Tag Archives: Resource

Gender Fluidity in the Ancient World

Same-Sex Marriage
γεγάμηκα πρόπαλαι ταύτην τὴν Δημώνασσαν, καὶ ἔστιν ἐμὴ γυνή (“I have long since married this [woman] Dēmōnassa, and she is my woman” – Megillos, a trans man, in Lucian of Samosata – C2nd, Dialogues of the Courtesans 5.3)

γάμους Μεσοποταμίας ἡ Βερενίκη ποιεῖται (“Berenice [Queen of Egypt] marries Mesopotamia”, Photius – C10th, Bibliotheca 94, summarising Iamblichus – C2nd)

γυναικες ανδριζονται παρα φυσιν γαμουμεναι τε και γαμουσαι γυναικες (“woman act as men, against nature, women being given in marriage and also marrying [women]”, Clement of Alexandria – late C2nd, Paidagōgos 3.3.21.3)

“Lev 18:13, however, as a general prohibition against imitating the Egyptians and the Canaanites, provided them [the Sifra rabbis] the means to prohibit female homoeroticism in the form of woman-woman marriage.” (Brooten, Love Between Women p.65)

Default Bisexuality
μηποτ’αυτον γημαι αλλην γυναι[κα] μηδε παιδα (“may he never marry another woman or boy”- Defixionum Tabellae Atticae, IG III.3.78, C4th CE

ειτε γυνα τηνωι παρακεκλιται ειτε και ανηρ (“whether woman or man has lain beside him” – Theocritus, Idyll 2, C3rd BCE)

Women at War
“There is also an image of Ares in the marketplace of Tegea. Carved in relief on a slab it is called Gynaecothoenas (He who entertains women). At the time of the Laconian war, when Charillus king of Lacedaemon made the first invasion, the women armed themselves and lay in ambush under the hill they call today Phylactris (Sentry Hill). When the armies met and the men on either side were performing many remarkable exploits, the women, they say, came on the scene and put the Lacedaemonians to flight. Marpessa, surnamed Choera, surpassed, they say, the other women in daring, while Charillus himself was one of the Spartan prisoners. The story goes on to say that he was set free without ransom, swore to the Tegeans that the Lacedaemonians would never again attack Tegea, and then broke his oath; that the women offered to Ares a sacrifice of victory on their own account without the men, and gave to the men no share in the meat of the victim. For this reason Ares got his surname.” – Pausanias, Description of Greece 8.48.4-5 (trans. by Jones and Omerod)

“Of all the deeds performed by women for the community none is more famous than the struggle against Cleomenes for Argos, which the women carried out at the instigation of Telesilla the poetess. She, as they say, was the daughter of a famous house but sickly in body, and so she sent to the god to ask about health; and when an oracle was given her to cultivate the Muses, she followed the god’s advice, and by devoting herself to poetry and music she was quickly relieved of her trouble, and was greatly admired by the women for her poetic art.
But when Cleomenes king of the Spartans, having slain many Argives (but not by any means seven thousand, seven hundred and seventy-seven, as some fabulous narratives have it) proceeded against the city, an impulsive daring, divinely inspired, came to the younger women to try, for their country’s sake, to hold off the enemy. Under the lead of Telesilla they took up arms,3 and, taking their stand by the battlements, manned the walls all round, so that the enemy were amazed. The result was that Cleomenes they repulsed with great loss, and the other king, Demaratus, who managed to get inside, as Socrates says, and gained possession of the Pamphyliacum, they drove out. In this way the city was saved. The women who fell in the battle they buried close by the Argive Road, and to the survivors they granted the privilege of erecting a statute of Ares as a memorial of their surpassing valour.” – Plutarch, On the Bravery of Women 4, 245c-f (trans. by Babbitt)

Note the locations: Arcadia and Argos.

Harmony in Marriage
“in marriage there must be above all perfect companionship and mutual love of husband and wife, both in health and in sickness and under all conditions, since it was with desire for this as well as for having children that both entered upon marriage” – G Musonius Rufus, Lecture 13a

Agricola and Domitia Decidiana “lived in perfect harmony, endeared by the tenderest affection, and each ascribing to the other the felicity which they enjoyed” – Tacitus, Agricola 6

Uettius Agorius Praetextatus to his wife Paulina, “the partnership of our heart is the origin of your propriety; it is the bond of pure love and fidelity born in heaven. To this partnership I entrusted the hidden secrets of my mind; it was a gift of the gods, who bind our marriage couch with loving and with chaste bonds.” – CIL vi.1779

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The misrepresentation of the misreporting of rape

Men’s Rights Activists have a particular line in which they claim that false accusations of rape are “frequent” and constitute “a crime against men”.

