It would seem since the inception of time, women have been fighting an uphill battle in regard to the status of their equality and value as compared with that of men. From some of the earliest and most circulated texts that pervade the world today, such as the Old Testament, people of the modern era are able to look back through time to see how women in society have been treated for millennia. Startlingly, the discriminatory attitudes that women face today are strikingly similar to the struggles that women have faced for centuries.
One of the most difficult issues presently confronting women is exemplified within the prejudicial attitudes that their male counterparts hold. This attitude is expressed in the worlds of business, education, and even faith. For centuries women have been trying to break free from the mold cast for them by historical precedence, but, thus far, have been unable to shrug off the stigma assigned to them. In order to better understand the fight that women face today, it is prudent to look into the roots of the gender bias that women endure.
The nocent feelings that men have toward women are not a new development in the human saga. In fact, they extend back to the first instances of recorded history with biblical and other ancient subjugation of women. It would seem that many of the beliefs that carry into today sprout from the ideas of the religious hierarchy that used to institute the majority of the governing policy. This is an observable characteristic in many of the cultures of the world, but specifically, in medieval Europe, the church was able to set policies that even kings had to follow. After the Catholic Church came to prominence, the clergy had the power to leverage their disdain against a particular group and the target of their wrath was often women. It was their prerogative to keep women in the category of substandard citizen.
It was in this light that women developed their identity. In medieval times, women were seen as property and vessels for childbirth. Their role revolved around caring for the home and the children while the man of the household was responsible for providing an income and protection for the household. The overwhelming perception of women was one of a weak gender prone to sin. These women were forced to repress many of the feelings and desires that they had in the interest of pleasing societal standards. A woman had to be extremely conscientious of her public image in order to maintain the honor of the household.
In many ways, the overall identity and perception of women has not changed over the centuries. Society’s view of a woman’s role is primarily that of a wife and mother. In today’s economy, however, the overwhelming majority of women have to work outside the home in addition to shouldering the burden of the traditional duties generally associated her role.
It is interesting to note some of the fictitious women who were depicted in the literature of the medieval period because they defied the social norm, being strong and independent and even dabbling in sexual promiscuity. This dichotomy is baffling to modern historians. However, many women in today’s literature are presented in a similar manner. The difference lies within the woman’s ability to actually embody the fictitious roles that are being written about in today’s literature. Of course there were strong women in the past, but a woman’s strength is accepted more readily today as opposed to that strength being repressed centuries ago. There are many instances that persist into today where women are bottled into traditional roles and repressed, but society has moved forward leaps and bounds in comparison to other times in history.
Unfortunately, many times in today’s society a woman’s worth is still determined by whom she chooses to marry. A fundamental difference of marriage today and marriage in earlier periods of history has to do with a woman’s right to freely choose whom she wants to marry. In times passed, it was imperative for a family to present an acceptable dowry─ which is money, goods, or estate that a woman presents to her husband to be prior to marriage─ in order to ensure that the woman would marry well and be taken care of for the remainder of her life. Many things regarding marriage have changed, but one social stigma remains. A woman is still judged on how “well” she marries. This is less prominent and given much less consideration in today’s society, but the fact remains that she will always be judged on how “good” her man is. This is highly unjust, but it is just reality.
Women in society today retain many of the traditional roles that they have served in times passed; however, in most cases, women must take on many other roles in addition to the “traditional” roles that a woman is expected to fill. Many of the stigmas from centuries passed also persist into today, but, overall, women have moved from a second-class status of simple property and into a realm where they are mostly respected for the amazing gifts and perspective that they bring into every situation in which they choose to take part. True equality might not be a thing of the present yet, but a time is coming when gender will no longer matter and only the ideas and abilities that an individual brings to a situation will be valued.