Institution – Kent State University

Author: Jimmie Ivan Barron

Prior to the rise of urban and agricultural societies and throughout the hunter- gatherer societies, men and women shared a fairly equal status. We then see the rise of urban societies in Eurasia near 3500 BCE and we begin to see women inhabiting a lesser role than men. (Worlds 21).  Along with that, the rise of agricultural societies contributes to the diminished role of women, which continues throughout history.

The rise of urban societies created a political structure, a class structure, and a military; however, women were discriminated against more than before. Institutional patriarchy probably developed alongside the state, tribute extraction, social stratification, and slavery. (Worlds 22) As early as 2300 B.C.E. “slave girls” are often found in need more than “slave boys”. (Worlds 23) Many of these women were valued more than men.

Women were purchased for many reason; some examples would be concubines, unfree female slaves who were used for reproduction. Some women were used just for physical labor. Even in the slave world there was a difference between a first-generation slave and a second-generation slave. The second-generation slave was valued more (Worlds 23-24) Women who were slaves, who reproduced provided the second-generation slave. The slave trade, essential to ancient Eurasian civilizations, was the first evidence of women’s control by men. Some would argue that men’s control and exchange of women’s sexuality and reproductive capacity becomes the basis for private property. (Worlds 22).

Women would enter marriages and be sold as slaves by their fathers for their reproductive capacity for wealth and household goods. (Worlds 22).  The negative impact urban societies have had on women has followed them throughout the rest of history. “This overall disparity in statue, wealth, and power spelled a worsening of women’s position”. (Worlds 22) Because of the rise of men’s control over society, women have felt the repercussions of men’s control, abuse, and negativity for centuries.

Demographics and technology play a role in the diminishment of women. Hoe agriculture which later turned into plow agriculture was intensive work with long hours and since women were having more children, they had less time doing the heavier work.  Women in these plowing agricultures would instead work around the house and perform lighter work.

Either through their own choices or through societies choices women’s social power and prestige was gradually lost. (Worlds 22) Since there was a big shift in the social standing for women in small villages and small urbanized societies their social freedoms and denial to do the same job as men was lessened. (Worlds 23) Thus, our effort to understand the origin of patriarchy deepens. Further, we found it useful to divide the agricultural-pastoral periods into two parts: early hoe agriculture or horticulture, when women still played a primary role, and later plow agriculture and the pastoral secondary products revolution when men’s work predominated. (Worlds 26)

Because we see these social changes from agriculture to urbanization wealth and power was kept within families. Again, women’s role in societies is diminished because they are forced to marry because it is better for the family. (Worlds 23) Women were shaped by the family and their control over their morals.

Meaning that preserving her virginity till marriage and ensuring that her husband was her only sexual partner, would guarantee that the paternity of the family members would be unquestioned. A women’s reputation was critical to the family. The practice of veiling and seclusion would prevent her from having sexual contact with any male but her husband. (Worlds 23-24)  

Hunting and gathering societies were broken up into two main jobs, the men did the hunting, and the women did the gathering.  The roles were seen as fairly equal. Archeologists believe men did the hunting because it seemed more glorious and warrior like, while women did most of the gathering. Although women did participate in hunting by dragging the meat back to camp and were involved in the productivity of the hunt, as much as the men. (Worlds 2-4).

We begin to see a change in men and women’s roles from the time of hunter-gatherers to the transition to agricultural society. Women find themselves at home more and working the fields, as well as cultivating new plants. We also see a rise in motherhood, women are expected to stay home and take care of the children.  This is evidenced in the cave paintings studied by Dean Snow, an Archaeologist from Penn State (Worlds 3-4), as well as British Biologist John Manning.

Women’s index and ring fingers are roughly the same length, whereas men’s fingers tended to be longer than the other. There was a stigma that women were lesser than men.   Ironically, the way we know what the roles were and how society functioned, is by these cave paintings that were created by women. The transition of women associated with motherhood and fertility is apparent at this time, in the cave paintings. The “Venus” figurine is depicted with large breasts, stomach, behind, and vulvae indicating fertility and childbearing.

Women played a huge role in the Agricultural Revolution. There is evidence and extensive documentation indicating basket making and weaving were important functions of women in that society. The images were drawn and carved into stone, ivory and bone. (Worlds 11) Dr. Margaret Ehrenberg studied women in prehistory and found evidence women were the first to cultivate farming. She believes women were the first to observe plants and their behavior, and by trial and error, figured out how to grow them. (Worlds 15)  Although women played major roles in agricultural societies, because of their roles as mothers, keepers of the home, and seen as weaker or lesser, their status was weakened.

In studying the effects of urbanization and agricultural societies, subsequent to the hunter-gatherer society, the negative impact on women is apparent. Women had held generally equal status with men, however, the slave trade, changes in tools and technology, as well as jobs becoming “men’s work” and considered more difficult while “women’s work” was lighter and meant to focus around home life and control over women’s reproduction shifted women’s status as inferior, weaker, and overall lesser in value than in previous society.

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