History has always been just that: HIS STORY

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Since the beginning of recorded time, in most cultures of the world, the voice of women has been silenced through various means and by doing so the men dominate the pages of our history books, the policies of our nations, and the ideas and perspectives within our literature as well as all other modes of artistic expression. This page discusses the various ways in which women and their voices have been oppressed in numerous areas of human life throughout history and continuing in the present.

FAMILY

The family is the oldest most traditional establishment in history where the male has always dominated, even present day the male is often viewed as the dominant figure of the household. The origin of this goes back to the time of the cave man. Women where often viewed as physically inferior due to their smaller average size and muscle mass. Also, they were often viewed as more emotional, less decisive, and less intelligent. This, along with the importance of child bearing and seeing it as a woman's sole duty, led to the men doing the hunting and other physical labor while the "housewife" cared for children, gathered food, and cooked. The housewife is still very much around to this day. In many societies the man is the provider for the family, he brings home the paycheck to support the family. The woman's role is to stay at home where she is to cook, clean, and most importantly care for the children. Today, the greatest inequality among men and women lies in economic status. Women are not given the same professional opportunity, often experience sexual harassment and discrimination in the work force, and earn less than males on average. However, things have started to improve over the last few decades in many countries.
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Okonkwo's family, from the novel Things Fall Apart, is a perfect, albeit extreme, example of the male dominated household where "the man is the head of the family and his wives do his bidding" (Achebe 81). He "ruled his household with a heavy hand. His wives...lived in perpetual fear of his fiery temper" (Achebe 9). This demonstrates that the man was the dictator of the household and, like many parts of the world during this time, it was the norm and right of the man to use force as he pleased. Okonkwo often talks of his view of a well respected and powerful man having many wives and children. Yes, it shows that women are valuable in this culture, yet it is valuable in a way that fine cigars or lots of fancy cars are; they show social status. It objectifies women and diminishes them to little more than trophies to show off, trophies that take care of your house, your meals, and your children. However, "no matter how prosperous a man was, if he was unable to rule his women and children (and especially his women) he was not really a man" (Achebe 32). This quote really get's to the heart of the false idea of masculinity; if a man can't exert his dominance over women, then he is not a man.
Women are often viewed as incapable or unworthy of fulffiling mens jobs. in the novel, Okonkwo's wives and daughters "worked hard enough, but they only grew women’s crops, like coco-yams, beans and cassava. Yam, the king of crops, was a man’s crop" (Achebe 15). Another clear sign of the silenced voice of women is the fact that Okonkwo tells his son Nywoe to not listen to his mother's stories because he claims that they are foolish and childish. However, these stories which his wife told to his kids at night were beautiful and poetic, and held meaningful value which provided good lessons to the children. A final note is that Okonkwo speaks of his daughter Ezinma saying "she should have been a boy" (Achebe 39). This expresses how Okonkwo likes how understanding Ezinma is when he is depressed about Ikemefuna. It shows that deep down, he wants this sort of affection with his own son, Nywoe and even Ikemefuna, yet he believes a man who is affectionate is weak and illustrates Okonkwo's belief of manliness is to be closed off and violent.

RELIGION

In most early societies, women have been deemed inferior to men, continuously looked down upon, and even considered as a nothing more than a piece of property which can be bought, sold, or traded. What many dont know, is that in several religions, women were even perceived at as damned, or evil. In Christianity, the first woman, Eve, was the one who took the bite of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, which is known as original sin. For this reason, women were often seen as sinful and childish. "Men will choose any wickedness, but the wickedness of a woman...Sin began with a woman and thanks to her we all must die" Ecclesiasticus, 25:18, 19 & 33. Although many religions have recently began to reform in order to keep up with the changing times. The church of Latter Day Saints is one that has not. Mormons still believe that a "woman's primary place is in the home, where she is to rear children and abide by the righteous counsel of her husband" (McConkie 844). These beliefs give the males the absolute power of the house and of the church. Polygamy is not a part of all Mormons' beliefs however they are still present today. This elevates the power of males because they claim the right to have as many wives as they please while women can have only one husband. At the same time it belittles and degrades women going back to the idea that they are property, or at least that their purpose in life is to please their husband. In Catholicism, women cannot be ordained as priest, and also the Catholic church is firmly against abortion and contraceptives, all of which limit the right's of women. There are various other religious sects around the world that suppress the right of women. A prime example are the Taliban. They restrict women to an extreme, banning them from working, forcing them to cover all skin in public, and restricting them from leaving the home without their husbands or male relative. This goes to show how sexism and oppression of women has not ceased to exist in the slightest.
In Things Fall Apart, the woman of the Ibo tribes were essential in their religion. The most prominent character in the Ibo tribe's spirituality was a woman, the Oracle Agabala. Woman often occupied the role of the priestess. "The priestess in those days was woman called Chika. She was full of the power of her god, and she was greatly feared" (Achebe 17). A woman occupying the role of a spiritual leader, shows that, unlike most of societies, women were able to have some religious value in Ibo culture, even though that value came from fear rather than equality.

