When we talk about the veiling of women, most of us picture Muslims in long, black or blue burqas.
Try asking people where the veiling of women originated. I suppose most would tell you arabs were the ones who started the tradition.
As you have probably figured by now, they would be wrong. Although the youngest of major religions is famous for veiling, it was not its inventor. In the 7th century A.D., when Islam began, the habit of veiling was at least 2000 years old.
The Covers of Babylon
First known mentions of women’s duty to cover their hair and faces come from the very penis-looking Code of Hammurabi.
After Babylonians, Assyrians took hold of the land between Euphrates and Tigris. This militarist civilization, with its aggressive men, tightened the Babylonian veiling laws.
How? They divided women into categories (think Margaret Atwood — The Handmaid’s Tale), and prescribed specific types of veils for each of them. Married women, as well as concubines, had to be veiled, when outside their home. On the other hand, harlots and women slaves were forbidden the covers.
The punishment for not obeying was harsh. If a slave woman veiled herself, every man had the right to arrest her. After she was punished by having her ears cut off, the man, who brought her in front of the punishing committee, was even allowed to take her clothes.
The woman-hating cradle of civilization
The veiling of women didn’t end with Assyrians just to magically appear with Islam a few thousand years later. In the meantime, the foundation stone of our civilization made many women cover their faces, hair, and bodies as well. I’m talking about Greece, specifically the city-state of Athens.
It is no surprise, that the athenians didn’t value the women much. As you’ve probably heard, women were not considered citizens. They had no legal rights and were passed from the patronage of fathers under the patronage of husbands at approximately at the age of fourteen.
A few greek philosophers even claimed that men and women were different species. Men resembled gods, meanwhile women could be likened to animals.
To support the existence of women’s subordination, they created multiple theories and myths. Most of us have, for example, heard of Pandora’s box.
I’m sorry to disappoint you, but it wasn’t actually a box. It was an amphora. Although, it wasn’t actually an amphora. It was a uterus. At least, that is what the historian Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones claims. Imagine the amphora. It has the shape of a uterus.
And do you remember what comes out of Pandora’s box? It’s death and other unpopular stuff, such as illnesses. How messed up would it be, if the uterus theory was right?
So, if you ever feel like blaming Islam for the subordination of women, and for veiling them, think about your own history. Most of our institutions are built on the ancient Greek model, and we also inherited their hate of women.
Lerner, Gerda. The Creation of Patriarchy. New York: Oxford UP, 1986. Print.