Why do so many women have such a general sense of low self-esteem? Well, the reason for that goes back quite a distance, apart from the influences imposed on us in today’s society. Today we have the television and the media telling us how we should be, but those devices are simply perpetuating a very old saga. I went searching for answers quite some time ago and this is what I found.
At the start of my research I was to discover that not so long ago women held a much stronger position in the societies of ancient time. It was only relatively recently – a few thousand years ago – that things changed, but prior to that there was significantly more respect for women and for the intuitive aspects of the Feminine that assisted life in all societies. The great Goddess and worship of her was part of humanity’s daily routine, and tribes were strongly aware of the need for the Feminine to be recognised as part of daily routine. Not only that, but it was interpreted that the Great Goddess expected women to embrace and enjoy their sexuality rather than feel terrible about themselves the way they are taught to today.
So why did everything change then? What I was to discover by studying the history of the world helped me to unravel myself from the conditioning that I had been given that made me feel awkward and bad about myself as a young woman. Let us look at how things changed.
In the very earliest ages all communities were strongly matriarchal. Men, being in total awe of women’s mysterious monthly bleeding and their wondrous ability to produce offspring, could not explain how this amazing phenomenon could happen, so Woman was seen to be some form of Goddess on earth. Earth itself was metaphorically and symbolically paralleled to women’s ability to procreate. Crops and vegetation were likened to female abundance and fertility, while monthly blood was often used in symbolic rituals that blessed the earth’s abundance.
Despite this awe, women did about 80% of the work within the community, and man’s role was to hunt and kill larger animals for the purpose of supplementing the dietary intake of the tribes. Man’s life was not guaranteed – he often did not come home from hunting trips – whereas women banded together in numbers while he was gone and gathered the food needed to survive. Man was the hunter and woman the gatherer, but while men’s work was enjoyed with relish whenever a kill occurred, the work that women did provided food for the whole tribe all of the time. Man was given equal status in certain areas of society but was seen to be required merely for his ability to hunt apart from that. So as you can see, man has not always dominated woman. In times of matriarchy he was more a hindrance than help to have around the camp, and woman was glad for the time apart when the men were off hunting.
Until only recently women had always done five times as much work as men in any community. Apart from busily gathering food, raising children and looking after the needs of the tribe, women tanned the hides that made the clothing, wove the baskets that gathered the food, and used fire to mold and shape the instruments that helped do the digging and the spearing. It was woman’s work that sustained the community, and through her efforts humanity has moved forward and survived. At the time that I am referring to, the amount of people gathered together in any area was not great enough to harness the power of working together in numbers, so it was vital that small tribes live in harmony and co-operation with each other. Humans put in daily skill and effort to survive, and as a result Paleolithic ‘man’ was old at age 20.
People belonged to the Land, living a nomadic lifestyle, following the rivers where vegetation was lush while hunting for their food supply. Horticulture was the method for sowing and harvesting where women were gardeners and medicine makers. The rhythms of nature were cyclical, as were women’s monthly cycles, so women were accustomed to working in a cyclical manner. Prayers for blessing were offered before killing the animals needed for survival, and most tribes worked in harmony with all the life forms around them. All reference to nature was intricately associated with women eg: ‘Mother Nature’, and every aspect of the process of womanhood formed the foundation for how societies ran. Man had not yet learned to dominate nature so that it produced according to his needs as agriculture had not been developed. Nature and the spirit realms were revered, and Mother Earth’s abundance was worshipped through rituals and ceremonies in honour of the Great Goddess that ensured the continuity of the tribes.
In these communities birth and death were celebrated and were public events that everyone shared. Due to the limited scope within the lives of these people there was great importance placed on arrivals and departures. To the tribal mind of man at that time, there was nothing more important than the arrival of a new baby, the creation of another human being – one like oneself. It was a positive experience that outweighed the mystery of death. Women organised and became the main helpers when a birth occurred, as they were such an important part of the life process. Also, certain sex acts were part of some religious ceremonies that honoured the Great Goddess, and red ochre was used to symbolise the blood she would lose every ‘moon’ time. Economically, property was passed not from father to son but from mother to daughter, and women were the stall-holders when selling goods at the markets.
