Religion as a Method of Improvement for Gender Equality
Although women were still viewed and treated as second-class citizens, the status of women seemed improve under Christianity, especially in regard to social interaction and Islam, especially in regard to legal rights such as inheritance laws. The improvement of women’s situation was particularly pronounced when compared to the even lesser status of women during the Greek and Roman periods. Improvement in the treatment of women under Christianity and Islam is evident in the religious texts of both of the religions. Christianity’s The Gospel According to Mark and The First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians and Islam’s central religious text, The Koran, provide concrete evidence as to how women’s treatment under Christianity and Islam was relatively progressive.
During the Greek period, women were viewed as inferior citizens, with no real rights. Although Greek drama portrayed many strong, remarkable women, like Antigone, what women in Greece actually experienced was much different. The role of free women in Athens, and many other places in Greece, was confined to the private sphere of the household. Women were restricted to childbearing and supervising the work done in the household; a woman’s value was based on her ability to produce legitimate heirs and to be a homemaker. Young girls were confined to their homes and received no formal education. Instead, their mothers taught them domestic skills, which were viewed as the only appropriate education for a woman at the time. Athenian women were considered unintelligent and submissive, and thus could not vote, buy or sell property, or press legal charges. Thus, Athenian women were viewed as ‘idiots’ because they were unable to participate in the polis. In fact, “Athenian women were more severely restricted than women in perhaps any other period of Western civilization,” and some current ideologies still show their Greek roots (Trulove 120).
Like many components of Roman society, Rome’s views on women were similar to that of the Greeks. Despite the fact the status of women improved to an extent during the Roman period (as evidenced by women’s legal ability to hold and inherit property and accepted presence at convivia), women were still confined to the home with little to no formal education, because they were viewed as subordinate to men. In fact, the vice of luxuria was associated with women. Softness was a woman’s trait—a completely undesirable trait for a man. Romans literature stressed the fact that women were ruled by emotion, and thus inferior to men. In Virgil’s Aeneid, women, represented by Dido, the Queen of Carthage, are depicted as being passionate and incredibly susceptible to madness and deception, and thus women are once again associated with passion-related weakness and viewed as lesser entities than men.
On the other hand, women’s experience in society underwent some improvements under Christianity, especially in regard to...