Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Those Scary Female Rulers In Patriarchal Societies

After JPII's death, the Blogosphere compensated for all the media's pious saturation coverage by taking out the dirty laundry of the Papacy - for example jamie @ Blood & Treasure has quotes on the cutthroat antics of 9th-10th -century Papacy.

That era is often called the 'pornocracy', for most historians (even liberals) traditionally lay the blame at the feet of a few influential women: Theodora, the wife of a Roman patrician, and her daughter Marozia, who stand accused of sexual relations with Popes, of installing their lovers and sons as Popes, and of poisoning other Popes who stood in their way.

Now what got me thinking is not the obvious, that history was written by their enemies and unfounded accusations turned into fact, but some other things. First, there was nothing unusual about their attempts to control the Papacy (not to speak of sexual exploits) - other aristocrats of the time did the same (including the husbands of said women), some of them with much stronger effect.

The best example is Alberic II, Marozia's second son, who saw his chances for becoming King of Italy slipping when her mother married for a third time (to Hugh of Provence). So he fired up a bunch of Roman knights, with agitation about the shame of being ruled by a woman (Marozia again), stormed the palace, and imprisoned his family. He went on to use the next four Popes as mere signers of his own rulings, with his own elder half-brother (installed under Marozia) the first among them, and his son also became a scandalous Pope.

So in the memory of patriarchal societies, strong women transform into the scapegoats for decadence existing anyway. And there is a wider issue buried here. Even most strong women didn't last long enough in patriarchal societies to leave their mark on history - and lasting long enoughmakes a difference: if someone did, his/her vendettas and palace coups are remembered as wise moves to solidify power, if not, as excesses of cruelty.

When I read up on Roman emperors, what struck me was that the popular villains - Nero, Caracalla & co - were not at all worse than most of the praised ones, in fact much less bloodier: they generally fought less wars, but historians recorded levels of cruelty from the viewpoint of the capital's aristocracy. Which was decimated by other Caesars too, but not many lived to tell of it.


At 5:25 PM, Blogger Kyan gadac said...

interesting to think of Maggie Thatcher in light of this. Perhaps we should regard her as a symptom of the collapse of social values that characterised(for me at any rate) the 1980's. Thatcher caught this with her remark about their being no such thing as society (or something like that).

At 9:41 AM, Blogger DoDo said...

Well, Thatcher is in the league in the sense that she felt compelled to out-macho his male collagues, but she's certainly not a villain denounced by reactionary male chauvinists for being a female source of decandence.

But separately, the rise to power of such crooked right-wingers as Thatcher, Reagan, and (tough he had a different, godfatherly style) I'd count Helmut Kohl there too, as well as their long rule despite all the disasters they brought, could be seen as a symptom of the collapse of social values in the eighties.


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