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The Decline Of Women'S Rights During The Different Periods Of Human Advancement

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Humans have come a long way from the ‘savages’ we read about in our books. They moved on into a more regulated and ordered society with the arrival of civilization which involved the formation of legal institutions and the monopoly of force by government. It was characterized by the formation of state. With those developments, cities and empires were formed and populations grew. Farming was discovered, domestication of animals occurred and labor was divided which gave others time to look beyond their basic needs. Written languages were created, and property soon arose. Property needed regulation by government, which needed to enforce laws to exert its powers. When we think of a savage we think of a beast, a brutal and vicious person, a wild man. A savage by meaning is an uncivilized man but with those nature people that were considered beasts, laid more mutual respect of rights between the sexes that any civilized society. The advent of agriculture led to more advancements and the women’s part in society was slowly taken from her and given to the man. The role of women in societies varied from one era to another; they went from being as respected as a man in hunter gatherer societies, to having minute rights in early and late civilizations, to them slowly regaining their rights.

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A study led by Mark Dyble at University College London, published in the journal “Science” showed that primitive societies were built upon the foundations of egalitarianism. Both sexes had an equal say in decision making. He says: “There is still this wider perception that hunter-gatherers are more macho or male-dominated. We’d argue it was only with the emergence of agriculture, when people could start to accumulate resources, that inequality emerged.” However, that remains one point of view. Others believe women have always been a subordinate to men, due to their biological differences. According to Johann Jakob Bachofen, a Swiss anthropologist, cultural evolution had four stages beginning with ‘Hetairism’, which was the stage of polygamy and sexual promiscuity. Due to the uncertainty of paternity, the next phase of ‘Das Mutterrecht’ emerged, where women were respected, honored and “worshipped as life-giving goddesses” (Gibson 170). This, according to Bachofen developed a gynocracy, or the rule by women. Some fail to recognize the role of women in primitive societies and some agree with the existence of the ‘matriarchate’. The word matriarchate suggested mother-rule but is misleading since what existed was just the acknowledgement of mother-right. This implied that descent was traced through the mother rather than the father and that made sense since the woman was the basis of what a family was and this eliminated the uncertainty of paternity. What remained debatable is whether it was recognized in all tribal communities or just a select few. The next stage was The Dionysian, where matriarchy was replaced by patriarchy and the traditions performed by women were now performed by men. This occurred by the transition from polygamy to monogamy, where a woman now belonged to man. The Apollonian was the final stage, which featured the transition to modern civilization and the eradication of the matriarchy.

In hunter-gatherer societies, before the development of civilization, the tasks were divided between the two genders. The men were responsible for the physical tasks. They would go out, hunt for days at a time, and rest when they are back home. Whereas the women would be expected to stay home, gather food and take care of the house and children, as the responsibility of child-rearing laid upon the mother’s shoulders since her maternity was certain, unlike the father’s paternity. This supports the study by Mark Dyble both men and women were just as needed for the survival of the group. In the Neolithic city of Çatalhöyük, gender segregation was unknown. Their remains showed that men and women had similar diets, performed the same amount of work and that men, too worked inside the household. The carvings and paintings, along with the studies of human remains showed that a woman wasn’t weak. Instead, she had upper body strength that surpasses female athletes of our day. The studies showed that women of those days had strength similar to our modern rowers, who practice “unidirectional, repetitive pulling strength”, which is the kind of strength they needed to dig ditches, pull equipment and grind grains. The discovery of agriculture remains debatable but some anthropologists and historians accredit agriculture and farming to women, as they were the ones that stayed home and had time to discover and explore farming. Farming started off with a few species but then transitioned into more advancements and led to full time farming. The domestication of animals took place and animals replaced the women’s job as a beast of burden. This might have been a good thing as it liberated women from the hardships she would face in a hunter-gatherer society as it also gave her more time to focus on other aspects including having more children and increasing the birth rate. According to Jared Diamond in his article “The Worst Mistake Made in History”, this lead to a “drain on their health”. More and more, the women’s role in the society was diminished, as man became the sole worker, while women were expected to stay home and take care of the kids. This reflected a change from the somewhat equal hunter-gatherer society to a patriarchal society, which was represented by Bachofen’s third stage of cultural evolution, The Dionysian. The discovery of agriculture created a surplus of food, so people had more time to look further, improve and discover. This lead to the discovery of the wheel, the plough, mathematics, the study of the stars and writing, which was one of the steps on the path to civilization.

