General Question

marksonos's avatar

Did religion give women more rights?

Asked by marksonos (298points) April 25th, 2014

Before the rise of christianity, how were women treated? Before any monotheistic religion actually… How was the women’s role in society different than after?

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68 Answers

ragingloli's avatar

They had female gods in polytheistic religions.

syz's avatar

I am neither a religious scholar or a sociology expert, but I would say no.

Dutchess_III's avatar

The way women were treated at any given time in history depended on the culture they lived in. As far as Christianity, no, women were not given more rights. The Old Testament just codified the no-no’s for women, and there were a LOT of them. The New eased up a little bit. But neither put many restriction on men.

zenvelo's avatar

Interestingly, in Western Civilization history) the rise of monotheistic religions coincides with patriarchy. Polytheistic civilizations (Egypt, Rome, Greece to some extent) found Divinity in the feminine, and thus women were not subjugated as much as they were and are in monotheistic cultures.

Dutchess_III's avatar

In all monotheistic cultures the One True God is ALWAYS male.

marksonos's avatar

what about ancient greek? i’ve never heard of a woman philosopher or a famous artist…

AshLeigh's avatar

As far as I’ve seen, it tries to give us less rights.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Guess I’m not sure what that has to do with any thing @marksonos.

marksonos's avatar

@Dutchess_III Haha nothing directly related. I just want to know why the hell women have always been the second plan.

gailcalled's avatar

Sappho is a Greek poet.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Because men are bigger and stronger, and if need be, and if they’re that kind of man, and if their culture condones it, they can physically dominate a woman.

Berserker's avatar

As far as Christianity goes, I think it’s the contrary. In fact, that religion has been losing some of its importance and grasp over modern society I think is what gave women the rights they have today. In contrast let’s look at Muslim countries where women are basically nothing.

Winter_Pariah's avatar

Just by remembering bits and pieces of Leviticus… Nope.

LostInParadise's avatar

@marksonos , Hypatia was a Greek female mathematician living in Alexandria who was murdered by Christians for her pagan beliefs.

The secularization that resulted from the Enlightenment increased the rights of women (including women’s suffrage), abolished slavery (approved of in the Bible), decreased corporal punishment (“Spare the rod and spoil the child” is from the Bible), and provided laws for humane treatment of animals.

non_omnis_moriar's avatar

Women were quite powerful in ancient Rome. Christianity was contrary to many Roman laws and cultural traditions women lost a great deal.

thorninmud's avatar

Short term, yes.

For the cultures where the major monotheistic religions originated, they represented an advance in women’s rights. That’s because women had it pretty damned bad in the ancient Near East and Arabia.

Long term, no.

The problem is that these religious codes effectively froze the status of women at this level by framing it as the unchanging divine will (in the case of Islam, women’s status actually regressed from its high point in the time of Muhammad). So these codes provided a rationale for the continued repression of women and an impediment to further evolution.

And there were certainly instances where the exportation of these faiths supplanted more liberal attitudes towards women in other cultures.

Blondesjon's avatar

I think the viking culture got it right.

chewhorse's avatar

Hardly any difference in religious dogma as the woman had been and still is considered a second class species. TOTALLY wrong and only man could think up such an ignorant comparison. Has it changed? Of course it has where we as so-called civilized human beings no longer kill off our female because they weren’t born male but we still have the tendency to cling to unjust equality.

JLeslie's avatar

I think it varies and depends on what exactly we are looking at. It also matters what culture and what part of the world we look at throughout history. I’m not sure if religion dictated how women were treated or if religion reflected how a culture already functioned and just reinforced it. From what I can tell people were more barbaric hundreds and thousands of years ago. We still do some pretty hideous things, but it was worse before. When I say barbaric, I mean torturous, abusive, disgusting violence. Being a man you tend to be at an advantage in those types of cultures. Taller, stronger, bigger in every way. As we progress to being more technology and brain oriented I think women more and more have equal rights.

