January 9, 2018
INTELLECTUALS are not always smart. Or not always wise. There are aspects of human existence to which they may be clueless.
Mary Beard, the well-known classics professor, has written a book titled Women and Power. She says the modern world, still affected by the misogynist attitudes of the ancient Greeks and Romans, attempts to silence women. It’s an interesting argument for a woman who receives gobs of publicity to make.
The abusive twitter trolls who attack her, she says, must be placed in context. As The National Post reports:
“Greek myths, early Roman history is configured around violence against women,” she said. “And I think we need to get in there, get our hands dirty, face it and see why and how it was.”
Here are a few responses from an email thread in my inbox:
The idea that their society, much less ours, cared much less about violence to women
than that to men is so incredibly the reverse of the truth that one must seek a reason why the world would remain silent while a blind ideologue tells that blatant lie. The ironic answer, of course, is that our society is far, far more protective of women than of men–even protective of a twisted-lie-telling woman.
Greek and Roman mythology are so filled with stories of violence against men (or male deities) that these stories have evidently become invisible to Mary Beard, let alone to those who have no claim to expertise on ancient history. The most obvious example would surely be crucifixion, which was seldom, if ever, the fate of women. Although no Western country resorts to crucifixion, the symbol remains ubiquitous due to Christianity (which focuses on a god-man who sacrifices himself rather than wield power). Another example should be equally obvious but for some reason is not obvious to Beard–even though it has continued into modern times on a colossal scale: military conscription (but also forced labor). Mythology aside, Roman women (unlike Greek women but not unlike Egyptian women) were by no means confined to their homes; they owned property (including slaves) and did business just as men did. Rome was not a utopian society for either women or men, and neither is ours, but intellectual and moral integrity should require us to be honest and refrain from imposing our own ideologies on scholarship.
Given Beard’s selective-anecdote view of what evidence consists in, one particular item is a stand-out, and appropriately to the current-hysteria involves sex: Ever since Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, men being kicked in the groin, done for hilarious laughs and done to them by both men and women, has been a staple of Hollywood (*ahem*) movies. But how many women have been thus treated onscreen — and how much mirth would it have generated, as opposed to outrage on both Left and Right?
From Cathy Young, the Newsday columnist:
Graeco-Roman culture did not have chivalry in the later European sense; it wasn’t against the warrior code to kill women, just as it wasn’t against the warrior code to kill the enemy’s children or old men, or to kill unarmed enemies who had surrendered. However, one can definitely find examples in Greek literature of violence against women being regarded as worse than violence against men.
In Aristophanes’s comedy The Clouds, the main character, a merchant named Strepsiades, sends his son Pheidippides to study with Socrates and other philosophers in order to learn sophistry as a way to get out of debt by arguing circles around his creditors. He succeeds, but the scheme backfires when Pheidippides beats him up during a domestic dispute and then makes a logical argument proving that it’s all right for a son to beat up his father. Strepsiades is prepared to accept his defeat, until Pheidippides says something along the lines of, “Well, if it makes you feel better, I can also beat the crap out of Mother.” When Strepsiades expresses his horror and shock at this, Pheidippides calmly says that he could make a logical argument proving that it’s just fine for men to beat their mothers. That proves to be the last straw for Strepsiades, who promptly runs off to burn the philosophers’ “thinkhouse” to the ground.
In any case, Beard’s comparison of Internet trolls sending verbal abuse to women to Telemachus shutting up Penelope is ludicrous. Telemachus speaks with actual authority vested in him as the man of the house by social custom. Internet trolls tend to be extremely powerless, marginal men (and sometimes women) for whom the Internet provides a rare opportunity to get attention from higher-status people by verbally abusing and taunting them.
Mrs. Beard was deeply offended by images of Hillary Clinton that showed her as the severed head of Medusa. One wonders if she has encountered images of the victims of violence Hillary Clinton supported and cheered. Imagine a man cheering on the violent death of a woman the way Hillary publicly celebrated the violent death of Qaddafi.
Posted by Laura Wood in Uncategorized