Women have come a long way, baby

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Women have come a long way, baby


Unlike Alexandre Dumas, pere, who wrote such novels as “The Count of Monte Cristo” and “The Three Musketeers,” his son and 19th century French writer Alexandre Dumas, fils, is known for his socially conscious writings. His most notable work, “The Lady of the Camellias,” on which Giuseppe Verdi’s opera “La Traviata” is based, exposed the hypocrisy of high society from the point of view of a woman at a time when women were socially powerless.

Unfortunately, his own perspective on women was not much different from that of his male contemporaries. He once said: “According to the Bible the last thing God made was woman, and he must have made her on a Saturday night, the most tiring time of the week.”

Through history, the status of women has been undermined by men, who took a more dominant status. The Talmud warns that the man who follows the advice of a woman will fall into hell. Even the enlightenment thinker Jean-Jacques Rousseau said that restraint was the fate of woman and those who tried to escape that fate would meet even more suffering.

This perspective did not change much in the 20th century. To Adolf Hitler, women were merely mothers who could bear more soldiers or factory workers to support the war effort. And it was not much different in the free world. After World War II, the U.S. government’s priority was to drive female workers from the labor market to give jobs to the 11 million veterans returning home from the war.

But things have changed. Most men feel and fear the changes, as competent women push men out of the spotlight and into the corners. A few days ago, Saudi Arabia, one of the most chauvinistic countries in the world, announced that women would get the right to vote in 2015.

Alexandre Dumas, fils, was the first person to use the term “feminism” in a social context. Prior to that, the word was used only in medicine. Dumas used “feminist” in the French context to describe “a man who is not a man,” so he must never have imagined that the word would come to represent women’s liberation and the reversed status of men and women.

Ancient Roman Rabbi Gabriel had a more profound insight. When the Roman emperor asked, “Your god made a man fall asleep and took a bone to create a woman. Isn’t he a thief?” Gabriel responded, “Last night, a thief stole a silver spoon from my house but left a golden goblet instead.”

*The writer is the J Editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Lee Hoon-beom
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