Sadigh Gallery: Gender Roles in the Ancient World
In today’s world, the word “gender” can spark a very different conversation than it did even 10 years ago. After all, gender is a complex, multifaceted phenomenon: it isn’t black and white. However, in the ancient world, gender was viewed through a relatively black-and-white lens, according to Sadigh Gallery, a top provider of ancient art and other antiquities. Let’s take a look at what gender roles were like in the ancient world — specifically Greece — and how they were portrayed in the ancient artifacts available in gallery collections today.
Many Greeks in the ancient world saw their world through a straightforward system featuring binary opposites. For instance, there were slave and free people, or there were barbarians (foreigners) and Greek people. The particular categories used to classify people essentially defined their individual statuses within the ancient world. As a result, these categories basically determined how people were regarded among the population and what they were allowed to do.
The gender concept was a core part of the Greek social hierarchy. The reality is, power wasn’t evenly distributed, as men were the only ones given the chance to take part in prestigious activities, such as the military, politics, and law. For this reason, it was paramount that men proved their masculinity. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be seen as having much worth, and, in turn, they would not earn spots in the core social institutions of that time.
Women, on the other hand, had to demonstrate the types of qualities required to keep a home and work on a farm. What was expected of them depended on their unique family and class circumstances.
As a general rule of thumb, men were certainly viewed as being superior to their female counterparts. However, not every man was deemed equal. This is why they constantly tried to compete to prove their manliness, prestige, and worth in society.
Literature and art are especially important areas where Greek society explored and expressed the characteristics and boundaries of their social norms. For instance, Greeks started to decorate pots with scenes. In these scenes, they had the opportunity to share their ideas regarding what they felt it meant to be a human being and what humans did. Pottery ended up being used in just about all aspects of life in ancient Greece, particularly when pictures of activities decorated the pottery items used in these activities. In a way, vase paintings, for example, became a handy communication system through which the ancient Greeks could reflect on, perpetuate, and create ideas about the meaning of being a man versus being a woman. They also explored how men and women interacted and worked both together and separately, and they additionally compared men with other men, and women with other women.
Note that, initially, white paint was used to depict women, whereas black paint was used to depict men. Another noteworthy difference between the genders in ancient artwork is that men were often portrayed nude, whereas women wore heavy drapery.
Understanding how ancient Greeks saw their world — specifically the gender concept — can help you to better understand the stories behind the artifacts you collect from ancient Greek culture. And as a result, it’ll quickly make your artifact-collecting experience more enriching than ever before.