEN DOLE MONEY AS MEN WERE, walked the streets alone dealing with men, earning barely enough to survive.
Then she goes all flowery and noble, sigh, instead of pointing to the fact that the dole restriction meant that the government basically assumed that women could survive by prostituting themselves if they wanted to live and had no other opportunities.Kind of like our “welfare” today, only ours assumes that women are screwing for money and making babies for profit.
Yada yada yada. I could stop here because we are living the evangelical nightmare of authoritarian theocrats and would be Christian Nationalists. But a little history might help show how we got here, 2,000 years or so later.
Rome conquered Judea. Hey, if you have to pay the soldiers, you might as well make them earn it. Two main political parties (deja vu, we are a binary world) were in charge and one, of course, wanted to stay in power so sucked up to the Roman overloads. The Pharisees were the gang “believing a messiah would free them” from foreign control. A few other groups were influential including to my amusement a group of Zealots! They wanted to overthrow Rome by force. Ha ha ha ha ha. The largest empire in the world, but ya gotta love the spirit of the impulse. And of course there were the inevitable “Essenes, ascetic separatists, who renounced the world to achieve mystical atonement with god.” Again, ha ha ha ha ha.
During the reign of Tiberius an itinerant Jewish preacher . . . began to draw a large following.” (p. 237)
This makes it before all the Severius stuff mentioned previously.
She does not have a citation for the assertion “he avoided running afoul of the authorities by advocating the separation of religion and state” but presumably this is referring to the Biblical scene where Jesus says to pay the taxes to Caesar. Today’s Xtians would certainly argue that Jesus never envisioned a Christian Nation.
Alas, “Women were important propagators of Jesus’ message.”
Of course in the true beginning, Jesus was pretty darn equal about treating women and men similarly; “But he always treated both sexes as capable of salvation.”
But Jesus’ followers did not share his acceptance of women and omitted them or diminished their role when from 75 to 100 CE, they wrote gospel accounts of his life. Despite the obliteration of women’s letters, sermons, and new religion was missionaries, prophesying and presiding over house churches . . . . Following Jewish practice, they [rich women] endowed charities for women and orphans (who were not included in the Roman dole). (p. 239)
I just realized, the universal dole for men sounds a lot like a right to basic income, just not the universal part I support and advocate for today!
Long story short, in the beginning: “there was no dogma or hierarchy.” You can see the appeal of Jewish women being treated equally contrasted with the whole male morning prayer of thanking God for not making him a woman. The other attraction of Christianity was that for the first time in a long time, “. . .women had an alternative to marriage . . . . Single women could control their own lives, spiritual and physical.” Celibacy and virginity were a lot more attractive than giving up complete control of your life to become a wife and breeder subject to “unrestrained” men.
Rome tried to suppress the religion and intermittently persecuted Christians, killing 100,000 of them from North Africa to the Rhone Valley. Records show that most victims were WOMEN [duh], who were easier to seize and WILDLY POPULAR with the crowds thronging the arenas to see them killed.
Women’s religious communities lived free of male regulation. Women died — before the lions or at the stake — alone This freedom did not please the emerging hierarchy of the new church. “Much as they feared sexual temptation, clergymen feared women . . . withdrawn into a world without our men even more.” (pp. 242-243)
The story ends as it is today, the church formed a males only hierarchy and excluded women from positions of power, preaching, or leading rituals. But at least they could remain virgins.
Okay, getting bored and losing patience now. There are a few fun tidbits Like “Middle-class men burdened by taxes became priests or mons so they could live well untaxed.” Note, nothing was said about them maintaining virginity or denying themselves sexual pleasure at this point in time. Interesting distinction she made earlier was about the original meaning of celibacy was not to get married, not not to have sex. Not having sex is chastity. So if the church decreed “celibacy” that means that all those priests for hundreds of years could have had sex lives so long as they didn’t get married. Ha ha ha ha.
The Trinity, understandably called a mystery, lies at the heart of Christianity. It achieves two major goals: it posts a realm that transcends the physical world, in which reality is MADE BY THE WORD. History is filled with rulers who claimed divinity [or the will of divinity like today’s Republican politicians] to justify their superiority, but not until Christianity and the sacralizing of the notion that language creates reality does the debate between appearance and reality begin to pervade Western literature and thought. Increasingly, what is said — the Emperor has new clothes — is called real, while physical reality fades into invisibility or is denied. The Trinity procreates without the FEMALE — without body, blood, ooze, without nature, and superior to it. Generations of clerical writers, wishing that women did not exist, lamented that his sort of procreation was possible only to god. The church defined the divine realm in opposition to the earthly one, celebrating birth through utterance, death as life, the overcoming of sex and body, a realm where nothing changes and power and justice are one. (pp. 245-247)
There are more tidbits, like a Queen of Northumbria asking Pope Gregory I “doctrinal questions, including one on menstruation. Nature causes this flow, he wrote; women are not at fault, so there is no reason a menstruation woman should not receive communion. This policy would not endure.” I wonder which Pope decided to assert menstruation was dirty and shameful again.