The Neolithic revolution, which occurred about 11,000 years ago, was the beginning of the New Stone Age, and women’s discoveries were the catalyst for this new era for humankind. As woman had been the gatherer and man the hunter, woman had discovered that by keeping the seeds of the plants that she found while searching for food she could grind them up, mixing them with water and heating them in the fire, thus creating a crude form of bread. Bread fed many people and became the staple diet of humanity from then on. She also discovered that by planting these seeds that vast amounts of plants could be grown which would produce more seeds, thus feeding more people. But woman was limited in the amount of time she had to develop the growth of these crops, so man took on the responsibility of sowing and reaping. Humanity no longer had to roam the countryside in order to find food, and man’s thinking shifted from being part of the land to that of owning the land. Once he began to think this way he also began to lose respect for nature, forgetting to seek blessing through prayer and work in harmony with the land. But still, many years were to pass before man discovered that he played a part in procreation, so women continued to enjoy man’s awe. The discovery of man’s part in the life cycle was to occur only recently a few thousand years ago, which, over the course of humanity is really not that long ago.
The connection between sex and reproduction was not made until relatively recently due to the fact that tribal men would often mate with several different partners, yet the outcomes of these unions were not connected to the birth of children. An attractive woman would have many men desiring to mate with her, but if she were barren she would not produce a child. Yet there would be other women who were not particularly attractive, whom none of the tribesmen would admit to mating with, yet they would have four or five children. So the connection between mating and children was not made. However, once man realised that by actually having intercourse with a woman and climaxing inside her that she would conceive a child and become pregnant, he ceased being in awe of her and began to think of her as simply a vessel to carry his child. It is at this point where we see man’s desire for dominance over woman beginning to escalate. His vehicle for control was to become force and religion.
Because this discovery made such a huge difference to how man saw woman, what few tablets and scrolls that had been written were destroyed, suppressing the true nature of history thus far. So man set out to write a new version of history in order to cover up the choice, position and freedom that women had always had up until then.
Men have always feared of the underlying strength that women have, not only in their sexuality but also in their intuitive abilities. So it was natural that once they were aware of their part in procreation they would try to shift the base of power from women to men. They resented her power over them in matriarchal societies and felt compelled – in their attempt to control and dominate her – to make her feel bad about the wondrous attraction that she had in her natural sexuality. By placing critical judgment on her if he was unable to resist her sexuality (and if she hence used his inability to resist her to her own advantage), they could control female self-image once there was mass acceptance of the thought. In re-writing the spiritual teachings, a new image of a higher force – God (with a male persona) – was used to replace the beliefs of most faiths.
In the very early stages of the takeover the tool of control was fear. Women feared for their lives if they didn’t conform, and because men were physically stronger and larger it was easy to frighten a woman into submission in order to control her. The very early stages of the switch were terrifying times for women. They either conformed or they or their children were put to death. Whole tribes and villages that were run based on matriarchal principles were invaded, and the men in those communities were slaughtered, leaving only the women and children to survive. By force they were ordered to take up residence with the murderers of their husbands and fathers, hence the belief systems of these tribes were wiped out. And so the takeover was made. Spiritual teachings became religious in their dogma as Monotheism overtook Polytheism. Gods and Goddesses no longer worked in harmony together, but instead were replaced with one all-powerful, all-knowing male God who ruled everything.
So why the desire for such a strong position of power over women? If a man can be sure that the children that are borne of the woman he has lain with are his, then he begins to feel a sense of immortality – property and power can be passed down through the generations, thus he feels he can go beyond the grave. Once this power was felt he no longer acknowledged the all-important role of Woman in procreation and began to see himself as superior to her, demanding exclusive rights and owner-ship of the women that would give birth to his sons.
Man’s next step was to take up residence with many wives and concubines, as society became polygynous. It seems that in an attempt to produce much-desired sons, man mated with as many women as he could. For those men who could find the gold needed to acquire property it became very important to purchase more and more land on which to build houses that provided shelter for the women who would produce their sons. If a man desired to have absolute certainty of rightful inheritance, the process became dependent on his ability to provide food, clothing and shelter for both the women that he considered were his mates, and the children produced by them. In practice, of course, only those who had the means to support several wives and children – and the desire to ensure the legitimacy of their offspring – could truly afford polygyny.