One of their targets is an article which inaccurately describes 20% of female US college students as rape victims. Its inaccuracy lies in having misread some numbers. 19.3% is the lifetime incidence of rape for American women, whereas the per-annum incidence in college is about 0.6% (0.61% for students, 0.76% for non-students), although I’m not sure why it could be supposed to be better that, when they were raped, most of them weren’t in college, especially because 21.6% of those rapes happen when the victim is under 12 years of age, and a further 32.4% between the ages of 12 and 17, i.e., 10.4% of US girls are raped before they even reach college, or the US age of consent.

However, six different studies of the accuracy of rape claims in six and a half thousand cases across the UK, Canada, and Australia (the US-Canadian “Making a Difference” Project; Clark, L. & Lewis, D., Rape: The price of coercive sexuality; Grace, S., Lloyd, C., & Smith, L.J.F. Rape: From recording to conviction; Harris, J. & Grace, S. A question of evidence? Investigating and prosecuting rape in the 1990s. Home Office Research Study 196; Kelly, L., Lovett, J., & Regan, L. A gap or a chasm? Attrition in reported rape cases. Home Office Research Study 293; Heenan, M. & Murray, S. Study of reported rapes in Victoria, 2000-2003) found that between 2.1% and 10.9% of reports were false, i.e. not provably true.

Those are only reports, however, and note that the American Bureau of Justice Statistics says that 65% of sexual assaults are never reported, which means that the false reports account for only 0.7-3.5% of the total number of assaults. The top end of that, 3.5%, is lower than the proportion of inmates wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death in the USA.

I had investigated all of that a while ago, and then recently ran into something else when a white US woman was objecting to a black US woman’s praising South Africa’s attitude to women’s rights because South Africa has a high rape rate, which – she claimed – shows how women are really treated there.

Apart from noting that South Africa is 17th in the world for the economic place of women (whereas the UK is 18th and the USA 28th) and 10th in the world for representation of women in government (whereas the UK is 41st and the USA 102nd), I saw that – as in the USA – the childhood incidence of rape is very high, with 35.4% of the population having been sexually abused during their childhood and school years. This situation is also more gender-distributed than the US case, the majority of victims aged 11-15 being boys, the majority aged 16-20 being girls, but it is also part of cycle of violence in which “66% of males and 71% of females who had abused someone else had themselves been forced to have sex.”

There were some other features of concern. One was the massive disparity between the 16.8% of school interview responses acknowledging that they had been assaulted and the 35.4% of similarly-acknowledging school survey responses, and a parallel disparity between 14.6% of household interview and 26.3% of household survey responses. Clearly, non-home-based surveys are the way to get young people to talk about it. Another was the gender split between abuse in general and abuse involving physical contact: the former affected 36.8% of boys, and 33.9% of girls; the latter 10.6% of boys and 12% of girls. All of that made me wonder how reliable the 3% figure for lifetime incidence of sexual assault on Western males really is, and how much higher that figure might be if anonymous surveys and abuse-in-general versus contact-abuse studies were conducted.

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Endangered Evangelicalism

PRRI have identified the proportion of the US population self-identifying as “Evangelical” as having dropped from 23% to 17%, more than a quarter, from 2006 to 2016.  Much of this change is related to the exodus of white people from the White Evangelical bracket, but the data also show an interesting age/ethnicity trend: while various white religious groups show a skew towards the elderly, amongst the religiously unaffiliated and people of colour, the skew runs in the other direction.  Part of that may reflect different age distributions amongst the ethnicities, but there is a rather inevitable cultural effect around religion being “something which old people do”.

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Variants of religiousness

A useful summary of variants of religiousness with reference to Christianity, although it works just as well for other systems: I is Identifies (with the religion), B is Believes, A is Attends (services), x before the letter negates that factor.
Religious Christians – IBA
Moderately or passively religious Christians – IBxA
Social or instrumental Christians – IxBA
Nominal Christians – IxBxA
Active but unaffiliated Christians – xIBA
Privately religious, or ‘spiritual but not religious,’ Christians – xIBxA
Non-religious attenders – xIxBA

Not religious – xIxBxA

Obviously, there’s more detail than this.

