From Suffering to Suffrage As Mary Wollstonecraft once said, “I do not wish them to have power over men, but over themselves. ” In this quote, “themselves” is referred to as women of course. It is somewhat customary to pick up a paper in today’s light and perhaps see read about Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, or First Lady, Michelle Obama, even media specialist, Oprah Winfrey. The list could go on and on, but the point remains the same. If King Hammurabi of Babylon were living in today’s world and saw how dramatic the power of women has transformed over the years, he would perhaps declare himself Queen of Babylon.
Kevin Reilly accurately depicts the struggling role of women from this early period of civilization through Assyrian law, a palace decree, and Hammurabi’s Code. The first text that is mentioned by Reilly, is that titled, Assyrian law. These codes tell us many things about the role of women in early civilization. The following code comes from two official documents that were from an empire based in Mesopotamia as far back as 1,100 B. C. E. The Assyrian law which will be discussed first, gives knowledgeable understanding of the attitudes of the men towards the women in that time period.
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The Assyrian law introduces many different concepts relating to the role of women during this early civilization. The first concept considers the daily attire of a woman upon presenting herself in public. “Wives of a man, or [widows], or any [Assyrian] women who go out into the main thoroughfare [shall not have] their heads [bare]” (Reilly 34). This Assyrian law calls for the wearing of a veil, when seen in public. Although in the United States you would be hard pressed to find a female wearing a veil, it is not uncommon to travel out to the Middle East and witness this occurrence.
This rule applied to not only the wives of the husband but any existing daughters that wish to go out into the main. The status changes quite a bit when describing the role of an unmarried woman. It was said that any unmarried woman was to leave her entire head bare when walking out into public. A prostitute as well must be bare while addressing the public. The Assyrian law had a way of putting the prostitutes, and unmarried women below the status of married women, and then married women also found themselves on an entire level below men. There were evere consequences to any prostitute who decided to wear a veil. “They shall not take away her jewelry, but he who has seized her takes her clothing; they shall strike her 50 blows with rods; they shall pour hot pitch over her head. ” (Reilly 34). This quote is very powerful in the way that these acts which occurred often back then, would not be anywhere near tolerated today. The physical pain that the female would endure in this process, not to mention the embarrassment of being stripped of all clothing leaving only jewelry, would be more than enough to relegate the role of the female.
Perhaps the most disturbing part of the Assyrian code involves the tormenting of a slave that chose to wear a veil in public. The slave would be brought to the palace and stripped naked only to have her ears cut off. This is an extreme punishment that is unheard of in today’s terms. These punishments do serve a purpose however, in showing how the role of women in early civilizations was nearly absent. A palace decree was issued by the king of Assyria, Tiglath-Pileser.
This decree mentioned the harsh punishments that would take place to man if he entered the palace without first being castrated. If an official knows a man is not castrated who enters the palace, then both the man and the official are subject to harsh punishment as well. “.. they shall amputate one foot of each of these officials. ” (Reilly 34). The interesting part about the palace decree would be how it fails to mention the role of the woman of the early civilization; it fails to even notice she existed.
The woman was treated so unfavorably that it was not even a thought of whether or not she could gain entry into such a prestigious palace. The palace decree shows how the role of a woman from this era was basically absent and not in effect. In the latter part of Reilly’s text there is another code that shows the role of women in early civilization. Hammurabi’s code is a text that gives us an idea of people’s sense of justice and proper punishment. The concepts discussed in Hammurabi’s code include family, marriage, economics and contracts.
From the family and marriage passage it was said that if a woman is wayward or unruly in an attempt to declare herself free from any marital relations with the husband she would receive harsh punishment. “…they shall cast that woman into the water. ” (Reilly 60) This is a severe punishment and shows how limited a woman’s role was during the early civilization. In today’s world there would never be any punishment for a woman refusing to marry a man. Today, the role of a woman has drastically changed from being almost suppressed to more of an imperative role.
In the economics and contracts portion of Hammurabi’s code it was said that a daughter or wife could be put up for debt services for up to three years. “…they shall perform service in the house of their buyer of the one who holds them in debt service for three years. ” (Reilly 60). This slave like description of Hammurabi’s code is something that is not existent and has not been existent ever since the abolition of slavery. Back in the early era it was permissible to allow another buyer to acquire the services of a wife or daughter if there was an outstanding obligation that needed to be fulfilled.
Times have changed dramatically for the better for the role of women, and if Hammurabi’s code was still in effect today it would be hard for people to take it seriously. Kevin Reilly did a remarkable job in using various texts to help illustrate the limited role of women back in the early civilization. The Assyrian law and Hammurabi’s code especially contributed the most to help portray the way that women were treated and thought of back during this early era.
Women could not be trusted and were always placed on a level below that of a man. Today things are different and women have become a powerful force that lead different political and social sectors in the country. It is safe to say that the role of women has changed and has changed for the better for women. Instead of women not having power over anything including themselves as seen in the early civilization, they now have a well developed role in society and an immense power over themselves.