The process of taking over the belief systems of the world at that time took quite a few years. It was not possible to automatically change what people had believed for so long, so the process took approximately one thousand years in all. The first stage of this process sees a new symbol being placed into the lives of the people – the phallus. Everywhere one would look they would see symbolic representations of the penis being set up in places where people could bow down and worship it. Phallic symbols were placed everywhere to bring awareness of the representation of masculine principles and power amongst the people. The race for power was on, as man pushed woman to the rear in the structure of society. However, man’s power lasted only for a short time while ever the penis was erect – once it became limp and flaccid it no longer held any power, at least not in the minds of the people. Whereas, woman’s power was constant – her innate sexuality emanated from her whether she was aroused or not. This is something man has always found very difficult to deny.
Man began to shift the balance of power through the development of the idea that there was only one God, and that God was male. Around two to three thousand years ago there was a whole millennium of time where five different male leaders spoke of revelations from God, and these revelations became the foundation for the teachings that prevail today. Each philosophy was said to be the only way to God by its followers, which gave each set of followers the right (if only in their own mind) to persecute anyone who did not adhere to their disciplines because they had exclusive rights to Heaven’s Gate. Mass dissemination of these stories and revelations resulted in religions that spread worldwide, where female conformity was written as law into the teachings. Woman was placed well beneath man in the hierarchy of things, at times being equated with the lowest of beings because of her body and blood.
The Great masters spoke of respect for all of humanity, but their teachings and philosophies were always distorted over time. Women were not permitted to be a part of the development of religion and were forced to go along with what was being espoused as the latest explanation of the spirit realm. Because of the newly enforced suppression of her position woman was unable to argue with the concepts of what is unseen. Much of the teachings that incorporated the Feminine within them were forced underground, being discussed in hushed groups that were cautious to become known. Very rarely did women have access to books, writing implements or paper, and often they did not have the opportunity to become educated. Therefore man was in a position to create the mental prison that women would submit to through the written word of monotheism. Promote the teachings to enough people and you soon have followers, especially if the teachings appeal to those people that you wish to do your persecuting for you. And who would make better disciples than men that previously had a lower place than women in society? They could become Godlike in their own estimation if made in the image of this all-powerful, all-knowing God, and could elevate their status above that of women purely for their own comfort, ego and security. They would thus feel entitled to treat a woman however they wished, and in some circles were enthusiastically encouraged to do so quite openly as monotheism developed over time.
Because it was impossible for man to control other men, he maintained control over his woman (in order to make sure that the children borne of her were his) by placing all sorts of taboos and moral restrictions on her. Man would use the writings of the Churches and the use of violence or belittling to exert control over a woman. This was done whether it was she that flirted or was provocative in any way, or if it were he that fell prey to his own desires to be with her. Control would be exerted both physically – external control – and at the same time mentally through intimidation – internal control. Female sexual attraction was restricted by cultivating the image of a good woman as ‘mothering and nurturing’, and the image of a bad woman as ‘brazen and sexual’. It was not female sexuality that these men were really afraid of, but rather their own inability to resist her charm and attraction, combined with the fact that their desire was driven by an actual physical need to have regular sexual release. Woman doesn’t really have to do anything other than be herself for a man to want to mate with her.
Man (for the benefit of Man) created religions that, in an almost homosexual way, displayed a phobia of female sexuality in their depiction of the mother of Christ being so non-sexual as to be disturbing. In the Christian and Roman Catholic Churches their Supreme Being was male and promoted as the only God to worship, with two other aspects of this deity creating a ‘trinity’ of males, each representing an aspect of the Life Force to be emulated and revered. In all cultures throughout the ages there has always been three facets to this Life force, but when it is given male characteristics there is little room for feminine traits to be acknowledged. From that point on there was no representation of the Feminine or the sexual aspect of the Feminine in the religions that would eventually govern many nations, at least not a positive one.
The main consequence of this for women has been the great divide between sexuality and spirituality. Monotheism (male dominated and represented religions that espouse that there is only one God and do not recognise the Feminine within the Life Force) has caused a separation within women that places our innate sexuality at odds with our inner spirituality. At very young ages women have been and sometimes still are fed a mindset that does not approve of them being the sexual beings that they are. Consequently they grow to think that being attractive and having sex appeal is not O.K. They also learn that being sexually active is not O.K. except within the confines of marriage (or rather, while under the control of one man). By suppressing this aspect of being human in a woman, man, in an attempt to control women rather than himself, created the distorted thinking of today that is the result of these restrictions and taboos.
