WOMEN IN CLASSICAL ATHENS
IN THE SHADOW OF NORTH-WEST EUROPE
OR IN THE LIGHT FROM ISTANBULBy Jørgen Christian Meyer
Being a woman in classical Athens cannot have been much fun, if one can rely on the majority of the accounts of women's position in the Greek city-state. The Athenian democracy, traditionally held in high esteem in many other ways, was a democracy of the minority. Women, foreigners and slaves had no influence or true civil rights. They lived in the shadow of the Parthenon and the Acropolis.
Sarah B. Pomeroy's influential monograph, Goddesses, Whores, Wives, and Slaves: Women in Classical Antiquity (1976) paints a dark picture. Men held a monopoly on politics and influence in the public sphere, and women lived in a society completely dominated by men. From childhood, girls were raised to their role of producing new citizens for the polis. Athenian society was extremely exclusive and only rarely allowed foreigners a share in the privileges of the citizens. Thus it was important to ensure that the women gave birth to legitimate heirs. This led to great limitations on young women's freedom of movement and on their sexuality during their reproductive years, whether they were married or unmarried (Keuls 1985). Women were kept isolated indoors, according to Pomeroy even in a special part of the house, the so-called gynaikonitis (Pomeroy 1976, 80). If a family had no male heir, the daughter, epikleros, who thus carried on the paternal line, was forced to accept being married off to the closest male relative to ensure that the family's financial resources were kept within the family. At puberty, the young girls were married to men who were around thirty years old or more. Although it was quite easy for both parties to obtain a divorce, the starting point created an unequal balance of power between the man and the woman in marriage. Moreover, the woman was totally dependent on a guardian, kyrios, if she wanted to make contact with society outside the oikos.
But women in Athens did not constitute one homogeneous group. Some women had far greater freedom of movement and influence in this male dominated society. Aspasia, the great politician and general Pericles' mistress in the fifth century BC, is especially well known. She was a hetaera, that is a citizen's permanent mistress, more or less an equivalent to the courtesan in later French society. Many of the hetaerae were well versed in poetry, music and social conditions in general. In the men's world, they could participate in debates from which a woman citizen was completely cut off. On the other hand, perhaps with a few exceptions, the hetaera had foregone the possibility of bringing legitimate heirs into the world and become part of a normal household. Many have pointed out that the borderline with prostitution proper was blurred and that the status as hetaera was not a true alternative for Athenian women of middle-class families.
Quite apart from the hetaerae, there also was a difference between rich and poor families and perhaps also women from families with metic status. Women from poor families could not live up to the norms of society, but, on the other hand, were able to leave the house to sell bread and agricultural products and to participate in the work in the field on an equal footing with the men. For women of the middle and upper classes the situation was very different and not enviable:
The empty life of the Greek woman of the upper or middle class, deprived of interest or gratifications, was not even repaid by the knowledge that her relationship with her husband was exclusive. This was not necessarily because he had a relationship with another man, though that happened often enough; quite frequently he had relationships with other women that were socially and even, in part, legally recognised. (Cantarella 1987, 46f.)
From this viewpoint, it was an advantage for a woman to belong to the lower classes in classical Athens.
Older authors such as AM. Gomme (1925) and H.D.F. Kitto (1951, 219 ff.) tried to paint a brighter picture of the Athenian woman's position in society. Gomme referred to distinctive female characters such as Medea, Clytemnestra, Antigone and Electra in Greek tragedies: In Attic tragedy women come and go from their houses at will and play an important and public part (Gomme 1925, 98f). But the tragedies represent a special genre in which the intention is not to portray ordinary life. The female characters inhabit a place in a tragic, symbolic universe where the tragic authors' intention possibly was to turn the social order upside down. The audience is thrown into a state of shock and horror and thus the tragedies became a way to indoctrinate the citizens with the polis' true social values (Bouvrie 1990). Another problem is that the remaining sources are hardly edifying reading. The passage most frequently cited is Pericles' famous funeral speech, from 431 BC, to the widows during the Peloponnesian War:
Perhaps I should say a word or two on the duties of women to those among you who are now widowed. I can say all I have to say in a short word of advice. Your great glory is not to be inferior to what God made you, and the greatest glory of a woman is to be least talked about by men, whether they are praising you or criticising you. (Thuc. 2.46)
But not only that, the young Athenian girl was brought up under careful supervision to see as little as possible, hear as little as possible and question as little as possible:
'How, Socrates, he said, 'could she have known anything when I took her, since she came to me when she was not yet fifteen, and had lived previously under diligent supervision in order that she might see and hear as little as possible and ask the fewest possible questions? Doesn't it seem to you that one should be content if she came knowing only how to take the wool and make clothes, and had seen how the spinning work is distributed among the female attendants (Xenophon, Oec. 7.5).
Aristotle, though not himself a citizen, stresses the clear disadvantage of the female compared to the male. He believes that women are failed "males" and thus struggle with a significant handicap (Hist. An. 775a4-17). A woman's natural characteristics include envy, shiftiness, a greater tendency to pity and tears, cunning, despondency and lying. She needs to eat less because she is less likely to do much (Hist. An. 608all-608b18). One need hardly mention that the man's characteristics are the exact opposite. Semonides, from Samos, has nothing positive to say about women in his description of the creation from the 7th century BC and concludes:
Yet, this is the worst plague Zeus has made, and he has bound us to them with a fetter that cannot be broken. Because of this some have gone to Hades fighting for a woman.
