Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Your ‘Roman Empire’ is Not Mine

Illustration by Merritt Hughes.

Princess Diana. The Eras Tour. The War of 1812. Big Trucks.

These are all things to think about that are not the Roman Empire—so why do men apparently spend hours a week obsessing about the Roman Empire?

As someone who is not a man—and does not think about the Roman Empire—the Roman Empire trend confused me. What is with the obsession with a time period characterized by violence and misogyny? 

Those who think about the Roman Empire are overwhelmingly straight, cisgender men. Ancient Rome evokes images of marble statues of buff men fighting other buff men—a callback to their chiseled bodies sitting in museum galleries today. The Roman warrior reflects an idealized masculinity at the height of its power.  But I can’t help but ask: do men enjoy thinking back to when they were completely dominant? 

One thing is for sure; men “ruled” during this era because of their misogynistic efforts to allow women no rights. They gained power through literal acts of brute force over women and anyone who did not agree with them. And the men today who think about the Roman Empire probably aren’t thinking about the women that contributed to its success. 

Today’s patriarchy is very different from the patriarchy of the Roman Empire. Ken describes it perfectly in Greta Gerwig’s Barbie movie:

 “When I found out the patriarchy wasn’t about horses, I lost interest.” 

While men still have institutional privileges over women—like earning a full dollar to the white woman’s 82 cents—male dominance is not as normalized as it was back in Roman times, or even in the 1950s. But isn’t it romantic to remember a time when men could be men and ride horses fearlessly into battle?

Men think about the Roman Empire because it was their golden age. Are Gen Z boys wishing for a time where they could fight actual men instead of just “fighting” on a sports field? 

While I do agree that learning from history is vital—I am not advocating to not teach history—I still find men’s apparent obsession with the Roman Empire to be strange and somewhat problematic. 

My “Roman Empire” is Princess Diana or Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour. I think about each of them at least once a week. What does this say about me? Both of these women are feminist icons in my life. As a woman, I can relate more to Princess Diana or Taylor Swift than the male-dominated Roman Empire. 

These may seem pointless. My Roman Empires are, admittedly, not drastically important, but they make up a lot of meaning in my life. Taylor Swift’s music is good to me (as many other teenage girls will tell you). My elementary school “Fearless”-era eight-year-old self sang my heart out to “You Belong With Me,” reaching my maximum girlhood moment in only the way Taylor Swift could create. More recently, I’ve still found solace in Swift’s songs “the last great american dynasty” and “betty.” Taylor Swift has always been the epitome of the teenage girl experience, and I will forever find ways to continue relating to her songs.

Princess Diana is intriguing to me for her work during the AIDS epidemic. Seeing the pictures of her shaking hands with a man with AIDS, not wearing gloves, was pretty mind-blowing. It was one of the only times I have seen someone showing compassion to a queer person in the 20th century. 

The Eras Tour specifically fascinates me because it is the biggest show I’ve ever seen—and close to the biggest show ever. In the growing age of streaming services, the high sales of Swift’s albums on vinyl and CD’s reminds me there are other non-Roman-Empire-thinking people out there. For so long, the typical teenage girl experience has been shamed, but Swifties are embracing their inner teenage girls shamelessly. 

Many of our values are shaped by the media we consume and the topics we explore and contemplate. As a young queer person, discovering Princess Diana’s advocacy for people with AIDS provided me with a sense of support. Given the scarcity of queer representation from the twentieth century, the few examples of queer allyship, such as Princess Diana’s, become doubly significant.

Filling your brain with facts and images of a glorified Roman Empire might lead to a different experience than mine with Diana; my Roman Empires empower those excluded from the misogynistic actual Roman Empire.

The next time you catch yourself thinking about your own Roman Empire—especially if it is THE Roman Empire—think twice. Ask yourself if it is something rooted in oppression—circa 31 BC—or if it helps you expand your worldview today or in the years to come.

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About the Contributor
Merritt Hughes
Merritt Hughes, Opinion Co-Editor

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