Gender Roles And Feminism In Lysistrata And Antigone

Ancient Greece was undoubtedly a patriarchal society. Women had severely limited rights compared to men, as they were not permitted to vote, own land, inherit, or even receive an education. Spartan women were known to have more rights than Athenian women, but regardless of this, their place in society was in their homes, as they were in charge of keeping the household clean and raise the children. Essentially every aspect of women’s lives was controlled by men. In fact, they didn’t even have a choice regarding whom they would marry because husbands were chosen by the fathers of the women. Lysistrata and Antigone are two texts that highlight the discrimination between men and women in ancient Greece, as their characters, specifically the women, step out of their expected social roles and challenge the status quo.

Lysistrata is the protagonist of Lysistrata, and this alone makes the play very progressive for its time, as she is a woman, and protagonists at that time were always male. Women weren't allowed to participate in performances, however, regardless of the possibility of having female characters. In short, Lysistrata is weary of her husband being at war, and she devises a plan in order to create peace among the Athenian and Spartan men. Lysistrata certainly proves her intelligence, as she convinces other Athenian women to participate in a sex strike, in which they withold all sexual interactions with their husbands. Although this is undoubtedly a clever way for the Athenian women to finally gain some attention and influence in ancient Greece, it is also unfortunately suggestive of the idea that husbands only cared about their wives for sex. I’m sure that there could have been other means of gaining the men’s attention, but Lystriata recognized that witholding sex would work the most efficiently, which demonstrates her cunningness and bravery. In this play, women are seen as being independent for the very first time, and the men show their weakness. This weakness is demonstrated by the quote, “Life has no more charms for me since she left my house. I am sad, sad, when I go indoors; it all seems so empty; my victuals have lost their savour. And all because of this erection that I can't get rid of!” (Aristophanes, page 25). The men are so distraught that they go in public with full erections, wailing with sadness. At one point during the strike, all of the women barricade themselves in the Acropolis, and shortly after, a confrontation occurs between a chorus of old men, who attempt to smoke the women out of the Acropolis, and a chorus of old women brings water to put out the fire. In my opinion, the water is symbolic of the struggle for equality that ancient women faced with men, and the actual pouring of the water represents the strike itself, as it is the first time that women have real power. Depending on how you look at it, this can be seen as an early feminist movement before feminism even existed, or a way to mock the fact that husbands essentially viewed their wives as sexual objects.

Antigone, another woman, is the protagonist of Antigone. Antigone struggles with masculine authority in this play, as she believes that what is being done is not moral. In summary, Eteocles and Polyneices, sons of Oedipus and brothers of Antigone, kill each other, and newly appointed King Creon tries to punish Polyneices for his disloyalty by not burying him properly. Antigone then disobeys King Creon, who is her uncle, and gives Polyneices a proper burial, despite state law. Antigone says, “Nay, he hath no right to keep me from mine own,” (Sophocles, page 2). She is fully willing to disobey the king in order to do what she thinks is right in the eyes of the gods and her parents which demonstrates strong will power. Ismene, Antigone’s sister, strongly advises against this because their father, Oepidus, was greatly hated after he killed his father Laius in order to become King of Thebes. These viewpoints are interesting because although Antigone and Ismene are sisters, and thus both sisters of Polyneices, they have contrasting opinions. Whereas Antigone is strong-willed and independent, Ismene is compliant and follows the orders of her king. They both agree that Polyneices deserves a proper burial, but Iseme refuses to go against state law, as I would also do. In addition, it’s important to note the fact that Antigone is a woman, and she stands alone in her defiance of King Creon. This alone is very threatening to him. In Creon’s eyes, men are the rulers, and women are the subordinates. In fact, he mentions surrendering his throne to Antigone if he dares to change her punishment because he believes that femininity is undesirable for a king. Gender roles are very conspicuous in this play, as Ismene says, “Nay, we must remember, first, that we were born women, as who should not strive with men; next, that we are ruled of the stronger, so that we must obey in these things, and in things yet sore,” (Sophocles, page 2). In Thebes, women held inferior positions to men, their freedoms were severely limited, and thus, they were not taken seriously. They were simply seen as obedient servants to men. Creon’s statement, “Better to fall from power, if we must, by a man’s hand; then we should not be called weaker than a women,” (Sophocles, page 14), suggests this severe toxic masculinity and superiority complex. Creon’s opinion regarding gender roles is quite simple; men align with strength and leadership, and women align with submission and subordination. Remiments of this sexist culture continue to hold some power in today’s world, as a wage gap still exists between men and women.

In conclusion, Lysistrata in Lysistrata and Antigone in Antigone both manage to step out of their expected social roles and challenge the status quo. Whereas Lystriata sparks a sex strike in order to stop the war effort and create peace, Antigone disobeyingly gives her brother Polyneices a proper burial and deals with the wrath of her uncle, King Creon. Regardless of their methods, both of these women make the men in their societies look foolish and weak, thus threatening the political and social hierarchy of ancient Greece. In my opinion, Aristophanes and Sophocles wrote these plays in order to set an example of what men should not be: King Creon, who did not try to change his fate until it was too late, and the Athenian and Spartan men, who look foolish for engaging in unnecessary warfare and neglecting their wives. Lysistrata and Antigone certainly challenge us to consider that women should have a full and equal say compared to men in matters such as war, peace, and politics, and the playwrights themselves shine light on women’s abilities to think and act just as efficiently as men can, suggesting the idea that they are early feminists.  

16 December 2021
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