What We Did Yesterday:
Ancient Greece was no feminine paradise. Women knew their place, as was all too apparent 200 years after Sappho, in the city that gave birth to one of the greatest political experiments of all time. You could argue that what happened here in Greece gave us the building blocks of Western civilization–a belief in democracy, a belief in freedom of speech, and a fixed and firm notion that women were very definitely second class citizens. Women were often not allowed out during daylight hours. Some had their faces completely veiled. Only a few were educated and a woman’s greatest celebrated virtue was her silence.
~Historian Bethany Hughes, in the BBC’s Women and Religion series, “Priestess: Handmaid to the Gods” (episode 3)
There is but one Delphic Maxims I really and truly have a problem with, and it is this one. I try very hard to meet a culture on its own terms, to not perpetuate presentism, and so, I understand and fundamentally disagree with Delphic Maxim #95–Rule your wife (Γυναικος αρχε). And, seeing as this is the first Monday of Women’s History Month, it seems a fortuitous time to tackle this particular maxim (seriously, I did this by accident, not design). The roles of women through out history is complex. In many civilizations of antiquity (and clear through until modern history), the overall role of women has been one of secondary to men, with the occasional person that seems to be an exception until one takes a better look at the events surrounding them.
Lets start with this poem by Semonides for an idea of the views of women as wives in Greek society. According to Semonides, women are made by the gods in the image of (or perhaps from) the sow (fat and slovenly), the fox (fickle and sly), the dog (nosy and yapping), from the sea (unpredictable and it will get you in the end), the donkey (easy, but works hard), the skunk (an unattractive slut that will steal anything not nailed down), the dainty mare (a gold-digger with a pretty face), and the monkey (pure ugliness and evil), and the queen bee (the only good one among the lot, and impossible to find). At the end of his poem, Semonides proclaims, “Zeus made this to be the greatest evil–women.If they seem to be helpful, they prove in the end to be an evil for whoever has them. He never goes the whole day in cheer,that man who has a woman.”
But, wait! You might say…judging an entire culture by a comedy writer? Imagine what people will say about us if all they had to show was the celebrity roast series!!
True. And I would hesitate to judge an entire culture on the work of one poet if it wasn’t actually representative of the culture’s views of women as a whole. Instead, we have the creation of Pandora as a punishment, the poet Hipponax who describes the day a man marries and the day he buries his wife as the only two days when a woman is pleasurable, the reduction of rights for women through development of the Greek state, the myth of Medusa who was punished by Athena for being raped, the common place and accepted rape of a number of mortal and immortal women by Zeus, the view of Aristotle that a woman is “a defective by nature” and equivalent to an “infertile male” (the Greeks also thought that it was only the male sperm that was responsible for creating a child and women were just vessels for babies). I could go on, but its sort of depressing.
But wait! What about Spartan women? And Sappho, and…
Unfortunately, in much of history, the exceptional woman proves the rule. First of all, most women were not educated beyond what they needed to do to do their job. And their job was to oversee the home and produce children, preferably male children. Earlier in Greek history, women (mostly aristocratic women and women in wealthy families) had rights, and even had responsibilities outside of the home…allowing wealthy aristocratic women like Sappho (an admired contemporary of Solon the Wise, one of the purported maxim authors) to be married and run schools for unmarried women to prepare them for marriage and to write poetry. Among the Spartans, women were given incredible (at the time) freedoms, precisely because Spartan women gave birth to Spartan men*–their fitness and intelligence giving rise to fit and intelligent males, and because someone was needed to oversee the home and the slaves while the men were off earning glory in battle (BTW, the clip from The 300 is actually a quote from Plutarch and attributed to the Queen of Sparta, Gorgo).
Just as the democracy of ancient Greece echoed down and influenced history, so did its misogyny. While women in Rome were allowed more freedoms than women in latter Greek antiquity, their role was still restricted. And when women were the exception to this second-class stature or were allowed to deviate from the restricted gender norms, they still prove the rule (for example, the Vestal Virgins and the festival of Bona Dea). It is interesting to note that part of the reason for the early success of the Christian cults was in part the comparative egalitarianism. In the (very) early Christian church, women were considered more equal in measure to men than in the majority culture (though still not equal)…at least until Augustine decided that women were responsible for men’s lust because he was miserably trying to control his libido to keep his vow of chastity. And from there, for the next ~1700 years, women have been treated like crap, with religion as part of the reasoning of why it was acceptable.
In some ways it seems like we’ve come so far, right? I mean…we can even vote.
