Friday, January 25, 2013

Janathon 2013 day 25 - Musonius on gender equality

Gym - run (treadmill) 6km, 30m, weights - 20m

I am going to start with an observation so blindingly obvious it hardly seems worth making: in the gym today there were as many women as men, and this is usually the case. How non-shocking is that? It is something I expect and if it were otherwise I think I would be a little startled. However outside this space there are definite divisions. Most classes are dominated by women: bodypump, boxercise, power hoops, dance aerobics, etc and, of course, yoga and pilates. Circuit training, martial arts, strength, and competitive games like 5 a side and squash are much more male. Overall there seems to be some difference in the types of exercise done by men and women. But in the gym we are side by side and the fact that it is unremarkable is something of a triumph.

Think of running. It is one of the sports where there are very low barriers to participation and there is an equality of participation - just look at the field of any road race. But  this equality is comparatively recent - in other words in my life time (and that I find shocking). For example women were not allowed to enter the Boston marathon until 1972 and before the 1980s there were no women’s distance in the Olympics. Imagine only thirty years ago there were dozy old men administrators who would argue that 1500 metres was the maximum competitive distance suitable for a woman!

But the question I hear you all asking is how did the Stoics stack-up in their attitude to gender equality? And I am pleased to tell you pretty well. Remember this is more than 2,000 years ago but this is what Musonius Rufus had to say
“If then, men and women are born with the same virtues, the same type of training and education must be appropriate for both. For with every animal and plant, proper care must be given to it to produce the excellence appropriate to it. Isn’t it true that, if it were necessary for a man and woman to be able to play the flute for a living, we should give them both exactly the same thorough training in flute playing. Well then, if it is necessary for both to be proficient in human virtue, that is for both to be able to have understanding, self-control, courage, and justice, why don’t we teach them both the art by which human beings become good? Yes that is the only acceptable option... 
For all human tasks, I am inclined to believe, are a shared obligation and are the same for men and women - and none is necessarily meant for either one exclusively ”
How many centuries did it take for that to be accepted as obviously true? You know, the more Stoic writings I read the more modern they seem.

No comments: