When women became financial and procreative commodities at the dawn of the patriarchal age, women lost their individual sense of value. As the patriarchal system took root in civilization, the value of women disappeared into the needs of men and the role(s) they played in relation to the patriarchal society. The female gent became lost between the role of mother and the treachery of whoredom. Women were cast into perfect obedience to men or into promiscuous, wild and disobedient creatures.
Our feminine presence, our heart essence was no longer sufficient for the patriarchal establishment — it had to ascribe specific roles to us, and there was Hell to pay when women dared step out of that dichotomy to go off on their own and reclaim their freedom of being and choice.
Today, my body felt uneasy because it was still. It does that when it is still for too long…when it is not productive. Almost as if the collective binds were reminding my cells that my feminine presence is still not enough so I have to produce. Every time I choose presence over shame-based productivity, I rewire the circuits of the patriarchal shame through my history and my future.
I want to share a little bit of patriarchal history with you so that we may understand where the subordination of women originated.
By the second century in Mesopotamia, women were being sold by their families into marriage or prostitution for financial gain. Women became private the properties of men, commodities that represented monetary value and investments. At times, if a man could not repay his debt, his wife or daughters were used as bargains to pay off what he owed. When a man, brother, or husband would sell his sister, daughter, or wife, little did he realize that it would also affect his relation to his own feminine and other women.
Women became commodified for their reproductive capacities to ensure the posterity of the male lineage: the wife was the necessary object for procreation and thus was her freedom limited to her reproductive tasks. Class hierarchy was ordered according to sexual dominance and the men allocated the resources to his family as he saw fit and as determined by laws. Women were expected to live under the management of a male authority, be a brother, a father, or a husband.
“I am a daughter, I am a bride I am a spouse, I am a housekeeper.” — A hymn to Goddess Eula
Women were defined by their relation to men. Upon the death of the masculine head of household, the property was divided among the sons or the surviving sons of his patrilineal line. If a widow had sons, she would not inherit her husband’s assets as it went to them instead. As a daughter, a woman could only escape the authority of her father by submitting to the authority of another man through marriage.
In Ancient Rome, virginity was expected of women and adultery would cost them their life. But it was accepted and expected that men would have pre-marital sex. Indeed, Cicero described anyone “out of touch who “young men should be forbidden to make love.” After all, he asked, “When was that not customary? When was it blamed? When was it not allowed?”
In Ancient Egypt, the act of adultery by a married woman was prohibited and severely punished to protect the societal order and the rights of men. Yet, men were allowed to have sexual relations outside of their marriage, and we free to have concubines. For most of history, a woman’s “respectability” was only used to force her into conformity and obedience to the patriarchal dominance. Women would even use the sin of betraying one’s respectability against other women, exposing them to authorities and communities to make sure that they were not soiled by their sin — which was a mere projection of their personal disowned feminine.
There has always been an unspoken, invisible yet very real contract within the nuclear family unit until recent times: the man provided protection and means in exchange for unlimited subordination, inexhaustible sexual service, household chores. Most men cherish and adore their wives. I don’t want to generalize the toxicity of the patriarchy to all men. The calling of motherhood is sacred and I myself chose to work less these last few years in order to be home for my two daughters. There was nothing more important to me than being home for them. But what about the women who do not have that maternal fiber in them and/or who choose to have a career instead of a family? What about the women who want to have both a family and a fulfilling career but who are expected to be perfect at both when society does not accommodate both?
It’s important to keep holding the mirror up to our shadows and our pre-conceived ideas that maintain the status of unequal rights and freedom between men and women.
And still today, when the marriage or relationship dissolves, the chord of that invisible social contract between a husband and wife remains: the man feels that the woman still belong to him, sometimes detouring to violence to maintain his dominant hold on her life.
The male monopoly on economies and the deprivation of female education served to keep women subservient to the indisputable authority of the patriarchy in the past. The male-centric ideology has been the soil of our thought-system for millennia and it will not be undone overnight.
We need to move towards a balanced structure of civilization, which must begin by undoing the central thought system of patriarchy, and reframe the role, power, gifts, innate and equal worth of women. Both men and women need to remember that our productivity does not define us, and that our soul needs some replenishing rest from the hamster wheel of around-the-clock productivity. The feminine principle of stillness is an enriching practice we all need. May we allow our bodies to soak the peace that comes from accepting stillness and being totally present without the guilt of the old patriarchs roaring in our ears.
Gansell, A. R. (2012). Women in Ancient Mesopotamia. A Companion to Women in the Ancient World, 11–24. doi: 10.1002/9781444355024.ch1