Gender plays a paramount role in societies of the past and future as well as in the mythology of many cultures. The role and perception of men and women was very immutable and constant in the past. Ironically, over time the perception of gender roles changed or was very different in certain locations of a nation. In modern day, there is a looser grip on the gender roles in society. Ancient tribes wrote mythologies which were the seeds of their religion and culture, and this may have influenced their posterity.
The seeds embedded in the ground were a framework that sprouted as scholars and philosophers unfolded, and added onto the remnants of past religious literacy. The way in which gender plays a role in mythology of cultures, specifically of Greek, Egyptian, and Hindu may reflect their belief system in ancient society. Ancient Greeks were patriarchal; they gave men more importance than women. A woman’s duty was to take care of the household and bear children. The Greeks were not advocates of social equality.
In their mythology, goddesses were respected and worshiped, but sometimes it was the opposite. For example, Pandora is shown as an antagonist because she lets out mischief into the world by curiously opening a chest. “In ancient Athenian society, women … had no economic or political independence… Despite the fact that Athenian women were not offered equal opportunities in their society, women often play important… roles in Greek mythology… expected to be virtuous and good; at the same time, however, it was commonly believed that they were devious and wicked beneath their noble facade…
Pandora … and her story may represent the contradictory issues associated with Greek women. ” (Houle 52) This story seems to reflect the idea of how everything was fine before a woman let out all the evil spirits in the world. As a result, people had to struggle for a living. This casts a negative view on the women in Greek society. This may be the cause of the constant social inequality they faced. The Pandora myth basically outweighs the other myths where women were shown to be positive and prestigious in the Greek culture.
Over time the importance of women decreased in Greek society and culture, because other outside influences shaped the way in which they thought about gender. Usually through invasions ideas overlap, impacting traditions and beliefs of the people. “Ask a Lycian man who he is and he answers by giving his own name, that of his mother and so in the female line … possession pass by inheritance to daughters instead of the sons… Greece was invaded by northern peoples several times … invasions of the thirteenth century BC seriously weekend the matrilineal tradition … change from the worship of the Goddess to the male deity… (Stone 46, 51) Greece was once a matriarchal society, but after invasions from the Dorians, they started to give more importance to male gods and the male population itself. During an invasion, ideas are adapted and absorbed into the culture. Male deities were given more importance because they were seen as more dominant beings over the female goddesses. As a result, this sheds a negative view on women in society. Their religious beliefs spread across Greece, and it shaped the way in which Greeks thought of gender roles. It led them to honor male deities more than the goddesses.
In Egyptian mythology, the role of a woman and a man were largely different. It was believed that a man would support the household financially, and a woman would be the behind-the-scene person, taking care of the children and their wellbeing. However, in mythology the role of the two gender seemed to interchange. “… creator gods had androgynous features-male gods bringing forth the next generation of deities, even if the process of giving birth was somewhat unconventional, in the case of Atem it included spitting out and vomiting. Female deities might occasionally have male features: a bearded Isis figure holding a baby
Horus… ” (“Gender”) This is a more symbolic image of a swap in gender roles. However, in Egyptian society there was once an instance where a queen would dress up as a male pharaoh to continue the stereotypical idea of how only a male can be a king. Hatshepsut disguised her feminine features, and instead wore a fake beard to look like a man. Since mythology portrayed an interchange between gender roles, possibly society took this to their understanding. As a result, women were given positions that once only a man could take hold of. Women were not considered to be limited, just because, for example, they can produce a child.
As a matter of fact, male gods such as Atem produced children as well without the assistance of a woman. There were more than just one role for gender, in fact, a woman could do what a man can do and vice versa. Mythology strongly influences the mechanism in a society mostly because it consists of higher being (Gods) that the people look upon, as their idols. The story of Isis and Osiris significantly influenced Egyptian mythology and culture by giving more importance to women. “… After Osiris’ brutal murder … Isis recovers his corpse and, ‘uses her magic powers to revive [him] for just long enough to conceive a son … eed for feminine intervention in the process of male regeneration, and the necessity of the reversal of gender roles in rebirth. ” (“Reversal of Gender in Ancient Egyptian Mythology: Discovering the Secrets of Androgyny”) Isis takes on the role of the male creator in order to revive Osiris. She, then switches to her feminine self in order to give birth to their son, Horus. This concept of two genders embedded into one body is seen multiple times in Egyptian mythology. This reversal gives more power to women. It shows their strength in a way, because they have the ability to take on a different task.
Isis is known as the “mother of god” and was worshipped a lot by the Egyptians. Her feminine traits where reflected by the women in ancient society. Isis was shown to support women in labour and assure fertility and healing. These traits show the duties of a woman in ancient society. Usually, their only purpose was to support the family by cleaning the house, cooking, producing children for the family, etc. Furthermore, cult of Isis predominated overtime and women were given more respect and privilege not only in Egypt but also in Europe. Isis possessed magical powers and this, too shed a more positive view towards women in general.
In Hinduism, mythology and religion does not always impact the societal beliefs of the people, especially when it comes to the equality between genders. For example, in Hindu religion, there is Ardhanarishvara, who is a half man and half woman. This is to show equality between the two genders. “The right side is Shiva and the left side is Pavarati. The purpose of the drawing is to show that the divine consist of both a male and a female side and that these two are equally important… equality between men and women. In the Indian society, however, this is not reflected. (Hedman 8) In modern and in ancient Indian societies, a woman, similarly to any other culture was powerless. They did household chores and their main contribution to their family was to bear a child. However, in Hindu religion and in mythology, goddesses were respected equally as the gods. They both had power. This is not reflected in a Hindu society today. Women face violence and injustice, and neither of these qualities are a reflection of their religion. In modern day India, women look upon the goddesses as their advisors but they are not, by any chance treated equally as the male population.
Aryans migrated to India bringing along Indo-European cultural ideas and beliefs. They gained a lot of power in India over time. Women in the Aryan society were thought to be a sign of income in a family. They were represented by the Goddess Lakshmi. “In ancient times Aryans were the main inhabitants… were mainly Brahmins and they used to give the status of goddess to the women. At that time women enjoyed no less than status of Lakshmi (goddess of wealth) in the households. ” (Tewari 35) There is a famous Sanskrit saying that translates,”The place where women are worshipped, god themselves inhabit that place”.
Women were seen as auspicious beings. When they got married, it was believed that Goddess Lakshmi, herself came to their home to bestow wealth. They were not abused because they represented the goddess herself. An example of woman power in Hindu religion would be shown with Ravana, a learned man in India. He was so strong that the gods themselves cannot harm him, only a woman can. After capturing Sita, he was doomed to death and destruction. This gave respect and importance to women. Certain societies in India are very religious and they look upon their mythology and religion to guide them in life.
Women had power and won their respect by the rest of population through stories as such. Over time, their power declined as men started to dominate different aspects of society. Role of gender definitely changed over time globally. Each culture had its own unique way of interpreting the role of gender in society. They used their mythology and religious scriptures to guide them, and establish their duties and purpose. Then and now, men are still seen as more dominant than women in most fields, but there has been success in trying to establish an equal balance.
In Greek mythology, women were seen as vicious beings for their trickery and evil nature. Egyptian mythology featured androgyny in gods. Furthermore, Hindu mythology did not always impact society. For example, the image of Ardhanarishvara was used to symbolize divine equality between the two genders. Unfortunately, in some parts of India, women were not given the same rights as men. Ironically, during a certain time period, women were thought to be auspicious and a sign of wealth, therefore they were treated well by society. Importance of gender role was not only influenced by mythology but also by geography, invasions, and reforms.