Portrait of Cassandra

You have all heard of the myth of Cassandra, how she was loved by a god who granted her the gift of prophecy but when she rejected him he cursed her that no one would believe her predictions.

The truth is more mundane. But the myth was spread in order to suppress the truth – in case anyone should benefit from it.

In society there are as many viewpoints as there are people. But here I am considering the view from the top and the view from the bottom. The view from the top sees society in overview. Power relations are clearly discerned. Individuals are lost in the classification of roles and social functions. From the top  everyone below you is a servant, directly or indirectly. Women at the top of society have least respect for men. Any subordinate man to them is only a servant. And men at the top often view all the women of society as a bull views a herd of cows – theirs for the taking, on a whim.

But the view from the bottom, the grass roots view, is rather different. And it is always women who are closest to those grass roots, of all people in society. At the bottom looking up, having no position to protect, gives a pretty good perspective of what is going on in society. Such women can speak out too as they usually have nothing to lose. But here is the catch – no-one listens to them. They speak the truth, there is no mystical power involved here – they say what is plainly obvious to anyone who  cares to look and is honest – but no-one listens.

The myth of Cassandra served to acknowledge the problem, but pretended that the situation was rare, not commonplace, and provided grounds that if a particular woman needed to be silenced, that often an accusation of witchcraft would suffice.

Throughout history in all societies there has been a large investment in shutting women’s mouths. In medieval times gags were used and the ducking stool (now newly revived in water boarding) was used against women who “talked too much”. Vilification of women as a class was and is commonplace, and the brunt of this falls on the poorest women, as higher ranking women are protected by their status. The process of keeping women quiet combines easily with keeping women down. Forcing women into prostitution by defining her as a social outcast ensures no-one will listen to her viewpoint. If all else fails, secretly persecuting the woman and spreading lies about her can lead to her being defined as crazy, so that everyone will mock what she says. Perhaps the folklore idea of “the wisdom of the fool” reflects this.

The fairy tale “The Emperor’s New Clothes” where a child exposes the emperor’s nudity with his truth, may be an allegory for the truth perception of those at the bottom of the social heap. You can see the story would not have worked if the truth teller had been a woman rather than a child. Something else would have been exposed. The potential for the lowest status women to challenge the highest powers in the land by their exposure of the truth.

Which suggests a reason why the highest powers in every society have such a strong motivation in oppressing and maintaining the oppression of women. As a general rule women seek to protect themselves and others, especially the vulnerable. The rulers primary concern is protecting themselves and obliterating even the smallest threat to their position.