The woman mentioned here is the beautiful Helen, who was abducted by Paris of Troy. Semonidesí contemporary, Hesiod from Boeotia, is just as critical. In his epic Works and Days, he presents a Greek myth about the fall of man. It was, of course, a woman, Pandora, who opened the box that held all the evils that might haunt mankind (77-105). Even though Xenophon paints a slightly more sympathetic picture of the relationship between husband and wife as two complementary creatures who in their differences complete each other inside oikos (Oec. 7-10) this does not change the overall picture. A few have even used the word misogyny to describe the attitude towards women not only in Athens but in all of the Greek culture (Cantarella 1987).
This rather biased view should surely be modified. New studies show a much more detailed and varied picture (Gould 1980; Humphreys 1983; Just 1989; Sealey 1990). It has been pointed out that Pericles' speech should be judged on the basis that he is speaking to widows (Andersen 1987) and also that the source material for a special, permanent female section in the Athenian house is very doubtful, both in written and archaeological sources (Isager 1978; Walker 1983; Just 1989, 123; also Kent 1993). Women's importance to the existence of polis and its basic unit oikos is often stressed in economic and social life, and not just on the reproductive level. In the state cult, women performed important functions, especially in connection with the Panathenian festivals when the Athenian patron goddess, Athena, was celebrated, and at Thesmophoria, the feast for Demeter, which was meant to increase fertility among humans and in nature. The latter, very important festival excluded men. Ensuring the city-state's fertility and existence was thus not possible without women's participation. Others have pointed out that it was the requirements of the polis and not the power of men that determined the roles of the sexes.
The restrictions of the free woman's life in Athens did not reflect a devaluation of women. In democratic Athens, the requirements of the polis, the citizens' common interest, takes precedence. It is a state with a complete answer to the life of the members. So women's conditions can only be understood within a general view of polis. (Andersen 1985,3 1; also Bouvrie 1990, 35ff. Finley 1977, 58). Here responsibility is transferred to polis as an institution. Many, especially feminist orientated academics, highlight the rise of state systems as the reason for the inequality in the balance of power between man and woman, and women are often given far more prominence in the earlier phases in the development of the human race, several even work with the existence of a matriarchy or at least a period in which women played as influential a role in public life as men (Lerner 1986; Cantarella 1987, 11-23). However, the fact that almost all surviving sources are written by men, and mirror men's perception of reality, precludes the possibility that future research may significantly alter the message of the ancients. A few attempts to show a dawning feminism and a rebellion against the polis' masculine set of values are not at all persuasive (Keuls 1985, 381 ff).
So it is surprising that Athenian women put up with what we must clearly define as oppression. Was the city-state's collective upbringing and the general socialization of the girls and the young women really so efficient that women did not appreciate their inferior position and thus were not able to formulate an alternative? Or was the collective system of power in the city-state so powerful in its laws, norms and rules that it was able to suppress any attempt to change status quo? I do not believe this, although I cannot prove it. But it is my conviction, that we have asked the wrong questions and that we, in particular, have used a totally wrong framework of understanding in our interpretation of the sources.
Of course, the concrete evidence in the sources is important. But it only makes sense when the sources' value is placed in a larger cultural framework. The sources are signs of a cultural context - they are not identical with that context. In other words, no matter how minutely the sources are studied, we cannot expect to discover this cultural understanding which in return is to make sense of the statements in the sources. We enter into the classic hermeneutic circle where details must be judged in relation to the entity, which in turn consists of the sum total of the details. The manifesto that the past must be judged on its own merits is well and good, as it makes us more aware of the fact that societies may function according to principles quite different from our own, but logically it is impossible. The past will always be judged on modern premises. Luckily, modern premises are ambivalent and allow us to make some important choices before we study the sources. Thus the first question we pose is not to antiquity and the existing sources, but to ourselves. What modern basis for understanding have we previously used when dealing with women and men in classical Athens? What does it consist of, and what are its origins?
We, in the democracies of northwest Europe, look upon ourselves as the heirs to important parts of the classical culture. We speak of a classical legacy with both Greek and Roman components which includes how we view humanity, philosophy, political beliefs, judicial systems etc. With that, we have indirectly said that our society would have been very different without this cultural ballast. Rightly or wrongly, this understanding has governed the study into the cultures of the classical world. The most important centres for classical research are not in Athens or Rome; they are in Germany, England, and France and, in recent decades, also in the United States. Until now, foreign departments and academies in Greece and Italy have functioned on our academic, and thus also cultural, terms. If one seeks international academic recognition, it is important to be accepted in e.g. Cambridge and Princeton and cited in the works produced by those academic institutions.
The Greeks do not protest, even though their attitude to foreign academic's "right" to dig into the Greek past has become more ambivalent in recent years. The idea that classical Greece represents a common European heritage suits the Greek self-understanding and their strategy of cultural, political and geographical demarcation in relation to Turkey. The paradoxical result of this northwest-European dominance is that classical Greece "inherits" our culture, rather than the other way around (also Herzfeld 1987, especially 61 ff., Roberts 1994). Few critical voices have been raised. In his article, The Mediterranean as a Category of Regional Comparison: a Critical View from 1989, the Portuguese anthropologist Joao de Pina-Cabral is strongly provoked by the Anglo-Saxon view of important aspects of Mediterranean culture. As an example, he cites the stereotype picture of "the Mediterranean family", of femininity/masculinity combined with honour and dignity as it is portrayed in most academic dissertations. He asks whether these phenomena are really that different from the behavioural patterns seen in English pubs dominated by members of the working class.
The borderline between antiquity and modern times is blurred. Our understanding of the so-called "traditional" aspects of individuals and family in Mediterranean cultures are often the basis on which we judge classical sources (Walcott 1970), combined with our culture's view of what makes a society a just society. The harem of the Islamic and Oriental society becomes an archetypal example of the imprisonment of women in Athens, as a negative term of reference (for instance Pomeroy 1975, 58). This does not mean that the reference necessarily is wrong, but that we must be aware that we study other peoples and their history in accordance with our own premises. This point has both positive and negative aspects. On the one hand, a significant distance is often required in order to discover phenomena and behavioural patterns of which the "players" themselves are not aware. A parallel example of this is the psychologistís exposure of important unconscious facets in a patient, which the patient is unable to express. On the other hand, we lack a corresponding distance to our own culture and this is a serious limitation on the scope of questions asked and possible solutions envisaged in our research. Only a few of "the others" have studied us. The Indian social anthropologist Prakash Reddy has studied a small village in Denmark. Indian Anita Desai has written about the Norwegian family. Reddy and Desai have both found that the difference between what people think, say and do is immense (Desai 1986; Reddy 1991). Desai also points to the authoritiesí intervention in close relationships between people. The state guarantees the rights of the individual and she concludes:
The individual's chances of success or defeat are solely in the hands of the authorities, owing to a state which takes upon itself duties and responsibilities, doubt and pleasure which still belong to the family in less organised parts of the world. But the state has not dismissed the individual. That it cannot do.
(Desai 1986, 34)
This is perhaps very far from the view we ourselves hold on the importance and the role of the individual and individuality in our culture. Athenian women did not live in the shadow of Acropolis or the Athenian democracy, together with slaves and others who did not enjoy full civil rights. They have lived in the shadow of modern North-West European, industrialized nation states and democracies with representative governments and parliaments, the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, written in accordance with the premises of said societies, as well as the modern women's movement and feminism.
If one thinks that the basic values on which we have built our society are universally valid, geographically as well as historically, then the conclusion will remain fixed: Being a woman in classical Athens was not much fun. But, I suggest, there is a better alternative: The light from Istanbul, the light of the culture which modern Greece and many in north-west Europe see as the antithesis of classical inheritance, the eastern Mediterranean culture, the Islamic culture (Herzfeld 1987, Danforth 1984. Against this see Said 1978). My starting point is the fact that classical Athens did not hold a monopoly on the view of women as expressed in classical sources. This view of women may be found in later pre-industrial agricultural societies, e.g. Italy (Coloru 1987) and Greece (Walcot 1970, with reference to anthropological studies), although Joao de Pina-Cabral, with some justification, criticizes those who look upon the Mediterranean as one coherent cultural area. Not least does one meet it in those parts of Turkey and the Middle East where industrialization and modernisation still has not radically changed the old agrarian communities.
Even though these small isolated agrarian societies were somewhat static, they still existed in a symbiotic relationship with changing political systems of government throughout history. In short, they are societies with a history. Part of their history is also the encounter and co-existence with the large monotheistic religions, Islam and Christianity. This naturally gives rise to the question of whether it was the great religions that determined the view of man and woman and their division of power. However, I do believe that the real ability of monotheistic religions to govern small societies on a micro level if they themselves did not want it, is greatly overestimated. Theological or philosophical reflections on the nature of men and women on a macro-level is the privilege of an intellectual elite. Aristotle's and Plato's philosophical contemplations cannot be seen as a mirror image of society in antiquity as a whole, just as the works of Thomas Aquinas, Kant and Kierkegaard cannot be used as direct sources to how ordinary people thought and acted on a micro-level in their respective societies. A reconstruction of the average Dane's mentality and way of thinking in the last century, based solely on Kierkegaard and his like-minded colleagues, would indeed provide an interesting result. Furthermore, the notion that Aristotelian misogynous views constituted the attitudes of the later Western civilisations, greatly exaggerates the influence of philosophy on the development of social structures.
All societies consist of several communities or cultures, which do not necessarily have the same self-understanding. The large society that contains the power elite, government departments and officials, and possibly a religious elite consisting of a professional clergy, must also adjust to the small communities. In spite of everything, both Islam and Christianity represent very flexible views of the world. Thus modern Islam consists of modern fundamentalist movements which invoke so-called constant basic values, of western orientated, industrialised, urban communities with a somewhat more secular view of the world and of small village communities with strong aspects of popular beliefs difficult to support in the Quran. The same is true of Christianity. Man does not normally turn schizoid because he is subjected to one view of the world in the mosque and lives according to different norms and rules outside the mosque. One of man's most crucial cultural characteristics is his ability to suppress contradictions in the chaotic world in which he lives. He can change colour like a chameleon, more often than not without knowing it.
Thus the small village communities in the Middle East in our own days do not necessarily represent antiquity, nor Islam as one great dominant religion, but they are an important alternative to the narrow West European framework of understanding the Ancient World. It really does not matter whether continuity has existed. I do believe, however that they do represent a common way of organising human communities in the pre-industrial era in both the Middle East and large parts of Europe. The important thing is, whether this new framework of understanding makes sense of the sources and whether by using it, new, but not necessarily all, aspects of the sources are revealed.
After these theoretical contemplations, I will invite the reader on a journey of the mind to the village of Çatalçam in the Taurus mountains, 100 kilometres north of Adana in central Turkey. From 1985 to 1996, I regularly conducted field work in this village, with some detours to the eastern provincial capital of Diyarbakir, and also to Kurdish Iraq, where the grand old lady of Danish ethnology, the late Henny Harald Hansen, lived as a member of several families, both in small mountain villages and in the local capital (Hansen 1958 and 1961).
