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Feminism in Ancient Greek Philosophy and Drama

June 24th, 2010 Comments off

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In ancient Greek culture, much turmoil existed on the basis of gender rights and personal roles within the society, as examined by Aristophanes, Plato, Bingen, and Pizan, each seemingly ahead of his or her time with respect to feministic values. Although some “enlightened” philosophers did not believe that existed any more depth than comedic folly for women in political systems, others like Plato determined that it be essential for women to take part in governmental affairs. Even in today’s world, such conflicts are manifested, particularly in poor countries, without a resolution in such a long and drawn out social dilemma.

Countless theories of a factual and expressed series of fundamental differences in men and women are adamantly refuted in the works of Aristophanes, Plato, Bingen, and Pizan, proving that women are effectively equal to men by either words or example. Although disagreement existed between what roles this equality allows for by these ancient Greek philosophers, each strived to defy the ascertations as described in cultural norms. Aristophanes makes a first attempt in rationalizing this equality as we delve into our studies, revealing in the first scenes that women have a comparable sex drive to men, refuting statements made by Aristotle concerning the supposed sexual passivity of women. In his character Lysistrata, Aristophanes recounts that when calling upon the Spartan and Athenian women to discuss the ongoing war, such women would have been coming forth from their homes with tambourines if a celebration of drunkenness and orgy had been given in the name of Bacchos. Later in the text, Cleonice, Myrrhine, and Lampito, key characters in Lysistrata’s plot and otherwise, very traditional women, inform their organizer that they would be willing to do anything but give up sex for the war effort, even walking through fire, mirroring similar desires of men as described in the final scenes with graphic imagery. This being affirmed, other philosophers examine additional biological similarities which provide further evidence that men and women are essentially the same in abilities and intelligence. In Book V of The Republic, Plato asserts that women have the same parts of the soul and so all the same interests, virtues, and personality types as men. Starkly contrasting with majority of his contemporaries, Plato believes that it is these such similarities of soul and mind that provide reason to require education for girls in the same caliber as that provided to boys, as they hold the potential of future rulers and guardians. Through Socrates, Plato suggests that the distinction between men and women is fundamentally as relevant in intellectual aptitudes as the difference found in the performance of longhaired verses shorthaired individuals, concluding that male and female are by nature the same in obligation of education and employment. In an ironic twist and example of opinions in ancient Greek society, Aristophanes attempts to point out the intellectual boundaries that some women believe they are governed by through Cleonice’s remarks, explaining to Lysistrata that glamour is the only talent women possess and that there is nothing for women to do but sit looking beautiful for her husband. However, without attempting to directly defy typical stereotypes during this period, Bingen contradicts this assumption of inevitable talentlessness among females in her mere publication. During a time when few women could write and most were denied access to a formal education, Bingen was creating inspired works of poetry in an example of female capabilities through action. Pizan in her own internal exploration and encounters with the three women of Lady Reason, Rectitude, and Justice, chose to defy the natural laws as many males spoke of, the idea that women are fundamentally evil and inclined to vice. In such a personal quest, Pizan describes “thinking deeply about these matters, I began to examine my character and conduct, since I was born a woman, and similarly, I considered other women whose company I frequently kept…hoping that I could judge impartially and in good conscious whether the testimony of so many notable men could be erroneous. ” The three women appear solely to establish the knowledge in our young author that women are of equal value as men, and in contradicting this, call out the shortcomings of Aristotle’s viewpoint as described by Saint Augustine and the Doctors of the Church.

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Feminism in Ancient Greek Philosophy and Drama (Part 2)

June 24th, 2010 Comments off

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The ladies also produce the an example of female goodness in the acts of Thermutis, daughter of the Pharaoh, who protected and raised Moses as an abandoned infant. Finally, with other evidence provided in the Bible these women present to Pizan a statement including the idea, “There Adam slept, and God formed the body of woman from one of his ribs, signifying that she should stand at his side as a companion and never lie at his feet like a slave, and also that he should love her as his own flesh. ” As Plato, Pizan, Aristophanes, and Bingen struggled to supply confirmation of biological equality in men and women to counteract the previously oppressive beliefs against the female gender, each also felt employed to define the roles of women in society as a whole.

Greek culture dictated a very strict and well-defined role in which women were supposed to conduct themselves to maintain a dignified and acceptable status in their society; however, Aristophanes, Plato, Bingen, and Pizan dispute exactly what this role is to be. Bingen gives much value to the Virgin Mary, deeming her architect of life, “you who built salvation, you who destroyed death,” respecting her on the basis of her position as the mother of Christ and also a virgin, insisting on a very traditional view of women. Although she is quite the oddity in terms of education and published authorship accomplishment, Bingen does not bestow upon women any specific communal role other than housewife and mother, despite the fact that she herself is so much more. Perhaps in an unspoken way, as a mechanism to gain more substantial male approval, Bingen contradicts the customary roles of women, but just in a more elusive way.

The words and actions of Lysistrata also serve as a means of questioning the ancient Greek perceptions of the role of women in their culture; however, subliminally upon careful examination it seems that Aristophanes disagrees with his own character, instead adapting her quests for political rights into comedic relief. Even in the very opening scene, Aristophanes enacts the stereotypical and time-honored characterization of women articulated during this time period and thus through such description, Aristophanes distances his heroine. Becoming enraged that women will not stand up to how they are typically viewed, Lysistrata proclaims, “I’m positively ashamed to be a woman,” although it is through this stereotypical identity that she hopes to manipulate sexually frustrated men into a peace agreement, using their carnal prowess as a mans of gaining a favorable solution. True examples of tension between the sexes can be targeted in our examination of actions by Lysistrata and her followers against the men. Their male counterparts believe that women have no place in war and thus should not concern themselves with such matters. Additionally, the women of Lysistrata’s group seize the Acropolis to prevent the use of money for warfare, informing the Commissioner that women will take care of the city’s money just as they do at home. Aristophanes implies through Lysistrata’s ascertations that women have a greater sense of reason than boundless political men. She insists, “ye women must wive ye warre! ”, in other words, what Athens needs is a woman. Despite the apparent strides made in feminist ideals by Aristophanes, it seems that the author in reality is poking fun at the female attempts of expressed equality. Although women take on genuine power in assuming control of the Acropolis, Aristophanes excludes women from the spoken idealization of Athens as described by Lysistrata. The philosopher insists through this omission that women are not to have actual political rights or a valid voice in society.

Plato and Pizan make more extreme leaps in their publicized philosophies regarding the position of women in society in an attempt to convince their contemporaries of the merits of female public participation. Plato’s The Republic describes a civilization in which children will be raised in common by those of lowering socio-economic standing, thus freeing up individual women from the burden of child rearing and giving each an opportunity to serve the community alongside their male counterparts in the government. Under Plato’s idealized social system, women are allowed and even encouraged in accordance to their true nature, to develop their skills as musicians, doctors, or even warriors.

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