In Aristophanes’ play Lysistrata, Lysistrata- the main protagonist- calls the women of Greece to a meeting to discuss the plan to end the Peloponnesian War. Lysistrata plans to ask the women to refuse to have sex with their husbands until a treaty of peace has been signed. Lysistrata also plans to have the older women of Athens occupy the Acropolis and seize control of the treasury- which holds the funds the men need for war. While some of the women have difficulty refusing to have sex, the Greek women pull through and are successful in their plan. Lysistrata helps the Greek and Romans negotiate a peace treaty and the two former enemies celebrate together in celebration. The women of ancient Greece were often seen as submissive and had little to no rights in comparison to their male counterparts. Greek women were unable to vote, own, or inherit land. A women’s main purpose was to produce children and see to the day to day operations of the household. Most of the women could participate in religious festivals but other than that they were deemed to stay in the house. This play was considered atypical for the period in which it was written in. As mentioned above women were only supposed to be seen as reproducers, pleasers to the husband, and to take care of the household. The females in this play are depicted as head strong women who take matters into their own hands, which is considered highly unusual for this time. Women are more likely seen a being submissive and deficient. Aristophanes characterized this play as a comedy. Comedies were considered very important bodies of work from ancient Athens and explored the representation, status and role of women in Ancient Greece.
One of the major themes in this play is women’s activism and male privilege which correlates directly to the topic of transnational feminism and male privilege mentioned in lecture nine. The females in this play were seen as feminists of sorts, going against the male dominated society that they lived in. The women of ancient Greece had almost little to no power, but they did hold power in the ways of sex. According to Katie Wilcox, “the major women in the play are extremely strong-willed individuals who will stop at nothing, even harnessing the power of their own sexuality, in order to promote peace between the city states of Greece” . Aristophanes depicted the salvation of all of Greece as being in the hands of the women. Not only that he portrayed a woman- Lysistrata- as having more intelligence, passion, and courage than most of the men of Greece. Lysistrata brings her feminist voice to the other women of Sparta to also help with ending the war which correlates with what we discussed about feminism being a broader global issue. He also portrayed the men as being incompetent fools when it came to the withdrawal of sex in contrast to the play’s influential women. This draws a parallel to when we talked about male privilege in lecture nine. Male privilege is when privileges are given to men as a class due to their institutional power in relation to women. In ancient Greece the men were seen as the superior beings. When they didn’t get what they thought was rightfully theirs they revolted. For example, in the play the Men’s Chorus brings firewood to smoke the women out of the Acropolis when they realize they are holding the war funds hostage. The women then push back and keep control of the Acropolis. This play is the beginning of a woman’s revolution.
Gender relations also take a bit of a turn during this play. The women- instead of maintaining the household and their children- are taking political initiative when it comes to the Peloponnesian War; while the men are becoming sex-crazed creatures desperate for attention. According to Helene Foley, “Lysistrata emphasizes that the women of Greece share in the citizenship of their cities not only through their power to produce heirs and guard the interior domestic space. As in many cultures, they exercise symbolic and ritual power for the city, both in their own public festivals like the Thesmophoria and in state cults involving the entire population” . Lysistrata challenges the concept of Classical Greek female sexuality that sex is something to be desired for both parties and not just for the act of reproducing. Lysistrata uses this sexuality concept as a weapon against the men. She sends the message that men are indeed reliant on women and require their contributions to society to function. This play is very similar to Aristophanes other play Ecclesiazousae. Both plays switch the traditional Greek gender roles and showcase women’s power both politically and sexually as they both have very strong female protaganists. Ecclesiazousae is very progressive in its thoughts of gender equality and a fair society. According to Helene Foley, “In the Ecclesiazusae, then, women do, as they do so rarely in tragedy, continue to represent the oikos as they make their symbolic intrusion into the political sphere. ” This is very similar to Lysistrata in the way that women forcefully push themselves into the political realm of society to help benefit the community.
In conclusion, Lysistrata is a great example of an ancient Greek play with a theme of women’s rights. It also incorporates some of the major themes of our module such as male privilege and feminism in a global society. Lysistrata took a twist on the classical Greek gender roles in ancient Greece displaying that women can be influential in the political aspect of the society. This play expresses women as being real people with real thoughts and not just as mindless pawns in society.