Lysistrata: A Feminist Example or Not?
By Chiara D’Ubaldi
Chiara is a staff writer for The Telemachia. A university student at Kings College London, Chiara is pursuing a degree in classics.
Lysistrata is a comedy written by Aristophanes and performed in Athens in 411 BC. It tells the story of how the women, led by Lysistrata, manage to put an end to the Peloponnesian War, by taking control of the Acropolis and starting a sex-strike. The women assume a powerful position, take control of the whole city and reach their goals. For these reasons Lysistrata has been often seen as a feminist play. But is this the case? Is Lysistrata, the mind of this women’s rebellion, an example we can take and use nowadays? Can we learn something from her?
The rebellion narrated by Aristophanes is divided in two parts: the old women who take control of the Acropolis, where the treasures of the city were kept, and so the war funds; and the young wives, who start a sex-strike. But everything has been thought and planned by Lysistrata. She is a young woman, but not a wife. So she is not part of the group of women she’s leading. She describes herself as intelligent and well educated. The other women instead follow the typical gender stereotype: Lysistrata is ‘annoyed about women’, they care about wine and sex. They don’t accept Lysistrata plan easily and straightaway, but they do so to have their men back. And here we have the reasons of why the women behave like they do in the play and the clear obvious evidence that this play is not a feminist one: they only want their men back. No one cares about any women’s right, they don’t really want to change the status quo. They are not revolutionary women: the men are away because of the war, they want them back and they want things to go back to normality. No women’s rights, no equality of the genders, no feminism.
But the character of Lysistrata is different. Analyzing more in depth her characterisation we will find out how her character is in reality very controversial and to a certain extent still follows the rules of the classical Greek society, but maybe we can still learn something from her.
“It’s true I’m a woman but still I’ve got a mind”. These the words she uses to introduce herself to the delegates of both cities, there to make a peace treaty and end the war. She does believe that women can do something. Her reasons are not "feminist" at all, and she is not an advocate of women’s rights, but she does step forward. She steps forward and assumes the lead. She makes others respect her. And she decides and believes women can do something about war, traditionally and typically the most "manly" topic. Talking to a magistrate, Lysistrata argues that ‘War should be the business of womenfolk!’. She also argues how women could perfectly manage cities' finances for the men, since women already manage the household’s finances. Looking at her arguments, her strength, it would be probably natural for anyone to think that she is acting as what today we would describe as feminist. Until the end, where Lysistrata presents a young woman for the peace treaty and lets the money decide which part can they have, like territories to split.
No, Lysistrata is not feminist at all. But she is strong, she is a leader. She does accomplish what she wants. She has a plan, and she sticks to it, no matter what others tell her. She doesn’t care about what her social status would allow her to do or not to do. Yes, she changes everything just to bring it back to the original status, but she does change it, even if only for a little while, she does show that it is possible. So maybe we can still take parts of her story as an example and use it as inspiration. Let’s step forward. Let’s take actions if we want to change something. Let’s believe in ourselves.