Monday, September 21, 2009

Lysistrata: Main character? Women: Stronger than men?

Well I’m not sure what I expected when I picked up Lysistrata, but it certainly wasn’t this. I have to admit that I laughed out loud several time while reading it, and most of my marginal notes say something along the lines of “haha” or “oh no she didn’t!”

But I had to wonder, at the end of the play, which is named after the woman who begins the sexual strike these woman go on, why Lysistrata seems to disappear so abruptly a few pages before the play’s end and without any final word on the matter. In her last moments in the play, she facilities the compromise, perhaps a little cluelessly (“What rampart, my dear man?”), and her final word is “then each man will go home with his wife.” It bothered me because, as the title character, I assumed that she would begin and end the play, but it seems that once the men agreed to come to an agreement as the women were demanding, the men once again, and literally this time, took center stage and all of the women were not heard from again. I’m not sure if Aristophanes is pointing this out to criticize it or not, but my guess is not. The women in this play are depicted as strong, but only strong enough to resist their husbands—and even this they struggle with and some try repeatedly to go home. Such a passive cry for peace is certainly effective (and has been in real-life history), but in Lysistrata, it doesn’t give much credit to these women.
I’m not convinced the men or the women in this play were really changed after having to go a whole week without having sex with their spouses, and I’m not sure Lysistrata cares too much. The play sets up this difference between men and women, that men want war and women want peace, but in the end both simply appease the other to keep a happy home.

Although the image of the men of Greece all running around with uncontrollable erections is certainly funny, I think that in this play it only sets up a situation in which men believe all their theories about the inferiority and wickedness of women are being proven true. Even Lysistrata herself talks critically about her own sex (“we are good for nothing then but love and lewdness,” “it’s the female heart and female weakness that so discourage me”), seeing one woman pretend her pot was her pregnant belly and that she was going into labor was funny, but we’re laughing at them, not with them.

I think that in the end, the joke is on the women. They go home happy wives, and though the magistrate says that they should all “avoid like mistakes for the future,” they’re also drunk. Only a page earlier, he suggests that, “out envoys should always be drunk.” I wondered how long it would be before another war would start and the women were once again unhappy with their husbands at home. Funny as it is, there is certainly a lot to think about in this play, and though it is hard at times to figure out Aristophanes’ intentions, I also don’t think that this stands in solidarity with women as it might seem at first glance.

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