Early Attitudes Toward Women
Since early times women have been uniquely viewed as a creative source of human life. Historically, however, they have been considered not only intellectually inferior to men but also a major source of temptation and evil. In Greek mythology, for example, it was a woman, Pandora, who opened the forbidden box and brought plagues and unhappiness to mankind. Early Roman law described women as children, forever inferior to men.
Early Christian theology perpetuated these views. St. Jerome, a 4th-century Latin father of the Christian church, said: "Woman is the gate of the devil, the path of wickedness, the sting of the serpent, in a word a perilous object." Thomas Aquinas, the 13th-century Christian theologian, said that woman was "created to be man's helpmeet, but her unique role is in conception . . . since for other purposes men would be better assisted by other men."
The attitude toward women in the East was at first more favorable. In ancient India, for example, women were not deprived of property rights or individual freedoms by marriage. But Hinduism, which evolved in India after about 500 BC, required obedience of women toward men. Women had to walk behind their husbands. Women could not own property, and widows could not remarry. In both East and West, male children were preferred over female children.
Nevertheless, when they were allowed personal and intellectual freedom, women made significant achievements. During the Middle Ages nuns played a key role...