Saturday, 17 August 2013

SALZIKRUM women-men of ancient Mesopotamia and HERSTORY


Salzikrum is a composite word meaning "woman-man" or "male-daughter" that combines Sumerian and Akkadian words to describe a person who appeared biologically female, yet had male traits. The name appears in the Code of Hammurabi, written in Mesopotamia around 1770 BC on a black stone monument, discovered in the Persian mountains and is one of the earliest examples of a publically displayed written law. "She" had rights to a dowry and to inherit her father's property, as did certain priestesses, and unlike other daughters, but could marry and adopt children. 1 2 3

Salzikrum are regarded to be the earliest lesbians. But I couldn't help but be sceptical. In the Code of Hammurabi it was apparent that women were treated as the subordinate class they  have always been in patriarchal society. Mesopotamia was a slave society, with all the male-domininant-misogynistic-women-hating heirarchies we are familiar with as a system of "organising society" (man's oppression of women) which included prostitution, ritual sex, other rapes and all the usual constraints that are put upon women, her reproductive and economic currency starkly evident within the Code. Any gender deviance was punishable by death, ruin and other retalitory punishments. So I found it impossible to concieve that any woman under Hammurabi's reign would be honoured with any independence or autonomous right to (her) lesbian sexuality whatsoever. She would be a woman, forced or authentically lesbian, allowed to marry a wife on receipt of her father's dowry, under the conditions of cross-dressing, the forced adoption of her "illigitimate" children, and the right to adopt other women's childen.


I strongly believe that the Salzikrum were not the first recorded lesbians in history. Evidence suggests that Salzikrum were far more likely to be men. Men in female drag. Temple servants and/or eunuchs. Chamberlains or officers "in charge of" the women of the temple, and maybe even male prostitutes within the temple. Men who could marry, adopt MALE "orphans" ONLY, recieve a daughter's dowry and "her" father's inheritance, because they were REGARDED (treated) AS (the oppressed class of) women.


But of course, in reading HIStory on the subject, I found much rape apologism. In THE SAL-ZIKRUM 'WOMAN-MAN' IN OLD BABYLONIAN TEXTS (1939), G.R.Driver and John C.Miles propose that Salzikrum were unlikely to be [female] eunuchs, because "no method of making women artifically sterile seems to be known in the ancient world" 4. I can think of many brutal ways in which women have had sterility forced upon them.


The Female Eunuch

Germaine Greer's book, The Female Eunuch (1970), is feminist analysis of the "traditional, suburban, consumerist, nuclear family" that "represses women sexually, and that this devitalizes them, rendering them eunuchs". "Women have somehow been separated from their libido, from their faculty of desire, from their sexuality. They've become suspicious about it. Like beasts, for example, who are castrated in farming in order to serve their master's ulterior motives—to be fattened or made docile—women have been cut off from their capacity for action". 5 6

The Creation Of Patriarchy

Gerda Lerner, a pioneer in women's studies, historian, teacher and author, conducted a wide range of research over many years, and in Women In History, a two volume work, The Creation of Patriarchy and The Creation of Feminist Consciousness (1986) she traced the roots of patriarchal dominance, radicalising Western history. The idea that patriarchy is a cultural construct, that this system of organising society (man's oppression of women) "was established historically, she contends can also be ended by the historical process." She identifies women who began to transcend their constraints in the 19th Century. She also wrote The Origins of Prostitution in Ancient Mesopotania.

Gerda was one of the founders of the field of women's history, playing a key role in the development of women's history curricula, teaching what's considered to be the first women's history course in the world, and instrumental in organising Women's History Week in 1979 (which expanded to Women's History Month!) 7 8

Lesbian [in]Visibility

So I didn't find the origins of lesbians in the Salzikrum of ancient Mesopotamia, just men in drag and alot of rape apologism, as per usual, as per patriarchy. I found the creation of patriarchy and the origins of rape. But I did have it reaffirmed to me that lesbian visibility and the liberation of women is starkly dependant on HERstory being written, read, visible, and it goes hand-in-hand with a radical feminist analysis of HIStory, then and now. 

Dirt, who writes the blog The dirt from Dirt sums what we've been dealing with, then and now, in her post Patriarchy's Concerted Efforts To Destroy The Lesbian Menace here, in which she concludes "Lesbian invisibility is not merely invisibilizing lesbians, it is removing us from the planet in the guise of men. Be visible, make a difference to a lesbian whose life just might depend totally on YOU". 9

Here are some Facebook pages to join, Lesbian Visibility and Women's History Month plus WordPress site. Have a gay day folks!


1 comment:

  1. It is clear that almost all the advances in society with regard to women's rights have happened during the past century. I guess that it is due to the birth of the feminism or the fight of women. Do you agree?
    If yes,
    Why do you think that the women's response to the patriarchy have just (XIX Century) started, after centuries of oppression?
    I would enjoy to know your opinon:
    Thank you very much.
    Best wishes.