Before I move on to one of my most heatedly debated topics — marriage — I’ll first be looking into the history behind what could quite possibly be my biggest gripe of all about the whole thing; the sexual double standard.
And it all started with the plow…
There is probably no single tool in human history that wreaked such havoc between women and men or stimulated so many changes in human patterns of sex and love as the plow.
Exactly when the plow appeared remains unknown. The first farmers used the hoe or digging stick. Then, sometimes before 3000 B.C. someone invented the “ard,” a primitive plow with a stone blade and a handle like a plow’s. What a difference this made.
In cultures where people garden with a hoe, women do the bulk of the cultivating; in many of these societies women are relatively powerful as well. But with the introduction of the plow — which required much more strength — much of the essential farm labour became men’s work.
Moreover, women lost their ancient honoured roles as independent gatherers, providers of up to 80% of the evening meal. And soon after the plow became crucial to production, a sexual double standard emerged among farming folk.
Women were judged inferior to men.
The first written evidence of a women’s subjugation in farming communities comes from law codes of ancient Mesopotamia dating from about 1100 B.C. when women were described as chattels, possessions.
One code indicated that a wife could be killed for fornication but her husband was permitted to copulate outside of wedlock — as long as he did not violate another man’s property, his wife.
Matrimony was primarily for procreation so abortion was forbidden and if a woman produced no children, she could be divorced.
The treatment of women as a child-producing property, subservient beings, was not singular to people in the Middle East. These mores sprang up among many farming folk.
In traditional agrarian India an honourable wife was supposed to throw herself on the burning funeral pyre of her husband — a custom known as suttee. In China, an upper-class girl’s toes (all but the big toe) were curled underneath her foot and tightly bound when she was about four, making it terribly painful to walk, impossible to run away from her husband’s home.
During the golden age of ancient Greece, upper-class girls were married off by the age of fourteen, ensuring they were chaste on their wedding day. Among Germanic peoples who invaded classical Rome, women could be bought and sold.
“Wives be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord,” the New Testament bid.
This credo was not just a Christian view. In ancient Sumeria, Babylonia, Assyria, Egypt, classical Greece and Rome, across preindustrial Europe, in India, China, Japan, and the farming communities of North Africa, men became the priests, political leaders, warriors, traders, diplomats, and heads of household.
A woman’s sovereign was first her father and her brother, then her husband, then her son.
While it’s not necessarily true that sexual double standard is unique to farmers (among some gardeners of Amazonia and herding peoples of East Africa women are definitely subservient to men), it does prevail in all societies with the plow.
The degree of sexual restriction and social inferiority, of course, varies and women’s status has changed from century to century. Class, age, economic and social station affect women’s positions too.
But despite any exceptions, there is no question that during our long European farming ancestry, female sexuality was seriously curbed; in almost all circumstances women became second class citizens as well.
So our European ancestors settled down to farm and they paired for life. They plowed and warred and traded. And gradually, men’s new jobs as plowmen and warriors became crucial to survival, while women’s vital roles as gatherers dwindled in importance.
With patriarchy, women became possessions to be coveted, guarded and exploited — spawning vicious social precepts known collectively as the sexual double standard. These credos were then passed on to you and me.
The common belief that men have a higher sex drive than women, the conviction that men are more adulterous, the tradition of feminine chastity at marriage, and the long-held assumption that women are often weak, stupid, and dependent are rooted deep in the plowman’s dirt.
A woman’s marital duty became to raise children and serve a man.