Friday, October 14, 2005

A Feminist in Greece?

A Feminist in Greece?
Kyler M. Robinson

Socrates is a great thinker and his philosophies can be applied to nearly all aspects of modern and past society. While his ideas often challenge traditional thinking, in respect to the feminist agenda he is unfortunately lacking. People may often mistake Socrates as being a feminist because he gives equal education and roles as guardians to both men and women, but, when it comes down to it, Socrates uses biological essentialism to state that women are inherently inferior to men.

Before laying down the biological essentialism, Socrates examines why we use women different than men and how to set both to the same usefulness “If, then, we use women for the same thing as the men, they must also be taught the same things.”[1] He then on to say, “Music and gymnastics were given to the men… Then these two arts, and what has to do with war, must be assigned to the women also, and they must be used in the same ways.”[2] But why must each gender participate in the same roles?

From Socrates previous analogy of the different types of people; gold, silver and bronze; we see that that each person in society is born into a set position but if they demonstrate the special abilities may also move between each position and become guardians so that their God-given art might benefit the entire society. Using this same reasoning, why not let women also participate in all activities if they so possess the strengths necessary for that activity. By using only men, you cast off the potential abilities of about half of the population, and by setting them aside you would also contradict Socrates’ theory that a society must have guardians –based not on birth rights or class – lead the city because of merit and abilities.

But don’t these social positions naturally place Socrates in the feminist model? They do fit into the overall agenda of the feminists by giving equal opportunity to women and men alike but Socrates does not ignore the fact that women and men are different – a key point that goes against the feminist position that men and women are the same at every level. Socrates accurately looks at the differences and states “Compared to what is habitual, many of the things now being said [men and women practicing and being educated together and equally] would look ridiculous if they were to be done as is said.”
The most definitive factor showing that Socrates is not a feminist comes from his comment, “Woman participates according to nature in all practices, and man in all, but in all of them woman is weaker than man.”[3] This statement comes after defining that both can participate and be taught in the same manner but goes to a biological essentialism-style argument that states that there is a definitive difference whereby women are always weaker. Does this mean that Socrates is an antifeminist? Absolutely not because many of his ideas further women’s rights, but clearly he is not a feminist. It is his ability to see the benefits that women can bring to society that allow him to further their rights, not a zealous approach that argues because its “the right” thing.
[1] 451d
[2] 452a
[3] 455d

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