When I was young one golden social rule was never discuss religion, politics or sex. I’ll leave sex alone for today.
EDIT: Nothing is this article is mean to detract from the many wonderful men worldwide who not only accept women as their equals but who fight for women’s rights. I am looking at the historical reasons why particular demographics persist in trying to subjugate women, specifically in the western world. Yes, I agree, the Middle East has quite a way to go yet.
If the USA election raised one question in my mind (actually, it raised several but one an article is sufficient) it was the weird relationship religions have with women. As regular readers know, I am an atheist and to be perfectly honest some of the things I have discovered recently have really shocked me. How can women accept being treated like second-class citizens by religion? Maybe I am just particularly uneducated in this respect but so many events of late have highlighted the question I had to look at it. This isn’t about whether a God, or several Gods, exist or not – this is about women and their role in society which in many ways is driven by their role in the prevailing religion of any given culture.
The lesson from the USA election may well be religions better get over themselves and start treating women like equal members of the human species. I read somewhere yesterday there must be Republicans wishing they’d never given women the vote and I’m quite sure there are! Just like many in the south think slaves should never have been freed.
Notice how one women is depicted as lovely, “calm” and nurturing and the other is depicted as a raving lunatic? Very impressive marketing, don’t you think?
The ratio of males to females at birth is in favour of males: 107 baby boys to every 100 baby girls globally. By the time the age range of 65+ is reached the women outnumber the men in most countries of the world, even those countries where there is still a high maternal mortality rate. Even China, a country where boy babies are considered eminently preferable, ends up with more women than men.
Of course, between birth and the age of 65 the ratio gradually moves. What is more, women vote! As the Republicans in the USA found out this week. The biggest surprise for me? Women got spoken about as a minority group in just about every media article I read. Women are not a minority, folks!
So we have established the numbers. Now to religion. We already know the Christian religion is just as much about keeping women in their place (ironing, according to our Australian Leader of the Opposition) as the Muslim religion. For a personal experience of Fundamentalist Christianity, read Jane Douglas. Difference? Christians don’t wear the hajib.
Jane highlights some Christian “laws”. Here are two:
1 Corinthians 14:34 (KJV)
Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law.
1 Timothy 5:14 (KJV)
I will therefore that the younger women marry, bear children, guide the house, give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully.
How on earth Christians get off criticising Islam about the treatment of women is beyond me. It might come as a surprise to many to learn that most Islamic men treat their women very lovingly, even if they are not considered “equal” in the sense we westerners view equality. Aisha Ashraf writes about Islam very well, visit her and perhaps start with The truth about Islam. Change will come in time, as it did for Christianity.
What about the Jews, another fairly major religion. I discovered today the Jewish religion is very similar to Islam. Makes sense, they originate from the same part of the world. Culture has more to do with religious laws that anything any God ever said! Try the Laws of Tznius on for size!
B: Covering Hair in Privacy:
The Poskim (Rabbi’s that rule the law) write that even the lenient opinion (that maintains that she is not halachically (by law) duty-bound to cover her hair in privacy) agrees that it is an extremely praiseworthy act of tznius (modesty) for a woman to cover her hair whenever possible (even in bed). This is evident from the story of Kimchis. This outstanding woman merited having seen seven sons who all became Kohanim Gedolim (High Priests). When asked what notable deed she did to merit having such children she answered, “The ceiling beams of my house never saw the hair of my head”. This means that even when she wished to comb her hair she would avoid exposing the hair properly. For example, she combed the hair under a shawl that lay loosely over her head.
This was an outstanding act of tznius (modesty) and it is certainly not expected of the average woman. However, the basic idea of reducing the exposure of hair to the absolute minimum is certainly to be learned from Kimchis, and her ways should be emulated as far as possible. As a result of this particular form oftznius (modesty), a woman could merit to have children who are great Talmidei Chachamim (Torah Scholars).
On another site I discovered this:
There are several levels to the observance of physical and personal modesty (tznius) according to Orthodox Judaism as derived from various sources in halakha.
- A person should not dwell on lascivious or immoral thoughts.
- Avert one’s eyes from staring at members of the opposite sex, particularly at any part of the female anatomy.
- Keep most of one’s body clothed in respectable clothing.
- Avoid the company of uncouth individuals and where an atmosphere of levity and depravity prevails.
- Avoid looking at pictures or scenes that will be sexually arousing.
- Avoid touching a person of the opposite sex (i.e. by observing negiah), especially in a lingering arousing manner (shaking hands very quickly in greeting between sexes is a point of dispute, and depends on customs).
- Do not wear the clothing of a member of the opposite sex.
- Do not erotically hug (chibuk) or kiss (nishuk) your spouse unless you are in private and when the wife is definitely not a niddah (“menstruant”).
Jewish or Muslim? I wouldn’t be able to tell unless I knew the site I was on. Never mind, I’m an atheist, I can’t be expected to know. Wrong – I should know. ALL women should know this stuff.
I came to this via a report of people in Israel assaulting a female fire fighter. Why on earth would people do that, I wondered. Check the comments on this article – it seems Jewish women are not supposed to do anything that can be done by a man. As far as I am aware, the only thing men can’t do is get pregnant and give birth, so I guess if I were Jewish I wouldn’t even have to wash dishes or cook. Much less iron clothes! Hmm… starting to sound like a damn fine religion, actually!