For women who fit well into their prescribed rolls in a particular religion I think for them religion maybe made them feel safe and free. I know orthodox Jewish women who love their role in the home and in their society, and so it is good for them. When a woman born into that society doesn’t fit in it can be extremly difficult and confining. Like a prison. Same with any religion I think.

There is no question in my mind that science and education is what frees women. Not only women, but other groups who are opressed.

@LostInParadise Spare the rod spoil the child is interpreted by most Christians as they should hit their kids. That’s why you see laws allowing corporal punishment in the US bible belt as much more liberal. Especially in schools corporal punishment is legal in very “Christian” states and illegal ins others.

non_omnis_moriar's avatar

Virtually all religions are Patriarchal. The Goddesses of pre-Roman Britain evolved into gods.

As for Ancient Greece. while Rome adopted most of their religion and philosophy, women in A. Greece could not even be seen in public. Women is Rome had a great deal of power culturally and socially.. They could demand a divorce, inherit, quit amazing for the ancient world. Christianity was a setback in civil rights in general.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

^^ Spare the rod spoil the child is interpreted by most Christians as they should hit their kids.
Spanking might strike the child but on the fatty parts of their obstinate bums, where no real damage can be done with an open hand, unless you are Iron Man, and you are not to do it in anger less the child not see that he/she REALLY went off the reservation. To equate spanking to hitting is to try to equate a slap ti a round house punch to the nose.

JLeslie's avatar

Ok, spank their kids. Some take it further, but most I agree just spank with an open hand. My point was @LostInParadise made it sound like that sentence prevents any form of corporal punishments. It’s the opposite. Other people interpret the rod as a way to guide children like a Shephard guides his sheep by corralling them and leading them, but most Christians I know take the rod to mean similar to a switch.

dappled_leaves's avatar

@JLeslie Read @LostInParadise‘s comment again. He is saying that the bible promotes corporal punishment.

Dutchess_III's avatar

People can take ANYTHING to extremes. Depends on who they are.

JLeslie's avatar

@dappled_leaves You’re right. Now that I read it again I see my mistake. Thanks.

Dutchess_III's avatar

“The Bible promotes corporal punishment.” I guess, as I said above, that can be interpreted so many ways. If they’re so inclined, one could interpret that as a God-given right to beat the shit out of their kids.
Another could read it simply as “Discipline your kids. Don’t ignore bad behavior.”

dappled_leaves's avatar

@Dutchess_III So you think the bible was saying that parents should use the rod for discipline in such a way that it doesn’t come into contact with the child? Yeah… I’m sure that’s what it was saying.

This is not a discussion about whether it’s ok to spank your kids. One jelly simply remarked that the bible promotes corporal punishment. It does.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Well, as I said, it’s up to individual interpretation. I never interpreted it that way.

non_omnis_moriar's avatar

“The rich man in his castle,
The poor man at his gate,
God made them high and lowly,
And ordered their estate.”

non_omnis_moriar's avatar

Eve’s Identity

Whether or not you believe the Bible was divinely inspired, the Book of Genesis has served as the primary source in the West for definitions of gender and morality.

Although much of the story of Adam and Eve can be explained within the context of Hebrew culture, and its patriarchal bias shown to be historical rather than divine in origin, it is nonetheless perceived as containing fundamental, and largely negative, “truths” about the nature of women.

For the last two thousand years or so, Eve has represented the fundamental character and identity of all women. Through Eve’s words and actions, the true nature of women was revealed; her story tells men what women are really like.

Eve represents everything about a woman a man should guard against. In both form and symbol, Eve is woman, and because of her, the prevalent belief in the West has been that all women are by nature disobedient, guileless, weak-willed, prone to temptation and evil, disloyal, untrustworthy, deceitful, seductive, and motivated in their thoughts and behaviour purely by self-interest.

