One of the low points in women’s history may be the discussion among Church leaders in 585 on whether women had souls. I’ve referenced this story more than once and as early as 2014. Further research reveals details are cloudy about where that discussion took place but it ended in the decision to reject the idea that women were soulless. Since that nadir point, a woman’s place in society has made little progress. In some places, goats are treated better than females. Afghanistan is an example. After 20 years of relative autonomy, women under the Taliban might envy goats.
Women in western societies have also seen their rights eroded. Brazil, Hungary, and Poland have far-right movements that call for the end of “gender ideology.” They want women to return to their narrow roles as homemakers. A similar pressure faces women in the United States. If Roe v. Wade is overturned, as expected, they will lose their Constitutional right to control their bodies and be returned to the status of chattel.
That outcome would be a loss for everyone. Research reveals that a direct link exists between female oppression and authoritarian states. (“Revenge of the Patriarchs” by Erica Chenoweth and Zoe Marks, Foreign Affairs, March/April 2022, pgs. 102-116.) Autocrats fear women’s mass movements because they tend to succeed and more likely to lead to egalitarian democracy. (Ibid pg. 105) Because their demonstrations are non-violent, it’s easier to mobilize participants. (Ibid, pg. 110.) Should those actions fail, however, women risk facing a patriarchal backlash. (Ibid pg. 111)
In an attempt to reduce women to their biology, patriarchs cry for “Traditional Values.” Not surprisingly, the appeal attracts women rooted in Christian doctrine. (Ibid, pg. 112.) Piety degrees that women play a secondary role to men. Being Daughters of Eve, the devout accept the scriptural judgment that women cannot be trusted. Not surprisingly, these women have learned to use subservience as a means to gain a foothold within the patriarchy. Valorizing traditional motherhood, conservative women often play supporting roles to the masculine stars of the show. (Ibid, pg. 113.)
The corollary of patriarchy is that men are not men unless they control women. (Ibid, pg. 113.) Sometimes their governance is strict or brutal. Sometimes the role becomes one of a father figure where women are treated like children for their protection. No matter how it is expressed, patriarchy ends with women losing dominion over their bodies, their economic freedom, and their political autonomy. (Ibid, pg. 114) Women who resist are vilified and accused of putting masculinity under attack. (Ibid, pg. 115.)
Countries that practice gender bias have poorer economies compared to those where women work in partnership with men. Nonetheless, for some males keeping women in an inferior status trumps a thriving economy. Their fear of a loss of station is too great. That insecurity denies a deeper wisdom. We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back. –Malala Yousafzai.