But then there are blog posts like this (don’t bother with comments unless you like the feeling of the steam streaming out the ears). Not to mention movements like Quiverfull** and “Christian domestic discipline”, a good portion of music from rap to rock, the current defunding and restriction of women’s reproductive rights, the difficult in passing the Violence Against Women Act, the the ideas of “real” rape, the idea that society’s ills can be traced back to women voting, the emphasis on the looks of women in politics rather than their abilities, the sexualization of little girls, the pinkification of everything made for women and girls, the marginalization of teachers, and the shooting of the little girl in Pakistan. I could go on, but it depresses me as well.
I like the Delphic Maxims. Most of them can be read in a way that is illuminating within their historical context and can be applied to modern day life. Most of the few that cannot be read this way can be reinterpreted to have meaning in a modern context. This one cannot. Ruling one’s wife (or being ruled as a wife) may have been an important part of many ancient cultures, but AFAIC, that is something to learn from and to resist. I am not a child, I do not need to be governed by my husband. I do not need to submit to him as an example of my femininity or worth as a woman. And he is man enough to not want a woman that needs to be defined and governed by him. And since I don’t belong to a faith that demands obsequiousness to old words carved in stone or scratched onto parchment, I feel completely and utterly comfortable throwing this one out the metaphorical window.
Rule Your Wife?
*Spartan culture is a bit more complicated than this, and is quite interesting, in how this idea of men as warriors and women as the head of the household and makers of those warriors was carried out. Wives were chosen primarily for their character and their physical fitness. Because male children were raised communally in the agoge, and because of the emphasis on physical perfection biological paternity was not particularly important and divorce was allowed. For a woman, honor was found in childbearing–as with a man that died in battle, her name could only be inscribed on her gravestone if she died in childbirth.
**This one links to a really good blog by a former Evangelical Christian raised in a homeschooling Christian Patriarcy/Quiverfull family…I’ve followed her blog on and off over the past few years, and it is incredibly interesting. I refuse to link to a CDD site though, if you want to know about Christian Domestic Discipline, Google it!
This is my body.
I do what I want with it.
This is my body.
I make my own choices.
This is my body.
I use it as a canvas, tattoo it, decorate it, and pierce it.
I take medicine if I want to and only undergo medical procedures I choose.*
I have the right to share my body with whomever I choose without your approval. I have the right to decide whether or not to use my body to make a family, and how I want to use it. If I get pregnant, it is my right to have an abortion rather than adding the financial and emotional burden of another child to my awesome little family. My husband and I have the right to determine the size of our family. We have the right to stop having children and to continue to have sex. And if I was single, I would still have that right. You don’t have to like it, but until you are here changing diapers, handling middle of the night feedings, and paying for day care, you need to get over it. My body is none of your business.
I do not need to justify to you why I need to end a pregnancy. It is none of your business if I am getting an abortion because someone’s precious son slipped a little something into my drink and knocked me up without my knowing that he was even fucking me. It is none of your business if I am getting an abortion because I don’t have the money to care for a child, or because I just don’t like kids, or because the sky is blue today. It is none of your business if I am getting an abortion because birth control failed and my doctor has told me that “with your health problems, you should count yourself lucky to have had two healthy children, I don’t advise that you risk your life again.”
If you are not a doctor, you do not have a right to advise me on what to do about my body, period. If you aren’t a woman, you don’t have the right to decide what a woman should or should not be allowed to do with her own body. And, even if you are a woman, the only body that you have the right to decide to do anything with is your own.**
This is MY body, not yours.
The only individuals that should be involved with the decisions that a woman makes about her body are herself, her physician, and her committed partner. Even then, regardless of their opinions and input, the decisions are still hers and only hers. **
Stay out of my vagina.
My body is made up of stardust and dirt–a autonomous gift from the Universe and from Nature. What I do with my body is my business. How I paint it, or cover it, or not, is my celebration of my self. It is my business, not yours, for as long as it does not infringe upon another autonomous being’s ability to do what they please with their body and its contents. I govern my body, not you, and not the propaganda you would spew as morality.
My sex is none of your business. How much sex I have, whom I have it with, how I do it, how many…none of your business. Whether I fuck a girl or a boy or both or ten, or never have sex at all. Its none of your business. This is my body, and if I want to delight in the sticky sweat of sex, that is my business and the business of the person that I have chosen to share my body with. Its none of my business if you only have vanilla missionary sex with your eyes shut while thinking of the homeland, or if you prefer to be tied up and covered in latex. It is only my business that you have chosen the manner in which you will share your body, and that the person you are with has chosen you as well. This is my body, and I revel in it.
This is my body and I while happen to think it is my responsibility to show it some love–to decorate, not desecrate…to keep it in good working order by eating healthy and staying active, using the power of my body to preserve its autonomy and the autonomy of other bodies…its none of your business if I don’t do it to your specifications. I choose how to use the parts of my body–how and where to use my hands to help, my feet to move, my mind to grow, my heart to love, for those people and ideas that I find worthy. I have a responsibility to my body to enjoy it to the best of my ability–to love it, regardless of how well you think it meets societal expectations. I have a responsibility to my body to encounter the world and all of its inhabitants, with my senses and my sensibility. In short, it is my make every action of my body a prayer of my soul…not yours.
