The Veil: Civilization Isn’t For Us

We are taught that Ancient Greece is the foundation of modern civilization.

Greek 1

All you other civilizations are just imitating!

Politics, Philosophy, Law – even Democracy itself was supposedly invented there, and we are still living in the paradigm created by the likes of Aristotle. We still discuss the Great Thinkers, offering reverential deference to the first glimmer of our present culture.

Enter: The Veil

Thing is, this seminal societal flowering was misogynist as all hell! These precious pillars developed during the first methodical clamping-down on the agency of women.

That’s right – Ancient Greece invented the Burqa.

They called it the Tegidion, meaning ‘little roof.’ In her BBC program The Ascent of Woman, Dr. Amanda Foreman describes how it served as a symbolic extension of a father’s or husband’s house, which gave women official protection.

From other men, presumably.

Veils were first popular in Assyria as ancient virtue-signaling among upper-class women. The Greeks adopted and adapted them in reaction to, as Dr. Foreman says, “a deep phobia of the female body.” 

This profound revulsion came from, “the idea that women’s inferiority wasn’t Man-made, but rooted in Nature.” As the lesser human, Woman had to be controlled. 

Aristotle, as the Father of Philosophy, saw women as just another topic for his intellect. Dr. Foreman has Dr. Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones of Edinburgh University summarize Aristotle’s foundational sexism – “Basically, women are imperfect men, they haven’t quite reached perfection, because they haven’t had semen to create what is the essence of Man.”

Leave it to a man to figure his ejaculation as the source of rational thought!

The thinking goes that, since women only grow life with the addition of semen, semen is the source of life. Woman is just the vessel.

By about 500 BC, veiling was common practice for women in Athens – The cradle of modern civilization.

White Veil

Does this make you feel like a Big Man??

They were the ones who codified the idea that women are inferior, and wove it into the foundation of our society. And for them, the veil symbolized that Woman was never really allowed out of her husband’s house.

Reflecting on a collection of small votive statues draped in various styles, Dr. Llewellyn-Jones is moved to say, “Women’s lot in Ancient Athens was closer to a woman’s lot in Afghanistan under the height of Taliban rule than anything else.”

How Far Have We Really Come?

Broadcast in 2015, the title of Dr. Foreman’s miniseries is bittersweet. According to both Vogue and many recollections, 2015 was also The Year of Trans Visibility. It was the year Jenner became Caitlyn, Laverne Cox was People’s Most Beautiful Woman, and TLC introduced us to Jazz.

In the few years since, it’s been tempting to think Woman’s ascent has ended. But, contrary to her pithy television header, Dr. Foreman stresses the point, “The simple truth is, our story has never followed a straight line from darkness to light.

“The real history of women is full of swings and reversions, with liberties gained and lost from one era to the next. 

“You can judge a civilization by the way it treats its women.”

Add this to the list of tests our society is badly failing. But the misogyny we’re fighting is nothing new. Its littermates are important things we now see as neutral, such as Politics and Art. The same men who decided women were lesser beings also bequeathed to History stuff like Democracy and Theater. 

But it’s been demonstrated many times over that these things are not inherently misogynist. Men and women are not so different that a system created by one can’t be mastered by the other.

Cleo

And never forget, that goes both ways!

Compare Greece to Egypt, where a parallel framework developed emphasizing equality for the masses – Even the occasional female Pharaoh! Dr. Foreman cheerfully describes Egyptian art, “replete with couples lovingly holding hands, even wearing the same clothes. Ancient Egypt embraced both the masculine and the feminine. 

“A shared life, rather than reproduction, was the purpose of marriage.”

These two interpretations of relations between the sexes have existed in tandem forever. One reliable signal of how things are going is how free women are with their clothes.

Clothes Express The Woman

I wrote this Summer how clothing has long been a source of power, authority and even income for women. The Industrial Revolution took this out of our hands, imposing a sort of postmodern conformity and creating a paradox of choice – Too many options make deciding on one impossible, so we stop trying. We think about other things.

Like new social media, which is training young women to hunt down and eradicate whichever part of them doesn’t look like a Kardashian.

Then there’s the makeup all serious women are expected to wear, to the point we don’t even know what a natural woman’s face looks like. We laugh when men are clueless or surprised by our body hair, but we can’t lay all the blame on media. Too many of us are following these practices if these men don’t know better from their mothers, sisters, aunts and friends. 

Patriarchy has continued to evolve as its defenses have been torn down. These days we’re playing Chess, not Checkers. I don’t expect Western policy to insist on anything so obvious and easily-resisted as the Burqa any time soon.

Ankle

Y’all just love getting a peak so much!

But as we have gained hard autonomy, soft power has congealed to control us in other ways. Our apparent freedom disguises the box we still live in, our private lives shrinking more and more as we come to understand that we aren’t really allowed to leave Big Brother’s house.

We know in our gut that none of us is really safe. We see the Taliban reigning terror on the women of Afghanistan and feel it deeply, viscerally, perhaps in the quiver of the source of all this insanity.

Pandora’s Jar

Despite their obsession with male honor, Ancient Greek myth features many powerful goddesses. Pandora, famous for her box, was their First Woman. In her curiosity, she couldn’t help but open the box, unleashing all pain and suffering onto the world. 

Dr. Llewellyn-Jones, reading from Greek, tells us, “What she comes with is a ‘pithos’ – the Greek word for a jar. 

“The Greeks had a thought that a woman’s womb was shaped like a pithos. So, really, Pandora, being made the first woman, comes with the first womb.

“And when, inevitably, that womb gets opened, what flows out is all the evils of the world.”

These men always tell on themselves, don’t they? They created the Polis – the State – for themselves and put women in charge of the Oikos – the Homestead. The Greeks drew a hard line between women and the world, which they insisted was their domain.

So, Pandora unleashed all the evils of the world – The men of the Polis!

The heaping of blame for all the ills of the world – that men themselves were perpetrating – continues today. Don’t forget, Dear Reader, that four months ago we all had to sit through the ‘If-you-don’t-like-it-don’t-look’ defense of a sexual predator! If you didn’t want to be part of some man’s fetish, you should have just stayed home.

Pandora

Hey, this isn’t what I ordered!

We feel our sisters’ struggle because, on some level, we understand that civilization as we know it was explicitly not made for us! It was made by the flourish of Man ascendant, standing on Woman’s back even as he denigrated her.

And the old No Girls Allowed! sign is still on the wall!

We are all victims of this system, in one way or another. Vengeance is not the answer, or we risk becoming what we hate. But the urge many of us get to just walk away is probably based in something more than apathy.

We should be shouting our story through a bullhorn! Feminism must be the custodian of women’s history, and Dr. Foreman has done us all a great service.

I look forward to a time when all veils come down, and we can go back to sharing life instead of fighting over it.

 

Comments

  1. Branjor -

    The "archaic" meaning of the word "civilization" may offer some insight into its function. That meaning is: The act of making a criminal process civil.

  2. Good Reason -

    "So, Pandora unleashed all the evils of the world – The men of the Polis!"Love this! Great article!

    • Brazen She -

      Thank you so much! Yeah, that was the but that pulled it all together, it’s really been the same thing all this time - We are their scapegoat!

  3. Anna -

    Cool article! I’m anti-civ personally and struggle with the ways in which many feminisms assume civilization and the state as prerequisites for sexual equality. I’d love to see and article on that sometime if you’re interested.

    • Brazen She -

      This article is looking at the society we have, and some of its flaws that don’t get talked about much. I don’t know anything about being anti-civilization in general. Is that what you mean? How would we go about organizing social protections for anyone without some kind of structure?

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