My first meeting with the village culture of Çatalçam took place in the teahouse. The teahouse, kahve, overlooks a dusty village square, together with the mosque and a few general stores, which sell necessities the households themselves do not produce. In the teahouse, no women are present. In the village square they are only seen by the central well carrying water to the houses or washing clothes and carpets in the running water (FIG. 1). The visit is made as short as possible and they prefer to be in pairs with a corner of their headscarf covering the lower part of their face. If they have to pass through to reach another part of town, it is done with great determination, looking straight ahead.
The teahouse and its surroundings are definitely male territory (FIG. 2). Here men spend their time playing cards, smoking cigarettes, promenading, cultivating friendships, competing, bickering or just being, when their work is not required in the fields, which is the case for the greater part of the year. The views uttered here are typically male. The man is the sole head of the house. He chooses marriage partners for daughters and sons, and he is in full control of family resources. The woman's place is in the house and she is regarded as a weaker individual, physically as well as mentally, to whom one cannot leave important decisions or heavy work. They would surely have agreed with the views of Aristotle, if they had known them!
This masculine world does not disappear when, as a stranger, one is invited into the home for a meal for the first time. When one steps into the house, the women are almost always busy cooking, baking bread, spinning or weaving. The oldest man in the house does the talking and introduces the family in the largest room of the house. He may call on the oldest woman or a shy daughter to bring beautiful rugs woven by the women in the house. The men eat first while the women serve or keep in the background in nearby rooms. Both men and women express the belief that a woman's place is in the home. Agriculture and husbandry are men's work and are the prestigious work.
This first meeting with the foreign culture calls up associations to Pericles' funeral speech as quoted above and Homer's Odyssey where Odysseus' son Telemachus admonishes his mother:
Nay, go to thy chamber, and busy thyself with thine own tasks, the loom and the distaff, and bid thy handmaids ply their tasks; but speech shall be for men, for all, but most of all for me; since mine is the authority in the house. She then, seized with wonder, went back to her chamber, for she laid to heart the wise saying of her son. (Od. 1. 354-361)
Women who fetch water from the well, women who bake bread and women who spin and weave, are activities we also can find portrayed on Greek vase paintings and in small terracotta statuettes. The goddess, Pallas Athena, often reveals herself to Odysseus in the guise of a young maiden carrying a pitcher when she offers him advice (Od. 7.14-20). I am also reminded of the Roman politician Cato the Elder's acid remarks in 195 BC on why things have gone wrong in Rome:
Citizens of Rome, if each one of us had set himself to regain the rights and the dignity of a husband over his wife, we should have less trouble with women as a whole. As things are, our liberty, overthrown in the home by female indiscipline, is now being crushed and trodden underfoot here too, in the Forum. It is because we have not kept them under control individually that we are now terrorised by them collectively. - And yet, even at home, if modesty restrained matrons within the limits of their own rights, it would not become them to be concerned about the questions of what laws should be passed or repealed in this place. (Livy 24.2)
Based on my own cultural background, my first reaction was that being a woman in Çatalçam cannot be much fun. At first glance, the Oriental or Islamic society looked to be archetypal of female confinement and male dominance just like Athenian culture. Of course, I soon realised that life is much more complicated. An episode from Diyarbakir may illustrate this. I was passing one of the smaller mosques in the residential quarter in Diyarbakir outside prayer time. Through a narrow doorway I caught a glimpse of the courtyard. Two groups were relaxing in the shadow of the entrance to the main building, a group of women and a group of men, separated from each other. This surprised me, because this mosque was not one of the specific ones to which women go on pilgrimage to pray for a happy life, and normally the mosque with its courtyard is reserved for the male population. Shortly thereafter I mentioned it to one of my chance acquaintances, who had a small shop nearby. He simply repudiated it. I do not think that he was trying to lie to me. He just presented reality to a stranger according to his male point of view. This reminds me of Desai's and Reddy's observation of the immense difference between what people think, say and do in our own society.
However, the problem is more complex than that. Longer stays in the village, which meant that I changed status from being an outsider or just a friend of the son to, after many years, be declared first "uncle" and later "son" of the house, has convinced me that something in this appraisal of female confinement and subordination is fundamentally wrong. It was the mother (FIG 3.) not the father who every time, with a hug and a kiss on the cheek, changed my status within the family. It brought to mind the advice given to Odysseus both by the goddess Athena and princess Nausicaa when he, as a complete stranger, needs to be accepted in the royal Phaeacian palace:
But when the house and the court enclose thee, pass quickly through the great hall, till thou comest to my mother, who sits at the hearth in the light of the fire, spinning the purple yarn, a wonder to behold, leaning against a pillar, and her handmaids sit behind her there, too, leaning against the selfsame pillar, is set the throne of my father, whereon he sits and quaffs his wine, like unto an immortal. Him pass thou by, and cast thy hands about my mother's knees, that thou may quickly see with rejoicing the day of thy return, though thou art come from never so far if in her sight thou do win favour, then there is hope that thou wilt see thy friends, and return to thy well-built house and into thy native land. (Od 6.303-315)
The queen shall thou approach first in the palace (Od. 7.53-77)
It is the queen, Arete, and not the king, Alcinous, who is the key to Odysseus' admittance.