Back to Christianity. These right-wing Republicans had a field day trying to control women’s bodies based on their religious beliefs. What bothered me even more was the women who brought into this nonsense, Tweeting about the slut pill as if the contraceptive pill was the devil’s own drug.
Now, of course, it is difficult to know what these people object to more, the contraceptive pill or the HPV vaccine Gardasil! That is also being referred to as “the slut pill” by those against subsidised medicine or for the control of women’s bodies – take your pick. Matthew Herper of Forbes looks at some of the arguments in his article Here Is How We Know Gardasil Has Not Killed 100 People.
This isn’t just about damn voting – this is about whether women live or die, have 10 children or one. This is not a game and men must not make these decisions “on our behalf”. Religion must not make these decisions on our behalf.
Why do religions teach the suppression of women? I’d suggest the reason is primarily economic, except male control seems to pre-date economies and perhaps even religions.
The bigger question, surely, is why did women ever accept this nonsense? We are the life-givers. As the old saying goes, you can always be sure who your mother is….. I just do not understand how women became enslaved in the first place. Because we are physically weaker, generally? That just doesn’t make sense as there are many other ways of defending ourselves against oppression. The more I consider the religious treatment of women, the more I am astounded ANY woman believes in any religion at all. Would African-Americans vote to bring back slavery?
What initially inspired men to subjugate women? Control over the production of the next generation? Ties back into economics, really. I also recognise that many, in those days of yore, believed they were doing the right and noble thing. We learn over time. We change. Clearly not all of us though. This just in:
As you can see, I asked for links. A Jezebel.com article is the best summation available.
Whatever the history, which despite the many, many dissertations out there, we will probably never truly understand the WHY, those times are over.
I once read The Shore of Women by Pamela Sargent. Damn good book and I would not be at all surprised if one day something similar comes to pass on Earth!
Having expelled men from their vast walled cities to a lower-class wilderness, the women in this futuristic universe dictate policy and chart the future through control of scientific and technological advances. Among their laws are the rules for reproductive engagement, an act now viewed as a means of procreation rather than an act of love.
EDIT December 31, 2012 In light of the horrific rape in India, where the victim was disemboweled, I am adding the following article to illustrate in 2012 nothing has changed.
“Is it possible that all of a sudden men have gone mad? We don’t believe it,” Corsi wrote.
“The fact is that women are increasingly provocative, they become arrogant, they believe themselves to be self-sufficient and end up exacerbating the situation,” he said.
“Children are abandoned to their own devices, homes are dirty, meals are cold or fast food, clothes are filthy,” he added.
Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/world/women-bring-violence-on-themselves-priest-20121228-2bybu.html#ixzz2GZaqCBvz
Women the world over should be OUTRAGED at such nonsence. https://teamoyeniyi.com/2012/12/29/i-am-woman-hear-me-roar/
Related on this site:
- Why I am an atheist
- I am an atheist and we don’t live in Kentucky
- Equality does not mean sameness
- Sexism, misogyny, gender equality: what does it all mean?
- What the hell is happening to the “civilised” western world?
- Independent Woman “Syndrome” – Another attack on women?
Related , other sources:
- Collected Quotes about Women (this is a MUST read! – archiearchive.wordpress.com)
- A World Untouched by Civilization (jewishpress.com)
- A Buddhist and a Hindu Walk into the Congress… (religiondispatches.org)
- A new way to look at “Religion gives people comfort, so don’t take it away” (pretentiousape.wordpress.com)
- Romney feels the scorn of women’s fury (theage.com)
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Hi Robyn. I came here from a link in your other article. My opinion that Yahweh/ Old Testament based religions form the ‘misevolved’ foundation of the unnatural society that we live in. Females tend to dominate in nature and the intervention of the lesser god Yahweh has propagated misanthropy. Without the interference of Yahweh humans would have evolved into something more natural; be more like Dolphins. Always interesting to watch the atheists and orthodox religious groups line up to argue with each other. Both scientific atheism and orthodox religions are threats to ‘reason’ in the current age. Off Topic Cheeky Postscript; Do you think women have had to learn the use of subtle ironic patronizing agreement statements in order to state their views without arousing male indignation? http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/poetry/outloud/cope.shtml You might like this poem!
To answer your ending question, my Lebanese mother-in-law used to something along the lines of “Keep suggesting until the man thinks it is their own idea”. My problem is I always expect my men to be more mature than that! I need to be on the computer to respond to the rest! 🙂
He he he – yes, the poem is quite good. And true most of the time!
I am not a fan of the atheists that attack believers necessarily, however I have become less tolerant myself with believers as I have gotten older. I get most irate about the concept of religious instruction in public schools for instance, and the way it is proposed here – kids opting out are not allowed to spend the time on any other learning, for example.
I like dolphins, but admit I don’t know a lot about their family structure! Maybe I should look it up!
I don’t think it’s really religion that subjugates women, but rather misogynistic people within a misogynistic society that use religion as an excuse to express their bigoted opinions. And yes, ancient religions like Judaism have a lot of negative things to say about women, and orthodox Jews still subjugate women. But that is not all of Judaism. Same with Christianity and Islam: not all Christians or Muslims believe in subjugating women. But it’s also very clear that equality between men and women is a very recent idea if you look at history (the past fifty years). So, of course these religions which are hundreds, if not thousands, of years old are going to have a point of view that doesn’t view women and men equally. But our world is changing, and it takes traditional religious beliefs a little bit to catch up. It’s not just Christians or Muslims that treat women like shit: it’s our whole fucking world.