Once the shame that resulted from the use of control over people through mental intimidation began to take effect, the side effects of the loss of self-worth in women caused a domino effect. Women grew up ‘shame based’ and passed that chronic low self-worth on to their children, thus creating a whole line of both men and women who were forced to hide their shame behind all kinds of masks and defenses. You cannot hurt another human being without it affecting yourself and others. When you pull another person down through mental intimidation, thus creating shame within them, that person can no longer provide the love needed to nurture those around them for they have none within themselves to give. How could a mother possibly raise healthy, self-confident children when she herself is not healthy and self-confident? You then find that it is not only women who suffer from the use of these forms of control, but their sons and grandsons too. These men then go on to perpetuate the cycle because they don’t have a foundation of self-acceptance themselves.
The people of today who are innocent of exerting such influences have had to deal with an unsatisfactory sexual relationship within their marriage or relationship because in certain parts of the world there remains a whole belief system around sex that says that it is dirty or wrong. When shame-based adults raise their children they pass on the effects of the shame they carry within themselves. As a method of diverting that shame they use criticism and condemnation to distract themselves from their own feelings of inadequacy, but in doing so they cause huge destruction in the development of their children. When a young woman unites with a young man before marriage in a piously religious family, great shame is heaped upon her (not only by her family but also by her peers) causing even further loss of self-esteem. This, along with the many years prior of living in a dysfunctional family, adds to the already huge lack of self-acceptance within her. Thus she comes into a marriage or relationship with a ‘less than best’ attitude about herself which eventually chips away at her ability to relate to the man that she loves, who in turn is unable to relate well to her. You will also find that many women have been treated as inferior due to the teachings that are delivered through the viewpoints of certain priests, ministers and leaders of some Churches. The distortions of Christ’s teachings are far from their real meaning, as are the distortions of the teachings of other spiritual leaders that respected and idolised women.
It is an interesting dichotomy that men who desire to marry a ‘nice’ girl often prove to be good husbands but very poor lovers. Religion and western society has sanitised sex to the point where enjoying one’s body has been scolded out of a person from the day they are born. The only way to experience sensation is through the body, so pleasure and pain are associated with different stimuli and events that occur to us as we grow. Thus our first sexual experiences are with ourselves, but society frowns on masturbation and encourages us to hide our normal bodily functions and odours.
Children are taught to withdraw from and be secretive of pleasurable experiences of themselves and affection with others, and by the time they get to puberty there are very strong forces that are pulling against their biological desires to mate. The social conditioning that they have been taught causes angst within, so boys seek the kind of girl who will allow them to explore their raging new desires, but by that age much of the damage has already been done. The shame that is associated with sex is projected by these young men onto those girls that will allow them to explore their newfound desires, and these girls become ‘whores’ to them and their peers. Peer pressure drives them to explore the kind of sex that is not fostered in the grounds of love, and often boys will boast of a sexual conquest that may not even have occurred, just to prove their manhood and raise their position within the group. When these boys become men and find a ‘nice’ girl to marry, they experience conflict within themselves when they discover that this ‘nice’ girl is a sexual being in the bedroom. And so they shut down sexually with her so as not to ruin their image of her and lose their respect for her, seeking satisfaction of their needs and desires elsewhere. The result of the method of domination of women that has been developed by patriarchal ruling has not helped either men or women to live happily and in harmony.
In order for humanity to live in total harmony neither Patriarchy nor Matriarchy should dominate. Instead there needs to be interdependent living where both men and women benefit from co-operating with and helping each other. This should not be reliant upon race, colour or creed, but instead on the simple fact that we are all human beings. There needs to be equality based on the recognition of and allowances for the strengths and weaknesses of each sex, and within relationships there needs to be recognition of and allowances for the strengths and weaknesses of each individual person. Until humanity develops to this point there will always be disharmony and struggle, and until there is an understanding of and acknowledgement given to the differences between the sexes there will always be lesser degrees of harmony than we are ultimately searching for.
The solution to this begins in the family, where functional adults need to provide emotional nourishment to their children in an environment of safety and acceptance. If all adults loved and accepted themselves there would be no judgment or opinion about anyone. There would just be acceptance. This would allow a live-and-let-live attitude to develop, and hatred, racial supremacy, and sexism would be a thing of the past. It would be a golden age, a time where peace and harmony reigned supreme.
There are many people waking up now, so hopefully this dream of so many of us can become a reality in the future. I do hope so. It would certainly make a world of difference for so many.