Views on Sexuality and Gender Throughout History
When speaking of gender roles in history, many historians view only the feminine side. I have learned this semester that this is not true. By analyzing only one side of an issue, one cannot fully understand it. In analyzing both sides of gender and sexuality throughout early history, the knowledge obtained is more accurate. So, in order to more fully understand this issue and its role in history, we will observe gender and sexuality in many different cultures in history, and attempt to better understand why each civilization held the views it did and how they compared to other cultures.
To examine this issue, we will first review the Japanese primary source The Tale of Genji and the Christian source The Book of the City of Ladies, both of which were written by women. In The Tale of Genji, Genji is made to be a commoner and sent into exile so he would not become heir to the throne. This may not seem strange in itself, but this was done by request of the Emperor's wife. This actions shows that women, at least high ranking women, had some power in Japanese society. In The Book of the City of Ladies, the author asks the Christian God why she was not made a man, so she can be perfect as men claim to be. Later, she describes a vision of sorts that explain to her men are wrong. An example of this is when one of the women in the apparition states, “What husband ever gave his wife the power over him to utter the kind of insults and obscenities which these authors claim that women do?” (City of Ladies). This shows the author Christine de Pizan’s view of literature that shows women in a negative light, as being lies which do not progress society in a positive manner. What could these two pieces of history possibly have in common? In these two early books, we can see the shared similarities in the power of gender in these author’s time and society. The Emperor’s wife did not ask for Genji to be exiled so that her daughter could become heir to the throne (Genji). In seeing these we also may understand that Genji was not exiled because he was the child of a woman other than he Emperor, he was exiled because he was a male. This shows that during this time in Japanese society men were held in higher regard than women. Likewise, in Pizan’s time and culture, she shows the understanding that men are held in higher regard simply because of their gender. Because men are held in higher regard, she understands that they will be believed to be more intelligent, no matter if they speak the truth. This is illustrated by the female apparition’s statement mentioned above, that even though women are accused of so many negative things, how many of these supposed acts do women actually commit (City of Ladies)? Both of these sources clearly indicate that the power men held was considered greater than that of women in both Japanese and Christian society.
In examining Buddhist, Confucianist, and early Chinese’s Zhou Dynasty society’s views on gender, we can gain a great deal of knowledge on the roles gender played in these societies. During early China’s Zhou Dynasty, sex was not seen just as a means to reproduce. There was much more reciprocity in the male and female sexual relationship; sex was beautiful in this early Chinese society. This is a revolutionary idea compared to the Mesopotamian, Greek, and Roman idea of men being the only ones who deserved sexual satisfaction. The Confucianist idea “men plow, women weave” can be easily understood in the three Confucian Obediences. These obediences apply to women, and are as follows: the daughter serves the father, the wife serves the husband, the widow serves the son. These ideas do a great deal to explain how Confucianism viewed women. The Buddhist idea was that anyone, man or woman, could achieve Nirvana. While this is true, Buddhist nuns were still expected to be submissive to Buddhist monks, and it was much harder to become a Buddhist nun than it was...
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