Tag Archives: equality

Women in Minoan Crete: Equals or more?

knossos-ladies-in-blue
Ladies in Blue, a reconstructed fresco from the Knossos temple complex

One of people’s most common impressions about Minoan Crete is that the women were in charge, perhaps in the same way that men came to be in charge of later patriarchal societies. After all, that’s what most of Minoan art shows, right, women and goddesses? Well, that’s not exactly the case.

Sure, the most well-known pieces of Minoan art art the Snake Goddess figurines, but did you know those are actually pretty rare? There are only two of them. Yep, two. But they’re probably the most common, well-known emblem of the Minoans, so it feels like they’re everywhere. It doesn’t help that the Victorian-era archaeologists like Sir Arthur Evans found the topless Minoan women titillating (ahem) and took every opportunity to publicize any image they found of bare-breasted women from ancient Crete. So there’s a bit of a bias in terms of what the public sees compared to what’s really there.

If you actually look at the Minoan art we’ve found over the years, it turns out that women and men are represented pretty equally. I counted them up and shared that information in a blog post a while ago. And unlike art from the same time period in places like Egypt and Mesopotamia, Minoan art doesn’t show any single person, male or female, significantly larger than the others around them. There’s a certain equality in the art, no one lording over their fellow human beings, just people finding reverence and sacredness and joy in life.

A while back, a friend introduced me to the Smurfette Principle: The idea that women are “correctly” represented when there is a single token female in a large group of men. This is so common that most people don’t even notice it and generally consider that if there’s a single woman in the group, women are appropriately represented.

It turns out that this kind of social conditioning has interesting, if somewhat unpleasant, effects. When people are shown groups that are made up of exactly 50% women and 50% men, they interpret the groups as being mostly women. This is a cultural bias that most people don’t realize they have. Try it sometime – have a look at a photo of a crowd, guess for yourself how the male/female split goes, then actually count heads. I suspect you’ll be surprised at your response. I know I was at my own.

What I’m suggesting here is that our own social and cultural conditioning makes it hard for us to see what’s really there with the Minoans. When I actually counted up the representations of men and women in Minoan art, they came up roughly equal. That famous building in Akrotiri that has all the images of young women undergoing a puberty rite? The same building also has images of young men undergoing their own puberty rite, but those aren’t nearly as well known.

boys-room-at-akrotiri
Boys participating in a puberty rite, from Xeste 3 in Akrotiri

I’ve long been a fan of Riane Eisler, especially her seminal work The Chalice and the Blade. I can’t say I support Marija Gimbutas’ ideas of a single Europe-wide goddess cult or the Kurgan invastion the way Dr. Eisler does, but I love her characterization of cultures as either dominator or egalitarian in nature (or somewhere along the spectrum between the two).

We live in a dominator society, with men above women (though that’s changing, thank the gods) and certain individuals (first kings, then other kinds of elected and non-elected rulers) above the rest of the population. This is the box we’re in, and it’s hard to wrap our minds around other kinds of paradigms.

Like Dr. Eisler, I believe the Minoans were a largely egalitarian culture, which is a totally different box altogether. They didn’t have Big Rulers (or if they did, they don’t show up in the art, which is quite odd). They didn’t have a centralized government – each of the Minoan cities ruled itself. And in both religion and daily life, women and men were equal. But to us modern folks who are used to a Smurfette Principle kind of lack-of-parity, equality looks like rulership because we’re not used to seeing a real balance of male and female.

It’s true, the Great Goddess Rhea was the head of the Minoan pantheon, but she wasn’t an iron-fisted ruler like the later Greek god Zeus. She was the mother of the Minoans – the people and the gods and goddesses of that island. I suspect the Minoans considered her to be their ultimate ancestor. That’s a far sight different from a thunderbolt-wielding god who rules with an iron fist.

So yes, the Goddess held a place of high regard in Minoan society, as did women. But that doesn’t mean they were the dominators in the same way that men came to dominate later societies. Consider the possibility of a different paradigm, one of peaceable egalitarianism: The Mother loves her children and lets them grow into their own power as soon as they’re ready.

In the name of the bee,

And of the butterfly,

And of the breeze, amen.

Equality in relationships

For Druids, relationship is central to spirituality.

