Throughout the history of our society, women have gained a certain respect and certain rights over time. Such simple aspects of life such as getting a job, voting, and even choosing who they would like to marry are things that women have fought for, for many years. At one point, these were all things that women in America and parts of Europe had no right to. Men as a whole had suppressed women and taken control of the society. Despite mass oppression in history, women have risen in society and now posses these natural rights.
Back in the days of Mesopotamia, things were quite different. Women were respected for who they were and did not have to fight to gain the rights they had. Hammurabis Code contained laws, which respected the rights of women. Society in general was formed around this sort of sexual equality. Many of the codes within Hammurabis Code favor the men of the society, though many of them spell out certain rights for the lives of the women.
Certain laws lie within Hammurabis code in order to solve problems of the society. It spells out the punishment for certain acts eliminating any further complications. Code 136 for example, explains what is to happen to a women whos husband runs off; If any one leave his house, run away, and then his wife go to another house, if then he return, and wishes to take his wife back: because he fled from his home and ran away, the wife of this runaway shall not return to her husband.1 This code gives women the right to marry another man if her original husband has run away and not come back. Another example, codes 151 and 152 actually show equal responsibility between both men and women:
151. If a woman who lived in a man’s house made an agreement with her husband, that no creditor can arrest her, and has given a document therefor: if that man, before he married that woman, had a debt, the creditor can not hold the woman for it. But if the woman, before she entered the man’s house, had contracted a debt, her creditor can not arrest her husband therefor.
152. If after the woman had entered the man’s house, both contracted a debt, both must pay the merchant. 1
This example of equal responsibility shows to an extent, how women were treated respectfully within these ancient civilizations. The woman of the house has almost as much responsibility as the man. If together they accumulate a debt, both of them are to be held responsible.
Evaluating Hammurabis Code, and determining exactly what was expected of women is very beneficial, though it isnt sufficient enough to find out how women were treated by men. For this, we must turn to the documentation of ones life within this time period. The story of Gilgamesh and his epic journey is a perfect example.
Gilgamesh, when he is trying to tame Enkidu in the beginning of the journey, brings him a prostitute to love him. That is Enkidu, Shamhat, show him your breasts, show him your beauty. (Ferry 8) Gilgamesh says to Shamhat. Within this scenario, Gilgamesh is using this woman for her body, but he has a peculiar respect for her. He presents her almost as a higher being, a gift to Enkidu. It seems as if he is kind enough to never harm her.
Gilgamesh, in the beginning of his epic journey was portrayed as a Wild Ox. Neither the fathers son nor the wife of the noble is safe in Uruk; neither the mothers daughter nor the warriors bride is safe Is this the wise Sheppard, protector of the people? (Ferry 5) the old men go on to say. Gilgamesh, god – mortal, was ruthless. He was the strongest man in the city and could have any women his heart desired. Choosing not to do so, Gilgamesh shows his softer side. This same trait is also evident when he must make a serious decision, or is in need of advice. One day, before Enkidu and he were about to embark on a treacherous journey, they turn to Mother for a blessing: Then Gilgamesh and Enkidu together went to the palace, Egalmah, to Ninsun the All-knowing, mother of Gilgamesh. (Ferry 19) Underneath his label as the Wild Ox, Gilgamesh was unable to run from his mortal self.
It seems as if the gender issues within Mesopotamia were evident, though not as severe as they once were in our society. Although men were superior, women in Mesopotamia had similar rights. They were respected greatly and treated almost as equally as men. Evidentially, women in Mesopotamia were close to having a similar level of respect in society as women in todays society.
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