Also, the Christian bible doesn’t say anything about birth control, homosexuality, abortion, etc. So, this is people who are USING religion as a political platform to get what they want.
Technically you may be right Emily, but the words of all the books, written by men, are pretty clear on it. Certainly religion has been used as a subjugating device, but where did that desire to subjugate come from originally?
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[…] Time for women in all nations to rise up and demand an end to the insanity. Don’t bother making any damn comments on here that it is the victim’s fault. Such comments will not be published. Think very carefully about why you even think such stupid thoughts and DO NOT bring religion into it either! […]
Great post, Robyn. It’s a fascinating (and depressing!) topic and one I too have given a lot of thought to. My many-years-ago undergraduate anthropology studies opened my eyes to a lot of this stuff and what I think is what you say here “male control seems to pre-date…religions.” It’s not religion as such that does this, it’s the men who create the religions. Any hierarchical social organization subjugates women; religion is one of those.
That doesn’t mean, obviously, that all men subjugate women – we know that is not the case. But the men who create the structures do, and many men afterwards are happy to accept their dominant position.
Christian, Jewish and Muslim texts and history all have their horrible side and all subjugate women, even though as with I would guess all religions, their central theories and goals are quite lovely and peaceful.
Uh… “It’s not religion it’s the men who create religion” – genius! (*facepalm*). Way to state the obvious! I mean to say its not unique to religion, but any social organization.
Thanks Robyn! Again, great article.
I agree it does seem to be, but religion is such a pervasive force in most societies, it is difficult to know if other organisations have not been influenced by religious examples of dominance.
Of course, I myself said the subjugation seems to rpredate religion, yet if you read Derek’s comments on this article, I seems I was wrong on that score. Derek (The Babel Fish) is working on an article of his own which will be very detailed and may shed a lot of light on the pre-religion era of humanity in this regard.
You raise a very good point I didn’t really address. Religious texts are all lovely and peaceful (except perhaps for Judaism, where the New Testament is not recognised and the Old Testament is quite violent), and yet they generally have terrible histories of the abuse of women AND children! Look at the enquiry in Ireland and our own Royal COmmission here into child abuse.
I’ve even read reports of the Salvation Army orphanages being terrible places for children and of all the religions, the Salvation Army was one I thought was not too bad.
[…] What is it with religion and women? […]
Physical strength originally, , religion and culture ( history as in HIS story! ), and keeping women uneducated. These are the simple things that have kept women subjugated.. As women become more educated around the world this changes and women generally become freer especially if they can shake off the religion bit..
The USA elections and the right-wing reaction to losing the “slut vote” as many put it, really stung. As if women were some minority to be ignored…… or repressed as in generations past.
Let us hope that education continues, although we have a right-wing party here slashing and burning education and we have just had the Royal Commission into child abuse announced. While it will have wider scope that just religious institutions, that was the main driver.
and we have the Jimmy Saville child abuse thing going on here in the UK.. the tip of the iceberg..
I consider myself a religious woman but I don’t let others dictate what I do with my body… At the end of the day, women have to decide what’s best for them as individuals first…
I wrote this as a result of the USA election, but since then we have announced a Royal COmmission into child sex abuse here and I have been reading some of the personal accounts that have been published since the Royal COmmission was announced. Absolutely horrifying and really changes my perspective on this article.
I wrote this simply about the suppresion of women, but the tendrils run far deeper. To much for a site such as this to tackle, but so much needs to be done.
Here is one personal account: http://elizabethlhuede.com/2012/11/14/in-bed-with-the-catholic-church-recovering-from-childhood-sexual-assault/
And another: http://noplaceforsheep.com/2012/11/14/cardinal-spin/
There is much to be done.
[…] I don’t make my living as a comedienne comedian or a social commentator (so you get my social commentary for free), I am under no pressure to push the […]
Couldn’t agree more. In fact religion is used as an excuse to discriminate against many groups of people. And they have the nerve to suggest that atheists must have no morals as they don’t have a religion!
And I couldn’t agree with YOU more, Stewie.
Not to mention the rampant abuse of children. Our Prime Minister has just announced a Royal Commission into child abuse. While the main trigger has been the horrific tales of abuse in the Catholic Church, the Royal Commission will be more widespread.
Jewish women are not supposed to do anything that can be done by a man? Then how come military service is mandatory for Israeli women, just as it is for men? 🙂
I’m not so sure that the religion is the problem. Idiots seem to be the problem. Religion is just an excuse, I’m sure they would have found something else even if they were atheists.
And there you have it! Just an excuse! Precisely my view about religion, it is merely an excuse to subjugate.
As for the military service, I think the distinction is the Orthodox Jews. Like most religions, there are extreme groups.
“Then how come military service is mandatory for Israeli women, just as it is for men?”
Probably because most of the Zionist founders of the state of Israel were actually secular radicals, even socialists, and generally not religious.
Thank you. I wasn’t sure, but I do know that like most religions there are different groups within Judaism. Your explanation may be closer to the mark!
