A new TikTok trend is taking up space in the mainstream media as there appears to be a male-specific obsession with the Roman Empire. Women have been asking their fathers, boyfriends, husbands and friends how often they think about the Roman Empire and the answers have been shockingly frequent. While their culture resulted in revered works of art and technological advancements that have a stronghold in modern life, there is a question of why Rome takes up so much space in the minds of men. This glorification of the Roman Empire is largely due to an inaccurate portrayal of Roman culture and a hostile, misogynistic takeover that needs to be corrected.
Western society has undoubtedly highlighted the importance of Roman history in tandem with ideas of masculinity and power. This view has been criticized by historians who have pointed out, among other things, the diversity in gender expression and the role of women in Roman society.
On a darker note, the rewriting of Roman history has served to appreciate white supremacy and a completely false narrative of a diverse Mediterranean culture. Specifically, it is concerning that a white-washed version of Rome is utilized to denigrate the contributions of diverse communities to the existence of contemporary “western civilization” and claim all modern success or advances for white men.
There’s nothing wrong with being interested in ancient Roman history or history in general, except when it’s a ballad of lies being used to glorify patriarchal values. If this trend has any concrete effect, it should inspire a dedication to learning about the more complex intricacies of history. Rome, like many Western societies, was built on the oppression of women and those histories are lost in the shuffle of ideas like conquest, imperialism and militarism.
This is not to say that every man in those TikTok videos that say they think about the Roman Empire every day harbors blatantly sexist and hateful ideology in their mind. However, these men have been misled and deserve to be educated. The trend also further serves to cut women out of a sphere of learning and information. It points out the failures of educational institutions to highlight women’s history. A 2017 study on K-12 education indicates that when studying historical figures, one woman is mentioned for every three men.
Women are a footnote in textbooks, in history and in life. This time, it isn’t a matter of making space for women to exist, it’s about acknowledging their existence in the first place.