As the new Christianity took over by dictate of Emperor Theodosius declared it the state religion, by 529 Justinian was destroying temples and beginning the attacks and exclusions of Jews. “The persecuted had become the persecutors.”
Nuns also created fie illuminated manuscripts. (p. 248) I did not know this, I always have seen it pictured and presented as monks’ work.
Italy evolved so that women “. . . could inherit money, property, and offices passed through lineages. Barred from holding office themselves, they controlled the men who did.” (p. 249)
The great power held by some women in this period intensified the virulent woman-hatred that pervaded Christianity. This vicious misogyny is rooted in its Judaic and Greek sources. In Judaism, woman lures man to disobedience (called “original sin” by the Christian Augustine); in the Greek tradition, woman is an inferior species, a deformed male. The misogynistic pseudo-Paul, whose utterances are conflated with Paul’s in the New Testament, order women to learn in silent submissiveness not to teach or have authority over men. Peter too wanted mown submissive, modest, and unadorned; the New Testament, epistles of Timothy and Titus held that only men could be bishops. Even clement and Origen found “active” maleness superior to “passive” femaleness. A rabid woman-hater, Terrullian, wrote around 200: “The sentence of God on this sex of your lives in this age. . . . You are the Devil’s gateway. You are the unsealed of that forbidden tree. You are the first deserter of the divine Law. You are she who persuaded him whom the Devil was not valiant enough to attack. You destroyed so easily God’s image, man. On account of your desert, that is death, even the Son of God had to die.” (p. 249)
Wow. Now that is one pissed off man. Funny note, he was considered a heretic when he wrote that. But like The Donald’s poisoned rhetoric, the aftereffects lived on.
Priests and monks blamed their lust on women’s filth and corruption. Not just Eve, but Woman, is weak, frivolous, fallen. Jerome challenged Gregory’s judgment that since menstruation was an innocent part of nature, menstruating women could take communion, writing: “Nothing is so unclean as a woman in her periods. . . What she touches she causes to become unclean.” By the third century, menstruating women could not approach the altar. By the late sixth century Christians had adopted the Judaic belief that childbirth was contaminating, requiring priestly purification. Men were lords over women, who should be meek, quiet, gentle, free from anger and stay at home. (pp. 249-250)
It just goes on from there with absolutely no rational reasoning for the misogyny. It was in the TENTH century reform by Pope Gregory VII to deny priests the right to marry (celibacy remember, not chastity).
Priests did not want to be celibate . . . they argued that they could not support themselves and would go hungry and naked without wives. Wives supported husbands who did NONPRODUCTIVE work, financially and physically, with their own domestic labor. Some brought dowries to the marriage, adding to church property. But the tenth century Bishop Arro of Vercelli attacked priests’ wives for opening church money, managing church lands, distracting their husbands from their duties, and drawing them into secular disputes. (p. 251)
Peter Damian (13th child of a minor noblewoman) takes up the challenge with a hysterical campaign to prohibit priests from marrying.
His cause was victorious and priests were barred from marrying: afterwards they took concubines who worked as hard as wives and bore children, but had no legal protections and could not claim the men’s estates. (p. 251)
The last chapter on Islam was particularly interesting since I knew so little, but essentially, once again, men win and women lose, and as usual women can be the enemy of women.
I sort of jumped into the traditional section of the book, but the first chapters cover many countries and peoples from various times. All quite fascinating, but equally horrifying like the Inca’s annual selection of 4 of the most perfect girls (ages 10-12), processionally delivered ceremoniously to be lowered into a waterless cistern and then walled in and left to die. It is not clear what direct benefit they expected from this sacrifice, and of course it was always only girls. The Inca also had a way of taking over another tribe. They did the 4 girls die thing, then if the people protest, they take away all the women rather than killing all the men. The men, as usual, not being able to feed themselves or make clothing, quickly agree to the leadership of the Inca.
She describes the first laws that make females inferior from Uruk (Sumer).
These laws list a new crime — adultery — that only won could commit. And in Sumer, a new occupation — prostitution — is devised by the temple priests. The coincidence (in the same culture, if not at the same moment) of an assertion of female inferiority and the criminalization of free sexuality in women, and the use of female sexuality in commercial transactions benefiting men demonstrates the new male vision of women: as sexual objects to be possessed and used by men.
Of course female sexuality is important to men; it is their main link to adult women, their reason for dependency on women. But it is not the only reason. Statistics show that, worldwide, women today work far harder than men, essentially maintaining them. With the exception of a tiny elite class, women have always worked. Their work supported Athenian and Hebrew men, for example. And early laws governed working women, limiting the amount of money a woman might handle or the kind of work she might do. No laws I know of require women to work, yet it was clearly mandatory that they do so in many societies: consider the Chinese scholars’ rage at women taking leisure for study and play, or the belief of Athenian men that it was women’s duty to run the home factory, or the insistence of Hebrew men that women do all the work while they sit in the city gate. Later societies had laws stating that women’s earnings belonged to their husbands [as were American slave wages when they were hired out]. The other area of women’s existence that men most regulated was their sexuality, which was also appropriated If women’s work was owed to men, so were their bodies.
