Saturday, May 05, 2007

Warrior Societies and Women

An odd fact about ancient militarist societies is that most had a high status of women. In Sparta, for instance, girls and boys had a similar education, whereas in the non-militaristic Athens there was a rigid divide between male and female education.

Women in the Mongol Empire could divorce, own property, and fight in the military. Some were even prominent members of the elite. Compared to the rest of Eurasia, such a high status was extraordinary.

In Europe, arguably the most infamous warrior society, the Vikings, gave women the right to divorce.

These militaristic societies weren’t pillars of humanitarianism. Cultural and religious differences weren’t tolerated (except in the Mongol Empire’s case, though that was more due to necessity than preference). They were closed and authoritarian societies (Sparta was even fascistic).

Why then, compared to the more humanitarian Athens or Persia, did these societies give such a high status to woman? A sociology undergraduate gave a reason so obvious that I should’ve thought of it.

When the men were warring, the women maintained the homestead. This authority lasted even after the war.

Using a more recent example, the status of western women greatly increased during World War II, because women were needed to do the jobs male workers (now soldiers) had previously done.

It’s interesting to think, had the worst wars not occurred would women still have as high a status in society as they now do? I think so, partially because their status in North America decreased somewhat in the 1950s and surged later on.

Still, it’s odd to think violent war and militarism, the opposite of humanitarianism, can be responsible for one of humanitarianism’s chief objectives.

That's very interesting. It makes complete sense. I think women tend to be coddled when the men are around, and I think they tend to be coddled in the society of my country, at least (USA). Men insist on doing things for them and they become more weak, and think themselves weak, are thought of as weak, when really they are capable of much more. Being a female, I don't mind help from a man when I need it, but I find that many men delight in helping a woman even if she doesn't need it. I suppose if all of the men are away at war, women are finally allowed to step up to the plate.
Have you read “Architecture and Social Questions” by Bertrand Russell? He basically supports a more communal living space, and a nursery where children are supervised four-hours a day (while their parents are at work) and latter taken care of by their mother. He says that such a system would give women more economic dependence, yet allow sufficient time for raising children.

His idea of a 4 hour work day is pretty utopian and I like the privacy inherent in our current system, nevertheless an interesting concept.
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