The Role of Women in History

Andrew Makarian History 105 – 1002 Essay 2 In the history of western civilization were there any significant changes in the roles of women and in how these were defined? Women: cant live with them. Cant live without them. An old adage that pokes fun, yet is telling in its statement about how men view women. This sense of incompatibility curtails the differential roles men and women have played throughout history. The separation of sexes into distinct roles has inherently made them unequal.
In today’s modern society, these deviations have been lessoned, but throughout the course of western development the roles of women have be markedly transformed. Looking back, three distinct points in time mark a transitional shift in female roles: the Code of Hammurabi, Spartan society, and the renaissance revival in education. Beginning in the ancient near east, the earliest accounts of women in society come to us from the Code of Hammurabi. Used as a guideline for society, the code candidly depicts daily life in ancient Babylon, defining among many things the roles of men and women.
From the very beginning, the code depicts a very imbalanced view on gender roles; nearly every line in the code begins with “if a man…” making it painfully clear this code was written for men. The laws did not give credence to women unless addressed under a man: “if a man’s wife has a finger pointed at her on account of another, but has not been caught lying with him, for her husband’s sake she shall plunge into the sacred river (Beatty, 10). ” women are cited inferior to men in their importance, but also their opinion has no real value in social determinations.

This subservient role promises no power in ancient society, women found identity through the man they where with. If for any reason ”she has not been discrete, has gone out, ruined her house, littered her husband, she shall be drowned (Beatty, 10). ” There is absolutely no room for individualism. Women in ancient times where deprived of a real separate role in greater society, they are portrayed basically as extension of their male contemporaries. Although this particular near east culture defined women as patriarchal property, women would see increased development in their social roles as humanity as a whole progressed.
From Babylon to Sparta, over a millennium of improvements, the roles of women would see several significant changes. In the classical age, the Spartan city-state grew into a powerful warrior based society in the Peloponnesian. The polis was based on hoplite primacy: Spartan men played the role of warrior. The importance of “manliness” for men ironically proved pivotal in strengthening women’s roles in society. There was a revolutionary shift in perspective: “Only Spartan women could rule men” and that was because “only Spartan women gave birth to real men. ” These advancements for women translated into increased opportunities.
Spartan women could marry whomever they wanted, Spartan women could ascertain an education, and Spartan women could own land. The development roles in this time period were important for laying the foundations for future progress. Being an influential power, Spartan society expanded throughout the Aegean and spread its beliefs to forthcoming cultures. The likes of Athens, Macedon, and even the Roman Empire would come to acknowledge Spartan advancements in female status. At the height of the roman republic, this influence would translate into upper-class Roman women earning an education and practicing the rhetorical traditions.
Such extraordinary advancements would unfortunately curtail the decline of society as a whole, as roles began to backslide into obscurity. Beyond Sparta and after the fall of Rome, western civilization sees a decline in many aspects, including the rights of women. During these dark ages, a shadowy cloud looms over feminine development. It is not until the renaissance that this haze is cleared away and a return to classical humanism opens the door for empowerment. As society during renaissance period began rediscovering classical thinking, liberal education became available to men and women.
An important figure in this educational revival is Laura Cereta. Daughter of an upper-middle-class attorney, Cereta received an education in Latin and developed as a writer and humanist thinker. Her work, “In Defense of Liberal Education for Women”, had been written to counter growing fears against advancements in rights for women. Cereta attacks the notion that “extraordinary intellect of the sort one would have thought nature would give… [man]”, was not imparted on to women (Beatty, 309). She defends that “the philosopher sees with her mind; she furnishes paths with a window of reason through which she can ascend to a state of wareness (Beatty, 309). ” This powerful statement is indicative of education women are capable of attaining in this time period. This role of thinker, of philosopher, of humanist had been reserved solely for men for much of western civilization. This shift is another step towards the role of modern women. Beyond education, Cereta work also comments on women in the social order by relating to her contemporaries: “others love to say cute little things, to hide their feelings behind a mask of tranquility, to indulge in dancing, and lead pet dogs around on a leash (Beatty, 311). This last passage sheds more light on some of the other roles women played during the renaissance. The parallelism from that time period to the modern era is shocking. Had this line been written about women today it would be equally as relevant. As a whole, Laura Cereta’s writing allows an intimate look at women in renaissance society, but more importantly, her work demonstrates a new sense of confidence and destiny not shared by previous women. Throughout the development of western civilization, the roles of women have markedly been transformed.
The Code of Hammurabi, Spartan society, and the renaissance revival in education, where just three points that showed this growth. From property to free thinking philosophers, women have held many roles. It is important to consider the progress through the ages, as it is a reflection on society as a whole. References Beatty, J. L. , Johnson, O. A. , Reisbord, J. , & Choudhury , M. (2004). Heritage of western civilization: Ancient Civilizations and the Emergence of the West. (Vol. 1). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson, Prentice Hall.

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