Updated: Apr 25, 2019
Females have been regarded as property, and traded as such, for most of human history. It has only been in the last hundred years or so that this state of affairs has begun to change. In many cultures these advances have not occurred yet as a result of educational, cultural, and - sadly - religious strictures. The freedom and respect that women claim today is a result of the very recent efforts by brave suffragettes who forced change in legislation and public regard to allow women the right to work and vote.
Why is this so? There are many resources in recent studies that examine the role of women throughout history, but quite simply, I think the main reason women have been hated and targeted throughout history has to do with power. Men are interested in power. Money and property are the outward expression of a man’s power to achieve status in the community, and for a man, status is essential for self regard. “Owning” a woman and controlling her is an expression of that power.
The simple fact that men are bigger than women, and have the physical power to subdue them, is one reason for our subjugation. Historically, women were valuable to men because they could provide heirs and manage the household. A man’s status in the community could also be raised by the status of the women they “owned,” and was also related to the status of her birth family - and the amount of dowry that came with what was usually an arranged marriage.
A deeper reason for our subjugation has to do with a woman’s own power. A woman’s power is not about physical strength or status. It has to do with intuition, sensitivity, and - frankly - magic. The healing power that women possess is not something men can control, despite the historical evidence of their effort to do so. The thousands of women who were burned at the stake or tortured for “witchcraft” had it’s basis in the historical role of women as healers, who used plants and rituals to promote wellness. Despite the efforts of men to control female power, they have not been able to do so since they don’t understand and therefore cannot participate in the kind of gifts female power can provide. It drives them nuts!
When men began to participate in scientific medical advances, there developed a deep divide between the male and female approaches to healing. The medical community came to be dominated by men who resented the power of women to heal, and they went to extreme efforts to discredit that power. This is just one area in which men subdue women, but as the power to create health is the very basis for existence, I think it is one of the most important aspects of the power differential between the sexes.
Let’s keep in mind that not all men hate and target women. The success of the recent “Me Too” phenomena shows that at least in terms of “political correctness,” the public attitude towards female subjugation is changing. Today, in most developed countries, it is simply not cool to exert masculine power against a woman. Let’s also keep in mind that our new freedom, however imperfect at this time, will require ongoing maintenance, development, and care. Women will need to continue advocating for respect, as the simple biological fact of the superior physical power men possess, and the sociological aspect of their need for worldly power, is never going to change.
The advances made in the last century toward freedom and respect for women cannot be taken for granted. There are many instances throughout history where women enjoyed a level of freedom, only to be later subjugated when a change of regime came into play. When we talk about the emancipation of women, we are talking about changing a cultural tradition that has existed to greater or lesser extent throughout human existence. That is a very big job. Whether or not recent advances continue will depend on female power. We will need to use all our intuition, sensitivity and magic to protect ourselves to prevent the collapse of the work begun by those suffragettes.