I don’t know much about the very beginnings of the subjugation of women, but I do know a little bit about the relationships between genders in early modern times – that is, around 1400 to 1800 or so. At that point, and quite probably before that, women were seen as evil and weak – that is, they were equated with Eve, who fell for the Serpent and caused the fall of humanity. (I’m an Atheist, I don’t believe this, I’m just saying that’s how people used to think!) Men took it upon themselves to control women in order to stop them causing any more trouble, basically. However, it is very important to note that women had their own ways and means of getting things done. Sure, they were inferior, but they could exert their own influences, they had their own forms of social interactions and power games. And it wasn’t always women versus men; very often the people doing the oppressing (as we would consider it now) were women acting against other women – sometimes to discredit a family, or in revenge, or for some other form of gain. Women certainly acted of their own accord. A great example of this is accusations of witchcraft; a huge proportion of accusations were made by women against other women, very often for complex social reasons as opposed to literally believing in witchcraft. I could prattle on for quite some time about the role of women in early modern Europe, but… I really should be listening to a lecture about the rise of agriculture 14,000 years ago!
I think what you should do is write a guest post! :)) I want to hear more!
I note the women v women thing … Something else that continues today, I believe. Perhaps another remnant of a bye-gone era.
That rise of agriculture 14,000 years ago has a lot to do with the subjugation of women! I must go back to my studies and write what I have found. All about dragons and other real myths 🙂
Please do! And I’m linking your quotes here! Says a lot about history! http://archiearchive.wordpress.com/collected-quotes/about-women/
Personally, I think it is because women cause men to lose control and they hate that! The pay back was subjugation!
Hey, nice article 🙂
One thing you said, though, after citing a couple of chauvinistic quotes from the bible was:
“How on earth Christians get off criticising Islam about the treatment of women is beyond me.”
Well, in this case, I would say that it is actually fair for Christians to criticize the treatment of women in Islamic countries because Christians don’t take their Bibles as seriously as Muslims take their Koran. The societies’ differences demonstrate this. Am I defending Christianity? No, of course not. But Christianity has reformed, whereas Islam has not. So, as long as a Christian isn’t saying, “The Bible, not the Koran, shows the proper way to treat women,” which I’ve never actually heard, then I think it is a fair judgement.
I agree that to a degree Christianity has reformed, some areas have not. Also, not all Islam is the same, just as not all forms of Christianity are the same. I’m married to a Muslim, so I know first hand not all are the same. 🙂 Besides, reading Jane’s article does make one wonder about Christian reform. Some Christians take the Bible very seriously.
My intent was to show the similarities and the origins of female suppression. I’ve just been told one elite Englishman said, on hearing women won the vote, “Next they’ll be giving the vote to horses”. 😥 what were we! Nothing more than incubators?
I think the reaction to the female vote in the USA indicates it just wasn’t considered cricket that women flexed their electoral muscle with quite the might they did.
Mind you, in Saudi they MIGHT get to vote in local elections soon. Reform moves slowly in some parts of the world.
I agree with what you’re saying; however, maybe I wasn’t being clear enough. What I was trying to say was less a statement about religion and more a statement about the affect of religion on the cultures of different countries. Of course your husband may not have any sexist views. That’s not what I was trying to say. Also, of course there are many nutty Christians in America and other Western countries. The difference is that Western countries don’t base their laws and government on their religion. Therefore, their societies are not limited by the intolerance in their holy books. On the other hand, I’m not sure if I can think of a predominantly Muslim country that doesn’t use the Koran and Sharia as foundations for their laws and government. Herein lies the difference. People’s beliefs are guided by their society, and unfortunately for women in Muslim societies, the Koran forces women into a subservient role.
As much as people might say that Western countries have a long way to go to achieve equality between men and women, this statement seems somewhat frivolous if you research into the problems that occur daily in Muslim societies.
Yes, I agree that those countries who base their laws on their religion are in a much worse (my perspective) category. I see what you were saying now.
Mind you, if you look at USA politicians like Atkin, that is exactly what he would have done. Remember Abbott’s attitude to Gardasil? Based in his religion. Perhaps not as overt as not letting women drive, but still framing laws based on religious beliefs.
Thank you for commenting! Religion seems to freak people out!
Yeah, it’s a great article. Just to add something to the previous commenter’s point about Western governments not basing law on religion – this may be true in theory, but in practice there’s a still far too much religious legislation. I live in the UK where the head of state is the head of our national religion – Anglicanism. I find it crazy that this is still true in the C21. Worst of all, many of our schools are religious. The disestablishment of the church which beganin in earnest in the C19 is very very far from complete, and progress slowed to a stop sometime back in the sixties. Having said that, religious issues cloud our political horizon far less than in in the States despite the fact that it’s supposed to be a secularstate…
Thank you so much. Yes, we here too are fighting against religion in schools.
I agree that your and my countries are not as religiously driven as the USA.
People accuse Obama of being a closet Muslim. If anything, my guess is he is much like me – an atheist! Of course, in the USA that would never wash, unlike here where we do have an atheist PM. Pity the Leader of the Opposition is not so evolved, as he is still back in the days of having women ironing only.
