Saturday, October 15, 2005

Defining a Cause - Feminism in Plato

In book V of The Republic of Plato Socrates and Glaucon discuss the idea of women entering the society of the ideal city and what their place should be. Taking a holistic view of the entire city and its wellbeing they venture into a realm of uncertainty and challenge. This discussion lends itself very readily to the idea of feminism. Socrates is arguing for the introduction of women in the society of men and Glaucon is questioning the idea. Because Socrates is arguing on the behalf of the women it can be misconstrued that he is a feminist. However, according to, “feminism largely focuses on limiting or eradicating gender inequality and promoting women's rights, interests, and issues in society.” Based on this modern societal idea of what feminism is it easy to say that Socrates is not a feminist.
In book V Socrates begins the argument by making an analogy to dogs, saying that, “Do we believe the females of the guardian dogs must guard the things the males guard along with them and hunt with them, and do the rest in common;” or otherwise. Glaucon agrees that “Everything in Common…except that we use the females as weaker and the males as stronger.”(451d.) This is the first section that indicates that women are weaker and therefore inferior.
Because Socrates believes that women are in fact inferior. However, Socrates is able to break the argument down further that biological essentialism, relying on physical traits, and instead focuses on the pure nature of each person whether man or woman. He believes that though women are inferior to men by all standards they still can be part of the society based on nature alone. Socrates explains that “there is no practice of city's government which belongs to a women because she's a woman, or to a man because he's a man; but the natures are scattered alike among both like animals; and in all, but in all of them women is weaker than man. (455d.)
Therefore women have a place in society because they posses certain natures that are better then their male counterparts. This same statement can also be said of men, however because in certain instances each can have a nature that is better then the other they are both essential for society.
Furthermore as the book progresses Socrates explores the importance of woman for the means of procreation. However instead of promoting women's rights as would be most probable if he was a feminist Socrates instead states that: “ All women are to belong to all these men in common, and no woman is to live privately with any man.”(457d.) So that these women will be used as possessions that belong to all men in common, and not be their own but belong to a population of men.
As the argument expands Socrates and Glaucon realize that in order to keep their healthy and strong they will need to practice sexual selection. In order to determine which men should be allowed to spread the most seed they select war as an instrument of measure. They say that as the men fight and fight well they should be rewarded, and respected. “And presumably along with other prizes and rewards, the privilege of more abundant intercourse with women must be given to those of the young who are good in war or elsewhere…”(460b.) Here again women are a thing that is used as a prize and reward, not in the interest of the woman but for society as a whole.
Because of the many slanders and opinions that Socrates has against the feminine gender it would be unfair to say that he is a feminist. He does not have women's rights, or interests in mind. Nor does he desire to limit gender inequality in his society. Instead he wants to find the best place for women to act as efficiently as possible beside the male guardians.


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