Statusof Women in Ancient Greece
Genderseparation and discrimination characterized ancient Greek culture. Ingeneral, women were socialized to the domestic sphere while men wereassociated with the public sphere. The gender segregation is as aresult of the anatomy of the human body as well as the biologicaldifferences between females and males (Cameron, Avelie and Amelie109).
Despitethe fact that women were segregated and strictly locked from thepublic sphere of the ancient life, women played a crucial role in thepublic in the performance of religious ritual. Classical Greek ideasimpacted ritual features of nonverbal behavior, for instance, thoseregarding gesture, voice, and clothing. Feminist scholars haveconducted an in-depth research to explore how the human body isrelated to language, identity, and power. In Greek ritual activities,the body is attributed with social values resulting in theempowerment of the social actors who may be either male or female(Cameron, Avelie and Amelie 108). For instance, Maiden songsperformed during traditional events and festivals in Greek portrayedyoung girls as erotic characters or objects meant for the gazes ofthe spectators who are the male. The performance nature of women indifferent events strengthened the perception of women as havinggendered bodies hence accustoming them to admit the male-made genderrelations in the society. Therefore, ritualization itself was aproduct of gender relations between male and female which in turn wasblindly accepted in the society and became part of the ancient Greekpeople.
Theroles of women in 5th century B.C was mainly those associated withbeing a mother and a wife (Cameron, Avelie and Amelie 81). TheAthenians, in their male, dominated society selected women models byheroic and divine orders. The religious law accustomed women to besubjects of their counterparts, the men. According to the heroicrule, Penelope was the only role model for the ancient Greek women.
Variousscholars portray women as inferior and of low status in the ancientGreece society. In most patriarchal societies men control women andall aspects of life. This paper will explore the status of women inthe ancient Greek through a comparison analysis of various scholarlyworks related to the topic. The article will also give an overview ofthe different gender roles that men and women played in the ancientGreek and how they, in turn, impacted the status of women in thesociety.
SueBlundell in her book “Women in Ancient Greece” defines the statusof women in the Greek society using the Olympian goddesses wherebyshe focuses on the aspect of virginity that is associated with thegoddess. All the Olympian males are depicted as sexually active whilethe three female goddesses are portrayed as committed virgins whoshow their dedication in refusal to marry. Among the six goddesses,only one is viewed as an actual mother goddess because she isperceived as the only one who sticks to her role as a parent. It isevident that Greek myths depicted women with negative connotationsmore so those who had given birth.
SueBlundell uses poems to bring out the status of women in ancientGreece. She explores Hesiod’s poem and works whereby she arguesthat different deities contributed to woman’s accomplishments andornaments: Aphrodite gives the woman "painful" strongdesire and charm while Athena teaches her the necessary skills forwomen such as weaving and dresses her in robes. In this poem, thefirst woman, Pandora is given this name which denotes all giftsbecause she was a gift from the gods. She was presented to humanbeings by Prometheus who in this poem is viewed as an absent-mindedbrother (28). According to Blundell, it is through this woman thatmen lived without diseases, sorrow and the urge to work. Women, onthe other hand, have been made to scatter evils and pain all over theworld and its inhabitants, the only motivating aspect for them hoping(28).
Fromthis poem, it is evident that women are viewed as free gifts to menwhich exist alongside their fire acquisition. Women are portrayed asdeceptive, a trap and a mere image and her breasts have been showeredwith persuasive words, lies, and cunning ways (28). In the poem Worksand days, men are forced to endure women only because they need themto bore them children who will inherit their land any other propertyafter their death. Women are viewed as free gifts to the societywhose acceptance by men brings nothing good but trouble. Therefore,even the ancient Greece myths vividly explore women as evil andinferior members of the community who are there to be controlled andutilized by men, for the benefit of the males in the society.
Accordingto Sue Blundell, most Greek men wanted their daughters to be virginstill their marriage time. It was of great significance for women tolater get married and they had to give birth. The virgin goddesseswere supposed to serve as role models to women. Females werediscouraged from being like Artemis, Athena, Aphrodite and Hera, thefour goddesses who were always active in the public sphere which wassupposed to be men’s world (25). Men felt that their lifestylecontradicted that of ideal married and non-married women who wereexpected to socialize within their homes. The mythologicalattribution of Olympian goddesses was a primary way of reinforcingtraditional social gender roles and code for females (32).
Inaccordance to Pry, women in ancient Greece had difficult times intheir lives. They had few rights as compared to their counterpartsthe male (7). The author of this book asserts that the roles of womenin ancient Greece differed from one region to the other. In the olddays, Greek women were socially strained from mobility, education orfrom any activity that could interrupt their parenting or domesticchores responsibility. Women were subjects of men and had theresponsibility to obey their men without questioning (7). The socialroles that women were assigned in the ancient past clearly suggestthat the perceived position of women was in the domestic sphere.Committed and dedicated to child rearing, weaving, and other domesticchores, the ancient woman had little time to engage in politicalactivities in the region.
