Friday, September 4, 2015

Women in Greek Society; Girls at a Disadvantage

My mother was a 1st generation American girl, born in 1923 Chicago, of parents that were both born in Greece, my grandmother from Sparta and my grandfather from Manthyrea outside of Tripoli.  She has always recounted personal stories from her childhood and teen years growing up in a non-Greek neighborhood in Chicago;  how her parents treated her differently than her brother, how she felt isolated because she wasn't allowed to have non-Greek friends, how her parents were over protective and very strict,  I could not relate to her experiences and felt like she was just being over sensitive.

Recently I was looking at the book "Background to Contemporary Greece"  Edited by Marion Sarafis and Martin Eve, published in 1990.  I had ordered it through my local public library inter-library loan program.  One section of the book in particular caught my attention.  "Women in Greek Society" by Janet Hart.  This chapter in the book helps put some of my grandparent's behavior in perspective.  It includes quotes from women that describe what life was like for women in Greece prior to the Resistance Movement (c. 1940s) that allowed women to step out of their traditional roles.  This blog posting is not a commentary on the pros and cons of the resistance movement in Greece, but rather an interest in the women's comments about their perceptions of their lives prior to that time.  Following are a few excerpts from the book:

From the Editorial Introduction for this chapter:
"The later religions of the Near East, Christianity, but more especially the nearly four centuries of Moslem Ottoman rule reduced Greek woman to the status of a chattel, but she still bore the brunt of the mainly agricultural work and, when occasion demanded, she could show her worth like the heroines of the 1821-32 Greek Independence struggle, Bubulina and Mado Mavrogenous.  Nevertheless, in the early years of this century, her position was such that a provincial judge could acquit a rapist because his unmarried victim was illegitimate and therefore 'no man's property'.

Page 102:

It is difficult to imagine, from the perspective of a society which now takes women's suffrage for granted and has been conditioned by the tenets of the modern women's movement, what these changes meant to the Greek women who experienced them.  The resistance affected not only its female activists, but also provided plausible role models for those who could not participate so readily.  Perhaps the most moving account of what the changes wrought by the EAM organization, and what participation in the general phenomena of resistance meant to these women and girls, is best expressed in their own words.  For example, a youth organizer comments:

"I remember that we girls, in school, we had, how would one put it? . . . a disadvantage,  because we had strict rules at home, because the boys were freer, because young women weren't allowed to pursue an education the way the boys could.  That is, a girl finishing high school could only stay at home.  Whereas a boy could go on to the university to study . . .   In the spring of 1942, an organization called EAM Youth was formed.  The reason it was formed was that, well, at that time, girls' chances of being able to join a mixed organization were very slim.  Their mentality, the preconceptions, the difficulties they could encounter at home . . . that was the most important thing. . . . that is, they would first of all have problems at home, because they would be in the company of boys.  Girls had very tight restrictions.  Secondly, women, because they were so sheltered, it would have been much more difficult for them to gain any sort of recognition, to be heard, to be able to grow and change at all when among the men.  The men "covered them over" with their dynamism, with the confidence which comes from having some leeway in society, with their experience, they were involved in politics, in everything.  So this organization was concerned with helping girls to have the courage to speak up, to not be so hesitant.  It covered both of these problems.  The ones that the girls would face at home, and the problems that had to do with timidity.  Thousands of girls were mobilized into this organization in Athens.  It was a big step"

Page 103 - A women from Kozani (north central Greece) says,
"In the old days in the villages, it was considered shameful for a woman to work.  They would say to you "You don't have any money to live and that's why you put your daughter to work!"  It was an embarrassment.  And besides that, for the most part they never sent them to school.  You would go until the dimotiko (primary school), you would know how to read, count, and write, and that was enough.  Then they'd say, "Get back in the house, to wash the dishes and sweep the floor."  That was the role of the woman.  For those of us who were at the point of deciding what to do with our lives, the resistance changed all that . . . "

Page 105 - Woman from Chania says:
"At that time there wasn't . . . women couldn't really go outside much, we couldn't be out at night, no, no ...but after the resistance, and with what it had created, the woman came out of her house.  That is, before, in the house, you had to always be in the house; for girls, out path ran only between school and the house.  If we were going somewhere, we would go with our father, with our brother, we weren't even allowed to go anywhere in a group, do you understand?  And the married woman:  in the house.  Neither work, nor any wandering around was tolerated.  There were women who were teachers, but they were few in number before the occupation.  But after the resistance, after the occupation, when the woman came out of the house, she was more liberated, let's say, and she became more creative . . . And that's what began the fight for the equality of women.  And for the vote, and all of that . . . because we didn't have any of that before.