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Webster’s Dictionary defines Patriarchy as a social organization marked by the supremacy of the father in the clan or family, the legal dependence of wives and children, and the reckoning of descent and inheritance in the male line. (Webster 1) The basic meaning of this is that men are typically the head of the household and have the most say and power. Relating this topic to what we learned is that everything was created by men. Ancient Greece, Rome and Hammurabi’s Code have one thing in common and it’s the fact that men ruled and created the societies. This essay will discuss how these and other civilizations were all run by men and restricted women’s power. This can even relate to the United States because women only gained their right to vote in the 1920s and to this day there hasn’t been a woman President.
Most people are familiar with the famous “eye for an eye” of Hammurabi’s Code. At first, it sounds like it would be fair for everyone, but did you know it has a huge patriarchal twist? Hammurabi’s Code was created primarily to protect only men’s rights and to restrict women’s power. In the Codes, wording such as “if the man” or “when the man” is used in relation to laws. Women had very few rights, and much of the Code would horrify people in today’s society. There is a section in the Code regarding men and their wives, and it declares that all marriages would be arranged. Since those arrangements were made only by men, women were powerless to choose their own husband or even argue against an unwanted husband. In regards to fidelity, the Code states that “if the finger is pointed at a man’s wife about another man, but she is not caught [sleeping] with the other man, she shall jump into the river for her husband.”(Hammurabi’s code p.4) Imagine it: BY LAW, a woman must throw herself into the river and likely drown herself simply because she was accused of cheating.These laws were not only made by men but they usually protected only men, and clearly affect women negatively. This is a perfect example of patriarchy.
Hammurabi’s Code is not in the least bit alone in its patriarchal design. China’s ancient philosophies are also known for being based solely around men and their thoughts. For instance, the concept of Legalism, created by Hanfeizi, is based in the belief that everyone is selfish and guilty; therefore, to keep out of trouble, you needed to follow the orders of your older, wiser male masters. But because women were uneducated, they were seen as especially susceptible to being selfish and guilty, so the laws controlling women and their punishment were especially strict. The irony is that women were not even permitted to be educated, so once again women were punished for something over which they had no control. Laozi, creator of Daoism, had the belief that you needed to be a good person so that in the next world you may become a lord or a king. He never considered the possibility of women ruling. He never even considered women at all, and he was seemingly oblivious to their fates. Even Confucianism, with it’s “feminine” beliefs in the practice of generosity, sincerity, kindness and living a simple life had very little application to actual women. As a matter of fact, Confucius divorced his wife so he could live with his students because he saw the presence of a woman as a distraction to his teachings. Those teachings dealt with proper social behavior of men to each other, and the governance and proper behavior between male citizens and the Ruler. In all of the articles that we read in class, not a single one of these philosophies related to women at all. When reading the article “Chinese Philosophy” they refer to Master, but just who was The Master? The Master was always the oldest man in the family. This male-dominated hierarchy was not only prominent in Asia; Ancient Rome was guilty of perpetuating a dominant patriarchy as well.
Rome,the capital of Italy, home of the famous Colosseum, and center of the ancient world for over 800 years. The first Emperor of Rome was Augustus Caesar who, yet again, was a male. In ancient Rome, the oldest male was the ruler of the household,and he was legally responsible for everyone in that household, even the servants and slaves. He was responsible for their well-being, but also for their actions. If anyone in the household committed a crime, he would take the punishment for it. In order to avoid that fate, the male head of the household ruled his home with an iron fist. In order to prevent trouble, women of the household were guarded closely and had very little freedom to do as they wished. Ancient records reveal that many women complained about their status, and felt that male slaves had more freedom than a free woman. Women were certainly not allowed to have any political power at all. Women were typically designated to the roles of mother, wife, servant or slave. This is just another example of the history of shaming women and treating them with disrespect. After doing research on the database, I found a quote that greatly describes these times: “Ancient Rome was a macho society, often misogynistic, where women did not enjoy equal citizen rights.”(Strauss 1) Women could not catch a break back then and it was a shame.
The United States is guilty of patriarchy as well, no ifs, ands, or buts! Even if we look only at our government, it is obvious: our first president was a male, and all his government officials were males as well. Forty-five presidents later, all of them have been male, as have been most of their cabinets. Additionally, only a few hundred women have ever served in the House or Congress, all of them only since 1917. You hear all the stories about what the men have accomplished, but rarely the women. And the women who do push for progress and change are called “aggressive”, “harsh” and “whiny”, while men who do the same are called “strong”, “powerful” and “visionary”.
The men of the older societies promoted this vision that women were meant to stay at home, cook, clean and be with the kids while men went out and worked, and behaved however they wished. Women really did not have power like the men did. It wasn’t until about the 1920s when things started to change for women but not entirely. They were reluctantly given the right to vote, but little else changed. Then, during World War II, large numbers of women went into the workforce to fill the void left by men who were in the war; yet the roots of our patriarchal society were so deep, that many women left those jobs and returned to the “old ways” once the war was over. Even in the 1950s, women were still mostly stay-at-home mothers, and men were the Kings of the Household. If women did work outside the home, they were usually confined to the position of teacher, nurse or secretary. It took the Women’s Liberation movement of the 1970s to start significant growth for women, but 50 years later, our male-dominated society still controls just about all aspects of life
In the years that have followed, women have gained a great amount of power but still face enormous challenges. “While women have in fact gained ground in the workplace and acquired greater ability to live, work, play, and raise children without men, a mere relative move toward sex equality that only masks the more fundamental changes occurring in American society and the continuing existence of patriarchy.”(Carbone 1) Women cannot catch a break men just have a huge grip on society.
In conclusion, patriarchy has built many countries from the ground up, and in many, such as those in the Middle East, it still rules the way of life. Hammurabi’s Code was based off a man’s thoughts and some codes punished women for something they didn’t do. China’s ancient philosophies were all thought out by men and used to men’s advantages. Some Ancient Rome slaves had more freedom than women, who were considered so low that they weren’t even worthy of official punishment. Men had to take the punishment for a woman’s mistake and then punish her himself in private. The United States still has yet to have a woman president. Many women around the world face the troubles of living in a patriarchal society. Women are looked at in too many situations as property and not people. It is awful to even think about what they have gone through but there is hope that changes will continue to be made.
- CARBONE, JUNE, and NAOMI CAHN. “The End of Men or the Rebirth of Class?” Boston University Law Review, vol. 93, no. 3, May 2013, pp. 871–895. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=89713615&site=ehost-live&scope=site.
- Strauss, Barry. “Women in Ancient Rome Didn’t Have Equal Rights. They Still Changed History.” Time.Com, Mar. 2019, p. N.PAG. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=135075647&site=ehost-live&scope=site.
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