@thegreatantagonizer – While I accept your point that the position of women is generally better in countries where christianity is the predominant religion, as opposed to those where it’s islam, I do not believe christianity can claim any credit for this whatsoever. As you point out it is because, “Christians don’t take their Bibles as seriously as Muslims take their Koran.” So christianity should take credit for the fact that many of us don’t take it very seriously anymore? No, all the advances women have made in western countries are due to the decline of christianity and the rise of secular humanism and atheism.
If we were to judge the main monotheistic religions on the content of their scripture, they are all pretty offensive in their treatment of women, but of the three islam is actually the most progressive. Possibly because it’s the most recent. Granted, there’s not much in it, but to give an example, much is made of the fact that under sharia it takes two female witnesses to carry the same weight as one male. But in the old testament the testimony of a female witness carries no weight at all. Doesn’t matter if there are a hundred of them. Also islam is the only one of the three that allows women to own property.
So why, then, is the position of women somewhat better in the west? Well, because, as you say, we don’t take all that stuff very seriously any more. Many of us (including me) don’t believe a word of it. This has allowed us to re-assess our attitudes to many things. But if we cast our gaze back 500 years or so, everyone believed it. It was taken as read. And the few who, in such a society, were of sufficiently independent mind to disbelieve it would not have dared to say so, as that would have been a heresy, punishable by burning at the stake. I mean, shit, saying the Earth went round the sun could get you incinerated in those days.
Now consider this: Islam is presently in its 15th Century. Having traveled in a number of muslim countries, I can confirm that atheism is virtually unheard of. The religion is taken as read, in exactly the same way as it was in Europe in the 15th Century A.D. The fundamentalists have an influence disproportionate to their numbers, just as they did in the Spanish Inquisition. But overall I think it’s fair to say that our 15th Century was far bloodier. Oh, and by the way – “I’m not sure if I can think of a predominantly Muslim country that doesn’t use the Koran and Sharia as foundations for their laws and government.” – Turkey. Determinedly secular since Mustapha Kemal Ataturk came to power after WW1. In fact they’ve arguably gone a bit far in the opposite direction. They only quite recently allowed female uni students to wear headscarves.
archiearchiveFCD said, “That rise of agriculture 14,000 years ago has a lot to do with the subjugation of women!” That is absolutely right, and I have quite a bit to say on the subject. I am convinced the rise of agriculture is the root cause of the gradual shift from matriarchal to patriarchal societies and religions, but it is getting very late and I may have to return tomorrow to explain exactly why 🙂 Night all!
Thank you for a wonderfully detailed comment!
I especially liked this bit: “much is made of the fact that under sharia it takes two female witnesses to carry the same weight as one male. But in the old testament the testimony of a female witness carries no weight at all. Doesn’t matter if there are a hundred of them. Also islam is the only one of the three that allows women to own property.” Demonstrates a difference I doubt many are aware of.
I like your 15th Century concept. I have often thought that same thing, in fact made a similar observation, but have not said it as directly as you have. I agree.
I look forward to your thoughts on the rise of agriculture. You could write a whole article on it!
Ok, after a day of techno angst (which I hated) I’m back, with a new, improved internet connection (which I’m liking so far). So without further ado, let’s jump back 14,000 years. We find humanity already well-distributed around the world, although Northern Europe is still covered by an ice sheet. We are nomads, living in small extended family groups of hunter gatherers. There are still a few groups of hunter gatherers around, and a bunch more were hunter gatherers until recently, so we have a reasonable idea of what it’s like. Everyone in the band co-operates and contributes to the survival of the group. Childcare is collective. There is no power structure, no status other than that conferred by age and wisdom. Marx described this kind of society as ‘Primitive Communism.” Up until this point religion was essentially animistic and shamanistic. The sun, the moon, the earth, the river, the mountain, animal spirits, drug-fueled spirit quests, all that stuff.
We are most established in the Middle East, in what is known as the fertile crescent. It is here we will begin to domesticate plants and animals. Now there’s a bit of doubt around exactly what came first and when, but the scientific consensus seems to be that both happened at about the same time. The first plants were ones with which we are still familiar today, or at any rate their ancestors. Grains, pulses and fruits like olives and grapes. The first animal was probably the wolf. All present day dogs are descended from Eurasian wolves. How did it happen? Well if you look at wild dogs, hyenas, etc. in Africa, they have a tendency to follow apex predators, like lions, in the hope of getting access to prey they’d have a hard time getting for themselves. In Eurasia humans had become the apex predator. We haven’t been predators for as long as cats and dogs though. We can’t run very fast, our hearing and eyesight are nothing special and our sense of smell is pretty hopeless. However, our tools of stone and wood and our control of fire allowed us to bring down even the largest prey, like mammoths. The wolves would have figured this out, and early humans would have figured out that the wolves, with their more evolved hunting physiology, were much better at tracking and finding prey than us. The symbiotic relationship was obvious.
Now, the thing about cultivating plants is that you have to settle down. Crops need tending. You can only hunt so much in the surrounding area, then all the game’s gone. But, by making a further step in domesticating the dog, we could become herders instead of hunters. Dogs could help round up the animals and guard them too. So we gave up being nomads and started to build permanent settlements. Since the biggest threat to humans has long been other humans, crops and herds and homes need to be defended, and there’s safety in numbers. There are less split-offs from the family groups and they become tribes or clans. So the settlements start to grow and we start to live in larger communities. Now we have to get organised, everyone has to be fed, and so fertility in all its forms becomes of prime importance. This gives rise to matriarchal religions. From this era, archaeologists begin to find little carved female fertility icons, usually depicted as pregnant and with swollen breasts. They also find carved animals, but interestingly not men.
