I recently attended an illustrated lecture on Women in Ancient Athens.
Here are some notes from the lecture.
The average age for marriage for an Anthenian woman was 14.
The average age of death was 36 (45 for a man).
In 5th C BC, out of the propertied families, the ratio of girl children to boy children was 1 girl to 5 boys, which indicates that female infanticide was a common practice.
This statistic made me think. The practice of female infanticide is currently common in China and India. I’ve read recently that a predominately male society is not a good place to be in. Women are treated like chattel. Wives are shared between bothers. Prostitution is high. In Ancient Athens abandoned girl babies would be rescued by brothel owners and raised to work in brothels. Prostitutes were routinely beaten by customers. Men drank out of cups with pornographic images on them at their drinking parties where prostitutes were brought in for entertainment and abuse, while the women of the household were in the women’s quarters of the house. So here’s my problem. We think of 5th C BC Athens as the pinnacle of the ancient world, in terms of culture and politics and higher order thinking. How is this possible when women were treated so appallingly?
Here are some quotes from the time.
‘The two best days in a woman’s life are when someone marries her and when he carries her dead body to the grave.’ - Ephesus, 6th C BC
‘She kept house and worked wool.’ Inscription on woman’s grave, 5th C BC Athens
‘Your great glory is not to be inferior to what God has made you, and the greatest glory of a woman is to be least talked about by men, whether they are praising you or criticising you.’ From Perikles’ Funeral Oration 430BC, Thucydides II.45.2
So, the greatest honour for a woman was to be silent and invisible.
Which leads me to what Melinda Tankard Reist wrote recently about men’s t-shirts, in an article about the need for White Ribbon Day.
Rape-proud T shirts collapse rape into a punch line, adorned with slogans: “It’s not rape, it’s surprise sex” and “It’s not rape if you yell surprise”. The text promoting the second reads:
“Remember to yell! Now we know this is a little controversial, but you know you’re laughing. Just remember to let them know before you go for it. I’m sure they’ll appreciate the effort.”
Other T shirts feature images of women gagged and half naked, sold by Roger David. Porn-inspired “T.I.T.S” t.shirts are sold in youth skate stores, including this charmer, “Relax it’s just sex”, depicting the bound body of a naked woman spattered in blood.
City Beach has a t-shirt with a woman with a black eye, crying. The slogan reads: “It’s only illegal if you get caught”. “Bitches get stiches” is another title on T shirts in youth stores.
And here’s what is on Facebook.
There are many Facebook sites promoting violence against women: “Cleaning foundation off your sword after a hard day of hunting sluts”, “Dragging slut’s into you’re room unconscious in a sack” (sic), “Kicking sluts in the vagina because its funny watching your foot disappear”, “You know she’s playing hard to get when she takes out a restraining order”, “I like my women how I like my Scotch, 10 years old and locked in my basement”, “What’s 10 inches and gets girls to have sex with me? My knife”, “I know a silly little b—ch that needs a good slap”.
Some of these were removed after 20,000 people signed petitions calling on Facebook to remove them, but many similar pages cropped up shortly after, such as “Throwing eggs at sluts, brick shaped eggs - made from brick”, which invites people to rate other users’ photos with comments like “drown” or “hit… With a shovel”.
A Pippa Middleton Ass appreciation Society page on Facebook was set up in honour of the sister and bridesmaid of Kate Middleton, attracting tens of thousands of members. Men described all the things they wanted to do to the 29 year old, including injuring her so much she would need “straw and a wheelchair”.
So, two and half thousand years later, and we don’t seem to have come very far in terms of respect for women, have we.