What I had first witnessed was "role-playing" in a small part of the male sphere and the family sphere, that is, when a total stranger was visiting. But situations like this are only fragments of social life. I had met one of the many "subcultures" of which Çatalçam society consists.
When I had the privilege to come into closer contact with a different subculture, the female sphere, I received a greater cultural shock (FIG. 4). That it was sharply divided from the male sphere was expected. But the fact that it existed not on men's but on women's terms was surprising. Life in the teahouse and the village square is less enviable to the women, when they can visit each other and pursue female friendships, not only within the village but also in neighbouring villages. The teahouse is the place where representatives of the state meet the village inhabitants. This is also where children are registered for school, where the young men are conscripted for military service and rudimentary social services pay out benefits. The teahouse is the centre for negotiations over collective projects, such as the building of a dam that will allow better use of water resources for irrigation. Finally, the teahouse is the place where families in serious disputes try to find a solution through mediation or judgement by a representative for the state, often the local chief or mayor who is elected for a four-year term of office. Despite all this, the women apparently do not envy the men their teahouse. Why not?
Normally disputes are settled internally through a mediator, either a highly respected male member of the family, if it has to do with the male sphere or a highly respected woman, if it concerns the female sphere. Involving the state bureaucracy is avoided if at all possible. Normally women leave the contact with the state to the men, whom they expect to look after the family's interests. The relationship between the mother and the father in my host family was clearly built on respect. From each other they expected mutual fulfilment of their very different responsibilities. Only once did I experience that women directly involved themselves in the teahouse negotiations. The mistresses of the families whose fields would disappear under water behind a new dam turned up to argue their case. They claimed that the compensation payment offered to these families was insufficient. Result: The building of the dam was called off, even though my friend, the local chief, had staked his personal prestige on the project.
Boys belong to the female sphere until puberty. Thus it is the women, unlike the men, who have an in-depth knowledge of the availability of suitable marriage candidates. On several occasions during my stays it was the mother who in fact arranged the marriage of a son or daughter, even though it is the father who officially conducts the negotiations about the size of the dowry. One of my friends in Diyarbakir was forced to marry a distant relative against his will. His mother threatened him, saying that if he did not marry he would have to leave the house. His father was of a different opinion but had clearly given in. Everyone else was convinced that the marriage would break down within a year. A Sardinian woman, Maria Coluru, describes a similar situation:
My father did not oppose the marriage. But father was not the one to decide. My mother said. I do not like him. If you want him, marry him, but in this house he shall never set foot (Coluru 1987,70)
It is the mother who in her belt carries the key for the chest where the family's money and precious jewellery are kept. When the son needed money, he had to stand with his hand stretched out and was clearly unhappy about the amount he was granted out of the chest. If one asks the mother what the key is for, she answers that it is the key to Heaven. The son never thought of telling me that it was the mother who controlled important parts of the family resources. I found out accidentally, because the chest was placed in my bedroom.
In the bazaar in Diyarbakir, I saw a confident young man buy a shirt from one of the many stalls. Behind him stood an older woman dressed in black, clearly his mother. When the time came to pay, it was she who pulled out a purse from the heavy folds of her dress. When the son received the change, she immediately put out her hand and banknotes and coins disappeared into the purse. They then continued through the bazaar, the son in front, the mother behind.
Power and influence depend a lot on personality traits and, moreover, there are mechanisms for regulating them. A man who has to bully his family in order to get his way, risks being the laughing-stock at the teahouse, the male sphere, where he spends most of his time. The same is true of women in the female sphere. Internally in the two spheres there is a hierarchy, clearly visible to an outsider. Older people dominate the young. The son neither talks nor smokes when the father is present. A younger son neither talks nor smokes when an elder son is present or he moves to the other end of the teahouse where his elder brother cannot see it, even though the older brother knows very well what is going on. Brothers frequently have completely separate groups of friends even when they live in the same house. The same is true within the female sphere where for instance a daughter-in-law is subordinate to the mother-in-law. But apart from this, here too personal qualities determine the balance. It is often said that the family is the basic unit in Turkish society and that family and kin are important channels for power and influence. To a certain degree this is true, especially in comparison with our modern industrialised society where the individual, after a certain age, can base his existence on a wide public safety-net. It is important to stress that the Turkish village community also consists of individuals who see themselves as individuals. But they are dependent on other social networks. Both men and women pursue close, but far-reaching contacts outside the family through a complicated web of friendships, favours and reciprocal favours of a personal nature. The historical horizon of a family rarely goes back more than three generations. That is sufficient to connect the living members of the families.Of course, brothers are expected to stick together. On the other hand, it is in this field that serious conflict often arises, among other things about the inheritance. I am reminded of Hesiod, who is in conflict with his brother. In the epic Works and Days he gives the following advice:
Let the wage promised to a friend be fixed; even with your brother smile - and get a witness; for trust and mistrust, alike ruin men. (370-373)
As an outside observer and participant in the social game, it is quite easy to work out kinship and relate to it. It is much more difficult and very frustrating to operate within the various systems and grades of friendships (FIG. 5). As an outsider, one is totally devoid of the cultural understanding needed in order to manoeuvre, and feels like a pawn in a contradictory game, the rules of which one does not always know, apart from the fact that the friendships are as important a part of life as is kinship. From an outsider's point of view, both kinship and friendship may appear as a strait-jacket curtailing the individual's freedom of action. They should, however be regarded as normative rules or very general guidelines for conduct (Bailey 1980, 3 ff., see also Knudsen 1989, 312 ff). An intelligent "player" knows exactly how to exploit and bend the normative rules to attain his or hers pragmatic end without being disqualified by society.
