Term Paper: Politics of Gender and Sexuality in Aristophanes Lysistrata

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Gender and Sexuality

New Criticism: Gender and Sexuality in Aristophanes' Lysistrata

Aristophanes' Lysistrata is one of the eleven plays penned by the playwright that has survived over time. The original performance of this production occurred in classical Athens reportedly in 411 BC

Lysistrata is considered a comedy; an account of one woman's unique goal and desire to end the Peloponnesian War. During the course of the play, Lysistrata is able to persuade the women of Greece to withhold any form of sexual satisfaction from their lovers and husbands as a tool designed to force the men to negotiate peace

This suggested strategy, however, incites the battle between the men and women. Because of the use of sex, issues raised with regard to gender, and addressing war related issues, Lysistrata by Aristophanes' has been noted as one of the earliest expose of sexualized politics in a predominantly male dominated society

. The implications of this production are far reaching and have significantly used to draw parallels to modern day society and the relationship between gender, sex, and the power of influence.

Lysistrata: "There are a lot of things about us women that sadden me, considering how men see us as rascals"

Calonice: "As indeed we are"

These opening lines from the play set the tone for what follows. Aristophanes chose to characterize women as hedonistic and sly, which may bespeak how women of his time were generally considered, and in need of a firm hand and guidance from the men in their lives and men in greater society. However, the playwright painted Lysistrata as an extraordinary woman with a tremendous sense of individual and societal responsibility. She is successful in convincing the women of Greece to withhold sex from the men in their lives; which at the time, many considered the right of the man, and the oath the women took was seal with a solemn and binding oath

Aristophanes places two choruses within the play; one a chorus of older men and one a chorus of older women. The chorus of women, at Lysistrata's behest, seizes the Acropolis or high city, as it holds the treasures of the state, without which the men are unable to continue funding the war Lysistrata so adamantly opposes. The chorus of old men threatens to burn down the Acropolis if the women do not surrender. What compels the men to take action in the manner in which Lysistrata envisioned is their desperation for sex. One after another of the men present in compromising positions clearly struggling to abide by the limitations insisted upon by the women. After some squabbling, the men are able to reconcile and the war is ended and the men's sexual burdens are relieved

Some have argued that modern day adaptations of Aristophanes' Lysistrata are rendered in a pacifist or feminist style. However, literary scholars maintain that the original work was neither pacifist in nature nor decidedly feminist

. Moreover, when the male characters are portrayed as empathetic to the female condition, classical dramatic poets from Athens are said to have continued the reinforcement of sexual stereotyping of women as "irrational creatures in need of protection from themselves and from others"

. Arguably, Lysistrata is said to have accepted the conduct of the men regarding the war out of respect for their undeniable positions of authority, only after realizing that if the war continued there would be no real men available to stop the war and protect the women. Still others argue that Lysistrata was an empowered woman who saw the weakness of men and used the innate sexual prowess of women to bring a peaceful end to a wasteful war

. The following will critically examine the role of gender and sex as a means of raising social awareness as well as examine the differences posited between the psyche of men and women.

Gender and Sexuality

Definition and Mechanism

There have been many definitions and meanings posited when discussing gender. The historical definition for gender is "things we treat differently because of their inherent differences."

According to one general definition of gender, it is a range of characteristics that are used to distinguish men from women, particularly in relation to male and female attributes

. Contingent upon the contextual frame of reference, the discriminating characteristics vary from social role to gender identity to sex. In 1955, noted sexologist John Money, introduced the terminological differences between biological sex and gender as a societal role. Prior to his impactful work, it was uncommon to use or hear the word gender to refer to anything other than grammatical categories.

In addition to age, gender is considered one of the universal dimensions on which society driven status differences are determined. Unlike sex or sexuality, which is a biological and physiological phenomenon, gender is considered a social construct that delineates the cultural and social prescribed roles that women and men are to adhere or in the case of women, acquiesce to. Gerda Lerner in "The Creation of Patriarchy" purports that gender is the "costume, a mask, a straitjacket in which men and women dance their unequal dance."

Alan Wolfe maintained in "The Gender Question," "of all the way that one group has systematically mistreated another, none is more deeply rooted than the way men have subordinated women. All other discriminations pale by comparison"

The categorization of females and males into social roles creates binaries in which individuals feel they must exist at one end of a linear spectrum and find it necessary to identify themselves as either woman or man. In society at large, communities interpret these binaries or biological differences between women and men to generate and derive a set of social expectations that determine and define behaviors that are deemed appropriate for men and women and determined men and women's rights, power in society, resources and health behaviors.

Although the specific degree and nature of these differences vary from one society to another, most often men are favored, which in turn creates an imbalance in power and gender inequalities in most if not all countries.

Michel Foucault, western philosopher, purported that as sexual subjects, humans are objectified by power, which is not a structure or institution, but rather a name or signifier attributed to "complex strategical situation."

Because of this power, inherent or applied, individual attributes, behaviors, and attitudes are determined and individuals are a part of an epistemologically and ontologically constructed set of labels and names. For example, being a woman categorizes one as female, and being female indicates that one is emotional, weak and irrational, and incapable of the actions frequently attributed to man.

Judith Butler, author of "Sexual Politics" argues that sex and gender are more like nouns and verbs. She asserts that her actions are limited because she is a woman or female. "I am not permitted to construct my gender and sex willy-nilly. This is so because gender is politically and therefore socially controlled. Rather than 'woman' being something one is, it is something one does."

Feminist academic and biologist Anne Fausto-Sterling repudiates the biological vs. social determinism discourse and advocates for more in depth analysis of how the interactions between the social environment and the biological being influence an individual's capacities and abilities.

Feminist and philosopher, Simone de Beauvoir introduced the notion of existentialism and the experiences of women. "One is not born a woman, one becomes one."

Just as there have been a plethora of definitions and philosophical contextual frameworks posited about gender, there have been many definitions and notions purported with regard to sexuality. For some, human sexuality is defined as how individuals experience erotic sensations and express themselves as sexual beings; the capacity they have for erotic responses and experiences; and the awareness of the individual as male or female.

Moreover, human sexuality is a way to describe the way in which an individual is attracted to another of the opposite sex (heterosexuality), the same sex (homosexuality) no sex (asexuality) or both sexes (bisexuality).

In addition, human sexuality can include aspects associated with culture, law, philosophy, and politics as well as religious, spiritual, theological, ethical and moral ideologies.

In the classic nature vs. nurture debate relates to the importance of an individual's natural or innate qualities vs. his or her personal experiences in causing or determining individual differences in behavioral and physical traits.

The notion that individuals acquire most if not all of their behavioral characteristics and traits from nurture was originally posited by John Locke who suggested that human development transpires as a direct result of environmental influences only.

Whereas the physiological and biological aspects of an individual's sexuality deal primarily with human reproduction and the biological or physical means by which to carry it out through sexual intercourse, the psychological aspects of human sexuality are suggested to generate significant psychological and emotional responses. According to the sociocultural contextual frame of reference, human sexuality can be understood as a component of the human social life that is governed by implied rules for conduct… [END OF PREVIEW]

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"Politics of Gender and Sexuality in Aristophanes Lysistrata."  Essaytown.com.  November 23, 2011.  Accessed November 16, 2019.
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