No matter what women might achieve in the world, the message of Genesis warns men not to trust them, and women not to trust themselves or each other. Whoever she might be and whatever her accomplishments, no woman can escape being identified with Eve, or being identified as her.

In the West, the story of Eve has served over the centuries as the principal document in support of measures and laws to curtail and limit the actions, rights, and status of women. The Pseudo-St. Paul, for example, in his Pastoral Epistle to St. Timothy, could cite Genesis as the reason why women should not be allowed to teach or to tell a man what to do:

For I do not allow woman to teach, or to exercise authority over men; but she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.
(1 Timothy 2:12–14)

The early Christian theologian Tertullian (c. 155/160–220 CE) reminded women that they all share Eve’s “ignominy…of original sin and the odium of being the cause of the fall of the human race”:

Do you not believe that you are (each) an Eve? The sentence of God on this sex of yours lives on even in our times and so it is necessary that the guilt should live on, also. You are the one who opened the door to the Devil, you are the one who first plucked the fruit of the forbidden tree, you are the first who deserted the divine law; you are the one who persuaded him whom the Devil was not strong enough to attack. All too easily you destroyed the image of God, man. Because of your desert, that is, death, even the Son of God had to die.
(The Apparel of Women, Book I, Chapt. 1)

During the Middle Ages, St. Bernard of Clairvaux could claim in his sermons, without contradiction, that Eve was “the original cause of all evil, whose disgrace has come down to all other women.”

This perception of Eve has endured with remarkable tenacity, and persists today as a major stumbling-block in attempts by women to correct gender-based inequalities between the sexes. Consciously or unconsciously, it continues to serve as the ultimate weapon against women who wish to challenge male hegemony.

It is so deeply rooted in the socio-religious psyche of Western civilization that attempts to discredit it, or dismiss it, or simply ignore it as self-serving patriarchal fiction and myth-making have met with little success. One strategy has been to adopt a revisionist approach to the story itself and to re-read it, and re-interpret it, in feminist terms. It has been argued that Genesis 2–3 is not inherently patriarchal and efforts have been made to recover it from centuries of misogynist reading.

Phyllis Trible, Professor of Sacred Literature at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, for example, holds that far from being a secondary or dependent being, Eve is in fact the “culmination” of creation [see BIBLIOGRAPHY].

The argument that the order of creation, in which Adam was created first and Eve second, indicates hierarchy and therefore Adam’s superiority ignores the fact that animals were created before Adam. As Adam is superior to the animals, then the hierarchy of creation should be reversed, and Eve seen as God’s ultimate creation.

Trible also argues that at the time of their creation, Adam and Eve were equals and that the inequality between them enters only after Genesis 3:16 as a consequence of disobedience. In other words, inequality between the sexes was not originally part of the divine plan. It would therefore follow that attempts by feminists today to restore equality are in keeping with God’s original plan.

A point made by Trible and others is that at the time of creation in Genesis 2:7, ha-‘adam, which has been conventionally translated as “man,” “the man” (ha read as the definite article “the”), or “Adam,” had no gender. Gender comes into existence only with the creation of woman in Genesis 2:22, following which, in 2:23, the “earth-creature” or “groundling” (suggested alternative translations of ha-‘adam) is sexually differentiated as “man” (ish), and woman as ishah.

A note can be added here on the word “rib.” Sarah Roth Lieberman [see BIBLIOGRAPHY] points out that the Sumerian word “ti” means both “rib” and “to make alive.” In ancient Mesopotamia, Ninti, whose name means both “lady of the rib” and “lady who makes alive,” is the goddess created by Nimhursag to heal Enki’s sick rib. The double meaning may explain why Eve, who is called “mother of all living” (Genesis 3:20), was created from Adam’s rib (an otherwise very odd piece of male anatomy to chose). Unfortunately, in the Bible, the association is lost because the Hebrew words for “rib” and “life” are two different words with unrelated roots.

