Gynaikokratia literally means “women rule” or “a government of women”. It is a celebration which takes place every year on the 8th of January in Northern Greece; particularly in the villages of Monoklisia, Petra, Kamila and Charopo.
As a reversal of everyday roles, or at least traditional roles, the men stay at home, look after the kids, cook, clean and generally make themselves pretty (aprons included), whereas the women go and hang out in town all day.
The centre of attention for the women’s activities is the local midwife or “Babo”. Elected by married women once every four years and having her own town council, she is given gifts, bathed with basil infused water and carried from place to place in a cart. When all the rude jokes have been told and vulgar songs sung, the men-folk wearily re-join the women at the end of the day to have a big party.
If any men are caught spying they are soaked with water, and stripped of their clothes.
The famous and prolific playwright Alexis is the presumed originator of the word Gynaikokratia which he used for the title to one of his plays. Although 103 of his plays survive, this play about women ruling men did not.
The play’s destruction is a shame because even though only two lines survive, they still manage to tell something about the treatment of women in ancient Greece:
"This Hippocles of Cilicia,
the pickled-fish actor"
(Ok not very useful; but when in close proximity
“You women must sit there in the farthest section
to watch, since you're strangers”
These quotations have been used as key pieces of evidence to support the theory that in the golden era of Greek culture, women weren’t even allowed into the theatres!
Evidence of attitudes that today would be considered extremely sexist are found in Aristotle’s Politics. He expresses his opinion on women having dominion over even domestic affairs:
"The methods found in... tyrannies ...encourage...* gynaikokratia in the family, in the hope that wives will tell tales of their husbands; for similar reasons they are ... indulgent to slaves. Slaves and women are not likely to plot against tyrants: indeed, as they prosper under them, they are bound to look with favour on tyrannies(Barker-Stalley, Oxford, 1995 Politics 5.11 (1313b32-38))
Aristotle's definition of a tyranny is strange indeed. He suggests that if the state shows any signs of kindness to women, or encourages their self government in the slightest, then that is a sign of the state's tyrannical nature.
It would be nice to think that these women were granted absolute freedom one day a year, they certainly deserve it. However in the light of the above accounts I find it hard to believe that Gynaikokratia began in ancient times as some of my sources suggested. From the attitude expressed above, if anyone suggested giving women rights and privileges even for a day it would be suicide.
So I concluded that the festival must have come from outside Greece and probably much much later.
After some hefty research I have found that the custom came from Eastern Rumelia and Thrace when it’s inhabitants immigrated to mainland Macedonia. It is therefore a relatively recent custom and it probably started in Greece around 1923, around the time when the feminist movements in Britain and America were beginning to make some serious headway.
Because of the feminist revolution Gynaikokratia would be particularly bizarre if it was introduced to Britain today. For example I would have to go out and do “women’s work” in the NHS and my Mum would have to stay home and work on the computer amid bouts of housework and cooking!
For some reason that arrangement just doesn’t have the impact of the original idea.
Apatrix says: Babo is not necessarily the midwife. It may simply be the oldest woman in the village, who often doubled as a midwife. Also, one man may follow the procession and that's the bagpipe player (when available). Should they not have one, they may hire musicians, often gypsies, from elsewhere. It's also only for married women, who dress as men for the day. Its ancient origin may be found in the Stinia/Stenia, which was part of the run-up to the Thesmophoria.
apollyon says: Thesmophoria sounds remarkably similar to Gynaikokratia. I have no reason to doubt that it is the true origin of the current tradition.
The "married women only rule" I wasn't sure about but it makes perfect sense, my sources implied that marriage entitled you to vote, but didn’t mention that it was needed to participate. I can't believe I didn't hear about the cross-dressing or the exceptions granted to musicians but I’m sure that’s true too!
I suspect that you might have attended one or two Gynaikokratia, and I appreciate the inside scoop!
* The ellipsis usage is merely to eliminate Aristotle’s asides about democracy, which would have distracted the reader.
Dionysia Maniatis Gynaikokratia (The Murray Pioneer, Tuesday, January 17, 2006.)
Niall w. SlaterThe Fabrication of Comic Illusion (Emory Classics) LINK
Agrotravel.com (Terrible name, portmanteau of "aggravated+travel" Sounds like an offence not a holiday.)
Happy January the 8th guys and girls!
I have a feeling this will be popular with the ninjagirls
, (especially as I have been flexing my masculist muscles recently) Perhaps next year all the editors could be girls just for one day? (Eww pink homepage!)