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Comparison of Gender Systems in the Classical World - where was it best to be a woman?

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´╗┐Melanie Shi Grebel 3A Oct. 29, 2012 During the thousands of years of history from the emergence of the First Civilizations to the radical reforms of the 19th century, societies have been everywhere patriarchal, featuring the dominance of men over women in the family and in the overall society. This universally applied to the civilizations from the classical era; however, the degree and expression of patriarchy varied from one culture to another. Therefore, if I were a woman living in the classical era, I would prefer to live in the ancient Indian civilization because Indian women had the opportunity to become Buddhist nuns and enjoy partial freedom. In contrast, Chinese women were at the bottom of society, and Mediterranean women were regarded as lowly in Athens, their status only improving slightly with the rise of the Roman Empire. Nonetheless, regardless of my choice, judging the past through the standards of the present is not a valid approach to historical inquiry. ...read more.


For example, Historian Ban Zhao writes in Lessons for Women: ?Let a woman modestly yield to others; let her respect others; let her put others first, herself last?Always let her seem to tremble and to fear?. Furthermore, acclaimed poet Fu Xuan lamented the status of females in Chinese society in How Sad it is to be a Woman, stating, ?Nothing on earth is held so cheap?no one is glad when a girl is born...no one cries when she leaves her home?. Essentially, the prominent Confucian ideology in China, with its concepts of yin vs. yang, gave men a strong upper hand in society, which placed women in a subordinate position to males. Only rarely were women allowed to participate in the public arena?and these privileged females were usually only the wives, concubines, or widows of emperors. Hence, the subservient position of women in ancient China renders Indian society much more appealing in terms of female status. ...read more.


The norms of our current lifestyle are drastically different from the standards of living from 600 BCE-600 CE. The advent of the 19th century brought with it improvement of the status of women in society, especially in developed countries, as well as promotion of gender equality. Thus, our expectations today render the problem of evaluating the past with standards of the present invalid. Each of the classical civilizations had the commonality of patriarchal social structure. However, although women typically were not given the same level of regard as men were, when looking at the Indian Empire, it is imperative to note the level of respect and opportunities given to bikkhuni women that were difficult to find elsewhere. Regardless, though I may have preferred to live in the Indian Empire during the classical era, it is not a viable approach to view the past through a lens of present standards in order to make a historical examination, simply because norms have changed throughout time. ...read more.

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