Theauthor asserts that it was the role of the girl’s father to controlhis daughter till her marriage, and once she gets married thecontrolling responsibility was relayed to the husband (7). Thismeans that whether married or not, women were subjects of the men.Most women in ancient Greek were forcefully married to older men. Thefemales had no rights to choose their husbands. Arrangements ofmarriages were made without the consent of the bride, and the girlwas not allowed to meet her future husband until the marriage processhas been completed. Similar to Sue (11), Virginity was a crucialrequirement for brides in the ancient Greece as well as fidelity. Itwas a responsibility of a man to take care of his children. For achild to be an Athenian, both her/his parents had to be Athenians(8).
Theauthor also explores the legal rights of women whereby she lays outthat, women had few legitimate rights. In ancient Athens, if womenwanted a divorce they had to seek assistance and permission fromtheir male relatives. After the divorce, women lost custody of theirchildren and had an obligation to return bridewealth to the family.Additionally, women had no control over land as well as utilizationand disposal of property all property belonged to the men andfemales accessed them by seeking permission from the males (8).
Inthe ancient Athens, only legal citizens were allowed to exercisecivil rights as well as involve themselves in public affairs. Onlymen were viewed as citizens in Athens. During the Hellenisticperiod, noble women made an attempt to engage themselves in“political activities of men.” This clearly posits that politicswas men’s arena. The author quotes from Aristotle’s work where heargues that women were only sources of evil, disorder and wereuseless, they were likely to cause more confusion than the attackingenemy. Men perceived women to be incapable of comprehending the`complicated` decisions necessary in politics (8). Only men had thelegal right to vote while women were segregated in homes to carry outtheir domestic roles. Women resided in "gynaikonotis" wherethey could run domestic chores and have little contact with men’sworld. The only women who had mobility rights in the male’s worldwere prostitutes, concubines, and mistresses, for instance, citizen’spermanent lover who could even take part in conversations regardingpolitics (9).
Athenianwomen received the informal education while boys and men wereformally educated in schools. The only skills women were supposed tohave included spinning, weaving, cooking, and sewing (9). Variousphilosophers and scholars argue that women had an inferior mind thatcould not understand the ‘difficult’ things men learned.
Accordingto Clark, ancient Greek was marked by gender discrimination. Gendersegregation was as a result of the biological human body differencesbetween men and women (6). Both males and females participated inancient Greece ritual events. Women were depicted as sexual objectsthrough the maiden songs that were presented during ritual festivalsand activities. Through the various rituals, they participated, womenwere made to accept the existing gender relations where men were todominate and control the female. In the ancient Greek society, womenwere assigned the role of giving birth to provide their men withheirs who will inherit their property after their death (7). Greekmedical writers depict ancient Greek women as defective and imperfectand having bodies that are readily porous to outside influences.Aristotle defined women as inferior beings of the society whileHippocrates presented males and females to be two different speciesthat will never rhyme. According to the Greek scholars, women lackthe ability to control themselves hence the men have theresponsibility to bound their wives and daughters within their homes.
TheGreeks thought that women specifically lacked the capacity to controltheir natural body processes and sexuality hence they were pollutantsof their surroundings (8). Women were perceived to share the samecapacity with flies and dogs to pollute the environment. Women had anobligation to build and maintain good relations with gods offertility who were significant for animal husbandry, agriculture, andthe larger family. Women’s ritual efforts were based on the healthof their family and reproduction. Females in the ancient Greekworshiped with a primary goal of reproduction in the household or forthe sake of the existing family (10). Women’s reproductive role andprocess were viewed as polluting by men because birth was among thecritical stages in life, therefore, locking them out from most ritualactivities. Aristotle portrayed women to be evil their high-pitchedvoice was evidence that for their bad attribute because theircounterparts the men had deep voice which symbolized braveness as alion (10).
Fromthe above three articles, it is evident that the ancient Greece was apatriarchal society where women were treated as men’s subjects. Menused different aspects of life to bound women into the private sphereto ensure they conserved the inferiority aspect of women in thesociety. According to the three articles, the primary role of womenin the society was reproduction and child rearing. To some extent,men married women because they only needed heirs to inherit theirproperty after their death. Women were subject to men’s ruleswhether married or not married before marriage, they were subject tothe rules set by their fathers and when married the responsibilitywas transmitted to their husbands. In both, the three articles womenhad few legal rights because they were not considered as citizens.Only men were allowed to vote, on and control property as well asmake decisions when to dispose of the property.
Conclusively,gender roles and the position of women ancient Greece has beenrevealed as inferior while men have been viewed as superior beingswho should exercise control over women. Women lack voice over mattersaffecting them including seeking permission for divorce and losingcustody of their children once they divorce. Not much has beenexplored on the gender roles of women as well as their status in theancient Greece because men wrote most scholarly articles andwritings. Few activist women engaged in writing poetry regarding thestatus of women in the society because they lived in patriarchalsocieties where men dominated all aspects of life.
Blundell,Sue. Womenin Ancient Greece.Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1995. Print. 10-31
Cameron,Averil, and Amélie Kuhrt eds. Imagesof women in antiquity.Routledge, (2013): 3-128
Clark, Christina A. "Women, Gender, and Religion." Journal of Religion and Society (2009): 6-15.
Pry, Kay O`. "Social and Political Roles of Women in Athens and Sparta." Saber and Scroll 1.2 (2012): 7-12.