As everything gets more complex, so does religion. We begin to anthropomorphise our deities, so they can be depicted artistically. Art is also flourishing in this period, because of specialization. Not all the men are required to herd the animals, not all the women are needed to tend the crops, so the society can afford to have specialist artists, musicians, tool makers, builders, etc. And a priestly caste. Religion seems to have taken its chance, claimed to be able to influence fertility, weather, etc. through ritual, and co-opted the builders and painters and sculptors to create places to honour the new personified gods/godesses. Probably used the musos too. Polytheism has been born. Still, the link to fertility is strong, so female deities predominate. We don’t know a huge amount about those early matriarchal, polytheistic religions and societies, because we are still in the period before writing, but many anthropologists believe they were polyandrous.* We do know there would have been food surpluses. This had many and profound effects. One, often overlooked, would have been the domestication of the cat. Meat can be stored on the hoof, so to speak, but grain, for instance, has to be stored after harvest. This of course makes it vulnerable to mice and rats, which developed their own symbiotic relationship with us absent our consent and are with us still. Cats followed, and their usefulness in keeping rodent numbers down endeared us to them. Or should that be them to us? You know how, when we think about dogs and cats, not specific dogs and cats, but in general, most people think of dogs as male and cats as female? Could this be the reason? Men domesticated dogs, women domesticated cats.
That’s just one result though. The big one is probably that for the first time there can be a distribution of wealth. When there’s no surplus there’s nothing to distribute except today’s food. Now those with more influence begin to accumulate wealth. That priestly caste I mentioned get stuck right in (like the rats, they’ve never left us and continue to feed off us parasitically today). So we’ve gone from elders and shamans (is that the right plural?) to chieftans and priests. Quite often they are the same people (This reached its apotheosis in the god-kings of ancient Egypt, but that’s still to come). So we now have organised religion, private property, an economy, and a class system. These are pretty massive societal concepts, but not until all of them are in place is the time right for the start of the shift to patriarchy. Some have argued that the catalyst was that men only then found out that they had a role in procreation, but personally I think that’s pretty out there as an idea, and I don’t intend to argue it. I suppose there must have been a time before we knew that, but who knows? The explanation is probably more complicated and more mundane.
The agriculture led to surplus, which led to the accumulation of wealth, power and status. Once there was wealth, we needed a way to count it, so we get the start of writing in the larger settlements, which are beginning to grow into cities as they accumulate even more wealth from trade with other places. People start to think they might like a say in what happens to their accumulated wealth after they die. Purely ornamental stuff like jewelery is often buried with them, but what about a herd of sheep or cattle? Men own those, and want to pass them on to their children. And there you have it. The first cause. Under a matriarchal, polyandrous system, it is very difficult for men to do this. They need polygamy or monogamy to ensure they know who their sons are. How do you bring about such a radical change in society? Well, the perfect tool is religion. It is already so enmeshed in the society that if you can change it, you can change societal norms in a big way. And we now have this new tool of writing with which to fix religious dogma in place. That is what men now begin to do. Myth-making begins on a grand scale. Of course, there was already mythology, but it was being changed. I would say re-written, but actually it was going from oral traditions to writing for the first time. There’s a bit of crossover. Some written mythology from matriarchal societies has been uncovered, and even in the patriarchal traditions there are allegorical references to those they replaced. A classic, relatively recent example is the story of St. Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland. Paleantologists will tell you there never were any snakes in Ireland, but the serpant was a symbol of the old, matriarchal, Celtic religion. You can find similar references in Greek mythology, and even in early Hebrew writings, although those bits have been carefully kept out of the christian version of the old testament.
By the time christianity came along, patriarchy was well-established, and the early church leaders agreed an orthodoxy that ensured, for instance, that the gospel of Mary Magdalene never stood a chance of making the final cut for the new testament, and that she was largely written out of the story, or vilified as a prostitute, when she was almost certainly a much more central figure in Jesus’ life, perhaps more important than any of the male apostles. There is some evidence she was an alternate leader to Peter after the death of Jesus. Anyway, there it is, my take on the relationship between agriculture and patriarchy. My apologies for the length. The night is over, so I’ll bid you good morrow, with just a little bit (after the footnote) of suggested background reading. 🙂
(*In this period of the development of my lot, the Celts, for instance, it is believed that the women owned the houses and took whatever lovers they pleased. The highest status woman was a sort of high priestess/queen, who chose a new consort every spring from amongst the greatest of the warriors. He became war chief for the year. If he was lucky he didn’t get killed in battle, and retired from his position, with his prestige considerably enhanced, next spring. If he was unlucky, the crops failed, in which case his life was forfeit, and his blood was shed to nourish the earth. The queen represented Mother Earth and when he became the consort he literally married the land. Echoes of this may be seen in the ancient crowning traditions of Scottish and Irish kings. Indeed the Scottish monarch was always known as King or Queen of Scots, not of Scotland. They belonged to the land, rather than the other way round.)
Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond gives a pretty good breakdown of the development of agriculture and technology all over the world, as well as who settled where and when, with plenty of useful comparative graphs. He doesn’t tie that in to religious beliefs (but having read this far, you’ll be able to do that yourself), because he has a point to make, and it’s not the same as mine. He’s advancing a geographical determinist view of history to explain why agriculture, and hence technology, developed earlier and more successfully in Eurasia than anywhere else. As his argument is at core a counter-racial determinist (anti-racist) one, he does tend to labour his points a bit. Fair enough, racists don’t tend to be very bright, but you may find it a little frustrating if you’re a quick study.
Somewhat more fun, a little fiction – Marion Zimmer Bradley. I’d recommend two books which I think are good educated guesses at what the transition from matriarchal to patriarchal religion might have looked like to someone living in those times. Best known of course is The Mists of Avalon, a re-telling of the Arthurian legend from the point of view of Morgaine (Morgana), not a witch but a High Priestess of the old religion. My other suggestion is The Firebrand, which takes on the seige of Troy from the perspective of the trojan princess Kassandra, bit different to the Greek, entirely male perspective of The Iliad. Enjoy! 🙂
Thank so much for such wonderful contributions to the discussion! I feel as if I have stolen a whole article off you.
The history of humankind is extremely interesting. I find the bit about no carvings of men extremely interesting. I was not aware of that at all.
I once watched a program about temples in India that the early Islamic peoples tried to destroy. The sexual engravings were spectacular and very different from what the three mainstream religions teach about sex. Given sex is what keeps us producing the next generation, I found the contradiction very interesting.
Thanks again for the kind words. You did say I could write a whole article on it, and I seem to have done so. Hope I haven’t killed the discussion though. I may edit and re-post it later, but it’s all yours for the time being.
I was getting a bit self-conscious about the length of it, so I didn’t go into much detail about the rise of monotheism. That is probably the next chapter. But your point is well made – polytheism does tend to be less sexually repressive, Hinduism in particular. You’ve also got your Kama Sutra of course.
Monogamy, which seems to be a product of monotheism (along with the other aspects of monomania), is not the most efficient way of building a population, but hey, that doesn’t really seem to have been a problem with our species (at 7 billion and counting) for quite a while now.
I really do think you should take your comments and shape them into an article! Good to hear you are considering it. No, I don’t think you stifled discussion, I think this is a touchy subject for many people, particularly since the Royal Commission was announced.
Nice post there, however your information is not very uptodate. For long time it has been assumed that agricultural revolution caused economical developments, which in turn allowed social developments including religion and urbanization. But recent studies of oldest in known temple in Gobekli Tepe , Turkey, proved that long before agricultural revolution, while living as gatherers and hunters, humans already had advanced religious believes and built temples. In other words, first was the temple, cities and agriculture followed.
Thinking that female figurines found in later settlements somehow prove that women status in those societies was very high is rather naive. Similarly just because ancient egyptians or chinese had female pharaohs and emperors doesn’t mean that all or even majority of women there enjoyed somehow similar privileges, quite contrary, for most part they were much more pressed than in later times. Perhaps in future people will look at salaries of female CEO’s nowadays, and make similar mistakes about income of women in general.
As to the original topic of this post. When assessing stance of religion on specific matters, historical context is important. Women were instrumental in success and spread of Christianity in pagan regions, not so much among old testamental Jews themselves. Do you think that would be the case if polytheistic religions of Mediterranean were indeed more supportive of women?
Similarly with Islam, in modern Britain, sharia court decides that daughter entitled to 1/3 of inheritance, just because she is a female, while son gets the rest. This is barbarism, which shouldn’t be tolerated, no matter what multiculturalist western liberals say. However, for preislamic Arabia 14 hundred years ago, when women themselves often were part of inheritance, where female infanticide by burying in sand was wide spread, these rules were immense leap forward in woman rights. Accordingly, women embraced and supported new religion often more than men, just look at the role they played in battle of Yarmouk, the battle which allowed Islam to spread beyond Arabia.
Even in modern days, everyone knows about barbaric treatment of women by taliban. Yet not many people know that the movement originated from dozen of students decided to free young girls, kidnapped and gang raped by local war lord, back in lawless times following end of pro-Soviet regime.
They succeeded, girls were returned to their families, gang got hanging on trees, and taliban got popular support, including women.
Bottom line, keep it in context of time, place and situation. What was progressive and liberating thousands years ago in Arabia, or in madness of post war chaos in Afghanistan, is unacceptable backward and oppressing in modern times.
Asef, thank you for your comment. I will leave responding to BabelFish as you were commenting to him, but thank you for the additional details. Yes, I can see that where religion provided progressive steps over what was, they would be inclined perhaps to embrace religions.
I will say that followers of the Islam faith that I know do not consider the Taliban to be true Islam. I refer you to two articles written by a Muslim woman.
@Asef Hussain – Thank you for your comment. I was not aware of the Gobekli Tepe site, so I’ve had to read up on it. I would not, however, be prepared to overturn the whole history of civilization based on one anomolous archaeologiceal find, and the HIGHLY speculative conclusions of the archaeologist Schmidt. I’m still looking, but my search has so far failed to turn up anything from any source other than Schmidt himself. Unless you are aware of any peer reviews of his work, in which case I’d be very interested to know, the scientist in me says we are not yet in a position to say anything meaningful about it.
