Gender Inequality through the Ages

The concept of gender is one that has changed a lot since the dawn of what we call ‘history’. In ancient times, we see the female used as a symbol of calamity and strife for men (hence ‘the trouble and strife’). As the female has fought her way into the workplace and showed that, in many cases, she can perform better than men, it seems the roles are evolving and women are taking centre stage in the most important parts of our society.

The ancient Greeks are viewed as the crucible of civilisation, yet if we examine the messages and beliefs of the ancient Greek world we see one rife with misogyny. The story of Pandora’s Box is a perfect example of women being a symbol of misfortune. They did not include notable virtuous women in their account of history and refer to peoples who have female monarchs or leaders as barbarians. Their female gods are considered having an agendered identity and even they are considered to be vindictive and irrational at times.  We must also consider the deep similarities between the story of the ancient pagan Greeks and the Christian Old Testament that tells the story of Adam and Eve and how – due to her being seduced and tricked by the snake – all of humanity was forced into a trial of good vs evil.

The Roman woman was seen slightly differently, yet notably still second to men. Cleopatra, who has been depicted in modern culture as a powerful woman was in antiquity portrayed as excessively irrational and insane. Octavius, who went on to be the first emperor of Rome, was heavily influenced by his mother, Atia, and his wife Livia. These were women who acted as close and trusted advisers to their men and played a crucial role in their political image. It is clear that they held a lot more power than historians of the time would admit they did, and they understood the many ways in which power worked – more acutely than men did. In the latter stages of Roman Empire, Justinian was depicted as totally dominated by his wife, Theodora. Her bravery and determination spurred her husband on when he was about to flee the throne in fear.

As men have begun to explore the idea that gender is not a fixed concept, a new phenomenon has begun to take shape. It’s a kind of role reversal; men have become the underdogs and are finding it difficult to compete with women who are more mentally capable and have less ego issues. The whole idea that a ‘man is a man’ is clearly a lazy defence mechanism that men employ in order to avoid a reality that seems to conclude that, as long as men consider themselves the superior part of our species, they will be acting detrimentally towards themselves. The media surrounding Caitlyn Jenner’s transition is evidence of the fascination that the western world has with transgender people. This has also revealed the darker sides of religion, as something (arguably) liable to repress people who do not identify with the gender that society has labelled them with.

In John Milton’s Paradise Lost, Adam and Eve are portrayed as children, yet Eve is made to seem completely dependent on Adam. It is her suggestion that sees the two labour separately because she wants to prove that she can work alone, yet it is in this time apart when the serpent sneaks in and takes advantage. Yet, this epic poem holds a deeper message that implies that everything that happens in the Old Testament is the will of God, and the full extent of the plan remains unknown to mankind. The idea that God is a man seems to be one of the most destructive elements of religion. This idea can also be attributed to the ancients; the Greeks created the gods in the image of man, yet it would not be plausible for a man to control it all. As we delve deeper into the universe, we begin to understand the futility of dealing in 100%s when it seems that there are literally none.

The struggle of the Suffragettes to achieve the vote for women in this country came as a result of war. It is also important to point out that working class women began to receive education around this time, and their ability to express themselves openly and in public allowed them to compete with men, although (as is usually the case) they had to resort to ‘extremism’ in order to achieve what they wanted and what they  rightfully deserved. The image of the suffragette being mown down by a race horse as she demonstrated for her right to vote is one that stands with the person challenging the tank in China, and the monk on fire in Tibet. Females are fighting a battle that is almost akin to evolution, creating a new consciousness and reconstructing the fabrics of society.

In the twenty-first century, the western world has seen a huge increase in single mothers and teenage pregnancies. This means that the female has to bring up a child with the resources she has at her disposal. The women’s resourcefulness is something that cannot be doubted, and men could learn a lot from them. By not giving females their equality, men have left her with no choice but to take equality.

Will we evolve as men and learn to change our attitude towards women, or will this gender conflict continue until humanity is brought to its knees by its own ignorance?

One thing that assures me that good will be the victor in the end is the message we get from Pandora’s Box and John Milton’s Paradise Lost: hope.When all of the suffering of the world has been unleashed from the box, all that is left is hope. When Adam and Eve walk off into the wilderness of the world, cast out of paradise, they hold each other closer and walk side by side to face the trials of life.

(Featured image credit: Blue vector designed by Alvaro_cabrera – Used under the Creative Commons Licence.)

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