Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Socrates' Feminist Activism

Note to Rob: this paper was in fact written on time for Friday, October 14th. My blogger information was unaccessible to me and I recently took care of this technical issue. However, if my word isn't enough, email records will back me up. Now onto the fun part...


In Book V, Socrates and Glaucon begin a discussion about the roles of women and children in their city. In discussing how the birthing and raising of children will be managed, inevitably the subject of a woman’s role in the city is raised. Glaucon states that men and women are so different in their fundamental nature and abilities, but then goes on to say that they must participate in the same duties for the benefit of the city, so that the whole population may be utilized. In analyzing the passage where Socrates and Glaucon proceed to analyze this contradiction that they both agree with, it can be determined whether Socrates is a feminist or not. A common definition of feminism according to Merrian-Webster Dictionary is “organized activity on behalf of women's rights and interests”. Therefore, by advocating for women to play an equal part in the classes of society, such as being guardians, Socrates characterizes himself as a feminist in Book V.
While Socrates is not a clear feminist in the sense that he argues for complete equality between men and women as pertaining to their roles in society, or how society views them, it is clear that he wants some form of equality to exist between men and women. By explaining to Glaucon why women and men must receive the same education, and eventually why the most fit of them must take part in the guardianship of the city, Socrates is indirectly advocating on behalf of women’s rights and interests. In thinking about the benefit to the city, Socrates realizes that having women participate in all of the classes that men are part of will be very positive. In this sense, Socrates is a feminist, because he is arguing to have women participate in society on an equal level with men, and this equal participation is in the best interests of women’s rights and interests.
However, it may be argued that because Socrates uses biological essentialism to distinguish men from women, he is not a feminist. While it is true that Socrates and Glaucon agree on biological differences between men and women, by saying that a woman is generally less able than a man in all areas. However, Socrates qualifies this statement by putting it into the context of the three classes of guardian, auxiliary, and producer by saying that while a woman belonging to one particular class may be less competent than a man of her similar class, she is still more competent or valuable to society than a man of a lower class. So, in using biological essentialism to distinguish between the abilities of men and women, it may seem that Socrates is not a feminist because saying women are not as competent as men would not seem to be in the best interests of women’s rights or interests. However, by thinking about the benefit of the city as a whole, Socrates is keeping in mind the interests and rights of women as he is arguing to include them in the three classes so that they may be of use to the city, and to themselves.
In conclusion, it is shown through the discussion between Socrates and Glaucon in the beginning of Book V about the roles of women and men in the city that Socrates is a feminist, because he is advocating for the rights or interests of women. By arguing to include them in all activities that men take part in, Socrates is acting on the behalf of women so that they are allowed to play an active role in contributing to the city. While Socrates does acknowledge biological differences between the competency of men and women by stating that men are superior at accomplishing every task than women, he still has the interests of women in mind by saying that women with differing abilities fit into the three class structure of the city, and that some women are in fact better than men at certain tasks, even though the man of her similar class will always be better than her at their task.

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