Women: Past and Present

Throughout history women have held the role of queen, saint and even scholar but rarely have women gained notoriety within the political realm. Nonetheless today more and more women are making their mark as presidential candidates, senators and house speakers. From Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State under the Bush Administration, to Hilary Clinton, presidential candidate in 2008, and Nancy Pelosi, congresswoman women have made great strides to influence politics as well as have more say in the decisions made by lawmakers.Unfortunately this is a new trend. In the United States women were not even granted the right to vote until 1920 when the nineteenth amendment was passed. Some countries such as Saudi Arabia and Lebanon still do not allow women such freedoms. The list of female discrimination goes back as far as historical documentation. However, there are a few exceptions to the rule. The life of Deborah, mother of Israel, stands out as one of the only ancient accounts of women gaining access to the political realm of society and actually succeeding in this otherwise male dominated world.“Most of the great women in the Bible either are married to a great man or related to one. Sarah is primarily known as Abraham’s wife, Miriam as Moses’ sister. Even Esther, who saves the Jewish people from Haman’s attempted genocide, is guided by her advisor and cousin Mordechai. A rare exception to this tradition is the prophetess and Judge, Deborah, perhaps the Bible’s greatest woman figure, (Telushkin, 1991, ¶ 1).”Little is known about Deborah’s private life. She was married to a man named Lapidot, who was not a political or powerful figure. Deborah is believed to have been a member of a tribe controlled by King Jabin of Hazoz and lived from around 1200 B.C. “In Israel of 1200-1000 B.C. there were twelve consecutive tribal leaders called ‘Judges.’ The eleven men led armies during times of strife. None of them was a prophet. Deborah held all three positions – judge, prophet and general – and these not only for her tribe but also as a judge for all of Israel, (Levinson, 1991, ¶ 7).”The period in which Deborah reigned was a dark one in terms of freedoms for the Israeli people. King Jabin was known as an oppressor of the Israeli people and his army, led by Sisera, was much more advanced than that of the Israelites. “The period was one of oppression by technically advanced neighbours from Canaan, who had a threatening potential for destruction. In contrast to the Israelis, who only had conventional hand-held weapons, the Canaanites had 900 iron chariots, (Levinson, 1991, ¶ 7).” But Deborah knew that Sisera would fall and that Israel would triumph. Her most influential act was to persuade Barak, Israeli military commander, to conquer the Canaan King despite their army’s inequalities.In this way Deborah is seen as a second Moses. “Just as Pharaoh’s army did when the Jews escaped bondage in Egypt, the advancing Canaanites sank in mud due to the weight of their equipment and Israel, still threatened with demise, experienced a vision of God. The country then had peace for forty years. Thus the childless woman became a rescuer, (Levinson, 1991, ¶ 8).”Although Deborah’s biggest influence was that of her part in the conquest of Sisera she was also an interesting biblical character for her influence as a judge in a time when women did not generally hold such an office. As a judge Israeli’s came from near and far to seek her advice and have her settle disputes. In a day and age when women were rarely included in anything other than the operation of a household it is impressive that Deborah was held in such esteem. Her opinion and presence was sought out by powerful men as well as Barak. “She sent and summoned Barak son of Adinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali and said to him ‘The lord, the God of Israel, commands you’ go take position at Mount Tabor, bringing ten thousand from the tribe of Naphtali and the tribe of Zebulun will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to meet you at the Wadi Kishon with his chariots and his troops and I will give him into your hands, (Metzer & Murphy, 1991, p. 15).” According to this excerpt Deborah was entrusted with this message from God. Her vision was so strong Barak was not confident to go forth and fight Jabin’s army without Deborah at his side. “Barak said, ‘If you will go with me, I will go; and if you will not go, I will not go, (Metzer & Murphy, p. 15).’”Today political women do not give commandments from God but they are essential in matters of state correspondence and foreign affairs. