Monday, September 21, 2009

The Body as Means of Control

Over this past summer, one of my more feminist friends bet me that I couldn’t name a single Hollywood film in which two women have a conversation about something other than men. Luckily, I was able to win the bet, but her point was well taken: I could only name a small handful of films where this was true. Therein lies the true problem behind Lysistrata, a film seemingly about powerful females who break the conventions of power in a male-dominated society. However, this is unfortunately not quite the case. While it is true that the women are able to take over the poorly guarded treasury in order to stop the flow of money towards the war effort, the real power behind Lysistrata’s actions lies with the withholding of sex the women impose on their war-hungry husbands. It is only when the men have gone days dragging along their never-subsiding mega-erections that they finally give in and allow for peace to take hold. Thus only through the use of their bodies as sexual object do the females exert any real power or have any influence on their husbands. After the strike ends, the females will return to their traditionally subservient roles as housekeepers and life will go on as normal, only now the Peloponnesian War will have ended.
Thus the question is raised: is the use of the body as means of control a positive or negative thing for womankind? Some may say that this is simply falling back on stereotypes and that a truly strong woman will be able to exert power without using sex whatever, but is this necessarily always the case? If a male-dominated society will only view a woman as sexual object, then a woman taking advantage of this narrow-minded outlook to manipulate men is simply seeing what she has and using it. Without delving into the moral repercussions of sex as a means of manipulation, one can't fault an generally oppressed group using any means they can to their advantage. While Aristophanes was certainly no feminist, his characterization of Lysistra and company is a little more questionable - while he may portray the women by their stereotypes, he nonetheless makes them the protaganists who eventually succeed in their aims. Thus the question of how the play is to be read is still not entirely clear and more often than not depends on who is doing the reading.

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