Women in many different civilizations were seen as inferior to men. In places like India, from their youthful ages, boys had more privileges than girls. Boys were allowed to receive education and girls were not. While the men went to hunt and farm, the women were required to stay home and take care of plants and the children because women were sensed as caring and nurturing beings and had the temperament for that type of duty. In China, a man known as Kongzi, though popularly known as Confucius in the western world, taught demoralizing things about women to the Chinese. He taught that women were to place obedience before any other virtue and their thoughts, opinions and suggestions of were irrelevant and to be disregarded. Women were at the bottom of the Confucian hierarchy. Women in most city-states in Greece had little or no rights. They were constantly under the guardianship of a male relative ‘ a father, an uncle In Athens, Greece, women were not allowed to roam the streets unescorted by men. They were not allowed to participate in the politics of the city-state and they were not allowed to work. They were to stay indoors and perform their household duties.
Sparta, Greece was the city-state that broke this ‘women-are-inferior’ line of thought. In Sparta, the men were required to remain in their barracks until they were about twenty-five (25) to thirty (30) years of age. Because of this, women had more freedoms than men. They went about their businesses unescorted and were able to inherit land. They became allowed to participate in athletic competition after many years.
The Middle Ages was a perilous time for women. Though the period is known for having Christianity at its roots, the leaders during the Middle Ages shielded their eyes and faith to matters concerning women. Rather than use their positions of influence to promote the worth and rights of women, they suppressed them in order to achieve ultimate dominion by men. The leaders of the Middle Ages, in compliance with Saint Paul of Tarsus’ teachings to the Philippians and Corinthians, maintained this stance. It reads –
‘The head of every man is Christ, and the head of every woman is the man, and the head of Christ is God. For the man is not of the woman but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman but the woman for the man. Let your women keep silence in the churches, for it is not permitted unto them to speak but they are commanded to be under obedience. And if they would learn anything let them ask their husbands at home. Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.”
Many leaders were in support of Saint Paul’s commandments and had a lot to say about women being synonymous with evil and deceit. Saint John Chrysostom boldly declared –
‘Woman is the source of evil, the author of sin, the gate of the tomb, the entrance to hell the cause of all our misfortunes.’
During a time where degrading women was the order of the day, it was very difficult for women to break out of the stigmas placed upon them. Hence, they were unable to play major roles in political, religious or economic matters concerning the city-states of those times. The need for feminism arose more than ever during these times.
Mary Wollstonecraft, born 1759, was a moral and political philosopher and is often regarded to as the mother of feminism. Her analysis of the condition of women in modern society retains much of its original form. Her book, ‘A Vindication of Rights’, in addition to being the first, is widely considered the greatest feminist treatise of time. In the book, she stated that women and men were human beings endowed with inalienable rights to life, freedom and happiness. She insisted that women should be free to do what men were doing including, owning property, voting and pursuing professional careers, rather than staying home to cook and clean all day. Mary spoke out and began the fight to freedom of women in our society. She died of blood poisoning in 1797 at the tender age of thirty-eight (38).
Feminism by definition is the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. It is the theory of political, economic and social equality of the sexes (Watson, 2014). The Merriam-Webster dictionary goes on to state that it is an organized movement on behalf of women and their rights and interests. The birth of feminism developed through three (3) stages known as the ‘waves’ of feminism. The first wave began from around the 1830s and lasted till the early 1900s. It was centered on the voting rights of women. It began with Mary Wollstonecraft’s ‘A Vindication of Rights’ and later on, the Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s 1848 Seneca Falls Convention address. At the convention, Elizabeth Stanton unveiled ‘The Declaration of Sentiments’, a document which she primarily wrote stating that women should be liberated and free to vote. The second wave of feminism was from the 1960s to the 1980s. It was focused on the spread of feminism to the rest of the western civilization. Many people began talking about the feminist movement and what it meant for women and soon enough, the message spread and women in other parts of western civilization began standing up for these rights that Mary Wollstonecraft and Elizabeth Stanton declared inalienable. The third wave began in the 1990s and is still ongoing.
Today, the term feminism is received with a cold shoulder due to the emergence of various sub-movements under feminism as a whole. There are the ego-cultural feminists, the radicals, the liberals and reforms, the electoral, and so many others. Due to the range of feminist issues today, it is much harder to put a label on what a feminist looks like. But anyone who believes and fights for the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities is a feminist.
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‘ Dorey-Stein, C., About Caroline Dorey-SteinI play on a team bound by the goal to empower women in professional achievement. We attack gender bias and challenge antiquated work structures to create an equal playing field for women and men. My drive for equality stems from my parents, brother and sister who have all fought barriers to score successful lives., Says, H. S., Says, R. A., Says, N. T., & Says, D. M. (2015, September 24). A Brief History: The Three Waves of Feminism. Retrieved June 02, 2017, from http://www.progressivewomensleadership.com/a-brief-history-the-three-waves-of-feminism/
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