The best kinds of relationships are rooted in equality. Where there is a power imbalance, it should be rooted in issues of responsibility, not in control. For example, a parent has responsibility for their child as that child learns and grows. But that does not give the parent the right to control their child. One person in a relationship might have more money than the other – and money can be easily used to exert control. As soon as you step into situations of control, you cease to have a relationship of equals.

Some people assume that certain things give them power – money, gender, social status, level of education, and age are probably the most frequent ones. Perceiving certain things as valuable, and then believing that makes you more important, carries with it the implicit assumption that people who have less of this are less important. They are lesser than you and therefore should be ruled by you.

As soon as a person believes that certain things make them more important than others, they have thrown away all scope for true relationship. There can be no scope for respect and equality with such a person. There can be no balance or equal sharing, and there is an inherent disrespect for the person who, for whatever reasons is deemed ‘lesser’. And from experience if such a person sets the benchmark for ‘important’ somewhere and you achieve it, you can be sure either they will move it, or have some other reason to disregard you. It is not about the status signifier, it is actually about the belief that they are more important, which they will justify by whatever means necessary, be it ever so illogical.

If a person seeks to establish themselves as the powerful one in a relationship, it is because they want to be in control and they do not want the other person to be their equal partner in all things. The source of power and authority can so easily then be used to put the other person down. They are not as important because they do not have a proper job, a degree, as much life experience, a car, as much money etc. Putting people down takes power from them. Focusing on these kind of details to justify control shows a total lack of respect for the person you are with.

We’re all different. Each one of us has an array of strengths and weaknesses. In terms of relationship, how much money a person has is far less significant than how much compassion they have, how much magic in their soul. Society encourages outward displays of physical wealth, status symbols and trophies. If we internalise those values and bring them into our relationships, we ruin our chances of good and meaningful connections. Where there is inequality and disrespect, love will not flourish.

There needs also to be an equality of giving. That doesn’t mean that we must give exactly the same things to each other. Balance can be found in other ways. You cook the meal, I wash the dishes. You pay the gas bill, I pay the electric. A sharing of work, responsibility and ownership is essential in good relationship, and that’s not about hours spent in paid employment or money earned. Financial contributions are not the only ones that have an impact. If one person gives and the other does not, that creates a power imbalance. Energy in the relationship only flows one way, until that person has nothing more they can give and either stops, or walks away.

If you want to have power over something and make it do your bidding, get a car, or some other mindless piece of technology that will not be hurt or offended by this. If you want an actual relationship with a human being, there is absolutely no room for any notions of power, control and inequality. If you can’t respect the person you are with, it probably means you shouldn’t be with them, for both your sakes.

Peace at Work

The system we are in is based on competition. It’s all about profit and market share, getting the best deal, slashing prices and making a profit. It’s a system that is inherently exploitative. The success of one person depends on someone else not doing too well. It is not a system where environmental issues, human welfare, or ethics are given any kind of priority. Some companies pay lip service, but that’s about the best you can say. It’s a well established, international way of working, so ingrained that I think the majority of folks would not imagine you could approach life in different ways.

There is nothing wrong with competition when it’s about excellence and striving for quality. However, the kind of competition that stifles alternatives, and has a cut-throat mentality is not conducive to peace. People who have what they need are far less likely to take arms and attack each other. Desperate people with nothing to lose are more likely to try violent options. We have a system that allows the majority of people in the world to live in poverty while a minority are obscenely rich. The whole way in which we approach work and commerce is based on exploitation. We earn less than our work is worth, and pay more than goods and services are worth, and that’s where profits come from.

Systems based on fairness, on equal sharing of resources and opportunities, facilitate peace. Exploitation is not peaceful in and of itself, and is far more likely to breed unrest and violence. Peace and deprivation do not go together. 

For most of us, scope to change the way in which the entire world operates is limited. What on earth can we do, as individuals, faced with whole cultures, financial systems and ways of working that are not conducive to peace or justice? There is no easy way to opt out or establish an alternative. But that doesn’t mean we can’t try. We can talk about it. We can tell each other that the current way of life is not the only way. We can seek fairer options when they present themselves, the rise of fair trade goods is a testament to people power. We can imagine better ways of living and share those ideas. The more people think we can change the world for the better, the more chance there is of making it happen.

The world of commerce is the world of people. We are people. When you have enough people thinking the same way, change comes. We’ve moved from hereditary tyrannies to elected governments, from slavery to human rights laws. Nothing is unassailable. If we want peace, we need equality, and a total overhaul of priorities and how we go about getting things done. This is not impossible.