The Aristophanes’ Representation of Gender Roles in Lysistrata
Lysistrata by Aristophanes is a play that takes place in Athens in the year 411 BC. During this time, the Polynesian war ensued. The leading lady in the comedy is Lysistrata, a bold Athenian woman, who contrived a plan to bring an end to the war. Her plan and its success, however, is a contrast to the role of women in Athens because they were almost viewed as subordinates.
Within the play, women fall into the general domestic spheres found in Western culture. Gender roles consist of the man being the breadwinner, or in their case, the one to go to war. They were not leaders. Women were supposed to stay home and “budget the household accounts” and raise their children and be ready to please their husbands upon their return in whatever manner they saw fit. The ladies did not question their roles, willingly playing their part. This changed when Lysistrata proposed a sex strike until a peace treaty was drawn. She said, “Go to bed with a god and then get rid of the baby- that sums us up!… if you stick by me, just you, we may still have a chance to win.” In the beginning, they were slow to come as Lysistrata impatiently stood at the gate to Akropolis, waiting for the others to arrive to the meeting she had called. Her neighbor, Kleonike, assured her that it was only because it was not easy for a woman to leave the house. One has to “fuss over hubby, wake the maid up, put the baby down, bathe him, feed him.” Lysistrata ranted that if her news were sexually related then they would make haste in their arrival. This short interaction between the two is telling of two points. One, it supports the argument that Athenian women knew their place within society and were comfortable, if not complacent, with it. The only reason they were making a change was because they were tired of the war.
The other point it suggests is that Lysistrata differed from other Athenian women. She was the one who took charge and made note of the differentiation in the positions men and women held. The contrast found in her is what allowed her to be a great leader. For one, she was single so she did not have to partake in the strike. Also, she was confident, witty, and intelligent. She influenced the other women. When the chorus of women say “the beast in me’s eager and fit for a brawl. Just rile me a bit and she’ll kick down the wall. You’ll bawl to your friends that you’ve no balls at all,” their strength is displayed because they not only spoke out, but spoke out in a manner that was not seen as fit for a lady . She had the brains to plot the plan as well as the ability to see the plan in action from a different perspective. Her character was probably intentionally created as a juxtaposition to the other women. Comedies were plays with happy endings, but they could also be used for satirical purposes; perhaps the intention was to shed light on women’s status. The Koryphaios of women said, “I admit to being a woman– but don’t sell my contribution short on that account. It’s better than the present panic. And my word is as good as my bond, because I hold stock in Athens– stock I paid for in sons.” In doing so, they call out how men and women are not so different. Being given the title woman does not make them incapable in the same way men were still capable of causing “causing the present panic.” Lysistrata was the catapult for women to raise their voices, and her leadership allowed them to carry out a successful campaign.
Lysistrata imagines a world where women had power. It may have been ahead of its time considering they were not allowed to vote until 1952 . In writing this, Aristophanes suggested that he was an early supporter of women’s rights. Although it is a comedy and could have been meant to show the absurdity of giving women power, just the image of them being in power and being successful was enough to take a step in the right direction.
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