Attempts have also been made to correct the popular belief that Eve was a temptress who tempted Adam into eating the fruit despite the fact that according to Genesis 3:6, after she ate the fruit herself, she then “gave some to her husband and he ate.”

This simple, and by any other measure, generous and unselfish act of sharing has, in a list assiduously compiled by Jean Higgins [see BIBLIOGRAPHY], been variously interpreted over the centuries by Biblical scholars and commentators to mean that Eve “tempted, beguiled, lured, corrupted, persuaded, taught, counseled, suggested, urged, used wicked persuasion, led into wrongdoing, proved herself an enemy, used guile and cozening, tears and lamentations, to prevail upon Adam.”

In the Vulgate, St. Jerome uses the word seducta to describe Eve’s transgression clearly implying that she used her sex to tempt, or seduce, Adam into disobedience. Such damning commentary has long supported the wide-spread conviction that Eve tempted Adam to sin and was therefore responsible for Adam’s fall.

However, despite the sometimes ingenious efforts by feminists in particular, it has proved remarkably difficult to correct popular belief and redefine Eve in more positive terms.

The negative view of Eve and of women in general has been constantly reinforced in the West over the centuries. In a medieval liturgical drama of the story of Adam and Eve, acted both inside and outside of many churches, at the moment of their Expulsion from the Garden of Eden, Adam, after hurling a wailing Eve to the ground, kicking her, and dragging her by the hair, cries out in fury and dismay:

Oh, evil woman, full of treason….
Forever contrary to reason,
Bringing no man good in any season:
Our children’s children to the end of time
Will feel the cruel whiplash of your crime!

Moreover this view of Eve and of women in general has been insinuated into the culture to such an extent that both men and women believe it defines a natural condition of women. It is a pernicious view and the degree to which it continues to subtly influence in negative ways our perception of women must be constantly born in mind while looking at the images of women in these pages.

Dutchess_III's avatar

That would describe the way women were treated in the Middle east @nonetc., when that drivel was written, not necessarily in the rest of the world. It happens to be the model we adopted in the West. Doesn’t make it right or acceptable.

LostInParadise's avatar

But it does make it a part of the biblical legacy.

Dutchess_III's avatar

And women, especially in the East, are paying for it with their lives.

non_omnis_moriar's avatar

Christians, Jews, Muslims all share the story of evil Eve. Jews would stone women just as fundy Muslims can stone women today and in Christian Africa children and women are put to death for being witches.

Hinduism is the oldest still active religion in the world and they still abuse women, especially in rural areas.

The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions states it bluntly:

“The subordination of women to men became widespread in all religions.” This subordination is the primal violence from which other forms of anti-woman violence are spawned.

The Oxford Dictionary’s “all religions” has suggested to some that religion is by its nature sexist and invariably the underwriter of the abuse of women.

That overstates the case, but it is searingly true that the world’s religions contain some easily diagnosed-and some not so easily diagnosed-inducements to violence against women.

Those judged inferior are more easily abused and, when their “inferiority” is numenally blessed, the prejudice sinks deep, well-fed roots.

Dutchess_III's avatar

We are just animals and generally speaking, men are bigger and stronger and therefore (in their opinion) more fit to rule.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

^ That is evolution; might males right.

dappled_leaves's avatar

@Hypocrisy_Central No… in evolution, reproduction makes right. Might is beside the point.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

^ Oh? No… in evolution, reproduction makes right., have you forgotten where you are? I am sure more than a few would disagree with that.

dappled_leaves's avatar

@Hypocrisy_Central It’s not a matter of opinion. Reproductive fitness is the basis of evolution. Period.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

^ One could take it at face value as you presented it that those who are not incline for reproduction are not in true fitness of evolution. Some see it as merely a choice to make, or not.

Dutchess_III's avatar

@dappled_leaves which male gets the “right” to reproduce? The biggest and strongest ones. The ones who can beat the crap out of other males.

dappled_leaves's avatar

@Dutchess_III Not necessarily! Sometimes, it’s the prettiest ones. Or the most attentive ones. Strength is only one of many, many factors.

