Women serve in a variety of roles in today’s world: doctors, lawyers, presidents and CEO’s of fortune 500 companies, a woman can become president, or she may choose the traditional role of running the home and family. Women have certainly come a long way in the last 100 years. When people generally think of a patriarchal society, it looks like leave it to Beaver, “Gee Wally, mom sure makes a swell pie.” In this archetype, each family member serves their traditional role with Dad at the helm. Where does this archetype come from? Has it always been this way or did it start at some point in human history? When we look back on ancient societies like Mesopotamia and India we can see how men became king of the roost. We can also see the pecking order of males from different classes. Patriarchy in ancient India and Mesopotamia had similar origins in the Agrarian Revolution, they had different laws for their women and their class systems, and these differences were primarily due to their morality codes.
The traditional male, female roles in society did not just happen because of nature or some divine rite. In the early years of the Agricultural Revolution, labor became male dominated because of men’s upper body strength. Women began taking the role of homemaker and raising children. Farming, becoming the predominant profession and way of life is one of the main reasons men took the role of “The Breadwinner”, further carving out the male dominated society. Social spheres also perpetuated the patriarchal roles men took on. Men dominated the in the social and women dominated the private sphere; the home. As crops became easier to grow and societal structures grew, men invented religion, law, and politics. These devices led to complete control over women and those of lower classes because now there were laws in place that could condemn things men were intimidated by. So there was indeed a chain of events that led to the early patriarchal society construct.
Although Mesopotamian patriarchy definitely did not treat females fairly, Indian culture was harder of the two on women. “The general subordination of women assumed a particularly severe form in India through the powerful instrument of religious traditions which have shaped social practices. A marked feature of Hindu society is its legal sanction for an extreme expression of social stratification in which women and the lower castes have been subjected humiliating conditions of existence. Caste and gender hierarchy are the organizing principles of the Brahmanical social order,” (Class, Caste and Gender 147). Hammurabi’s Law shows that women had a little more say in things, such as being able to petition for divorce; women had a small voice. “If a woman quarrels with her husband, and say: “You are not congenial to me,” the reasons for her prejudice must be presented. If she is guiltless, and there is no fault on her part, but he leaves and neglects her, then no guilt attaches to this woman, she shall take her dowry and go back to her father’s house.” (Hammurabi’s Law n.pg).
In ancient Sumeria, there were some women with power. For example, if a daughter was sold to a temple, that family could have the honor of having a priestess in the family. Most women, then, were wives and mothers, doing the necessary tasks expected of them: taking care of their families, raising children, cleaning, cooking and weaving. Some Mesopotamian women, however, also engaged in trade, especially weaving and selling cloth, food production, brewing beer and wine, perfumery and making incense, midwifery, and prostitution. Weaving and selling cloth produced much wealth for Mesopotamia and temples employed thousands of women in making cloth. (history.net n pg). Although both India and Mesopotamia had a patriarchal government their treatment of women did not mirror each other.
Another difference was the in the class system. Women could travel outside of their class and “marry up” in Mesopotamia. They could find themselves in a different social class depending on whom they married. This was frowned on in ancient India.Those in the Brahmanical class were not supposed to marry outside of their own social spectrum.
Patriarchal societies came out of the Agrarian Revolution and shaped society for millennia. The male desire to control religion, politics, and war repeatedly shown us the worst side of humankind. Males have always had to have the bigger truck, more money, more power, “Hell, let’s kick it up a notch.” Insecurity reigns supreme when it comes to the male gender. Ancient India and Mesopotamia may have had specific laws that were different but it was just dressed differently. It seems as though class and gender systems were built to keep a small contingent of men in the driver’s seat of the empire, army, household or even the playground of an elementary school. “It is only after eliminating any “threat” from women, and favouring the higher castes, that the Laws of Manu delves into traditional law.” (Law of Manu n.pg). With the progress we have made in making equality a reality, take a look beyond your own home, office or classroom. In regards to ancient India and Mesopotamia; how far have we really come?
Hansen, Valeri, and Kenneth R. Curtis. Voyages in World History: 2nd Edition. Belmont, Ca: Wadsworth Co, 2014. Print.
“History.com – Shows, Full Episodes, American & World History.” HISTORY. Web. 05 Mar. 2017.
Mohanty, Manoranjan. Class, Caste and Gender. New Delhi: Sage Publ., 2004. Print.