If I don’t do that in a way that makes you happy, too fucking bad.
My body is the temple of me. It is a gift of biology and *something else*…and it is my right to determine what I believe that *something else* is and how (or if) I want to worship it. You keep your god’s rules for your body, I’ll keep my god’s rules for my body. Because from my body, I dance with starlight and swim with dolphins. From my body, I worship imminent, imperfect and immortal expressions of the cosmos…I love my children, I go to work, I buy groceries, I play at the beach, and I make love with my husband, all from my body.
The choice of what to do with my body, and how to do it is mine.
My body does not keep you from your place of worship, from your children, from your employment, from your sustenance, or from your pleasure.
I do not think that it is too much to expect the same in return.
I do not think that it is too much to expect the same pay for the same job. To expect that I get the same training for the same job as a man. To expect that my ability to do a job be allowed to speak for itself–or not, without your opinion of my gender. I do not think that it is too much to expect that I receive the same respect as a man in my chosen work place. Even when–especially when I was serving my country. I do not think it is too much to not be raped for choosing to serve my country. I do not think that it is too much to not be harassed for having a “nice rack” and a “sweet ass” in my fucking uniform, or to be chosen for promotion based on how well I do my job, instead of how well I shut up when I’m raped or harassed. I do not think that it is too much to expect body armor that fits women’s bodies when they go out on patrol. Its funny how you and your politicians seem to think that women need to be protected until you send them out to get shot at.
This is my body. These are my breasts, my hips, my thighs, my face, my everything. My body does not depend on your ideal of femininity. I don’t need to be a baby factory to be a real woman, I don’t need make-up and a dress to be feminine. Liking sex doesn’t make me a slut. Being a feminist doesn’t make me a whore or a lesbian, or any other word your pundits mistake in as an insult in the pathetic attempt to assert that it somehow validates their misogynistic and chauvinistic drivel.
If failing to live up to your standard of womanhood makes me a slut, then I will claim that badge proudly. And while I happen to be in a relationship with a man, were I to find a romantic interest in a woman, I’d be perfectly honored to be called a lesbian. As for being a whore…prostitution generally depends on the participation of men that can’t keep their pants zipped up taking advantage of economically disadvantaged women instead of using their hand.
And while we are on that subject… I will be damned if I am going to let you turn my mother, my daughter, or myself into some second rate citizen because you need the excuse of my body to validate the weakness of your mind. I’m sorry if you feel that the sight of breasts, hips, thighs, face or everything is just too much for a man’s self control. Not all men are slavering, uncontrollable beasts unable to keep themselves from rape if they see even an inch of flesh. Saying that “she was drunk” or “she should have dressed more modestly” or “she was asking for it” or “you can’t get pregnant from ‘real’ rape” or “you might as well sit back enjoy it” or “she was dating/married/whatever to him” makes you no better than the rapist.
This is my body. If I say no, even in the heat of the fucking moment, you man the fuck up and pull the fuck out. If you penetrate me with any part of your body, and you use coercion, threats, or drugs and alcohol, to get me to go along with it, you are a rapist. There is no such think as being weakened to feminine wiles, or to “the situation”, or whatever ignorant excuse you want to make for your lack of respect for a woman’s body–your mother’s body, your sister’s body, you daughter’s body, my body.
And if you ever think that there is ever an excuse or a reason for rape, or that it is ever the victim’s fault, you are have no morals, no values and no character worthy of my respect.
This is my body. I don’t need you to save me. I don’t need you to tell me what to do with my body, as long as its not harming your body. I don’t need your morality to tell me what I think is right. And I sure as hell don’t need your morality legislating what I am allowed to do with my body. If you don’t like what my body does, don’t do it with yours.
I just need you to keep your body to yourself.
This is my body.
I’m through with legislators telling me what to do with it.
This is my body.
Keep your salacious, aggressive, sexist insults to yourself. I’m not listening.
This is my body.
I have the right to marry my partner, woman or man.
To equal pay
To health care
To protection of the law
To respect and dignity
To complete equality
This is my body, not yours.*
I leave your body to you…whether I agree with what you are doing with it or not, for as long as it does not infringe on the rights of another autonomous being.
Do not be afraid of a world in which women know themselves, their voice, and their power. That world has arrived.*
And I will do whatever I need to do to keep it that way for my children.
Edited-to-add–This is not the script of the video, I wrote this, inspired by the video above. The opening and closing is mostly from the “official” version, and some parts are taken from other posts I’ve written. I has gotten a number of views and a couple of re-blogs (thank you so much!), which I appreciate. But…what I think would be really awesome is if everyone that felt touched by this would write their own…and share it. Every woman’s (and man’s, for that matter) experience of being robbed of agency and ability by virtue of gender, race, social status, sexuality, age, body type, etc is different. Claim yourself and your power! And share your story.