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was named the seventh most powerful woman in the world by Forbes Magazine in 2008, (Serafin, 2008). As a political figure she forged lasting ties with China, Japan and India. From 2001 until 2004 Rice was a National Security Advisor prior to being appointed as Secretary of State from 2005 until 2009. She is the second African American to serve as National Security Advisor and the first woman. Similar to Deborah, Rice handled military details in an atmosphere dominated by men. Similar to Deborah’s call to Barak, Rice addressed the United States about the importance of bringing Saddam Hussein’s reign to an end.“As history march toward markets and democracy, some states have been left by the side of the road. Saddam Hussein’s regime is isolated, his conventional military power has been severely weakened, his people live in poverty and terror, and he has no useful place in international politics. Nothing will change until Saddam is gone, so the United States must mobilize whatever resources it can, including support from his opposition, to remove him, (Sourcewatch Encyclopedia, n.d., ¶ 6).”True to Rice’s word the United States was able to put a stop in Hussein’s regime. She insisted that the only way to address the situation was to bring about a complete regime change. She stated, “If Saddam gives you a reason to use force against him, then use decisive force, not just a pinprick. And in the long run, you should succeed in creating a Saddam-free Iraq, (Sourcewatch Encyclopedia, n.d., ¶ 6).”In addition to Rice’s efforts to bring down Hussein; she shares other similarities with the ancient Deborah. Both women were part of dreary days and both sought to bring down oppression and what they believed to be injustice.Deborah’s people had been oppressed for more than 20 years by King Jabin and Sisera’s heavy hand. Despite the odds Deborah knew that the Israelis would prevail. The Canaanite army was much more advanced than the Israeli and their equipment was better. However, they were caught off guard by the Israeli attack and their equipment severely weighed them down, (Levinson, 1991). Rice pushed forward in Iraq throughout her term. “Rice planned to press Iraqi leaders for more progress on political reconciliation between the country’s many factions, (CNN News, 2008, ¶ 2).”These women, born centuries apart, have personal similarities as well. Both led very private lives, had no children and led lives driven with purpose. Rice was born in Alabama during segregation. Both of her parents were educated and she learned that all things were possible with hard work, (Serafin, 2008). Rice has no close relationships and is seemingly devoted to her political career. Deborah led a very similar life. Little is know about Deborah’s childhood. However, it is known that she had no children and speculation mounts that she was not actually married, (Telushkin, 1991).In conclusion, both women went to great lengths to ensure peace and justice. Deborah sent Barak and his army out despite great odds to bring down Sisera and the king oppressing the Israeli people. She heard the troubles of the Israeli people and was respected in a world dominated by men. Although her private life is not well documented there is reason to believe that Deborah was childless and despite the fact that biblical reference indicates she was married this too may not be so. The name of Derborah’s husband is synonymous with torch and many scholars assert that this reference was symbolic of Deborah’s drive as opposed to a real person, (Levinson, 1991).Rice is equally as private about her personal life. And she has exhibited a similar drive to bring an end to the regime of Saddam Hussein. Rice has worked diligently among men and became the first woman to hold a position as National Security Advisor. Her efforts as Secretary of State solidified ties with foreign countries China, Japan and India.ReferencesCNN News (Producer). (2008, Jan. 15). Rice in Iraq to Push Political Reconciliation [Motion picture]. In  (Producer), CNN World News. Podcast retrieved from CNN: www.cnn.comLevinson, D. (1991). Deborah – A Political Mother Myth [Reprinted with Permission]. Retrieved from Bet Debora: www.bet-debora.deMetzer, B. M., & Murphy, R. E. (1991). The New Oxford Annotated Bible (New Standard Revised Version ed.). New York: Oxford University Press.Serafin, T. (2008, Aug. 28). The 100 Most Powerful Women. Forbes Magazine, 6-23.Sourcewatch Encyclopedia (n.d.). Condoleezza Rice. Retrieved Jan. 30, 2009, from www.sourcewatch.orgTelushkin, J. (1991). Deborah. In Jewish Virtual Library (p. ). NY: .