This paper discusses the roles of women and gender relations in the ancient world. It analyzes the advice that St. Jerome gave Gaudentius in response to her letter requesting to be advised on how to bring up her young daughter whom she had wanted to live a life of virginity in accordance with the religious fashions of that time.
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The paper also discusses the resistance of Roman women against the Oppian law. In the ancient world, roles of women were restricted to bringing up children and house chores. Women were supposed to avoid luxurious lifestyles and let men control them, which was a form of oppression (Livy, 1961).
According to Jerome, women should be given the freedom to have what they want so that after they are exposed to all the customs, they can choose what they regard as right and abandon what they despise. In his reply to Gaudentius, which was dated A.D 413, Jerome argues that it would be wrong to control the lifestyle of a young girl through written laws.
The society should focus on what the girl would be but not what she is when her mind is still young. Little girls lack self-control and concentrate on little things that are fun. They find delight in the tales they hear but not on what appears important and meaningful to the older people.
For instance, if the parents have decided that their daughter should live a virginity life, as was the case with Gaudentius and her daughter, the girl should not be restricted on what to wear (Livy, 1961). They should be allowed to have what they desire and please themselves with ornaments of their choice.
Little girls should be left to engage in uncontrolled plays with other children and perform simple tasks even when they make errors, as they would perfect with time. They should be provided with basic education and taught proper languages to allow them to communicate effectively with their peers.
Education should be systematic and open to interaction with other children irrespective of what each child would become later in life. After learning has taken place, they should be allowed time to recreate their minds (Corrington, 1986).
Women should be allowed to accustom to all the experiences early in life so that they can discover what to abandon when they decide on the kind of life they want to live. Jerome did not support the mothers who in the past put restrictions on the clothes their daughters were supposed to wear based on what they wanted them to be.
In the ancient time, when the parents vowed a girl to the life of virginity, she was denied luxuries because after all, she would have to leave them (Corrington, 1986). Men should know that women enjoy finery not because they want to please men. They dress well because they love that and obtain confidence in finery.
The dangerous thing in denying girls the joy of such things is that they would wish to have them when they grow up even when they have dedicated their lives to virginity (Corrington, 1986).
Women should have what they desire just as men should do because that is the will of God according to Jerome. Jerome gave an example of the children of Israel when they desired for fleshpots of Egypt and God gave flights of quails. When women are allowed to have luxuries of the world, they can lay aside the pleasures than if they never knew about the luxuries and happen to know them later in life.
Jerome is against the rules that Gaudentius had laid down for her daughter that would guide her throughout her virginity life as it amounts to oppression. The rules represent the oppression women face in society (Corrington, 1986).
Men dictated women’s roles in the ancient world. This is confirmed by the demonstration of Roman women against the Oppian law in 195 B.C during the rise of Rome. In the debate by Livy, upper-class women led a demonstration to have repeal on the law that had been enacted during the wartime demanding women to have a limit on the amount of finery they could put on and requiring them not to ride on carriages.
The law was meant to bring harmony between the rich and poor class. The women demanded to be allowed to display their status and received support from some leaders while others opposed their demands. Different leaders argued along with their traditions on how they viewed the roles of women at that time. Consul, Cato and Valerius represented various camps in the debate.
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According to the Oppian law, women were not supposed to have more than 50% of their finery made of gold and could not put on out-fits that were parti-colored or ride on carriages. When they rode on carriages, it had to be within a certain radius or during church occasions.
The men who supported the demonstration by the women argued that men and husbands at home while still allowing women their distinctions could offer the modesty that the law tried to create for women. Marcas Cato, a consul, was unique from the rest as he supported demonstration by the women to have the law repealed and urged entire citizens to be assertive in their rights to reduce troubles with sex in general.
Men should respect their spouses and stop domestic violence. However, even before the law was enacted, the ancestors could not allow women to conduct businesses without guardians representing them. Their fathers, husbands or brothers controlled them. The law was enacted when it was realized that women had started interfering with public activities as well as formal and informal programs (Corrington, 1986).
Roman women were oppressed in the ancient times because even when they demonstrated to have the Oppian law repealed, some leaders argued that if the law were repealed according to their demands, they would demand anything else and set their own limits to the license, which was against the customs in the ancient world. According to their ancestors, women were always supposed to subject to their husbands.
Men feared that women would take advantage of equality with men and regard themselves as superior. The men who were against the demonstration by women argued that it would be better not to have criminals accused than have them accused and later acquitted.
This meant that even though women may have been oppressed it would be wrong to give them freedom through their demonstrations as this would make them feel superior if the law was repealed (Livy, 1961).
Corrington, Gail. “Anorexia, Asceticism, and Autonomy: Self-Control as Liberation and Transcendence.” Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 2, no. 2 (1986): 51-61.
Livy, Titus. “History of Rome.” Evans T. Sage 9 (1961): 413-439.