EDUCATION

Women had never been given the means to use their voice. Society was afraid that giving women a higher education would lead to break down an age old system of gender roles and responsiblities which to this day haven't been forgotten. Women were often left out of intellectual debates, or put down for ideas and views that men didn't like, or at least didn't want to like because they were a woman's idea. When women did have progessive ideas, they may have never recieved appreciation or credit. A perfect example is the discovery of a new comet in 1702 by a woman named Maria Winkelmann Kirch; she was the first woman to make such a discovery. She often worked on astronomical observations with her husband, however she was of course viewed as an assistant. When she made the observation, he husband confirmed it and was surprised he never made the discovery himself. Her husband took the credit of finding it and thus got it named after him. It goes to show the little intellectual and academic credit that women received in the past.

ART

Like anything else, men have dominated art in the same way they have dominated the work force. Womens artwork has been view as a lesser value of work just because it comes from the hand of women. Women of the Ibo tribe in Things Fall Apart were able to express themselves through some forms of art, such as making their clothes and jewelery. Another good example of the rejection of the woman's creation in the novel is how they recited their poetic and meaningful stories like the one of the tortoise and the birds. Okonkwo tells his son that woman's stories are silly and childish, which dismisses their value and gives no respect to them.

POLITICS

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Politics is a large realm of the world in which women have been absent from for a startling amount of time. We know that women are often viewed as unequal to men intellectually, so it is really not surprising that they generally weren't included in the making of nations' policies until relatively recently. It wasn't even accepted for them to comment on the matter; it just wasn't the woman's place. In the last few centuries women began to get more and more fed up with their unheard voices. The idea of feminism, the equality of women to men, began to really take hold and inspire women around the globe to fight for their rights.

One of the biggest ways that women were silenced was their lack of suffrage; they were not legally allowed to vote. After the American Civil War, the 15th amendment was passed in 1869 which gave African Americans the right to vote. Many women were furious that the amendment did not extend voting rights to them, while some were more accepting because they believed that it would be their turn next. In the United States women joined together and began to demand their justice that they felt they deserved. On August 26, 1920, the 19th Amendment was passed and granted the ballot to American women thus including their voice in the democratic process. However, this does not mean that women were automatically respected in political and social life, or that their views were no longer attempted to be silenced. While women may have the right to vote in America, there are still many countries that deny women this right. The voice of women maybe heard democratically in America, but is still lacking volume in terms of representation. The 111th Congress of the United States currently has 92 female senators and representatives out of a total of 535 memebers. So, women comprise about 17% of the legislative body, while approximately half of the population of the United States are female. While it is true that a descriptive representation is unreasonable, this contrast between the percentages of female representatives and their female constituents is unjust and it shows how much more control men have in this country.
Going back to that quote from Things Fall Apart, which says that "if [a man] was unable to rule his women...he was not really a man," we see that men have long thought they must be in control over women. This notion is still ever present today when looking at politics in our country as well as other nations.


The idea that women are inferior has been perpetuated by society, which influences women on how they "should" behave and their "roles" based on unfair, negative stereotypes. In order to break this cycle of oppression we must recognize that men and women do have differences, but these differences do not make one sex superior to the other. If we are ever to improve the lives of women around the world we must first recognize our equality so we can work to make it a reality.

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WORKS CITED


Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart: with Related Readings. New York, NY: Glencoe/McGraw-Hill, 2002.
“Generic feminist imagery.” 12 Dec. 2010. <http://thefbomb.org/2009/07/a-feminist-wish-list/>.
Giele, Janet Zollinger. "Women's movement." World Book Student. World Book, 2010. Web. 11 Dec. 2010. <http://www.worldbookonline.com>.
Grolier Online. "History of Women's Suffrage." Scholastic. Scholastic Inc., 2010. Web. 9 Dec. 2010. <http://teacher.scholastic.com/activities/suffrage/history.htm>.
“Kenwood Chef.” 8 Dec. 2010. < http://www.feministsareevil.com/2010/07/chef-does-everything-but-cook-thats.html>.
Office of History and Preservation, Office of the Clerk. Women in Congress, 1917–Present. Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, Office of History and Preservation, 2007. 11 Dec. 2010. <http://womenincongress.house.gov>.
“Third-world feminism.” 9 Dec. 2010. <http://www.femodeen.eu/page5.html>.
“Wordle.” 7 Dec. 2010. < http://www.wordle.net/create>.