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I'm here with Iman el-sheikh khan academy's world history fellow and the question I have Iman is history often focuses on men but clearly women were playing a significant role but how much could we know about women say 2,000 years ago so when we talk about the lives of women in the Classical period sometimes were tempted to compare it to the modern day and that can cause some problems because that's not really a fair comparison so it's more useful to see how different women living in different societies in the same time period compared to one another that can make their differences a lot more salient and give us a better idea of course it's hard to know the history of women back then in general we don't necessarily have all the best sources but we can try to piece together some understanding of what their daily lives were like and we have two points of reference here one from Rome as it transitions from Republic to Empire and another from Han China so let's look at the reference from Rome so just for a little bit of context this speech that we're going to talk about this occurs in 42 BCE people might remember that in 44 BCE you have Julius Caesar getting assassinated on the Ides of March and it throws the Roman Empire into a civil war and so this speech is given during that Civil War because civil wars they're not just bloody they're also expensive and to fund that civil war the triumvir decide to tax the 1,400 wealthiest women and Hortensia who gives a speech is one of those wealthy women or tensho says why should we pay taxes when we do not share in the offices honors military commands nor in short the government for which you fight between yourselves with such harmful results you say because it is wartime when has there not been war and what have women paid taxes by nature of their sex women are absolved from paying taxes among all mankind our mothers did once write superior to their section made contributions when you face the loss of the Empire and the city itself through the conflicts of the Carthaginians but they funded their contributions voluntarily from their jewelry not from their landed property their fields their dowry or their houses without which it is impossible for free women to live or with the counselor Parthians come we will not be inferior to our mothers when it is a question of common safety but for civil wars may we never contribute nor a view against each other we did not pay taxes to Caesar or to Pompeii nor did Marius asked us for contributions nor Sunnah nor sulla even though he was a tyrant over this country and you say that you are reestablishing the Republic wow that was quite powerful and there's a lot of richness here what what's your take away so it's interesting that she is saying that by nature of their sex women are absolved from paying taxes and it might seem like she's saying that women are weaker but she's sort of speaking back to this requirement that they should use their property because very normally using jewelry and they're normally using things that they don't necessarily need in order to fight off foreigners and here she is really taking issue with having to use her livelihood to support a civil war and she's sort of taking them to task on this that they're worse than the tyrants for asking this of her and the other thing that jumps out is if it comes out of the first few statements why should we pay taxes when we do not share in the offices honors military commands nor in short the government so she's making very clear like women don't get to participate why should we fund this war I also like this part you say because it is wartime when has there not been war that's a really good point because it's Rome especially at that point was it continuously conquering other people's continuously at war sometimes a civil war sometimes an external war sure and and I think it's interesting how she's pointing to that disparity between the things that men have and women don't have and she's just trying to say well if that's how it's going to be then we should also be exempt from taxation and I think that's an interesting way to to voice concerns and and while this might seem very primitive to our modern sensibilities it's really powerful that a woman is taking these government officials to task and being so outspoken and quite scathing and the way she doesn't I also like the second part right over here where she is citing that our mothers once also stepped up and she was referring to during the Second Punic War and Hannibal was running amuck on the Italian peninsula and threatening Rome itself that the women of Rome especially the wealthy women of Rome did step up and pay taxes so based on this cell what do you think we can learn about Roman women and and their lives at the time period well as we pointed out even in this speech she cites some direct reference to not having equality to men but on the other hand she has stormed the tribe members tribunal I think this is the first time that women were well they weren't even allowed there they just went there and she's sticking it to the triumvirate it's pretty strongly she's saying let war with the Celts or Parthians come we will not be inferior to our mothers we're willing to step up if it's a war with external parties but for civil wars may we never contribute nor aid you against each other they're saying hey if you want to fight yourself that's your problem and she's even telling him and you say that you re-establishing the Republic so she's questioning the three most powerful people in the Roman Empire she's questioning there they're very intention so it does show at least culturally even if officially women do not have a strong role at least these elite women do have enough comfort to be able to go to the three most powerful in the Roman Empire and and stick it to them yeah and this is you know while this might not seem like a big deal to us now we have to sort of avoid that comparison like I said and if we compare it to some other societies around the same time this is quite remarkable for a woman to enter a public institution and again she is an elite woman but let's compare it to say Athenian women even elite women in Athens were not likely to have any involvement in the political institutions were a lot more likely to just remain in the private sphere we're not likely to be as educated as Roman women and so the fact that Hortensia can actually enter into the space and be so outspoken is sort of evident of the fact that Roman women had a degree more freedom than other women who were their contemporaries in other societies absolutely and let's continue that comparison we can go about a hundred hundred fifty years further in the future from portentous Beach and let's also go to the other side of almost the other side of the world will go to eastern Asia where we are in the eastern han dynasty so here we have some text from Bonn job who was a female historian astronomer mathematician Confucian philosopher co-author of the history the official history book of Han and it's from her lessons for women so banjo says let a woman modestly yield to others let her respect others let her put others first herself last lay the girl baby at birth below the bed to plainly indicate that she is lowly and weak and she's regarded as her primary duty to humble herself before others a husband can marry twice but his wife must never remarry just in heaven cannot be disobeyed so the wife cannot keep away from her husband man is honored for strength a woman is beautiful on account of her gentleness so what's your take on that so this is you know very much in line with the Confucian ideal of womanhood and that's very much about a woman being very submissive to her male relatives and for her to stay very modest within the the power framework of her society and to stay pretty much within her own household and to cultivate a life that is meant to create comfort for the men and her family and her children and not much more than that yeah I could not imagine anyone who read this and took it seriously as viewing a lesson for themselves and storming the triumvirate tribunals even if they are an elite woman in Imperial China certainly but I think there's an important thing to remember and that this kind of document shows a sort of prescriptive approach to women's lives and that doesn't necessarily mean that women did live this way I mean the fact that banjo herself is writing this is sort of ironic because she's a woman who is putting herself out there and writing things and not staying in the private sphere so that's sort of a strange contradiction there but also women who had a lot of wealth were likely to become educated like her and also is sort of depended on their generation older women were likely to have inheritances property just like their Roman counterparts and they were more likely to engage in trade and we can find this out by looking at other documents like wills and so forth so we can sort of see a tension between the sort of prescriptive Confucian ideals and how women actually lived in a lot of ways having a having wealth allowed women to buy their their way out of these constrictive practices and ideas about women I definitely agree with that irony it's quite thick here because she's telling other women to indicate that she is lowly and weak but bonsall herself as I mentioned she's a historian astronomer mathematician Confucian philosopher she wrote co-wrote one of the official histories of the Han Empire she's more prominent and has done more than the great majority of men in her time so she's clearly not lowly and weak so the irony is quite thick certainly it's interesting to look at these things because like you said it gives us a sense of the difference right like there seems to be quite a different culture at play between Rome and China at this time and so making that kind of comparison gives us a lot more information about women's lives than simply saying that there's a sort of a single history for all women of this time period and that's simply not the case as we can see there are huge differences between the civilizations certainly even within civilizations there can be huge differences yes both of the examples we looked at have been very elite women we're talking about women well within the top 1% if you went to more average women their situation would have been very different certainly so this idea that women are supposed to have a nice home full of family and and stay within that well only wealthy women can really live up to that because if you have to leave the house to make a living you might not be able to sort of create this idyllic household full of children and spend all your time managing that so that's an important difference as well thanks Iman this was really valuable thanks al
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