BhacSsylan's avatar

Yeah, evolution definitely does not say that might makes right, necessarily. It does sometimes, but absolutely not always. For an NSFW but awesome sampling of various reproductive strategies in nature, see Humon Comics. My personal favorite is the Cuttlefish, where being feminine and clever is a perfectly successful male mating strategy. And more to the human picture, while far more complicated (or at least is seems to us), people who believe in the ‘might makes right’ version of human reproductive success very rarely actually understand human culture (and also tend to ascribe to the ‘alpha wolf’ model, which is not even true of wolves!). Anyone who thinks that women only go after the strongest dudes are either misogynistic, not paying attention, or, quite frequently, both.

Dutchess_III's avatar

For mammals strength is usually the deciding factor.

ragingloli's avatar

If that were the case, they would have perished along with the non-bird dinosaurs.
They prevailed because they were small.

Dutchess_III's avatar

That was a bit off subject Raggy. I’m not talking prehistoric times, but even mice and lemurs fight for the right to breed.
As for present day. Lions, wolves, moose, deer, etc. the males will kill each other for the right to breed.
Humans are a pretty violent species.

BhacSsylan's avatar

A) you can’t generalize from ‘mammals I know about’ to humans. Maybe they’re similar, maybe they’re not. And whether we’re violent in general has little to do with reproduction; rape is typically not a viable reproductive strategy, republican efforts to change that notwithstanding.

And even aside that, B) many mammals are not violent. To pick one of yours, many deer species use displays, no actual violence. And wolves, again despite much popular misconception, are pair-bonding animals and stay together as nuclear families until the young are mature enough to strike out to form their own packs, there is no constant turnover of mates. You’re also completely disregarding mate choice of females. Back to wolves again, the female tends to become the dominant member during mating season, not the male. And female mate choice is also highly important in monkey species, though the extent of it varies from species to species, and that choice may have very little to do with physical strength. Again, many species rely on displays without any violence.

BhacSsylan's avatar

Quick note, that should be “republican efforts to change that in the US”. Stupidly US-centric there, my apologies.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

My, my, my, and all the time I watched those nature shows over the years I never knew they sexed them up. When the dominant sea lion had a rival male sea lion come on the scene I never thought they both pleased their case to the harem of cows and let them decide who they would breed with. I guess they fought until one was driven off because they just wanted to do it the hard way and not the easy way of diplomacy; boy did they have me fooled. ~~

BhacSsylan's avatar

Yes, because sea lions are all creatures ever. What’s your point, exactly? You think male peacocks got their feathers because they like being easily spotted by predators?

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

^ It certainly cannot be to attract female peacocks, if they only went after the more “flashy” male, that would make them “shallow”, for mates are to be chosen by the content of their character not the beauty of their vestige. ~~

BhacSsylan's avatar

Yes, yes, sure, that’s nice dear. Why don’t you go play over there, though? The adults are talking right now.

ragingloli's avatar

You would repel telepathic peacocks.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

@BhacSsylan Why don’t you go play over there, though? The adults are talking right now.
But we are speaking of adult stuff, if we humans derived from animals who go by pretty and might, why would we mere humans be wrong for choosing mates the same way our four-legged, or sloped brow ancestors did? All that poppycock about shallowness is just that. We are designed to like what is pretty, rebuke what is ugly and unattractive.

@ragingloli You would repel telepathic peacocks.
I am leaving the attraction part to you, as well as the attraction of many other vermin

BhacSsylan's avatar

What is your point? Different creatures have different mating strategies, sometimes it’s display, sometimes it’s strength, sometimes it’s social, most times it’s some combination of the above. And it’s true, we’re no different. But, we also didn’t evolve from peacocks or sea lions, and their common ancestors are far back in time. We evolved from an ancestral ape-like species, and we know other apes also have a heavy social component to their mating choices. Again, what’s your point? All you’re doing is wandering around spouting badly mangled straw versions of evolution. We all know you reject it, why don’t you stop wasting our time?