What is expected of the individual and his behaviour is not static but rather determined by the actual situation just as in our own culture. A few episodes may illustrate this point. In the neighbouring village a group of women were shoeing an ox, the indispensable traction force in fanning. The sight did not surprise me, as women make up a very large part of the labour resources in agriculture, not just in processing. But men do not talk about it. Officially, in the male sphere and in relation to outsiders, agriculture is masculine work. When I wanted to photograph the situation, the scene changed completely. Three men were called and they are the ones that are caught in the photograph (also Gould 1980, 49) (FIG. 6).
Another time I walked back from the teahouse at dusk with one of my male acquaintances. One of the large ovens in which women from many families bake bread to last several days, stood in front of his house. That evening a lot of activity was under way, led by a very confident lady, my friend's wife, whom I had met previously. We sat down on the periphery of the group of women and children. After having exchanged the usual pleasantries, I asked her how many children she had. She replied that she had given birth to six children but that it had been hard work. The husband felt that it was time for him to appear on the scene. With a leer, he explained that it had been hard work for him too and accompanied the statement with a vulgar gesture. He should not have done that. He had to leave the arena in a rain of pebbles to the great amusement of the other women. Clearly this was the women's space just like the mountain pasture. Here things were done according to their rules. On the occasions when I was lucky enough to experience the baking of bread alone among the women, I was struck by the great frankness that characterised their conversation. Men's prowess, also on a sexual level, was discussed. My host's wife was teasingly asked what she did when her husband was away now that I was part of the family. I have never experienced similar conversations in the teahouse or among men.
As mentioned earlier, both men and women regard the house or home as the women's only province, but as the episodes described above show, things are not all that simple. The house is not a static materialistic entity defined by its outer walls. The household arena changes geographically depending on the situation, i.e. the specific occasion and the people present. The men sleep and eat in the house, but apart from that they spend a major part of their time with other men in the centre of the village. Early in the morning, when they have left the house and congregated in the village square with its kahve and shops, "house" denotes all of the geographical area in which ordinary habitation is placed. Alley-ways, streets, common ovens, all become the natural place for women and children to congregate. Men only use a few major streets, even if short cuts are available. They do not stop by unless it is absolutely vital and then make things as short and businesslike as is possible. One of my experiences was when one of my friends refused to accompany me into a house where something I wanted a closer look at was taking place. To my repeated question as to why he would not come, he at last answered: Only women are present and I know none of them. In quantitative terms, the women dominate 75 per cent of the village. To be "in the
house" often only means to be away from the village square and surrounding alley-ways. The same is true in the non-industrialised parts of Diyarbakir. The men's space is the central area with the bazaar, public buildings, mosques, teahouses and eating-places together with the broader of the streets, which lead into the town centre from the residential areas. The remainder of the town belongs to the women. Settling down here is not all that difficult once one has learned the rules in the village.
If strangers, who are not defined as kinsmen or part of one of the family's closer network of friends, come to visit the boundaries move. The main room in the house where the meal is served becomes a male arena. After having served the meal, which the women very often already have helped themselves to during the cooking, they retreat to the adjoining rooms and do not join in the conversation with the exception of the oldest woman who on this occasion represents the women of the house. To outsiders it may look as if the house is divided into a male and a female section. To a certain extent this is true in this particular situation. Everything depends on the occasion and not least the position of the guest in relation to the host family. Opening and closing doors make the house a very flexible and elastic entity which may be adjusted to suit present needs. On larger festive occasions, such as weddings and religious festivals, the yard of the house is divided into two spheres in the same way. Men and women sit in separate groups and eat separately. If dancing occurs, men dance with men and women dance with women, often in a provocative chain. Flirting and courting between young men and women is extensive but conducted in a controlled fashion.
Henny Harald Hansen's description of Kurdish villages in Iraq and the house's place as the women's arena adds yet another aspect. She narrates how a woman, after having asked permission of the man of the house, "the nominal head of the extended family", visited some family in a neighbouring village. The visit was extended to include some other villages and she came home later than agreed:
When she arrived home she was greeted by strong accusations from the indignant husband. When my interpreter, the eldest and most intelligent of the daughters, intervened he was forced into humiliating retreat. This was when I truly understood how insecure men's standing was and how weak their position inside the house was against a predominance of women. The impression was, that women joined forces at home while men were isolated on the defensive. What use was it then, that they had unlimited possibilities of using their spare time in the town's cafes, on the streets or in Sulaimaniyah's park, which was given over to women and children only one day a week. There they only met other men who had the same standing in their respective homes. The women did not visit cafes. But why should they? They had much more fun at home or paying visits. (Hansen 1958, 217 f )
Henny Harald Hansen likewise describes an extensive network of visits and women's gatherings. This meant that the women knew virtually everything worth knowing about the immediate community. Thus, as a close colleague has expressed it, the walls of the house do not imprison the women, it keeps out the men. The French-Tunisian film, Halfaouine, the Boy on the Roof Terrace, from 1990, where the local baths are also part of the women's arena, conveys the same impression. Moreover, the film gives a brief insight into how difficult it is for a young man to move from the comparatively safe women's sphere into the men's adult world. A female student watching the film exclaimed: I would not like to be a woman there". This is understandable, but who would want to be a man there with our cultural background.
