Lysistrata by Aristophanes: Common Misconceptions
Lysistrata Thesis Paper
In the play “Lysistrata”, it is often mistaken that due to the fact that it is a play written about powerful leading female characters, it is a feminist piece of work. This is a very common misconception as one would think that a play so centered around females would have feminist themes, yet in reality there weren’t actually many women playing the female characters; the cast was predominantly male. While the play does center around women trying to take control of their lives by attempting to cut their husbands off from sex, there is a lack of equality being fought for-which is what feminism is truly about- as well as constant oversexualization of women and categorizing them as objects whose only use is sex. Therefore, Lysistrata cannot be considered a feminist work based on its themes of power and control over the opposite sex contributing to lack of themes of equality among both genders, as well as oversexualization of female characters in a predominantly male cast.
One aspect of Lysistrata that proves to be non feminist is how there always seems to be the idea in the characters’ minds that one gender has to be in control of the other. There is never thought of the two genders being equal to each other. When Lysistrata is discussing with Kalonike her idea to withhold sex from their husbands, she describes how doing so would give power to the women, even though the men would still do what they wanted with them. Their conversation states, “‘…what if they grab us and drag us into the bedroom by force?’ ‘Hold onto the door.’ ‘And what if they beat us up?’ ‘Submit, but disagreeably: men get no pleasure in sex when they have to force you” (pg. 316). The idea of women “submitting disagreeably” to their husbands is very far from the idea of feminism. Feminism is described as the theory in which women are considered and treated equal to men, but if the Athenian women are simply letting their husbands do what they want with them-even if they don’t want it- that essentially goes against the ideas of women sticking up for themselves in order to not be controlled by the opposite gender, and ultimately, defying feminism.
While the opening of the play depicts Lysistrata as a sensible and strong woman with values that empower her fellow women, her reasoning behind withholding sex from their husbands is shown to have changed from what it was earlier in the play. What was originally thought of to be a movement of power for the women by gaining control over their husbands in order to get what they wanted, it is revealed that Lysistrata’s motives behind it were not as about empowerment for women as they seemed. She states, “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.” In this quote, Lysistrata is stating that she doesn’t actually care about the war, but more so about how the women will be nothing without their husbands; they will be forced to live lives in “lonely grief”. If there were feminist themes in the play the women wouldn’t be worried about what they’re lives will be like having to live without men, and they would be more focused on their independence and power without them.
Another area of the play that continues to defy feminism is how the women are constantly oversexualized throughout the whole play. They are more or less treated like objects whose only use to their husbands at all is sex. An example of where this is present is in a scene where a friend of Lysistrata, Myrrhine, is confronted by her husband, Cinesias at the Akropolis after noticing she had been gone from home for a long time. He confronts her solely for the purpose of sex, begging her to come home simply so they can “lay” together. When he approaches her at the Akropolis, he states, “Myrrhinikins, dearest, why are you doing this? Come down here!” “I’m positively not going down there!” “You won’t come down when I ask you, Myrrhine?” “You’re asking me, but you don’t really want me.” “Me not want you? Why, I’m in agony without you!” “Goodbye.” “No, wait! At least listen to the baby. Come on you, yell for mommy!” Cinesias is so desperate to take his wife home with him to have sex that he would go so far as to bring her her child to her as an excuse as to why she should come back with him. He doesn’t think of her as anything more than someone to have sex with, and by stating, “You’re asking me but you don’t really want me”, Myrrhine is showing Cinesias how she is aware he doesn’t want anything more with her than to have sex, proving that the roles of women in society during that time were equally viewed between both men and women that women were treated as objects to men.
Women being categorized as oversexualized objects to men takes away from the messages and points of feminism; although the female characters of Lysistrata were fighting to give themselves control over their husbands by withholding sex from them to get what they wanted, they were not advocating feminism, as they were portrayed by a predominantly male cast, and the play’s entirety showed a lack of fighting for equality between the genders, which is exactly what feminism stands for
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