Gender Roles and Norms in Early World History


The early world history suggests a great number of different examples of gender roles and norms of behavior for men and women. Some regions allowed women equal rights with men, while other forced women to be the real power behind the throne. We can trace common ideologies in different cultures within different periods of human history. Ideas about gender were common for some periods and cultures and different for others, though alternative paths for challenging established gender roles and norms were sometimes available.

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Women were treated mostly as wives, daughters, and mothers, though they could be the real power behind the throne, “Roman women were able to exert considerable influence even though they were formally barred from holding public office” (Hansen 183). Political power was not of the initial priority of women, though they willingly influenced the state affairs through their husbands. Some women, suchlike citizens of Sparta, gained more freedom than female representatives of other state-cities because their men were engaged into war affairs and could not strictly control their actions (Hansen 161). This means that women were free to do whatever they wanted without severe limitations established by men when the latter could not work out their power over women.

Social role of women was common for all periods in human history for all continents: women were to perform role of mothers and wives. Some cultures established rights that enabled women to act under the law, according to Hammurabi’s law, women that were accused of adultery but were not found with a lover, could aware of their innocence and come back to their husbands without any punishment (Hansen 38). At the same time, a woman of Bedouin society could “divorce an impotent man” (Hansen 242), though could not repudiate him “by saying ‘I divorce you’ three times” (Hansen 242). Marriage was treated as the only way to be honored for Athenian women as “women who enjoyed the greatest security were married” (Hansen 162). However, their husbands were not likely to be faithful to their wives and had numerous lovers of different social classes and genders.

Most cultures allowed women to own property, though a guidance of the male representative of the family was important for Roman women concerning the property (Hansen 182). Moreover, Roman women educated their children which evidences that they were intelligent and educated not worse than men. Even the teaching of Muhammad suggested wider rights for women, suchlike a limited number of wives and a veiled face while receiving visitors which was also a symbol of high position in Greece and Mesopotamia (Hansen 243). Some cultures suggested roles different from those of a mother and wife fro their women, the native tribes of the Americas used young women as object of sacrificial rituals (132), while Greeks made women the priests of their multiple gods (Hansen 160).


The history of development of role of women in society can be traced throughout the world. Though women in some cultures do not enjoy equal rights with men even to date, “[t]he position of women in Vedic society was probably not much lower than that of men” (Hansen 68). Women could be informal lovers or legal wives; they could simply educate their children or influence the political situation in the country. Established roles were changed when it was possible, though sometimes women preferred to work out the real power behind the throne without showing their genuine skills in ruling and maintaining the state.

Works Cited

Hansen, Valerie, and Kenneth R. Curtis. Voyages in World History, Volume I. Boston: Cengage Learning, 2008