Civilization did not necessarily mean the disappearance of all the women’s rights. Nevertheless, it was with civilization that property arose and that women became a part of that property. However, in several areas around the world, civilized societies recognized some rights of women. A prime example is ancient Egypt where an elite woman was legally considered an equal of an elite man. They would do more that just work inside the house and were contributors to society. They owned households, worked in courts or even ran businesses. Women were even capable of being employed at the highest level of social and political order, even though the chances of that happening were lower than that of a man’s. However, the mother-right that existed in hunter-gatherer societies was not upheld in this early civilization. Even with the rights a woman had, inheritance was passed down through the male. In ancient Greece, the rights of a woman were lower. In Athens, she was only taught what she needed to learn to take care of the household. She was a form of property passed through marriage from her male guardian to her husband. Politics was mainly run by men and no woman was considered a citizen. Spartan women had more freedom than Athenian women, even though they were still excluded from political decisions, as they ran estates and managed properties. The Spartans gave women more rights because as the men were away, women needed to run things back home so that their society can be maintained. Rome was a patriarchal society in which women only had influence through marriage and motherhood, not their own personhood, but daughters did have just as much right to inheritance as the sons. The free woman had a legal status and was capable of ownership. Despite that, the societies that recognized women’s rights were just a few. For instance, in ancient china, women were considered lower in status to men and were not allowed to inherit. Religion played a key role in women rights. The bible gave women a right of ownership of property and the ability to represent themselves in court. The Quran gave women a right in inheritance, marriage and divorce, where the woman was now responsible of the dowry she gets in marriage.

Throughout our modern history, women have not been allowed to vote. They had fewer rights than men and were forced into marriage, where what little property she had belonged to her husband. Girls had no say in who they were going to marry, instead it was the parents that chose the bridegroom, based on what advantages he could provide the family. Sometimes, she was given as a gesture or in a way for the father to get what he desired. They would get married into title, so the family itself can rise in social esteem. Chastity was also expected from women, which wasn’t the case for men. Kings and noblemen were allowed to have mistresses, whereas if women were to have an affair, they would be condemned to shame by the society and accused of adultery. Women were also paid less than men for working the same job for the same amount of time. We think we have advanced so much since those medieval days, when in reality, the gender wage gap still exists to this day. Women in medieval England weren’t allowed to marry without parental consent, couldn’t own businesses, were not allowed to divorce their husbands, couldn’t own property unless they were widows and couldn’t inherit lands if they had living brothers. It wasn’t just the peasant women that were looked down upon, but even the royalty. The virgin queen, Elizabeth II, who was declared illegitimate by the catholic church was the queen that ushered England into the golden age. She was advised to marry so that people can respect her as they believed every woman monarch should have a man by her side, so that whatever decision she came to was more reliable and free of emotion. However, she did not marry another, which some people accredited to her not wanting a man to take the power she had. Her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots was subjected to misogyny by her own people, including John Knox, who was known for his insubordination of female monarchs and continued to preach about her, even after her abdication as Scotland’s queen. Although it was compulsory to follow the ruling monarch, the society still believed a woman could not possibly rule by herself and needed a man to rule beside her that other men can bow down to and trust. However, a queen consort, the wife of a king, whether noble or peasant, would be an accessory, with no involvement in political decisions and with no real power.

The failure to recognize the rights of women continued, if not in a more increased form until the women’s rights movement in the USA in 1848. The first country to recognize women’s right to vote was New Zealand, followed by Australia and soon many other countries. The women’s rights movement aimed to make a woman and a man equal in the eye of the law and to give the woman the right to vote. As the years passed, women started gaining more rights. In the USA, in 1869, women started serving as juries. In 1893, Colorado was the first state that gave women their right to vote and soon, so did many other states. In 1903, The National Women’s Trade Union League was formed to fight for better wages and working conditions. Finally, in 1920, after decades of work, the 19th amendment was signed that gave women their right to vote. Little by little, women kept fighting for their equality, their right over their bodies, their right for education, their right for ownership and their right to equal pay. Since 1990, women have been fighting for more controversial topics including their reproductive right, sexual harassment and enrollment in the military. It seems like mankind has come a long way from the savage world we existed in, so why is there still a fight for equality in this day and age? Women now have the right to vote and are visually an equal to a man, but till now many inequalities still live between the sexes. The most known one is the gender wage gap, where for every dollar of a white man, the white woman gets 77-83 cents, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. This is sometimes justified by the fact that men have families they are responsible for and thus need more money to support them. However, many cases exist where a pregnant woman who needs to support her own family and incoming child is fired when word gets out about her pregnancy, in an effort to reduce the expenses the company or workplace have to pay. This is present in most countries over the world. In India and China, female infanticide still occurs as they know a girl brings less wealth than a boy could. Even women athletes make less money than men and while men are advertised playing the sport, women athletes are portrayed in sexualized image, which adds on to the objectification of women. A woman is treated as an inferior, told she shouldn’t aim as high as men, and ends up getting jobs of lower ranks than men because that’s what our society instils into her mind. One in five congressmen are women and just 19% of CEOs are women. As much as women have accomplished in terms of their rights, there is still much that leaves men superior to women in many aspects of life.

The woman went through many stages to achieve the acknowledgement of her rights. She was a respected individual in primitive societies where she had as much importance as a male. With civilization, her roles declined in some societies and she was seen as a subordinate, but with some of her rights recognized. Not until recently did she start to regain the rights that a man has had throughout civilization. The American women’s rights activist Susan B. Anthony said “The day will come when men will recognize woman as his peer, not only at the fireside, but in councils of the nation. Then, and not until then, will there be the perfect comradeship, the ideal union between the sexes that shall result in the highest development of the race.” Although measures are being taken to decrease the inequality between the sexes, one must wonder whether we will ever achieve complete equality and have a woman be seen as an “peer” to a man and whether that would help us become a more or less advanced society.

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