If you do answer that challenge, feel free to link it here, in the comments on my blog…and I think the folks on the “This is my body” facebook page would enjoy it as well.
*from the official “this is my body” (watch the youtube video, or visit their facebook)
I was going to post this on Mother’s Day itself…but since I know there are a few other mommas following my blog, I thought I’d post it in time for us all to do some thinking on the matter.
This year, I would like to take the time to thank my mother and make a promise to my daughter.
Thank you mom, for raising me to think critically and independently. Thank you for valuing education, and for teaching me to value education for myself and my children. Thank you for being willing to sacrifice your time, your energy, and your effort to show me what a woman is capable of achieving. Thank you for showing me that I am powerful, no matter what I choose to do (and even when I forget). Thank you for showing me the right way to treat others–with compassion and respect, regardless of their differences from myself. Thank you for teaching me that I am in control of my body and my destiny and for valuing both. Thank you for loving me as I am.
Most of all, thank you mom for raising me to be what this man considers a shameless slut–considering the source (really multiple sources at this point), I’m taking it as a compliment.
(“I am opposed to woman suffrage, but I am not opposed to woman.’ — Anti-suffrage speech of Mr. Webb of North Carolina.)
0 WOMEN, have you heard the news
Of charity and grace?
Look, look, how joy and gratitude
Are beaming in my face!
For Mr. Webb is not opposed
To woman in her place!
0 Mr. Webb, how kind you are
To let us live at all,
To let us light the kitchen range
And tidy up the hall;
To tolerate the female sex
In spite of Adam’s fall.
0 girls, suppose that Mr. Webb
Should alter his decree!
Suppose he were opposed to us-
Opposed to you and me.
What would be left for us to do-
Except to cease to be?
Ninety two years ago, on August 26, 1920–my great-great grandmother’s era, women in the United States finally won the right to vote. I don’t know if the women in my family fought for suffrage or not, but I know we take pride in wielding it. Since then, there has been a long struggle for equal acceptance, not just in the workplace, but in society as a whole. And it seems that we are in a backslide, led by the likes of pundits, preachers and politicians wanting to return America to a non-existent mythical golden age where women know their place (barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen), gays know their place (in hiding), minorities know their place (back in their “own country”), non-Christians know their own place (in hell), and kids know their own place (being taught ignorance and bigotry, and maybe working in a sweatshop)– and all of us silent, and without rights.
Its recently come to my attention that taking away our reproductive rights hasn’t been enough…now some conservatives are starting a whisper campaign against our voting rights. That all that is wrong in America and the world is the fault of women, and it all started with women getting the vote. Really? Are they insane? That’s a brand of misogyny that I have never seen before, at least not in this country. No one ever told me that first they’d take away my vaginal rights and next they’d take aim for my voting rights.
Its a brand of misogyny my mother didn’t know to prepare me for.
Its a brand on misogyny even my grandmother thought was over.
That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man – when I could get it – and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman?
So it seems I have a promise to make to my daughter…and to all of the daughters of women that have fought for the right to have equal access to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
I promise to raise you to think critically and independently. To value your education, and to teach your children to value education. I promise to sacrifice my time, energy, and effort to show you what a woman is capable of achieving in life. I will make sure you know that you are powerful, no matter what you choose to do. I will teach you the right way to treat others, by showing you compassion and respect, regardless our differences and disagreement. I will teach you that you are in control of your body and your destiny, and I will teach you to value and love both, by valuing and loving you. And I will always, always love you as you are.
Oh, women, women! When will you cease to be blind? What advantage have you received from the Revolution?
A more pronounced scorn, a more marked disdain.
In the centuries of corruption you ruled only over the weakness of men.
The reclamation of your patrimony, based on the wise decrees of nature–what have you to dread from such a fine undertaking? Do you fear that our legislators, correctors of that “morality”, long ensnared by political practices now out of date, will only say again to you: women, what is there in common between you and us?
Everything, you will have to answer!
Chickadee, I promise you that if this nation, that I spent six years defending, manages to stray so far from the ideals upon which it has been founded, that it takes away your right to determine your own sovereignty, that I will fight for you, for us, until my dying breath. And I promise you that I will have raised you to be a strong, independent thinking, beautiful young woman that knows the equality of opportunity is worth fighting for.
You will know that there will always be people that want to silence your gender and take away your right to cast a vote and to remove your right to determine your own destiny.
In this day and age, being a shameless slut is something to be proud of.
It seems to something of a family tradition–as your granny said, it takes one to raise one.
Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing
It ought to make you proud.
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need of my care,
‘Cause I’m a woman