The genesis of misogyny is lost somewhere in our past, but it’s more relevant in the 21st century than it was thousands of years ago.
The first recorded victim of brazen misogyny is perhaps Hesiod’s Pandora. She finds mention in his epic poems Works and Days and Theogony.
The myth goes: Prometheus steals fire from heaven and gifts it to mankind, Zeus is enraged. Furious at Prometheus’s delinquency, he orders Athena and Hephaestus to create the first mortal woman using Earth and water.
Pandora, so formed, is an epitome of beauty. Alas, men cannot resist her allure. Hera grants her the gift of curiosity. She’s also given a pithora (jar) and is forbidden to open it. Pandora accedes and with her bestowals descends to Earth.
On a fine day, curiosity trumps servility and Pandora opens her jar. Sorrow, death, disease, poverty scorn her as they escape into the sky, preparing to afflict mankind for eons to come. Ow, she’s opened the Pandora’s box.
But there’s Hope, the one good thing Zeus had trapped in the box gives man succour when sorrow seem insurmountable.
Conjuring up the image of a nefarious inamorata, Hesiod gives a description of Pandora in Theogony (590-93)
“…From her is the race of women and female kind:
of her is the deadly race and tribe of women who
live amongst mortal men to their great trouble,
no helpmates in hateful poverty, but only in wealth…”
Thus, woman is a burden on man. A parasitic animal thats eats away the toils of men, and brings with her nothing but pain.
Several orthodox Hindu traditions degenerate women, calling them vile. Mahabharata, the longest epic poem in the world has Bhisma telling Yudhisthira–
“I will tell you my son, how Brahma created wanton women and for what purpose. For there is nothing more evil than women; a wonton woman is a blazing fire; she is the illusion born of Maya; she is the sharp edge of the razor ; she is poison, a serpent, and death all in one.”
The Vedas paint a corrupt picture of women, portraying them as conniving players who exert their force by unleashing their erotic demeanour; calls them manipulative, but deficient in intelligence. So it’s no surprise that men have been (are) wary of women.
And even after centuries, this ritualistic denunciation of women refuses to fade away. 16th century misogynists declared ‘green sickness’ to be a disease of virginity, where women were perceived to need to have sexual intercourse to keep their bodies functioning well. In 19th century Kerala (India), Mulakkaram, was prevalent, under which women were required to pay a tax to cover their bosoms. Under English Common Law, a married women had no “legal body”. It was permissible to beat your wife, but not to the point of death, mercy.
The principle of coverture was expressed in William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England in the late 18th century:
“By marriage, the husband and wife are one person in law: that is, the very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage, and is incorporated and consolidated into that of the husband: under whose wing, protection, and cover, she performs every thing; and is therefore called in our law-French a feme-covert; is said to be covert-baron, or under the protection and influence of her husband, her baron, or lord; and her condition during her marriage is called her coverture.”
Even Shakespeare glorifies misogyny! The pervasiveness of a grotesque misogynistic culture is bought to the fore in Taming of the Shrew, where Kate, now tamed, tells other women-
“…Thy husband is thy lord, thy keeper,
Thy head, thy sovereign
Such duty as the subject owes the prince,
even such a woman oweth to her husband…”
Innumerable examples are running through my head, but I think you get the point. Given this historical perspective, it is perhaps easy to see why women occupy a side role in today’s societal structure. History has never favoured women, and now they’ve been degraded to second class citizens, to be viewed primarily as objects. It cannot be ascertained when exactly the scales tipped in the favour of men, neither can we foretell when the balance will be restored. Maybe the worst is gone, but the widespread internalisation of misogyny hasn’t magically disappeared.
Women do not just have to put up with sexist remarks at public places. No, their whole lives are governed by repressive customs that keep them shackled. It’s not just eve teasing and harassment, it’s ceaseless, silent objectification.Yes, things are changing. We do hear sporadic voices. But the gale of fresh change is rather slow to bring about a radical improvement in the lives of millions of women. The dangerous social and legal licence to push women into servitude has existed for centuries and thinly disguised misogyny continues to affect women the world over. Before you target me for being too negative, hear me out.
Women’s condition has improved dramatically in the last century, they say. They’re getting good education, jobs, a relief from performing gender roles, they say. I say, yes women have more opportunities now. If 200 years ago they were allowed to move in a 1 meter radius, it’s now been changed to, say, 10. But women are still trapped, confined to a rigid boundary. That has to change. The mindset has to change. People have to change.
You surely cannot create wonders when one half of the species in under constant domination. Whether posterity will abrogate this systemic subordination of women or not… I guess I’ll never know. What I do know, is that the world can be a better place only if men and women work together.
A girl can dream!