Women's Rights

In Japan and across the ancient world


Before the 1900s in Japan, women didn't have many rights. During the Heian (hey-an) Period, which was from 794 to 1185 A.D./C.E, women weren't given any government positions. They weren't educated, which became a problem for society when their husbands died. Women were only given minimal rights if they weren't aristocratic. If they were aristocratic, they would receive an education, they could own and manage property, and they could choose their heir.

Marriage and Divorce

Women weren't given much control over their marriage or divorce. During the Heian Period, married couples lived at the wife's parents house, and they wife's family usually took care of the children. However, things changed. Later in Japanese history, women were expected to live with the husband's family. They weren't allowed to get a divorce, and men had sole authority over their marriage. If the couple wasn't in the samurai class, all the husband had to do was write a 3 1/2 line letter telling the woman they were getting a divorce. In order to escape marriage, or to get a divorce, women had to go to kakekomideras (“Marriage and Divorce in Medieval Japan”). Kakekomideras were places of worship, where women could become nuns to escape marriage, or have the religious peoples file her a divorce.

Comparison to Other Countries and Cultures

Japan was not the only culture that dealt with inequality; Greece, China and many other countries and states also had significant differences in the way that men and women were treated.


In China, women could not own land and had similar rights to Japan, but there was one significant difference. In China, women's feet were broken and bound starting at the age of 5. This practice thankfully did not spread to japan, (they had enough problems with women's right already) despite the fact that foot binding began somewhere in the 600-700s and was not stopped until 1912. Foot binding was supposed to make women more dainty and beautiful, but it also showed that they were more delicate. This was bad because it meant that women could not walk long distances, or do anything for themselves. This sent out a bad message by saying that women were weak and helpless, and were supposed to be dainty and neat.


In the 600s Athens was a patriarch society which means that men were the predominant rulers. Women had many of the same (non) rights as in Japan, and were always under the "protection" of a male figure. When they were young and unmarried they were under the protection of their father or male relative, and when they married they were under the protection of their husband. Also, like many other countries and states, women in Athens could not do any legal work making it nearly impossible to file a divorce. The legal rights for women in Athens were very similar to the rights in Japan.

For Sparta!

Sparta was one of the few places at the time that gave women rights. Because of the barbaric nature of the Spartans, they drafted all men from a young age (don't even get me started on how they treated children) and the men lived in the barracks, or were off at war. This left the women in charge of everything from taking care of the children to owning and taking care of the land. Spartan women owned an astonishing 30-40% of all property in Sparta, which is huge compared to the women in other parts of Greece and Asia who owned nothing, not even themselves.

Change or Women's Rights O'er Time

As we all know, women rights have changed dramatically over time, or we probably wouldn't be going to a school, much less an all girls school. But when was the turning point for America? The truth is, women have been protesting our rights, or lack there of, for a long time, but we see a big turning point as WWI. As you may or may not know, during WWI men were drafted into the army (like Sparta) which left the women who were not drafted to fill the "male" jobs. Many women became police, firefighters, factory workers and almost any job imaginable that was traditionally filled by men. Some women even became soldiers. When the men came back from war and wanted their jobs back, many women were reluctant, which gave them the incentive to stand up for themselves. In this sense, maybe the war wasn't all bad because it opened up new opportunities for women to grow and succeed. So what if we had a utopian world where there were no wars? We might have never gotten any rights. But then again what do you classify as utopian? Or is utopian DYSTOPIAN? DUNDUNDUAHHHH!!!!

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