The economist in me says hunter gatherers don’t build temples. Not because they’re not religious (they are). Not because they don’t want to (they might). Because they CAN’T. No agriculture means no surplus, no surplus means no specialisation, no specialisation means no stonemasons, or other artisans needed for any large scale construction project. If Schmidt’s dates are correct it does not mean reversing the order of societal development (temples before agriculture), it cannot. Schmidt’s leap, from the dates to that conclusion, fails the test of Occam’s Razor. It is by far a simpler explanation that we’ve got the date of the start of agriculture wrong. Schmidt’s assumption about that date (10-12,000 years ago) is itself out of date. It’s now thought by many that date is more like the 14,000 years ago that has been mentioned.
The elephant in the room for us here in Australia is of course the fact that we have had recent contact with a hunter gatherer culture. A very old, mature one. It’s a bit of a touchy subject, because the hunter gatherers didn’t come off too well. Point is, they had what we’d expect them to have – animistic religion with a bit of ancestor worship, oral tradition of mythology and history, visual art (the oldest rock art ever found is here), and music (now I’m a musician, so I’m obviously biased, but when it comes to the question, “What came first?” my money is on music. I suspect it may even pre-date language itself). There is no evidence that at any time in their 50,000 year history they ever attempted to build a temple though.
The female figurines are just one graphic example of the fertility cults that dominated early religion, there is a wealth of archaeological and anthropological evidence to support the idea that matriarchal polytheism was the norm in the earliest civilizations. This had largely been replaced by patriarchal polytheism BEFORE the invention of monotheism (which, by the way, wasn’t invented by the Jews, it was probably either the Zoroastrians or the Egyptian Pharoah Akunatun, but it didn’t catch on there). Have a look at the Greeks. Their earliest myths are the ones about their female dieties, like Demeter. The Minoans are likewise thought to have been matriarchal. Then along came Zues and co. So to answer your point,
“Accordingly, women embraced and supported new religion often more than men,”
monotheistic religions like Christianity and Islam probably were more progressive towards women, AT THE TIME, than their immediate predecessors, the religions they replaced.
On your other point about the Taliban,
“Even in modern days, everyone knows about barbaric treatment of women by taliban. Yet not many people know that the movement originated from dozen of students decided to free young girls, kidnapped and gang raped by local war lord, back in lawless times following end of pro-Soviet regime.
They succeeded, girls were returned to their families, gang got hanging on trees, and taliban got popular support, including women.”
Who was the warlord? Let me guess – Gulbadin Hekmatyar? He had a huge part in the destruction of the national unity government and his refusal to work with the other Mujihadeen groups, and with Ahmad Shah Massoud (who might have been the greatest Afghani leader of the 20th Century) in particular, ensured the country would fall into chaos, and a power vacuum, exploited by the Taliban, would develop.
We need to take a minute here to define terms. I’m about to use three terms, “Mujihadeen,” “Jihadis,” and “Islamists,” which I’d guess most Australians wouldn’t know the difference between. But they are all different things, and the differences are important. This could get complicated, so let’s just stay within the Afghani context. The Mujihadeen is the term used to describe various groups that arose to fight the Soviet occupation. They were mostly tribally-based militias who chose that name in order to do what just about every side in every conflict in history has sought to do – co-opt God to their side. Not too difficult, I suppose, seeing the Soviet Union was officially atheist. They were not all local tribal groups though, some Jihadis joined them. Jihadis are those who believe in the restoration of the Caliphate, and its expansion to the entire world. They saw the conflict in Afghanistan as just one opening skirmish in the coming clash of cililizations that will lead to this objective. It was also a chance to train soldiers and pick up quite a lot of free or cheap arms, leading to the story of how the US funded the start-up costs of al Qaida.
The Taliban are a different animal, but like the Jihadis they are religious ideologues and like the Mujihadeen they are nationalists. They want Islamic law, but they are only interested in their own country, they are not expansionist. The name Talib just means a student at a madrassa, but as with most extreme religious groups the Afghan Taliban is composed of a young, religious, fanatical, idealist rank and file, and a leadership cadre who are very political indeed. Certainly not above quite cynically taking advantage of the situation you described. That leadership did not arise spontaneously, but were in fact a product of the ISIF, Pakistani military intelligence. They had seen the coming instability, and the Taliban was their insurance policy, through which they hoped to retain an element of control. That hasn’t always worked out for them. The Taliban offered law and order in a situation of chaos, so of course they were initially welcomed by many. Once they saw the type of law and order they were being offered, many of those people changed their minds of course.
By the way, is it just me, or is there a terrible sense of deja vu about Afghanistan at the moment? Consider this: Large miltary force (USSR/USA) comes in to prop up a friendly government in Kabul. Spends a lot of time and money building up an Afghan national army. Meets increasing resistance. New, younger President (Gorbachev/Obama) comes in, inherits Afghan conflict, sees necessity of an exit strategy. Implements mini-surge followed by timetabled withdrawal, during which occupying troops are increasingly under seige in their camps. That’s where we’re up to now. The next stage, last time around, was of course the collapse of the Afghan government and rapid break up of the army shortly after the last Soviet forces pulled out. The rest is history.
Thank you Derek for such a comprehensive response.
I am sure your own article is going to be stunning!