Friday, October 14, 2005

Socrates as a Feminist: A Qualified Statement

Plato’s vision of a society is one that promoted equality in the sense that any human had an equal potential to advance to their proper place in society. One who was sufficiently balanced and learned could become a guardian, one who was not worthy of this title for their failure to achieve the requirements of mind and body. His standards of ‘gold, silver, and bronze’ are applied not at birth as they may be in a capitalist society like our own, but instead are determined by the value of a human to society.
Socrates addresses the issue of women’s place in society with a new look at women’s inherent strengths and weaknesses, but effectively qualifies this statement by stating that they should have an equal place in society. A woman, he claims, should belong to men of society in general: “All…women are to belong to…men in common, and no woman is to live privately with any man (457d).” Women are also, he states, weaker than men; at least in regards to being a guardian of the City. “Men and women, therefore, also have the same nature with respect to guarding a city, except insofar as the one is weaker and the other stronger (456a).”
It may appear that these views make Socrates an anti-feminist in the sense that he does not believe in the inherent equality of women. By one definition of feminism (, Socrates’ statements about biological essentialism separating women as a physically and in some respects psychologically weaker group of humans would make him an anti-feminist. By this definition, belief in complete equality is the only way for one to be a feminist.
However, his opinions surrounding the position of women in society would make him a feminist by an extended definition of feminism. “That they’ll (women) carry out their campaigns in common, and, besides, they’ll lead all the hardy children to the war, so that, like the children of the other craftsmen, they can see what they’ll have to do in their craft when they are grown up…every animal fights exceptionally hard in the presence of its offspring (466e).” Although this sounds like a particularly vicious act, Socrates places women on the battlefield with their male counterparts. This revolutionary idea, when placed in context, makes him an advocate of women’s equality in society, despite his ideas surrounding biological essentialism. This makes him a fervent feminist by the times of ancient Greece and even today, where women cannot even join most branches of our military.
In conclusion, it is impossible to say whether Socrates is a “feminist” or not, because a statement on either side must be qualified. He believed that women should be able to attain the same status in society as men, even as guardians; however, he qualifies his own statement by speaking of the inherent weaknesses (especially physically, which is an important aspect of any person, especially a guardian) that women share. True to his theory of merit-based equality, however, he maintains throughout the book that women should be given every opportunity that men are to achieve status and importance in the City.


At 5:49 PM, Blogger Chris Reed said...



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