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  • Jahnavi Kirkire

The Past Isn't Female - But the Future Is

Identity can be quantified in a variety of ways. In the past, the aspect of identity that mattered the most was gender. Gender has always been a sticking point for society. Whether in Sparta, Rome, or the United States of America, gender is and was perceived as a defining characteristic of every individual. While that’s true even today, we’ll be taking a look at the treatment of women across history primarily in white-dominated societies.

First, let’s look at Sparta. As a warrior-driven society in Ancient Greece, the military was central to its functioning. Following that logic, it would be easy to assume that boys were prioritized as future fighters and girls were tossed aside. While women did not fight in battle, they were respected to the point of fear by their male counterparts because of their strength and power. Contrary to popular belief, however, Spartan women were highly educated, independent, and importantly, wholly individual in life. Spartan society allowed women to be property owners, valued the rights of women to the extent that they could fight to stay unmarried if they chose to, and even granted women who died in childbirth the same funeral rights as men who died in battle. Spartan women were considered to have ruled society. They ran the home front - managing finances, farming, business - while men were at war. There was no such notion of women as “second-class” citizens, as they were revered beyond belief in Spartan society. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the other societies we will examine today - but we should strive for women to have the same freedoms (and more) in modern society.

The second society we’ll look at is the extensive empire of the Romans. The Roman empire is second to none in its span of history, but it is truly a shame that in 1,000 years, women lived with no rights, always second to the men in their lives. Rome was a patriarchal society. Men had special legal rights giving them power over every member in their household, oppressing the voice of women even further in history. Rome is one of the most significant countries in history - there is documentation of nearly every important event in the nation-state, and yet, we still do not know much about the role of women - because they were never allowed to speak up. What we do know is that, unlike Spartan women, Roman women were expected to remain docile, behind their husbands or fathers, and stay at home. The role of the woman was to have children, raise them, and then have more - preferably, all boys. Roman women faced some of the worst treatment in the nation-state because of something they could not control - making their plight all the more tragic. The final case to look at is one that is less historical but no less important: the United States.

Third and finally, we have to look at the historic rights of women in the United States. The very basis of all rights in the United States is the Constitution. Interestingly, the word “woman” never appears in the document, even though they comprise over half of the population. Women were not valued in the United States, figured to only be good for raising children and tending to the home. They were, throughout history, meant to wait hand and foot on their husbands, and had to fulfill a certain “ideal of womanhood” to be valued. In 1916, against all odds, the first-ever woman was elected to the House of Representatives - Jeannette Rankin - four years before she could vote in the United States. In 1920, the first milestone in women’s rights was achieved - the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified, and women had the right to vote for the first time in history. While this moment in history is extremely significant, it still isn’t the end of fighting for women’s rights. Women have the right to vote, but gender inequality is still a very real problem. Women make a maximum of 78 cents to every dollar that a man makes. Women are stereotyped every day, whether at home, in the workplace, at school, in public, or everywhere.

We’ve reached a point where we have to work towards equality every step of the way. It is at this moment that your actions come into play. Every step you take is history in the making - and here’s our chance to leave behind a lasting mark.

Click here to donate to Generation Ratify, a youth-led organization fighting to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment!


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