|Origins of Namelessness in Women|
When I first started this project, I wanted to explore the reasons for the invisibility of women throughout history dating back to biblical times. One major reason put forward for women’s invisibility has to do with their own “silence” about themselves. Because women have generally tended to be excluded from public discourse and confined to the domestic sphere, and also because they were rarely taught to write, there has been a scarcity of documentary material available about their lives. The purpose of my search was to explore the root causes of such marginalization and the reasons behind women adopting the veil of invisibility over the centuries. I went back to the classical era of Greece and Rome and women are almost totally without identity. Where did they go and what was the reason or source of this enforced invisibility?
Little did I realize that this would turn out to be one of the most frustrating and unproductive searches that I have ever accomplished. Academic literature has to a large extent been written by men reflecting men’s attitudes and prejudices about women, and as a result, has tended to marginalize them. This is reflected in the descriptors of women in the library catalogue and databases-nothing seemed to suit the keywords I entered and there were no appropriate descriptors available in the thesauri that I consulted. Generally, there was a problem of specificity, for if I combined women or gender with identity or name, I would get results that reflected how women saw themselves or self-identity, not how others saw them. Likewise, as I wanted to find the historical context of this condition I combined women (or gender) and history (women and identity and history usually had very few, if any hits) Most results that I received for this search usually concentrated on the recent history of the woman’s movement. Depending on the databases I used I got either very few hits (often zero) to over two thousand (from a feminist database). However, it was extremely difficult to narrow the search even more without compromising the results. I varied my search between comprehensive databases and databases that were specific to anthropology, religious studies or feminist lists. One really useful resource was located in the “extra resources for Women’s Studies” section in the library catalogue, but even here the search was really frustrating because most resources were on topics that were not suited to my search. One site however, the Diotima web page and database for women, was a useful resource for locating literature on the Classical periods of Greece and Rome. Here, I found a wealth of information and found out that there are whole areas of study on women in the Classical period. Any literature for the period before these eras was simply not available, or did not cover material specific to women. Castelli discusses this problem in a critique of the literature that tends to generalize the use of the terms “Christianity,” “the Greco-Roman World,” “paganism” and "Judaism” into huge categories without addressing the gradual transformations that occurred between these categories. The criticism was also aimed at the category of “women” for it “simultaneously renders visible the historical specificity of sexual difference while obscuring a wide range of differences among women.”
My initial reaction to the book by Merlin Stone, When God was a Woman, was one that reflected the attitude of many scholars – that of skepticism. Theories and ideas were based on too little evidence that was stretched over too great a period of time. My reaction was “show me, let me know that this really happened.” However, by the end of the book, the tiny shards of archeological evidence and the many linguistic similarities over the centuries combined to provide me with an answer that no other source could achieve. It may be discounted but this source and its sequel were the only ones that even attempted to delve into the initial question “what was there in cultural history that caused women to be effaced to the point that their presence and identity were not even acknowledged?” The multitude of tiny scraps of pottery, of widely disparate but strangely similar nomenclature for locations and deities, and evidence gleaned from Biblical verses and other written sources combined to provide me with an answer that was stunningly simple, but so obvious that it had been staring me in the face all of the time and I could not even recognize it. It was a result that made me exalt that something so wonderful could have existed, and grieve for its total and final loss. It was a result that forced me to question the very roots of my upbringing and taught me to accept life on my own terms and not on the terms that society dictates. For this reason, I will accept the evidence provided by this book.
Women of Ancient Greece
Women of Rome
Women of the Early Christian Era
The Story of the Goddess