Christine Eubank, Ph.D. – Associate Professor
December 19, 2017
History 105: Women in History
Even though there are hundred of years between the historical segment of Classical Athens and European Enlighten, both periods share some similarities related to women’s role. Woman are placed on a pedestal that gives them responsibilities; simultaneously, females are excluded from public access and intensive education. During both periods that women could not attend public assemblies, vote, or hold public office. Moreover, the only domain that women possess power is their home where females are expected to rear children and manage the daily requirements of the household. Additionally, females’ lives follow a repetitive pattern during both periods: they are either daughters, wives or mothers. Furthermore, they were expected to live according to the rules laid out for them by the men in their lives – at first their fathers and later their husbands. This patriarchal society dictated everything about women’s lives, from the company they kept to the activities they enjoyed.
As such, women’s sex lives were also under considerable scrutiny; a woman having sexual relations before marriage could damage her standing in the eyes of potential suitors and significantly hurt her prospects of a future marriage. Women who did not remain chaste prior to marriage and were found out were often virtually thrown away: forced to join a convent or sent to live with extended family in far-off locations. It is interesting how throughout both periods, existed a gap between couples. During the Classical Athens relationships suffered a gap between men and women considering their intellectual background and the difference in their age. Comparably, during the European Enlightenment women were not able to reach the intellectual capacity of men as their education lacked the fundamental necessary knowledge.
Influential Philosophers (Aristotle and Rousseau)
There is a common ideology promoted by some of the most influential intellectuals of each historical periods. Observed by the critical lens of Aristotle and Rousseau females were isolated from knowledge and rights in order to form a static social model for all women that would be the solution of creating a sense of morality. Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote multiple times about the gross inequalities between the sexes. However, while he recognized the separation of traditional gender roles, he exhorted his readers that they were necessary, as women were most important to society as wives and mothers, stating in his book Emilie “Always justify the burdens you impose upon girls but impose them anyway.” Importantly Rousseau’s educational project for females is sexist in the highest degree; he argues that females should be taught to ”please men…and make men’s lives agreeable and sweet.”
In addition, Aristotle in his “Politics” proclaims that “for the male is by nature better fitted to command than the female”. Moreover, biology is indeed destiny for a woman in Aristotle: her lower physical heat makes her a woman instead of a man, minimizes her role in reproduction, and denies her the qualities of thumos and andreia that determine freedom and autonomy. Combining Aristotle’s ontological judgment that the nature of something is what it is “when fully developed” (Politics, 1252b. 32-34) with his biological assumption that the fully developed human is male, he concluded that woman “is as it were a deformed male” (Generation of Animals, 737a. 28).
Exceptions (Sapho and Wollstonecraft)
Similar issues in Albania