Patriarchy in Classical Societies

Essay by ummuCollege, Undergraduate December 2009

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Before the Classical era, women were living in an egalitarian dominant culture, especially in the hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Stone Age artwork depicts symbols of women being respected as fertile beings, goddesses and in different social roles. Then during the Classical era as civilizations began to advance in their agriculture, the status of women began to decline especially in the upper classes. Stearns in his book notes that, "….as agricultural civilizations developed and became more prosperous and more elaborately organized, the status of women often deteriorated".1 This led to the rise of the commanding theme of patriarchalism. Sterns also further notes that, "Its enforcement, through law and culture, was one means by which societies tried to achieve order".2 Major civilizations such as China, India and Rome all had a system of patriarchy which had similarities and differences in their own forms.

In China, especially in the elite classes, marriages were arranged according to family alliances rather than romantic concerns.

Young men had little say in their marriages as well as women. The wife would move into her in-laws and would possibly be subjected to the demands and criticisms of the mother in-law. Widowed women could remarry and all women participated in family ceremonies. However, women were tutored in writing, arts and music. Stearns states that "Despite these promising trends, women at all social levels remained subordinated to men".3 Family households were run by men and male children inherited more property than females.4In the lower classes of China, women didn't live in extended households commonly. They usually cooked, cleaned the houses and worked long hours in the fields. They had more social outlets and financial freedom but still were under their male relatives in the households such as their fathers or husbands.5Upper and lower class level women in China were subjected to one...