Women’s Role and Status in Ancient Societies

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Introduction

Women in the ancient societies received cruel treatment. It is unfortunate that many ancient societies especially those in the third world countries regarded them as second-class citizens. Therefore, they had to cope with social prejudice and did not enjoy basic human rights such as freedom of speech and association. Gender stereotypes in the ancient societies affected their development and progress1. It is unfortunate that they could not rise against the injustices for fear of prosecution. The system of government in many ancient societies was patriarchal and did not involve women. Notably, the issues affecting them remained unaddressed because they did not have representatives in the local government or social institutions2. From a historical perspective, the ancient societies did not address the plight of women in almost all aspects of life.

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Mesopotamia

Treatment, role and status of women in the ancient Mesopotamia was not different from the case in other ancient societies. The system was patriarchal with the father being the family’s head and the breadwinner3. The woman’s role was to bear and raise children. Girls were married off early; in fact, after puberty. Marriages were planned; thus, the girl had no freedom to choose her spouse. Wife inheritance was a common practice especially if a woman’s husband died early. Similarly, in an instance where a woman’s husband fails in his responsibilities as a man, the groom’s father would give her another husband; in many instances, her husband’s brother. All the family’s resources belonged to the man.

China

Females in the ancient Chinese society lived under outright oppression. The society treated them as the inferior gender throughout their lives. Their duties revolved around serving their husbands. The gender stereotypes did not allow them to become independent beings. The society expected every married woman to give birth to a son. Failure to do so would lead to ridicule. Polygamy was acceptable especially if the first wife failed to bear a son4. Marriage matters were quite sensitive in the ancient Chinese society. The father chose a suitor for his daughter without consulting her. It is sad that a family would sell their daughters to serve rich families. However, they could not sell their sons to become servants.

Education to a woman was rare in the ancient Chinese society. Boys got the best educational support while girls had no chance to enroll even in basic education classes5. Therefore, their intellectual capacity remained wanting. They did not have mentors or role models to imitate in education. While boys went to school, girls remained at home to attend to household chores such as cleaning and cooking. The only form of education they received was how to become good wives to their husbands and mothers to their children.

India

The treatment, role and status of women in the ancient Indian society was not badly off when compared to other ancient societies. They enjoyed some rights as compared women in other societies. They could work as bodyguards; a duty perceived as being menial. Additionally, they could access education and serve as political entities6. They had representative posts in the local governments. However, polygamy was allowed; thus, a man could have more than one wife. Similarly, they could not do anything without seeking permission from their husbands.

Greece

A woman in the ancient Greek society lived amid struggle. Equality between men and women was non-existent. They had no say in a marriage and they would serve as peasant laborers and slaves7. In terms of education, boys would attend learning institutions to acquire formal education. On the other hand, girls would remain at home to attend to household chores. The society did not expect them to acquire much education because they had to serve their husbands and raise children8. Marriage was an important rite of passage in the ancient Greek society. Being single was unheard of; thus, marriage was arranged by elders and parents. Women got married off during the teen age; that is, between thirteen and nineteen years. However, they would become acceptable wives only after they become mothers.

Rome

A woman in the ancient Roman society lived a difficult life. The gender stereotypes stigmatized her; thus, she had to conform to the social expectations9. The man was the master who dictated everything to the woman. At no instance did they take the woman’s opinion in whatever situation. It is unfortunate that a woman was nothing more than just a slave. An unmarried woman could never secure a job. Therefore, they could only entertain people or become sex workers. A woman’s chances of acquiring education in the ancient Roman society were minimal. In many cases, the parents and the society were not ready to support them to continue with education.

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East Asia

The communities in the ancient East Asia subjected a woman to oppression and outright exploitation. Women’s roles were subordinative. The society expected a woman to respect her husband and serve him without question. They could not hold political posts and their duties revolved around the kitchen and child bearing10. However, there are exclusive cases where some could serve as queens and empresses. The system was generally patriarchal in a larger part of East Asia. From a cultural perspective, the society expected women to submit to their husbands without question.

Conclusion

A woman in the modern society differs from the one in the ancient society. Currently, a woman can access education with a lot of ease. Schools admit both male and female children. Similarly, higher learning institutions allow both male and female students to pursue courses of their choice. The ministry of education in many countries gives females a competitive advantage over males to help them catch up with the social diversity. The efforts of the human rights groups have bred significant results. Currently, there are female scholars, engineers, pilots, corporate entities, leaders and economic moguls. It is critical to note that even third world countries have raised the standards of education for a woman in the society. Although the prejudice still exists, it cannot be compared to the case in the ancient societies11. The governments in many countries allow women to take part in politics and other high-profile posts. Therefore, there are female politicians, ambassadors, doctors, IT specialists, legal consultants and heads of states. Government agencies reserve some positions for women. Therefore, some hold prestigious positions to address the plight of women in marginalized areas. The ancient Egyptian society was quite different from other ancient societies12. It was quite similar to the modern society in some ways. For instance, women could own property and engage in economically viable activities13.

Bibliography

Thompson, James. 2010. Women in the Ancient World: The Status, Role and Daily Life of Women in the Ancient Civilizations of Egypt, Rome, Athens, Israel and Babylon. Web.

Bahrani, Zainab. 2001. Women of Babylon: Gender and Representation in Mesopotamia. London: Routldege.

Bauman, Richard A. 1992. Women and Politics in Ancient Rome. London: Routledge.

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Bolger, Diane. 2008. Gender through Time in the Ancient near East. Lanham, MD: Altamira Press.

Bruhns, Karen Olsen and Karen E. Stothert. 1999. Women in Ancient America. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

McKay, John P. 2013. Understanding World Societies: A Brief History. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s.

Peradotto, John and J. P. Sullivan. 1984. Women in the Ancient World: The Arethusa Papers. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Vivante, Bella. 1999. Women’s Roles in Ancient Civilizations: A Reference Guide. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press.

Ward, Walter and Denis Gainty. 2012. Sources of World Societies, Volume 1: to 1600. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s.

Wolf, Margery, Roxane, Witke and Martin Emily. 1975. Women in Chinese Society. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Footnotes

  1. Bruhns, Karen Olsen and Karen E. Stothert. 1999. Women in Ancient America. (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1999), 27.
  2. Peradotto, John and J. P. Sullivan. Women in the Ancient World: The Arethusa Papers. (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1984), 26.
  3. Bahrani, Zainab. Women of Babylon: Gender and Representation in Mesopotamia. (London: Routldege, 2001), 43.
  4. Wolf, Margery, Roxane, Witke and Martin Emily. Women in Chinese Society. (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1975), 81.
  5. McKay, John P. Understanding World Societies: A Brief History. (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2013), 19.
  6. Ward, Walter D and Denis Gainty. Sources of World Societies, Volume 1: To 1600 (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2012), 39.
  7. Ward, Walter D and Denis Gainty. Sources of World Societies, Volume 1: To 1600 (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2012), 81.
  8. Bauman, Richard A. Women and Politics in Ancient Rome. (London: Routldege, 1992), 129.
  9. Bolger, Diane. Gender through Time in the Ancient near East. (Lanham, MD: Altamira Press, 2008), 143.
  10. Vivante, Bella. Women’s Roles in Ancient Civilizations: A Reference Guide. (Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 1999), 49.
  11. Ward, Walter and Denis Gainty. Sources of World Societies, Volume 1: To 1600. ( Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2012), 21.
  12. Thompson, James. Women in the Ancient World: The Status, Role and Daily Life of Women in the Ancient Civilizations of Egypt, Rome, Athens, Israel and Babylon (2010), n. p.

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