Thursday, January 27, 2011

From Huntress to Seductress - History of the Fairer Sex

Women are often the hidden half of history, while men dominated the public arena. Since antiquity, women had silently left their mark on the world, and at times changed it. Not many people know that it was a Chinese empress named Xilingshi who invented sericulture around 3000BC that made China a world power; the first named author was a lady named En Hedu’anna, a high priestess of Moon God in Ur who lived around 2300BC; there was a entire kingdom in Northern India, called ‘Strirajya’, that was ruled by women for over thousand years; the world’s first computer programmer, Ada, was a girl. Before the beginning of agriculture, in the stone-age, women were not just food gatherers, but also huntresses. These women were not only giving company to their Adam’s, but doing much more. There are stone-age paintings preserved in Kashmir which revealed that women went together with men for hunting. They danced together in the beats of the ancient drums. These huntresses of the lithic era shared equal status with men, and may be even regarded as superior. The first god human beings worshiped was the Great Mother. Among the first human images discovered are the "Venus figures," that date back to Upper Paleolithic period between 35,000 and 10,000 BC. We can still hear the echoes of the beats in which these free women danced, when we see the cave paintings in Bhimbetka (Madhya Pradesh, India). But the status of modern women is only a shadow of their past.

Even in the developed nations the male-female ratio of corporate officers is heavily skewed towards men. A survey conducted in 1996 showed that in both developed and developing countries women worked 35hrs more than men every week, they feed families, carry water, collect fuel, but still this is not counted as work, and 90% of the rural female labor force were labeled ‘housewives’. Though women produce ~80% of the food on the planet, they receive less than 10 percent of agricultural assistance. In India each year over 5000 brides are murdered or commit suicide because their marriage dowries are considered inadequate. Female infanticide is still common in many backward areas. When one looks back at the bygone era, one wonders when and why the women got left behind.

Around 10,000BC human beings switched to agriculture, which lead to production of food beyond mere necessities. An agricultural society was a wealthier one, but it brought with it new set of problems. The communities that did not have enough wealth were tempted to attack the wealthier ones, people who accumulated little extra feared those with less would seal him. State was created to solve these problems. State introduced law and governance, and with that came uneven distribution of wealth, rigid class barriers, and unequal gender status. The ancient scripts give us idea about the status of women of that era. Around 1800BC, in Hammumrabi’s code, women’s body was defined as men’s property, and rape was a ‘property crime’ against the owner of the woman and not the woman herself. Around 1450BC by Mesopotamian law and custom women were controlled first by their fathers, then by their husbands and fathers-in-law, and finally by their sons. According to Manu Smriti women, sudra, dog and crow embody untruth, sin and darkness.  This ancient custom hasn’t changed much even today.

800BC was another leap for mankind. 800BC-500AD was the axial age when the merchant class grew in power. Trading made states richer, and the small states grew into large empires. This mammoth cultural development required huge amount of constructions, and thus, masculine power. This resulted in further deterioration in the status of females in the society. While men went to work and conquer the world, their female counterparts got restricted to their house, taking care of their family and concentrating more on their beauty to please the powerful males. Aristotle believed that man is by nature superior to the female and so the man should rule and the woman should be ruled. Demosthenes wrote “We keep hetaerae for the sake of pleasure, female slaves for our daily care and wives to give us legitimate children and to be the guardians of our households.” Creation stories also tell us a great deal about a society’s view of women. In the Judao-Christian version Adam (man) was the first human and God made Eve (woman) to be just his companion. And it was Eve who tempted Adam to commit sin. In Greek mythology the first woman, Pandora, was created as a form of punishment because men had learned from Prometheus the secret of making fire. Pandora was beautiful and irresistible to men, but she was made deliberately in a way that brought sorrow, harm and trouble to man. The Asian women still enjoyed better status. It becomes clear form the Chinese creation story. According to it Goddess Nu-kua modeled human beings by dipping a rope into the mud and dragged it around, as drops fell off. Traditionally it is said that those beings she modeled became the noble and rich, while the drops became the humble and the poor. Indian myth contained powerful goddesses like Durga who fought against evil forces. Around 600BC, Ambapali, a wealthy Indian courtesan, became a disciple of Buddha. It showed that these women still had the freedom of choice. Even though the general condition of women in the west was poor, not all women preferred to live as the ‘second sex’. In 843BC Athaliah became queen of Judah and in her 7years reign she murdered everyone who tried to oppose her. On the other extreme was Sappho, who wrote poetry and taught young women poetry, music, and the social graces around 600BC. The word lesbian is derived from the name of the island of her birth, Lesbos, while her name is also the origin of the word sapphic; both words were only applied to female homosexuality beginning in the 19th century.