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

@BhacSsylan Again, what’s your point?
If there is a point it would be this: those of you who derived from apes, beagles, garden slugs or whatever, I don’t buy it, to deny that mating is all about who is the strongest, or prettiest, and for reproduction quality, is for the most part blowing smoke up their own tail pipe. Any nonsense about not disqualifying anyone because they were not physically attractive enough or together for the sake of future offspring to keep the species alive is just that, made up belief to make one feel better.

BhacSsylan's avatar

Aka you reject the badly mangled version of evolution you’ve made up, and are judging others for not following your made-up version. Cool, thanks for playing.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

@BhacSsylan Aka you accepting the badly thought out theory of evolution some quack made up, and are judging others for no following that version of folly. Cool, thanks for playing.
Hey, swings both ways, I can live with it. You can believe your ancestors, you can even belie e incorrectly mine came from there too, came from apes, sub-humans, a petri dish, or whatever, go right ahead. I will know where my ancestors came from, but I won’t tell you yours came from there too, it would break your heart to know great great great great grandfather to the 10x was not less than human. Believe what you wish, harms me none. :-D

Dutchess_III's avatar

OK, can I get an example of a specific mammal that doesn’t us some sort of aggression or violence to earn the right to pass their seed along? Links would be nice too.

BhacSsylan's avatar

Here’s a few I found quickly:

Bonobos are heavily matriarchal, and mate choice and alpha status is more socially based than physical, and frequently controlled by the females.

Hooded seals display use their namesake, a large inflatable sack protruding from the nasal cavity, as a display and to make making calls to attract females.

Rhesus Macaques females have a hierarchy from birth, and is determined by the mother’s rank, and they decide on the mates. Dominant males may be larger, but reproductive success is generally determined by their ability to provide food and chase away predators, not by attacking other macaques, and females frequently mate with lower-dominance males.

LostInParadise's avatar

One thing that is being overlooked is the the extent to which intelligence plays a role in human survival and reproductive success. Small nerdy guys with lots of money can get girls just as well as dumb studs. However, even among primates brute male strength is not the only ticket to reproductive success. In line with what @BhacSsylan said, check out this article and do a search for nice-guy. Baboon females are smart enough to see the value of having a mate who will take care of them and their children.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Bonobos did come to mind. The females are, as your link said, “promiscuous” and the males don’t care.

From your link on hooded seals, ” While some males will defend and mate with just one female for long periods of time…” You can’t “defend” passively.

Re Rhesus Macaques, you can’t chase away predators passively, either. There is some sort of violence involved.

BhacSsylan's avatar

Spotted Hyenas are another interesting case, where reproductive success tends to go to passive males, not aggressive ones.

And sorry, no, I probably can’t find a mammal that never does anything violent ever. But we started down this path talking about intra-species dominance and aggression, and that’s what I’m going with. But even so, hyenas and bonobos are two specific examples, as apparently are baboons as far as reproductive success is involved, and as the link says, “some” males will defend, some won’t. It’s not necessarily linked with success.

BhacSsylan's avatar

And here’s an interesting article on female mate choice from 2009 with a lot of cool information, such as “Several studies of rodents show that females mate preferentially with unmated males” as well as occasions where “female compet[e] for access to males”. A running theme you may also be noticing is that while aggression may sometimes be a factor, it’s far from the only factor, and definitely not necessarily the deciding factor. For instance the deer you mentioned, there’s reason to believe that “there may be an association between the mating success of males and the symmetry of their horns”.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

Bonobos make up what % of the animal kingdom? That is a % so small you need an electron microscope to find it.

BhacSsylan's avatar

And there are currently more bacterial cells in your body than human cells, another interesting fact that is completely irrelevant to the discussion.

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