The Struggle for Power Throughout Nurturing History
Everyone agrees that war has a negative effect on children. That has also held true regarding the battle of the sexes. Although the term was not coined until 1973, to describe the famous tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, the struggle between men and women to effectively share power has been going on for centuries.
In ancient times, before reproductive consciousness, or scientific knowledge of the human reproductive system, women alone were believed to possess the power of creating and sustaining life. Social customs reflected that belief in a number of ways, including the greater number of rights that women enjoyed in matrilineal societies. Those rights included almost exclusive ownership of the property upon which women carried out their sacred duties of single-handedly creating future generations.
The ancient mythologies and primitive religions of many societies also reflected the belief that men played no role in reproduction. Reproductive consciousness occurred in a number of stages. The first step was the observation of the reproductive behavior and biological realities of domesticated animals. Once it had been established that male sperm was indeed responsible for producing offspring, the balance of social power shifted drastically. While semen was a visible power, the female egg was not visible. Lacking proof of the female contribution of the egg in the reproductive process, men began to women as little more than fertile ground in which to plant their seeds.
The Rise of Paternity in Nurturing History
These faulty scientific beliefs were incorporated into both social customs and religious practices. Before the advent of Christianity, the religion of the Roman Empire was much like that of the Greeks. In fact, most Greek gods have Roman counterparts. For example, the Roman counterpart of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, is the Roman goddess, Venus. The Roman counterpart of the Greek goddess Gaia, or mother earth, is Tellus, or Terra Mater. Their respective pantheons of gods and goddesses were believed to play a large part in fertility and childbearing.
The Latin term “Pater Familia” originally referred to invoking the god Jupiter, the father of gods and men, and other male deities. However, the new consciousness of the male role in reproduction resulted in men being bestowed with the power that mothers had formerly enjoyed. Unfortunately, it is the nature of power to corrupt, which often leads to abuse of said power.
Some laws created during nurturing history, such as those of the Twelve Tables, viewed women and children as property and even granted fathers the right to sell their children into slavery. They also had the power to approve or reject their children’s choice of marriage partners. Adult males were not granted the status of head of household until the death of their own fathers. If they married, any property they purchased or children born to them were considered the property of the head of the household. In legal language, the term paterfamilias was used to refer to any male who was not under the power of a father or master.
The Role of Religion in Nurturing History
Myths and religions also began to reflect the newfound power of fatherhood in nurturing history. Just as societies had believed that motherhood elevated women to the status of goddess, people began to believe that fatherhood elevated men to the status of gods. Consequently, men desired to have as many children as possible. The Brhaddarma Purana, a Hindu religious text, states that “No rituals are performed for the man who has no descendants…. Sons are useful to give oblations to the ancestors” Without the prayers of his descendants, it was believed that a man’s spirit was doomed to wander homeless throughout eternity.
St. Thomas Aquinas, credited with synthesizing Greek philosophy with Catholicism, said that a father is the true parent, while a mother is only the “soil” in which his seed grows. He believed that fathers should be loved and revered more than mothers due to their active role in their creation and support, rather than the passive role of the mother. (The existence of the female egg would not be discovered by science for four hundred more years.)
Some religions attempted to temper paternal power by advocating love of all beings. For example, Buddha urged fathers to use their power wisely by emulating the nurturing history of mothers in their behavior towards children. In his Discourse on Universal Love, he said: “As a mother, even at the risk of her own life, protects and loves her child, her only child, so let a man cultivate love without measure toward the whole world, above, below, and around, unstinted, unmixed with any feeling of differing or opposing interests…. This state of mind is the best in the world.”
Evidence suggests that the pendulum of parental power, having swung from women to men during nurturing history, may be approaching a peaceful equilibrium, marking an end to the battle of the sexes. Just as creation requires both egg and sperm, children are happiest when both parents share the power, responsibility, joys and benefits of parenting.