Jesus of Nazareth tried to improve the status of women. He treated men and women as equal, and Mary Magdalene, his most loved disciple, was an excellent example. Mostly women were present at Jesus’ execution, while most men, apart from John, fled. Even Prophet Mohammad fought for equality of sexes. Women were amongst his earliest converts. Koran strictly forbade killing of female children and gave women legal rights of inheritance and divorce. Most Western women had nothing comparable until 19th century. The Koran did not prescribe the veil for all women but only for Mohammad’s wives, as a mark of their status. Unfortunately, as in Christianity, the religion was later hijacked by men.

The Medieval Era (500-1500AD) and Early Modern Era (1500-1800AD) was probably the worst era for women. It was the time when position of the Indian women also started degrading. Sati, child marriage, and ban on widow remarriages became integral part of social life among some Indian community. It was also the time when there was a craze of burning witches. The classical period of witch-hunts in Europe and North America was during 1480 to 1700 AD when an estimated 40,000 to 100,000 women were executed. The condition of ordinary women was that of piety. Only few of the rich women, who had support of their men, lived a good life. Thus most women wanted to impress rich and powerful men, and the best way to attract them was beauty and seduction. That is the reason why even the modern women go against all odds to look beautiful. The billion dollar cosmetic industry survives only because 90% women are never happy with their looks. In the medieval mind women were the carnal, lustful ones, while men were the spiritual ones victimized by their temptations. Prostitution was another option for independence for medieval women. In the earlier years of the 16th century it was very common for towns to support a municipal brothel, as a way of containing possible public disorder. In spite of these conditions, the huntress never died, she returned time and again. Razia Sultana became the only woman monarch to have ever ruled Delhi. The Gond queen Durgavati ruled for fifteen years, before she lost her life in a battle with Mughal emperor Akbar's general Asaf Khan in 1564. 'A'ishah, widow of Muhammad, rebelled against the caliph 'Ali in the Battle of the Camel at Basra around 659 AD. In 1429, Joan of Arc, supported by Queen Yolande, began her military and religious campaign against the English. At the Battle of Orléans she lead the French army to victory. In 1553 Mary Tudor became queen of England. Her persecution of Protestants earned her the name Bloody Mary. Elizabeth I, half-sister of Mary Tudor, became queen of England in 1558.

With industrial revolution and advancement of science, women slowly began to get back a bit of their lost status. The revolution was first started by few men, and later the women took over. In 18th century the feminist movements began. The first wave of the feminism movement happened during 18th through to early 20th centuries. It dealt mainly with the women's suffrage. Writers such as Virginia Woolf are associated with this wave. On March 8, 1917 Russian women lead a revolution that overthrew the imperial government. The date was later chosen to mark International Women's Day. The second-wave (1960s-1980s) feminism was largely concerned with issues of equality, such as the end to discrimination. The biggest myth of second wave was the whole bra-burning legend, a fable promoted by the media. The third wave of feminism (1990s-current) is seen as both a continuation and a response to the perceived failures of the second wave. In addition to "responding" to the second wave, the third wave was less reactive, and had a greater focus on developing the different achievements of women. These feminist movements helped women realize their value in the society and brought them back to recognition. In few of the developed cities one can probably say that they are now equal with men, however in most places they are still fighting to get back their lost status.

Women, as huntress or seductress, have always affected the business of everyday life. There had been more battles fought for women then for anything else. At the same time as mothers they raised families, as lovers they gave meaning to the life, as daughters they took care of their parents, and as a woman they constantly healed the human race. But time and again, from amongst these women, returned the huntress, to get back what they deserve.

