I wrote in my recent piece about cultural decline because of our arrogance that there is a lot to say about the enormous cultural shift that happened at the end of the Roman Republic.
The reason why we are poorly informed about this piece of history is our arrogance. The disrespect we have for our ancestors. A second reason is that people with a penchant for authoritarianism value Imperial Rome over the Roman Republic. They look at a map with large coherent areas and are in awe. A huge pointless debate exists about the fall of the Roman Empire and I keep wondering what in the world was there left to fall. They mean that the territories were eventually split with all the successors to the throne fighting perpetual wars against each other. For the citizens, the ruler made little difference. They were all bonkers and oppressive.
When I speak of the decline, I mean the death of the Roman Republic. Rome and Athens ousted their kings almost exactly in the same year and developed institutions based on the participation of the wider citizenry immediately. The Greek democracy is better documented because of the literacy of the early Greeks. However, the more effective institutions and principles, those who guaranteed actual freedom and made up the example upon which our modern system of government is based, all came out of Rome.
One big misconception about the Republic is that the aristocracy is said to have controlled everything. This is a reading which reflects our general, leftist, superficial understanding of reality. Indeed, high positions were reserved for the aristocracy. However, every person had an easy time to become an aristocrat. All you had to do was ask a member of your party to "adopt" you and you could run for office. A famous example of this is Marcus Tullius Cicero. The office of the tribunes, the men who crafted laws and had them voted on in the public forum, was reserved to non-aristocrats. No problem. Claudius Pulcher, for example, had himself adopted by an ordinary citizen and got the job.
The laws don't tell the whole story about how much freedom a group of people actually has. And this is important when we speak about women's rights, too. A German woman in the 1970s had to ask her husband if she may open a bank account. In reality this absurd law did not stop any woman from opening an account or stop her to ask a friend or relative to open one for her. At the same time she had little to worry about when she walked home alone late at night. Fast forward to post-2015: Now, she does not have to ask a man to open an account, but once a car is not available to her she might be more likely to ask a strong man to walk her home. In an ideal world, women shouldn't be embarrassed to ask any man to either open a bank account or to walk her home. This line of thought just illustrates that we have to step back once in a while and ask ourselves if women in our country are still becoming freer.
The ancient lady in the Republic had a right to own property and conduct her own business. She inherited an equal share of her parents' wealth and a woman of privilege wielded enormous influence. Every woman could divorce herself any time and lead a life on her own. Formally, she was not allowed to act as a legal agent. But this did not mean much. Formal contracts were hardly ever needed and she could just pick any man to stand in for her. In fact, today we also cede legal representation to our lawyers. The difference is that in ancient Rome it was common for a man to speak for himself before a court while today we all have the position of an ancient lady. This did not work perfectly because she could not swear. In ancient Rome, men did not swear on the bible but by their scrotum. The words testicles and testimony derive from the same origin (testis).
Society was patriarchal and it had to be. There was not yet a police and the men of a family were expected to enforce the law of the state. This is also how the sharia works. We should remember this when we hear the left attack the police again. I digress. A woman was not trapped with a family or a male representation. She was free and freedom means, free to choose.
This changed dramatically with the Empire. Augustus made laws that forced widows to remarry within two years. He also punished women harshly for adultery. The Empire made Rome much more sharia-like.
At the same time, old sexual morals were discarded. The morals of the Republic survived half a millenium and were usually seen as best represented in the writings of Cato the Elder. Men were disciplined, hard, chivalrous, and respectful to women. Sexually explicit language in front of children was forbidden. Prostitution was allowed, but disdained because of the ideal of manly self-restraint (later in a futile attempt to reestablish old values the ideal was picked up again by the stoa).
In the late Republic, a league of effeminate men with loose morals entered the scene. One of them, Julius Cesar, would eventually ring the death knell of the Republic. One emperor after the other was more sexually incontinent than the next. They engaged in forbidden cross-dressing and liked murdering people for fun.
When Pompeii was excavated, murals of bawdy pornography were found everywhere across the city. This must not be confused with the effigies of erected penises that dominated the Roman Republic from early on. The phallus was a ubiquitous symbol of strength and protection and expressed honor for the masculine. Unlike the Greek, men of the Republic had their private parts always covered in public. Pompeii, however, was full of lewd remarks and pictures that showed actual copulation. The respect for the female and the sexual act had vanished.
I have heard (without being given a specific example) that the formal rights of women improved during the Empire. I wonder what freedom women gained. I only see what they had lost. What amazes me about the Republic is that the overall manliness allowed so much respect that the formal order usually gave way to freedom. An ordinary man could become senator and a woman could wield as much power as a man. The ideal, like in my example of German women above, should be that there is formal equality and a masculine ambition to support women without becoming submissive along the way.
I think, the difficult part is that it only really works if we imagined a woman were not equal and do our best to help her make her way. In reality, we may offer - unasked - to walk her home. We should be prepared to fight with any man who harasses her as we know that today attackers (if they are foreign) go unpunished when we miss to punch them right on site. We cannot let women become easy prey. At the same time we must work to improve the courts that this would eventually become unnecessary. We must also advocate for women to carry firearms.
Women should maybe try to pay more respect to men (who deserve it). As a former feminist, I think the main problem with the movement is its ingratitude. When women realize that strong men are on their side and deserve respect, men can realize that women are weak.
I cringe writing this because of all the propaganda. We all learn that women are weak because of the disadvantages that come with child-birth, career options, and the lack of physical strength. Yet, feminists who often exaggerate that picture also attack you if you dare say it. Anyway, realizing and accepting the reality that there is a power imbalance may not lead to complete equality, but it might lead to chivalry, manliness, female liberation and respect.