In Stand by Your Man, released in 1969, Tammy Wynette sang the following: “Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman.” While it is ostensibly a love song that was the subject of feminist ire, you could use the lyrics above to accurately describe the lot of females throughout human history. In truth, James Brown’s It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World would be the appropriate soundtrack for the majority of history because women have seemingly always had the rougher end of the stick.
Even today, when women are finally faring much better, the majority of sectors are male-dominated. For example, almost every CEO of Wall Street firms and Fortune 500 companies, mayors of big cities, heads of VC firms, members of Congress, and corporate executive officers, are men. Gender equality certainly has a long way to go to be attained but it is much closer than it has been at almost any other time in history. In this article, I look at ten awful things the female of the species has been forced to put up with in ancient and not-so-ancient times.
1 – Female Adulterers Were Brutally Tortured & Murdered
In Roman times, the whole ‘daddy’s girl’ thing was taken a bit too literally. Patria Potestas was basically lifelong subjugation of children to the will of their father. While it applied as much to sons as daughters, females were more likely to be forced to do as their daddy said. All fathers of legitimate children had the power of Patria Potestas and it was a practice that appalled other Mediterranean cultures. Children in this situation had to ask their father’s permission for marriage for example. In the Lex Julia, a Roman father was permitted to murder his daughter if she committed adultery, under certain circumstances.
Things got particularly grim for female adulterers during Medieval times. Not only did cuckolded husbands gain revenge through murder, they occasionally used a device called a Breast Ripper to mutilate and torture their unfortunate wives. The Ripper was metal and had several claws which were used hot or cold on the exposed breasts of the victim. The claws tore the woman’s breasts apart; in many cases victims died during the process. A variant called The Spider was attached to a wall while its claws hooked into the victim’s breasts. The woman was pulled away from the wall until her breasts were torn off.
The Puritan settlers who colonized America were also fond of meting out the worst possible punishments for adultery. In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic novel, The Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne is punished by having a scarlet ‘A’ imprinted on her dress so she had to bear the shame of her misdeed. In reality, Hester got off very lightly compared to the punishments suffered by adulteresses in Puritan colonies. Indeed, sex crimes were the most commonly prosecuted crimes in New England during that era.
In 1641, Anne Linceford was whipped on two separate occasions for adultery while Mary Mendame was also whipped. Mendame was whipped as a cart was drawn through town in 1639 in what was a painful and humiliating experience. In 1631, Mary Latham was executed for adultery. She confessed to having sex with a dozen men and reportedly went to her execution willingly in the belief that she deserved her fate. The men in these tales received lighter punishments because they were usually said to have been ‘enticed’ by ‘temptresses’.