Democracy and Women in the Ancient World
America’s recent attempt to impose democracy in Middle Eastern countries has created an unexpected reaction, including a turn to more conservative religious modes and a tighter grip on women. Ancient societies also reacted to democratic changes, making the boundaries between the private and public world more rigid, and dividing deeper the male and female worlds. In democratic Athens, women were endowed with the right to confer citizenship to their offspring, but at the same time experienced a sudden loss of status and intensified oppression in their life. This paradoxical situation was part of the social reaction toward the political egalitarianism introduced by democracy as well as the result of laws defining citizenship. The problem ancient democratic societies faced was how to justify the exclusion of women in a political system that upheld the equality of all free-born citizens. To solve the conundrum Athenians decided to prove women’s inferior status intellectually, emotionally, and biologically. Classical authors, like Aristotle, in every epistemological field upheld this position and, due to their great success in everything but women, exerted enormous influence on Western thought. Their absurd pronouncements on women were never (until recently) questioned and, so, their ideological bias prevailed for over two millennia. The same dilemma faced by the ancients in giving women citizen rights is faced today by the Middle-Eastern world, which has reacted in a very conservative way toward women. These countries do not have the luxury of going through a transitional period of adjustment, with a modified type of democracy, where men would have the chance to become accustomed to the new social and political roles for themselves before dealing with the feminine issue, that is, voting rights and equality for women in all fields. Instead, these traditionally patriarchal societies are forced to accept modern democracy without remediation.
Keywords: Classical Athens, Democracy, Citizenship Laws, Women, Equality
Dr. Tatiana Summers
Associate Professor of Classics, Department of Modern Languages & Classics, The University of Alabama