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The Non-Speaking Attitude of Women Throughout History


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One of the harder papers I had to write, but it was for World History I.

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The Non-Speaking Attitude of Women Throughout History

  1. 1. The Non-Speaking Attitude of Women throughout History Historically speaking, women have had very little say in most educational and politicalarenas until fairly recently. In world history women were treated as second-class citizens wholistened, and did not speak. In this paper I will discuss this further with two primary sourcesLessons for Women by Pan Chao and Precepts for Social Life by YüanTs’ai. I will also take alook at a historically groundbreaking text The Republic by Plato that said nearly the opposite ofwomen’s abilities that history had always thought was true even after this document was written. Ancient China was a hotbed for the mistreatment of women. All through Ancient Chinesehistory women are treated as inferior to men in every way except for the keeping of the house.Women were treated horribly simply because they didn’t have the strength to do the things thatmen did. A family looked down upon having female children, and if times got tough killingfemale children was not uncommon to keep food on the table for other members of the family.Another reason for the dislike of female children is that around the time of medieval china thegirls’ family had to pay dowry to the males’ family, not the other way around. This shift made ithighly costly to have a girl, so therefore it was more cost efficient to have a boy. In AncientChina it was also highly unlikely for a woman to hold a formal position, sometimes she workedthrough her husband if he had a powerful position, but this was highly frowned upon. Lessons for Women by Pan Chao is a primary source written by a woman about howwomen who practiced Confucianism were expected to behave in her time. While Precepts forSocial Life by YüanTs’ai was a primary source written by a man about how he believed womenin Sung Dynasty China were to act. As Pan Chao introduces her writing you can bluntly see that she was taught that womenwere inferior when she says, “I, the unworthy writer, am unsophisticated, unenlightened, and by
  2. 2. nature unintelligent,” (Lessons for Women, p. 164) From the get go, you can tell that women inAncient China were taught that education simply was not a female thing, they were taught frombirth that they were simply not intelligent enough to get an education or to write well. Theysimply didn’t have the same capacity as men in these circuits. Not only were they taught this butthey were also taught that it was not nurture that made them this way, it was the very nature orfiber of being a female that made them this way. According to Pan Chao a families first duties three days after birthing a girl were to puther below the bed, by doing this it would indicate “that she is lowly and weak, and should regardit as her primary duty to humble herself before others.” (Lessons for Women, p. 165) This showsthat before they were even able to think well there was a distinct difference between a femaleand male child. It made it apparent early on that women were not as good as men, and that theywould never be so. Women were inferior, and that was that. Pan Chao compared men and women to yin and yang by saying, “The distinctive qualityof yang is rigidity; the function of the yin is yielding. Man is honored for strength; a woman isbeautiful on account of her gentleness.” (Lessons for Women, p. 166) As I just touched on thereis a huge difference between males and females in Ancient Chinese culture. Males wereconsidered the strong breadwinning characters, while females were considered small, gentle,caring, silent souls. A woman’s primary responsibility was silence and obeying the malecharacters in her life. YüanTs’ai believed that women should be comfortable with keeping their affairs insidethe home. He says, “Women do not take part in extra-familial affairs. The reason is that theworthy husbands and sons take care of everything for them, while unworthy ones can alwaysfind ways to hide their deeds from the women.” He goes on to talk about how some men take
  3. 3. part in gambling, and that even if the man is gambling away the house, women should not step into take the lead. (Precepts for Social Life, p. 188) In my opinion this doesn’t sound very smart.It’s basically saying that even if the man in the family is being completely reckless and ruiningthe life of the family women should let them do that. He goes on to talk about how women can’t do much in this situation when he writes, “Forwomen, these are grave misfortunes, but what can they do? If husbands and sons could onlyremember that their wives and mothers are helpless and suddenly repent, would that not bebest?” (Precepts for Social Life, p. 188) In my opinion, that is like saying I’d rather you wait forthe impossible to happen than take initiative…because you’re a women and you are weak. Itmakes no sense to me personally, because if I were a women and my husband were runningthings to the ground I’d want to step in, but in this time in Asia they thought men were the onlypeople capable of money management, education, et cetera. In Ancient Greece women were treated somewhat better than in Ancient China, but theirprimary responsibility was still considering being a wife and a mother. They were citizens thatcould participate in some religious festivals, but they were pretty excluded from much else. Theycouldn’t own real estate, and only had rights to some personal property, and they needed a maleto look after them. Greek women were to be wives and have children. Now I am going to take a look at another primary source that speaks volumes of womenand their abilities. The Republic by Plato is one of Plato’s dialogues. It talks about how Platofeels women should be educated in Greece. Plato makes a huge point when he writes, “Are dogs divided into hes and shes, or do theyboth share equally in hunting and in keeping watch and in the other duties of dogs? Or do weentrust to the males the entire and exclusive care of the flocks,” (The Republic,p. 62) This is very
  4. 4. true, when people in classical Greece depended on other animals to do their work they didn’tseparate the animals from each other and only let the male animals do the work while they let thefemale animals tend to the home front. The next brilliant point Plato makes takes place when he says this, “But, can you usedifferent animals for the same purpose, unless they are bred and fed in the same way? Youcannot. Then, if women are to have the same duties as men, they must have the same nurture andeducation? Yes.” (The Republic, p. 62) This is very true, at this point people had not tried toeducate women in the same way; they just judged their levels of brain power off of somethingthat was not really proven. They never set out to prove that men were better than women,because they never trained women alongside men for the same jobs. In order to have a clear viewabout women, you have to educate both sexes and give each gender a chance. Plato also makes a good point in his stating that men and women have different strengths,when he writes, “Men and women alike possess the qualities which make a guardian; they differonly in their comparative strength or weakness.” (The Republic,p. 64) This is true; men andwomen are capable of similar things, but only to a certain degree. Most women just are strongenough to do some of the things men can do. It’s not much of a battle of brains, but a battle ofbrawns that women and men fight. As can be seen using primary sources, women were treated unfairly in Asia and even inAncient Greece. Plato had a huge point when it came to the education of women. No one everconsidered that you have to educate women and men in the same way in order to know if womenhave the same capabilities as men. In society today you see a lot of women in the workplace. In most universities you canactually see more women in classrooms and around campus. Women today have some of the
  5. 5. same opportunities as men, but are still discriminated against in terms of employment andincome. Women have definitely moved up in terms of career opportunities, and even excel inman dominated turf such as sports. In the next few years we can hopefully see more deepchanges in how women are treated in the workforce, and potentially close the income gap aswell.