One can identify with, for example, a denomination and a religion, or with only one of those (e.g., “Non-denominational Christian”, or “secular Anglican”).  Similarly, one can identify with a religious group whose other members reject the identification with them (e.g., Jehovah’s Witnesses as part of Christianity).

Belief varies not only by strength, but by form and origin.  One believer can accept one metaphysical proposition dogmatically (because it was taught by a trusted source), another unconsciously (having never thought about it), a third emotionally (having experienced something which made belief in it important), and a fourth philosophically (reaching a conclusion based on propositions either within or without the official system).

Attendance, of course, can include High Holy Days only, services which feature one particular characteristic (e.g., when Reverend Sally is preaching), every Sunday, or every Sunday morning and Sunday evensong and Wednesday evensong and Friday prayer meeting and Saturday youth group – not all of those necessarily at one church or within one denomination.

Even the above are simplifications.  As with many other things, the closer you look, the more complex it becomes.

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Low education means you’re more likely to be religious or irreligious than spiritual.

PRRI’s latest release on the “spiritual” versus “religious” reinforces some of the usual differences, but not all of them.

There is a well-established correlation between gender and religion, and that is borne out here: about 27% more men than women are neither “spiritual” (in belief) nor “religious” (in practice); 27% more women than men are “religious”; 34% more women are “spiritual”; 44% more women are both “spiritual” and “religious”.

There is also a well-established negative correlation between religion and extent of education, but the data show some interesting things about irreligion and spirituality. For example, a person with only a secondary-level education is 3.6 times as likely as a person with a postgraduate education to be “religious”, 3.42 times as likely to be “neither spiritual nor religious”, but only 2.03 times as likely to be “spiritual”; a person with an undergraduate degree is 1.52 times as likely as the postgrad to be “religious”, 1.5 times as likely to be “neither spiritual nor religious”, but only 1.26 times as likely to be “spiritual”. In other words, there is strong correlation between low education and religiousness, almost as strong a correlation between low education and irreligiousness, but a considerably weaker correlation between low education and spirituality.

Given the typical antipathy of institutes of higher learning towards the dogmatism of traditional religion, it’s interesting to see that the same effect does not impact spirituality.

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The Six Commandments

A YouGov survey shows support only for six out of the ten commandments: worshipping idols, taking the Lord’s name in vain, having other gods, and keeping the Sabbath holy are – for more than half of Britons – considered obsolete. Notably, this remains true even when narrowing the responses to those of Christians only.

While conservatives might claim that this shows “a descent into sin”, what it does clearly demonstrate is the movement away from literalist dogmatism.

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Science and gender

Seeing people who rail against others being transgender, describing that as “unnatural”, I wonder about more than just the fact that combing your hair is unnatural, wearing glasses is unnatural, and having any kind of corrective surgery is unnatural.

I also wonder what those ranters would say about people who have an X chromosome and a Y chromosome but are insensitive to androgens, or are missing the SRY gene on the Y chromosome, or have congenital adrenal hyperplasia, and thus have *female* bodies. That’s right: male chromosomes, female bodies.

What about people who have two X chromosomes but one of those Xs also has an SRY gene, or who have congenital adrenal hyperplasia, and thus have *male* bodies? That’s right: female chromosomes, male bodies.

What about people who have conditions such as 5α-reductase deficiency, who thus have bodies which are female until puberty but then become male bodies?

What about people who are XXY, XXXY, XXXXY, XYY, or X0? What about people whose cells differ from one another, forming a mosaic of XX and XY together in one body, including those who “with more than 90 per cent XY genetic material have given birth”?

What about people who have similar conditions which are never externally, publicly apparent, who are apparently one sex but are really not that and are instead the other, or are neither?

What about the fact that human science is not an absolute knowledge of all that is or can be, and thus we cannot logically rule out the existence of conditions and situations which we cannot even identify yet?

Even if someone went so far down the reductive biological determinism route as to imagine that humans were mere organic machines, with neither free will nor reflexive and conscious thought, one would still have to face the simple fact that the machinery of biology is much, much more complex than a simplistic dichotomy of XX versus XY.

Along similar lines, those who claim that being transgender is a new, Western idea have somehow managed not only to be ignorant of fa’afafinetwo-spirit, katoey, hijra, waria, etc., but also of such ancient figures as Kaineus, Teiresias, Iphis, Hermaphroditos, and the people Philo rails against in Alexandria.

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