The house is a flexible entity and it is also used as a kind of veil (FIG. 7). As previously remarked, women in Çatalçam do not visit the centre of the village unless they are fetching water from the central well or washing clothes. They prefer to visit the well in pairs and often pull their headscarf over their face. Several times in Diyarbakir, I followed women walking from the central bazaar to their houses. In the bazaar, which definitely is part of the male sphere, several wear purdah, i.e. clothing which lightly covers the wearer from head to foot with a transparent piece of cloth over the face. As soon as the women reach the parts of the town, which are not dominated by males, the undressing begins. First the face is uncovered and later the upper torso. From a male viewpoint, the clothing underneath may be quite provocative and sophisticated. However, older women, who have gone through the menopause, are often seen without a veil in the area around the bazaar.
The veiling of women ensures that society is divided into two well-defined spheres within important areas. Young men and women, who are not related, do not meet each other except under tightly controlled conditions within the family (FIG. 8). Of course, this is because most marriages are arranged marriages and because legitimate heirs are very important in many societies in the Asian-European cultural sphere (Goody 1976; Goody & Tambiah 1978). But it would be very wrong to look upon the veil as a way in which men may isolate women. Women are, of course, isolated from the male sphere, but men are also isolated from the female sphere. Men cannot hide behind their clothes when in parts of the town dominated by women. In contrast, women have the opportunity to move anonymously in the otherwise male-dominated parts of town. Finally, the veil does not isolate women from other women. The use of the veil is often seen either as an Islamic invention and tradition, thus dating from the period after Mohammed's death in 632 or an Eastern tradition stemming from Syria, Palestine and Byzantium which, through the Arab conquests and the spread of Islam, became common in Arab and neighbouring countries. However, the tradition is "western" as well. In Homer's world the veil, kredemnon, relates to a chaste woman. When Penelope descends from her room to the court-yard, which is dominated by suitors, she does not go alone and she always ensures that she covers her face:
And from her upper chamber the daughter of Icarius, wise Penelope, heard his wondrous song, and she went down the high stairway from her chamber, not alone, for two handmaids attended her. Now when the fair lady had come to the wooers, she stood by the doorpost of the well-built hall, holding before her face her shining veil; and a faithful handmaid stood on either side of her (Od. 1.328-336).
Of course, Penelope, as an attractive "widow", has to attend carefully to the correct moral stance, but that applies to Nausicaa and her handmaidens, too, when they go to the river to wash the laundry and afterwards enjoy a leisurely time:
Then when they had had their joy of food, she and her handmaids, they threw off their headgear and fell to playing at ball, and white-armed Nausicaa was leader in the song. (Od 6, 99-100).
My aim is not in any way to idealise the relationship between man and woman in a Turkish family through these short glimpses into life in the village of Çatalçam or the eastern provincial capital of Diyarbakir. In some families the relationship works, in others it does not. Some families have a tyrannical master, others a tyrannical mistress. In that respect, they are no different from a large number of families in our own society. With my cultural background, I will continue to be an outsider looking in, just like G. Prakash Reddy and Anita Desai. I cannot change that. But my point is that what we have here is a structurally very different type of family and society, which in important areas consist of two uneven, isolated spheres between which lie a fine balance of power and influence. This is how I would like to put it: In the Turkish society which I have been allowed to study and in the Kurdish society as described by Henry Harald Hansen, "equality", to use an expression from our culture, between man and woman or between the male and the female sphere is brought about through diversity and separation of the sexes. The logic of the bipartite society reigns. In general, men spend more time with other men, women with other women. Men make friends with men, women with women. Men obtain influence through male networks of friends, women through female networks. Men are part of a male hierarchy, women of a female hierarchy. Within the female sphere the older women dominate the younger women; the same is true of the older men in the male sphere. Of course, no one family or individual fit this description completely. It should be regarded as the general picture derived from my observations, determined, no doubt at least partially, by my northwest European cultural background.
Our division of society into a so-called private and a public sphere is without meaning in this type of society (also Lamphere 1974, 97 ff). We may talk about a state community and a local community, macro and micro spheres, female and male spheres reaching far beyond the biological family. In our part of the world power relates to influence in something we call a "public" sphere in contrast to a "private" sphere, which most often is confined to within the outer walls of the house. The factories and workplaces of the industrial world and, lately, the growing bureaucracy of the welfare state, have replaced the home as the central place of work. Work outside the house requires training in the society of the state and it is work that provides the individual with identity and prestige - it has become almost identical with having a social life. In telephone books in many western countries, it is common to list profession and it is quite difficult to find the word "housewife".
From the Arab world comes a saying which describes a somewhat different attitude: He who works cannot be regarded as having an existence. To work is not the opposite of death. To live is the opposite of work. To work is the same as being dead. Biological and social life is not identical. Here the word work denotes paid work for others, not farming, and we find the same attitude in both Greek and Roman sources. Xenophon expresses it as follows:
For the trades known as the trades of artisans are decried and with good reason held in low esteem in the cities. They disfigure the body of those who practice and pursue them, by compelling them to spend the whole day sitting by the fire. When the bodies get softened in this way the souls lose a great deal of their strength. And especially, artisans' trades leave one very little time for friends and for the city, and the result is that men like these seem very inadequate in their relations with friends and when it comes to defending the city. We then reached the following verdict: for a gentleman there is no work or science better than agriculture, and it is from it that men procure the necessities of life. (Oec. 4.2-3; 6.8, see also Cicero Off. 1. 150 f.)
