Lysistrata was probably originally banned for its depiction of the male race as animalistic and easily susceptible to females and to lust. But at the same time, it is not necessarily a feminist theatrical work; Aristophanes’ play was most likely banned later on for its degrading treatment of women. The play does not readily promote women’s rights but actually portrays women as merely having a physical influence over men, an influence based only on the sexual appeal of their bodies. The female characters in the play do not even try to prove otherwise, for they see no problem in using their physical appearances to their advantage. Although written by a man, the play shows that women themselves help to demote their role in society; in using sex and seduction to their advantage, women allow men to further see them as merely physical objects of worth. Aristophanes’ depiction of the male and female roles raises this common historical argument regarding women and their own maltreatment of their rights.
Aristophanes’ character of Lysistrata, for which the play was named, initially comes off as a strong, sensible woman for her desire to overrule the men and find a way to end the war. Unfortunately, her motives and way of going about this goal are prime examples of the anti-feminist movement. Her main argument behind the women’s abstinence movement is that she does not like to see her fellow females left lonely at home while their husbands fight: “…instead of enjoying the pleasures of love and making the best of our youth and beauty, we are left to languish far from our husbands, who are all with the army. But say no more of ourselves; what afflicts me is to see our girls growing old in lonely grief” (24). This motive proves that Lysistrata is not concerned so much with the war but with the absence of the husbands, claiming that the women left behind can only grow old and lonely and therefore basing the happiness of the female population on the status of the men. Lysistrata’s plan to appeal to the physical temptations of the men further takes away from the portrayal of women’s rights, for Lysistrata assumes that the only influence that the women can have over their husbands is the influence of their bodies. She does not even bother coming up with a plan that focuses on the intellect of the women, proving that she herself does not believe in the equality, both mentally and physically, of women and men. Lysistrata, although willing to make a societal change, ultimately succumbs to the historical female role of an object of pleasure and reproduction.
Although the women get their way (and the men eventually sign a treaty of peace), their success is based solely on their bodies, not on their minds. The woman of Peace herself is a symbol of physical temptation, proving that the women do not try to persuade the men with their intellect and that the men do not even view the argument of the women in an intellectual sense: “LYSISTRATA: … Now, where is the gentle goddess Peace? (The goddess, in the form of a beautiful nude girl is brought in by the Machine.)…MAGISTRATE (devouring the goddess with his eyes): Good god, this erection is killing me!” (43). The figure of Peace, although literally a symbol of peace and a means to end the war, is also a symbol of the way that both men and women view the feminine role in society as a role based only on physical appearances. The women do not win the argument because of their intelligence but because the men want to end the war and once again lay with their women. The worst part is that the female characters do not even have a problem with this.