November 29th, 2016
By Steve Taylor, Ph.D
Guest writer for Wake Up World
Throughout almost all recorded history, and in most cultures throughout Europe, the Middle East and Asia, there has been a massive gulf between men and women. They have had a very different social status, sharply differentiated roles and apparently different personalities. It’s almost as if men and women have been members of different species with almost nothing in common, who have been thrown together to by mistake.
In almost all cases women’s status has been and still is in many cultures much lower than men’s. It was taken for granted that women were inferior intellectually and morally; that they were, in the words of the misogynistic philosopher Schopenhauer, ‘childish, foolish and short-sighted something intermediate between the child and the man.’ Until recent times, in most countries over Europe, the Middle East and Asia, women couldn’t own property or inherit land and wealth, and were frequently treated as mere property themselves. In some countries they could be confiscated by money lenders or tax collectors to help settle debts (this was, for example, a common practice in Japan from the seventh century CE onwards). In the ‘enlightened’ society of ancient Greece where the concept of democracy supposedly originated women had no property or political rights, and were forbidden to leave their homes after dark. Similarly, in ancient Rome women unable to take part in social events (except as employed ‘escort girls’) and were only allowed to leave their homes with their husband or a male relative.
In parts of the Middle East, these attitudes have persisted to the present day, and it’s only very recently that the status of women has begun to increase slightly. Over the last few years Qatar and Bahrain, for example, have given women the right to vote and to stand for election, and the Kuwaiti parliament recently passed a law giving women the same political rights as men.
Wherever women’s status is low, the duties and roles of men and women are usually sharply defined. In most cultures, they have practically lived in two different worlds: men in the external world of work, culture and politics, and women in the internal world of childcare, cooking and cleaning. In some societies like Ancient Greece or Rome or modern day Saudi Arabia women were/are effectively imprisoned in the internal world for much of the time. And at the same time, men were excluded from women’s domain (at least to an extent). Until recent times they were denied access to the birth of their own children and to usually only played a minor role in childcare.
Traditionally, men and women have distinct kinds of minds too. Many studies have shown that women have a stronger capacity for empathy than men, that they have a strong tendency for caring and compassion and for forming relationships.