Gender Roles in Ancient Texts
Women throughout Western History have taken a back seat to men in many ancient societies. Generally speaking, numerous ancient cultures were patriarchal civilizations; with male dominate leadership and female subservience. Ancient texts from early cultures provide an understanding of the roles of women and the positions they held in ancient societies. Looking to Ancient Greek and Hebrew cultures and their writings, the role of women can be seen as inferior to that of a man’s role. Hebrew texts such as the Tanakh, specifically Genesis and Exodus, recount many ancient stories that feature men as the leading characters while women played secondary roles, usually mothers and caretakers. Antigone, on the other hand, features a leading female personality who is damned by the male antagonist in the story. Using specific examples from the Tanakh and Antigone, one can understand women’s subordinate position in these ancient societies and how their subordinate is seen in ancient literature. In ancient Hebrew societies men held both power and authority. Women may have played active roles in these societies, however these roles were both subordinate to men and restricted. Women were not leaders and held very little authority; women’s responsibilities were limited to homemaker and caretaker. Women were restricted to the home and, to an extent, unable to leave the domestic setting without the permission of a man. In ancient texts, women to were almost considered property of their fathers until marriage, when they were passed on to their husbands. Women could even be sold and traded as objects. On numerous occasions, as seen below, women are described as inferior beings to men and must be submissive to male authority (Woelfel 30). The Tanakh is a collection of ancient scripture treasured among the Hebrew society; some texts served as guides of model behavior or stories of religious figures and more. The male is the dominate character in many of the stories of the Tanakh while women were secondary figures. The most notable female personalities were mothers, wives or slaves. This point can be realized by reading stories from the Tanakh, specifically Genesis and Exodus. Genesis consists of creation stories and further narratives and sets the tone for women’s inferior position. The texts can be read in such a way that women are secondary both because of their creation's dependence on the male and their lack of leading roles. Exodus features few female characters as well and the male is the dominate actor in the stories. The inferior role of women in the Hebrew society could be rooted in the creation story in Genesis. The man was created before the woman. As the story goes, man needed a helper so God created woman. "The Lord God cast a deep sleep upon man; and, while he slept, He took one of his ribs… And the Lord fashioned the rib that he had taken from man into woman” (Genesis 2:20-21). This line could be interpreted as woman is subservient to man because she was created to man and thus he holds authority. This story continues and man names woman further implying the male dominance of women. “This shall be called woman, from a man she was taken” (Genesis 2:23). Later in the story when Adam and Eve are punished for eating from the tree of knowledge, God punishes woman, saying “your urge shall be for your husband and he shall rule over you” (Genesis 3:16). This line from Genesis specially suggests man’s superior role and his dominance over woman, a right given to him by God. Exodus, another section from the Torah, is a scripture that tells the story of oppressed Hebrew people living in Egypt, whom God saves (Woelfel 33-34). The female roles in Exodus are minimal, only a few instance does a woman appear in the forefront of the text. The lack of attention given to women yields their insignificance to man. The male characters Moses and the Pharaoh dominate the story and the woman are just extras....
Cited: Woelfel, James W., and Sarah Chappell. Trulove. Patterns in Western Civilization. Needham Heights, MA: Ginn, 1991. Print.
Sophocles, Robert Fagles, and Bernard Knox. The Three Theban Plays. Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin, 1984. Print.
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