Since the last century, the public sphere has spread its tentacles far into all corners of society. It legislates for individuals and the relationship between individuals within the family. The schools have taken over an important part of children's upbringing and social education and, in general, the family has lost a major part of its power over the children. Once they have reached a certain age, they do not need the family any more, but instead they have become completely dependent on what the outside world offers in the way of education and work. The state and the public authorities have increasingly become an omnipresent power, especially in the modem 'Welfare states" and a very large part of public resources pass through the state in the form of taxes, duties, benefit payments etc. Influencing the decisions of the state constitutes power over the families. The key to a just and good life is hidden in the state or public sphere. No longer is it something personal.
Turkish women have paid the price for this, as the state gradually erodes their traditional roles. The family loses power and thereby women lose power because, it has always been the men who had the dominating influence in what one might call the state sector, while the women had the dominating influence in the family. It is hardly surprising, that it was only when the modern systems of state emerged that women really began to demand influence in public life on an equal footing with men.
I have no doubt that we must apply the logic of the bipartite society, not just on Athens (Gould 1980; Just 1989, 105-125), Rome, but also on many other pre-industrial societies with a comparable rudimentary state apparatus. It is easy to imagine the Greek town divided into zones where men dominate on agora and the larger streets with surrounding shops, while the rest of the town "belongs" to the women. We must not try to discover the balance of power between men and women by judging the level of uniformity. The view of society and women, as expressed in the written sources, is in many ways similar to the world my Turkish male friends expressed in the kahve and the village square. This view expressly ranks women lower that men, a fact which is not surprising, as it is formulated in a male sphere that compared to our society, only sporadically comes into contact with the female sphere.
The female sphere described in the female sphere's own terms is virtually non-existent in our sources. In only a few places does one sense the tip of the iceberg. In a 4th century BC court case there is a brief reference to a conversation among women, across family and household, during a visit one woman paid another (Demosthenes, 55.23-24,27). One does not get the impression that such visits were unusual (Gould 1980, 49). An instance of female involvement in high politics is found in a brief remark in the correspondence of Cicero. Cicero, Brutus, his mother Servilia, and wife Porcia, Cassius, and his wife, Junia Tertia, Servilia's daughter, met in Anzio 44 BC discussing the humiliating appointment of Brutus and Cassius to very junior offices. Cicero comments, rather casually in a letter to Atticus:
Servilia promises she will see that the appointment to the corn-supply shall be withdrawn from the senatorial decree. (15, 11)
Cicero obviously had no doubt that Servilia was as good as her word, and the appointments were accordingly withdrawn. Brutus and Cassius were both made provincial governors in charge of Roman Legions, which meant that the triumvirate of Anthony, Lepidus and Caesars heir Octavian, the future emperor Augustus had to win a civil war before they usurped the Roman State and divided its territories between them. Servilia was clearly a powerful woman with numerous and personal connections to the centre of political decisions, the Roman Senate. I do not think that this alone is due to a so-called more liberal position of the Roman housewife, as compared to the Greek housewife. This is not my main point, however. Rather, this observation stresses the importance of female networks, which our sources rarely reveal. Without the correspondence of Cicero, Servilia would have been seen as a much more common Roman housewife, only famous for her supposed infidelities with Julius Caesar.
In comparison, Penelope's withdrawn life in the house of Odysseus should be seen in the light of the fact that her position was undecided. If Odysseus is dead, she should, as a widow, return to her father's house. A widow's prestige is low and they are regarded as dangerous, crafty and scheming (also Andersen 1987). But as queen her position is quite different. This is how she herself expresses it:
Even so my heart sways to and fro in doubt, whether to abide with my son and keep things safe, my possessions, my slaves, and my great, high-roofed house, respecting the bed of my husband and the voice of the people, or to go now with him whosoever is best of the Achaeans, who woos me in the halls and offer bride-gifts past counting. (Od. 19.526-529)
Penelope gives the impression that it is her own, rather than Odysseus' house with its handmaidens and slaves she guards. But Homer's epics, which may have their root in the dark centuries, no more represent pictures of everyday life than do the tragedies. They deal with basic values surrounding friendship, the exchange of gifts and oikos and contain exciting stories about the Trojan War and Odysseus' long journey home. Homer belongs to a special genre too, but it is unlikely that Arete has been given her role for purely dramatic reasons (also Foley 1984, 59ff.) Homer' epics were very popular throughout antiquity, but we do not know what the audience in classical Athens found important. They have undoubtedly been as selective as we, too, can be when, for instance, we read or listen to passages from the Bible. Unconsciously, one selects the things that match one's perception of reality. The remainder one overlooks or refrains from thinking about.
All in all, we will hardly be able to judge the influence of the female sphere in classical Athens on the basis of the sources. The crucial question is whether the state sector has had anything like the same influence as we know it in modem times. Did the polis regulate, and thus perhaps, unintentionally, reduce the real meaning of the female sphere? Was the state sector the only arena for true power or were there perhaps, in the micro-societies below, other channels of influence, perhaps even more important for every day life in classical Athens? Lastly, who would want to be a man in classical Athens? What expectations did he face, not just from polis, but also from the men in the male sphere and the women in the female sphere? What limitations were there on his room for manoeuvre and from which sectors of community-life was he excluded (FIG. 9).
I have only found space to pose some new questions, not in the shadow of northwest Europe, but in the light from Istanbul. Perhaps being a woman in classical Athens was less bad - also in the light from Acropolis.
I owe the inhabitants of the village of Çatalçam and especially Halil, AyÕ e, Mahmut and Sebahat Demirer a debt of gratitude for their friendship and confidences. Throughout the years, they have meant more to me professionally than many years of academic studies. This paper is dedicated to the late AyÕ e Demirer.
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