Sunday, September 20, 2009

Lysistrata: A Critique of Both Sexes?

There are two obvious reasons why Aristophanes' Lysistrata might be banned. The first, its explicit sexual content, is fairly straightforward. Aristophanes makes no attempts at subtlety (i.e. “my victuals have lost their savour. And all because of this erection that I can't get rid of!”). The second reason, however, proves slightly more complex: the play seems to present to present a radical reversal of gender roles. Yet this conclusion might be inaccurate. Indeed, while the Lysistrata appears to celebrate women as the superior sex, I would argue that the play actually critiques them just as harshly as it does men.

For example, when Lysistrata initially proposes her plan, her companions reveal themselves to be equally as lustful as their counterparts. For example, Cleonice begs “Anything, anything but that! … to rob us of the sweetest thing in all the world, Lysistrata darling!” The majority of the women take the oath begrudgingly, and as the play progresses, have an increasingly difficult time upholding it. In a particularly humorous scene, several of them attempt to escape to their husbands, only to be contained by Lysistrata's iron will. Collectively, they are not very strong; it is only through Lysistrata's guidance that they are able to succeed.

Additionally, although the men in this play exhibit a baser, more obvious kind of corruption in their desire to fight, destroy, and overpower, the women are not faultless. In fact, they are perhaps worse because they demonstrate both their ability to equal the men in vulgarity (“Come on then; I wait you with unflinching foot, and no other bitch will ever grab your balls”) as well as their ability to manipulate. While they do manipulate their men for an ultimately noble end, they nonetheless reveal the cunning of which they are capable. Furthermore, while withholding sex could be viewed as clever, that this is the only significant tool they possess is indicative of their societal status: women are objects, not people.

If anything, the play celebrates a single woman, Lysistrata, rather than women as a gender. Lysistrata is the force that makes the play possible because she keeps the other women focused. Interestingly, however, Lysistrata seems to me somewhat sexually ambiguous. Early in the play, she and her cohorts engage in what could be interpreted as a homoerotic dialogue. She asserts her dominance over her companions in a stereotypically masculine way, and her language is also fairly masculine, employing terms like “wrench, strike, tear, insult” to motivate the others. Finally, Lysistrata does not appear to be married, or attached to any man at all. I wonder whether or not she would have been as able a leader if she had been romantically involved?

No comments:

Post a Comment