Saturday, September 19, 2009

Lysistrata: a sexist piece?

At first glance Lysistrata comes across as a kind of “girl power” type of piece. I know it’s written in 410 BC, but in this play the gender roles are more concrete than ever. The sexes are pitted against each other and don’t seem capable of anything outside of their gendered nature. The first hint of a sexist reading comes as Cleonice asks, “How should women perform so wise and glorious an achievement, we women who dwell in retirement of the household, clad in diaphanous garments of yellow silk and long flowing gowns, decked out with flowers and shod with dainty little slippers?” (pg. 3). In such a question, Cleonice defines women as people incapable of anything “wise and glorious,” not to mention merely “achieving”. Furthermore, she objectifies women by describing them by where they “dwell” and what they are wearing when they do. Their personalities, strengths, gifts, responsibilities, and any sort of human qualities are missing from such a description. Lysistrata, the seemingly progressive and even radically feminist character, affirms such a definition by saying, “Ah, but those are the very sheet-anchors of our salvation,” (pg. 3) creating an association between femininity and weakness, but also between femininity and hyper sexuality. Once again, more women affirm these views of women, that, antiquated or not still affect us today; in response to living without sex, they cry, “Anything, anything but that! Bid me go through the fire, if you will-but to rob us of the sweetest thing in all the world” (pg. 7). The plan is a seduction, to use the only means women appear to have, their sexuality to lure their uncontrollable, violent men into a peace treaty with one another.

The women are not the only ones locked into the limitation of defined gender roles. The men, depicted as wild beasts brainlessly fighting each other by the women, affirm such a viewpoint. In what might have been a discussion, anger brews, and the Magistrate says, “I cannot keep my temper!” (pg. 21) and threatens, “You would have been reduced to silence by blows then” in response to Cleonice’s refusal to be silent. The men continue to act animalistically, incapable of the so-called reason the women try to coax them into seeing. The battle of the sexes is not a means to the end of equality, but merely a disturbing separation of the same species, who due to their different roles are incapable of seeing eye to eye without the end of sex. Sexuality becomes the driving force once again defining women as sex objects and men as animals not able to overcome their desire.

No comments:

Post a Comment