P.S. Pictures from public domain

You React:


  1. A perfect example of 360 degrees research. Fantastic Job. I must not be wrong in believing that Ranjini did most of this job.
    Apart from this, in my view, Nature engineered woman in the way she does what she did so far. Human genes belongs to both men and woman. Woman and Man belongs to an united organism. At a stage in evolution, an asexual organism (single parent for offspring) turned into sexual (bi-parent) to be fit in ever changing environment. Woman and men are concerned in their own ways. Woman is first and best teacher for man. No religion can survive long without accepting the woman's superiority in many aspects.
    Male shows-up its superiority and female nature doesn't care it but more inclined towards care for offspring. If we accept the sole purpose of life as 'about evolution', then the female half organism is doing main job of it by raising offspring with gaining services from male half.

  2. First of all..thanks for your comment...

    As far as research is concerned, she is not much into history...but a lot of what i am today, i owe it to her....

    Talking about "No religion can survive long without accepting the woman's superiority" ...while most religion started with both sexes being equal...they later became male-centric ...and are still surviving pretty well...

    i totally agree with your last para...i don't really mean that any one is superior...we are all part of the same ever-changing nature...and probably the sole purpose of life/nature is continuity of it...and hence evolving to survive...but again, in Shakespeare's words, there are more things in heaven and earth than our wild philosophies can dream of.

  3. I'm not much in history, but there were lot of religions and beliefs existed and most of them extinct today. Some of them might not be documented at all. Once I trace some I will get back to you on this topic. As per as Hinduism concerned it is much older than any of other religions in the world and it existed so long due to its strong philosophy which has given weightage to all aspects of Nature along with gender equality appropriately. Other religions which you mentioned in this blog became male centric later on may still exist today. But that doesn't mean that they would exist further. Every religion in the world would die at a point of time. How long they survived would define how strong they were/are. Survival depends on how appropriately they valued each aspect of Nature.
    Here I'm not in a position to provide references. But these views are resultant of those things I have gone through.

  4. I agree with you dude...and just like life, religion also has to evolve to survive...most of the early (pagan) religions died since they could not can refer to my last blog "God and Glory (3 parts)" if you want... :)

  5. thanks... that's the way evolution works everywhere... i will try to read ur blog...

  6. Subrasish- very nice research & very well written
    hats off
    forwarding this link to some of my friends as well
    nice post

  7. A very well researched write have an interesting blog

  8. @ Maitreyee Chowdhury...
    thanks for the wonderful comment :-)

  9. Nice post. Its good to see someone who thinks of women in a positive light!good research too!

  10. @ Aakanksha Singh...
    Thanks for your comment... :-)
    i find no reason to think otherwise...

  11. you know what?
    after reading the above post, I suddenly realized that your love for women folk is actually as strong as my love for men folk!
    And I do agree on the research part.. nice!

  12. Thanks a lot....I'm glad you liked it.. :-)

  13.  oh my god!!! thts truely awesome!! you have done a great work!! lots of research have also gone into this post!!! big salute to you!!!! this is very good post indeed!!!

  14. Fascinating peice of writing.. Well done... Hats off... Can u tell me how much time did u spend in the research? You did a lot of hard work for this... It shows in your post... Loved it..... :) Keep writing...

  15. it took some time for sure...but when you are happy writing something, it does not feel like hard work...thanks again...


  16. BTW...if i am not following u back...plz drop your blog url here...

  17. wow...great to hear all this from a man...the fairer sex were not in news before but now they are surely reigning every where and every news ....... a great piece of writing , you must have searched a lot of books or sites as a part of research for this topic and every generation surely have few men like you who respect the genders equally cheers to that mate...and amazed by your research talent

  18. well..i had to do some research for sure....thanks for your comments....and welcome to KHOJ

  19. i really should appreciate you for the amount of research you have done for this post.

  20. Thanks focus was more on history... :)

  21.  This was really good.. I am amazed at the amount of research that has gone into it!! Sub, Rape unfortunately is still a property crime in many parts - otherwise how do you justify it during riots? And it was not just the greeks.even Manu said that women needed to be under the protection of their fathers during their childhood, their husbands during their youth and their sons during their old age... Times are however changing but it takes a hell of a lot of time to wipe out centuries of such discrimination!

  22. thanks Meera...
    it does take time...i hope it changes for the best :)

  23. I am reading your blogs once again to refresh my knowledge. You have a wonderful brain that thinks even more wonderfully. The humanity can always feel proud of having such a brilliant person like you. You are really a "different" person. Consider sometime publishing a book on your thoughts. I am sure the world would love it.

    1. you think i am worth a book??? that meant a lot :)


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