I was teaching ancient history at a girls school recently, and they asked whether women had greater rights in the Ancient republics...
When I managed to stop laughing, I pointed out that they clearly had a very fantasy version of democracy in mind.
In reality of course, Spartan women (from a sort of prototype Constitutional Monarchy) had far more rights than Athenian women in their prototype Republic... Come to think of it Spartan Helots (read Serfs) had more rights than supposedly free Athenian women.
The same applies to Rome. Women did start to get rights in Rome, but only after the Republic was ended and the Empire began...
If I had had a bit more time to explore the point, I could have given many other examples from history where individual rights are repressed to the advantage of the power group that is pretending to push 'rights' – American slave owners pretending to revolt for 'freedom' for instance – but we only have 50 minutes per class usually.
Instead I suggested that they check their assumptions at the door, and have a look at the 220+ odd 'republics' started in the last 200 years and see how many of them had succeeded in human rights. Given that 90% became criminal dictatorships or mass murdering junta's within a couple of decades, this should not take long.
This ties with some strategic studies articles I have been reading recently, which discuss 'exit strategies' for imperial powers. They were making a few pointed comments about Americans imagining that you go into a backward illiterate tribal country and magically set up a stable democracy...
In fact exit strategies come in various types. Britian had particular success with self governing Dominions - Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Malta, Singapore, etc... Rather more limited success where independence had a component of violence - civil wars in the American Colonies, South Africa, Ireland, India, Pakistasn, Ceylon, Malaysia, Cyprus, etc... but most turned out pretty well in the end (or at least still might). Considerable success in places that had a well established rule of law and literacy and free press - Singapore, Hong Kong, Palestine. Often failure in places that were not developed, or educated enough to make a go of it... Egypt, Iraq, Zimbabwe, Burma, etc. But still, 'relative sucess' is a long way from 'great for women'.
Note that, with the possible exception of the American federation, there is a direct correlation between becoming a republic and failure rate. Of the first group above only Malta became a republic and joined the Euro (and when I was there recently was bemoaning both decisions). Of the second group, the ones that became republics had, on average, a rougher time than those that didn't. Of the non-developed group: you get those coutries that have been amazing successes, normally monarchies or constitutional monarchies like Malaysia, Jordan, Jamaica and Brunei; those that have been more varied like the Arabian Gulf Emirates, Kenya and Nigeria; and those Republics that have been appalling and disastrous failures... pretty much the other 40 odd countries that became republics... (the exception to the rule being Botswana, where the 'President' is usually the next in line from the tribal chieftainship anyway...)
The US exit strategy from empire has been equally varied. Germany Italy and Japan were all educated nations with well established rules of law rather than 'proper' colonies. They worked, sort of. Of course Japan was left as a Constitutional Monarchy, and Germany still pretty much has American and other troops in occupation (let alone the threat of Cold War invasion focusing the mind for 30 or 40 years), so I suppose that leaves the question of whether the Italian Republic could be classifed as a success? More or less than the Philippines under Marcos? What of more recent invasions to promote Republicanism? Panama, Iraq or Afghanistan?
The simple truth is that republican democracies are pretty unlikely NOT to become nasty dictatorships. If you build in enough safeguards – strong federalism, limiting the franchise to contributors, special interest houses, or constitutional monarchies to play emergency brake – they might make it... might. But one vote one value = 99% chance of dictatorship. Pure and simple.
And that includes when the one vote is limited to the male citizen warrior castes of the Ancient world.
For homework I asked the girls to check up how women were doing in the modern world of Republics? If you delete most of northern Europe and the Commonwealth (most of them constitutional monarchies of some sort anyway), that mainly leaves Muslim North Africa, Middle East and Asia, India, Latin America, Central and Southern Africa, 'Communist' China, and about half of mainland Asia. My test was they try and find 3 of those countries where they think women have (something approaching) equal rights and equal potentialities.
You can find a few of course - US, France, Germany, Finland, and others... whoops that's just European style states. Sorry. How about non-European?
Personally I can probably think of half a dozen republics that would be more or less OK to send a (purely imaginary) daughter to live in.... out of 140 or so. Whereas of 30 odd constitutional monarchies, I can think of 3 where I wouldn't want my daughter to go (and out of straight monarchies, maybe half – pathetic, but also pathetically better than republics).
It is sad that the girls I was teaching thought that a funny label might actually make a difference in the Ancient world, but frightening that they think that because they have a purely fantasy view of what that label means in the modern world.