All the societies we have examined created a legal double standard, invented to bring women under men’s control in all areas of life and to forbid any independent action on women’s part. There are differences among states: in Egypt and Babylonia, women for a long time retained the right to do business in the world and the right to inherit and function as priestesses. But almost all female rights vanished in Assyria, where law treated women strictly as property. [Damn, that kills my love of Assyrian art.] . . . .
Every state made it dangerous for a woman to go out of the house alone, either by law or by custom. Assyrian law implied that women alone on the street were seeking sexual business — as if that were the only motivation for a woman to go out — and were treated accordingly. . . . In other societies, the threat of rape hung over any woman who ventured out alone; women were blamed for their own rape in every society we have examined and they could be killed for it. Freedom of movement was either specifically forbidden or freighted wth peril for women.
It was eve more dangerous for women to take charge of their own reproduction by using abortifacients: this initiative was treason in Babylon and Assyria. The importance of abortion and birth control cannot be overstated. Because of female physiognomy and men’s generally greater physical strength (and in patriarchies, moral authority), men can rape women. Where men can rape, women cannot control their own bodies without access to birth control and abortion. Wise women in most societies probably had some knowledge of birth control and how to cause abortions. To deny women the right to use it is to deny them the right to a will of their own. (pp. 182-184)
Men consistently passed laws “that enforced women’s dependency, inability to act independently, obedience to men, sexual slavery, and fidelity.” An especially striking moment to me was a mention in another section pointing out that men could easily find places to live autonomous and relatively safe lives. Women cannot; women are practically designed to be prey for men. Especially with children, they need the help of other people for years at a time. Actually, it is somewhat surprising that more women didn’t abandon their infants and run for freedom, but there was no freedom anywhere in the world.
The cliches still current about male attitudes towards women are visible in the laws regulating female behavior in early states. Above all, men wanted to control women’s sexual and reproductive capacities. They even DENIED the female contribution [egg] to the fetus (e.g., Aristotle and European thinkers) and taught that female sexual pleasure depended on the penis. . . . These assumptions almost reverse the facts: the female contribution to the fetus is far greater than the male’s, and most females do not require a penile organ for sexual pleasure. We must question the reasons for men’s insisted concern with female reproduction.
The kinds of laws passed in the earliest states are enacted over and over again in later societies. An important motivation behind new forms of scientific or political thought is to subjugate or exclude women . . . . Given the degree of male will and power exercised against women throughout history, it is amazing that women remain a force to contend with.
Historians often debate whether women have more rights and capacities in religious or secular, Catholic or Protestant, capitalist or communist, or militaristic or humanitarian states. Such debates ASSUME THE OPPRESSION OF WOMEN is incidental to another aspect of culture. It is NOT: it is PRIMARY, whatever the agenda of a culture. All early states deprived women of their status as human beings and of the rights men possessed. Religious states like India used RELIGION to justify this constriction; China’s guiding secular philosophy, Confucianism, constricted women as much as India’s religious laws. Militarism tends to diminish women’t rights whenever it arises: military men take power by virtue of their accomplishments, not their birth, and do not need women to legitimate them. Moreover, soldiering is a brutal occupation which, like some male initiations, involves suppressing the emotions associated with women. (pp. 184-185)
The concluding paragraph to Part 2, The Rise of the State, is particularly good, and remember IT DOESN’T HAVE TO STAY THIS WAY.
After state formation, no one was autonomous: rulers depended on their subjects’ loyalty; members of the hierarchy depended on the tolerance of those above them and the obedience of those beneath them. Although men defined women and peasants as dependents and taught that their duty was to support their BETTERS, men, in truth , were highly dependent on women and elites have ALWAYS LIVED ON THE WORK OF PEASANTS. After state formation, only people of rank had rights; the lower classes had mainly OBLIGATIONS. They were bound to their superiors, but not the revers. [Think of “at will” employment myth.] State formation created new worlds — king, noble, royal, peasant, slave, serf, prostitute, concubine, treason, adultery — and a new world. (p. 168)
Must stop quoting and writing. She makes excellent points. I wish that she had done whole books on each chapter with lots of details and footnotes. Too much is not footnoted. And in the end it at leasts establishes that women who feel there is a war on women, it is pretty clearly truth. Now we need to change it. One major point on fixing it is that men have worked hard to keep women isolated in their homes, out of contact with other women. Even with the suburbs and Betty Friedan’s revelation that there is a real problem for women in our supposedly “free” country. And modern technology, contraception, abortion, made sisters of us all, able to share of stories and demand to be heard.
This election year has been particularly galvanizing for women’s solidarity, between the constant rapes, the continual attacks on women’s reproductive rights, and the boorishness of The Donald, men are starting to understand that the problem isn’t “#NotAllMen” but #MostDamnMen. It isn’t the single incidence of being told to “smile” by a drunk in the gutter, who as a man has still got more dignity than women are allowed. It is the CONSTANT barrage of being told to smile, show your tits, being told you talk to much, too loud, are too fat, too thin, too feminine, too masculine, too old, too stupid, too undeserving, and to shut up and be grateful you are allowed any rights at all.