Saturday, October 15, 2005

A Feminist Criticism of The Republic.

Many of Plato’s ideas about women’s roles in society are extreme for his time. His reformist ideas push for equality between men and women in every role of society, from the military to the guardians. While this is a feminist argument, it is undermined by Plato’s belief that women are inherently weaker than men of equal standing. In Plato’s time women were not allowed to partake in military activities, vote, nor take part in political discussions. In Plato’s republic women would be raised to an equal level as men in all things.

In today’s age the term Feminism can have a plethora of different meanings. Strictly from the dictionary Feminism is relatively simple it is: “1: the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes, “and, “2 : organized activity on behalf of women's rights and interests” Plato’s advocation for the equality between the sexes clearly fits the first definition. In The Republic this is necessary for a truly just society. In Plato’s own society that he lived under this however was not the case. Women did not enjoy have of the rights that Plato advocated for.

In Ancient Greece women were relegated to spending the majority of their time in their households. Any task that was required them to leave the house was usually given to a male member of the house hold. Enjoying sporting events, going to the market, or socializing outside of one’s house was prohibited. This is reflected within The Republic. Women never participate in any of the philosophical discussions with Plato and they are rarely thought about by the men. Plato is only led onto his discussion of women’s roles after Glaucon off handedly brings up the subject. These things undermine Plato as a feminist. While Plato is just acting as a part of the society that he lived in, he is doing nothing to change his society. He is talking the talk but not walking the walk.

Since the suffrage movement in our own country, women have been enjoying many of the rights that they are theirs. The reforms made to our own constitution in the 19th Amendment in 1920 reflect many of the ideals that Plato argues for in his Republic. Even so, as a society we are still in the infancy of this ideal. It has been less than one hundred since our reforms; a blink of an eye when looking at the life of a civilization. The reforms that have been implemented in our own culture and the ones being pushed by Plato are all pro feminist movement ideologies.

As illustrated in 451d through 452d Plato believes that women not only should participate in the same activities as a man but also be trained and taught next to them. During Plato’s time these ideas were bombshells to the pre-established notions about the place of women. This argument speaks to Plato being an avid feminist in every way however just several lines latter in 455d thorough e, he destroys much of his own credibility in a feminists eye. “…but in all of them woman is weaker than man.” What Plato is referring to is known as Biological Essentialism in modern feminism and is frowned upon. Plato cannot be a feminist if he is undermining the basis of their arguments by saying that women are inherently worse than men. While Plato is certainly reforming the social structure in Greece, it is not possible to call him a true feminist. By arguing that women will always be worse than men is completely counter to feminist’s claims of complete equality with men.

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