Saturday, March 17, 2012

Feminism: Now and ThenA Comparative Study on Aristophanes' Lysistrata and Weldon's She-Devil

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Chapter II


II. A. Women and the Domestic Life

When talking about women, they are always connected with household matters. It is generally believed that the best place for women is inside the house. This statement is provoked by the fact that women are the one who give birth, nurse the baby, and serve the husband. They are even hardly to get out of the house.

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In Lysistrata, the condition is plainly said by Lysistrata herself, the main character of the play “….You know a woman’s way is hard- mainly the way out of the house fuss over hubby, wake the maid up, put the baby down, bathe him, feed him…” (170 17). Realising that she has been a dutiful wife in her marriage, she is bothered to know that her husband is rarely at home because he must fight against the Spartans. Annoyed, she invites other women to protest the war, forcing the soldiers to stop it by rejecting the husband’s conjugal right and taking over Acropolis, a city to save money for the war.

Lysistrata’s way to gain (male) public attention is unusual but undoubtedly she has created a way where women can also participate in a field outside the house. In this case, they try to enter the state affair. There is an effort to widen the scope of women territory. Instead of dwelling into daily activities at home, there is an effort to involve in an activity outside the house. Lysistrata also emphasises that Athenian women are not slaves but freeborn ones (170 51). Although finally they return to their previous household responsibility, there is new knowledge that women can decide something important for the country and their men.

In comparison with Lysistrata, The Life and Loves of a She-Devil shows a significant change on women and the domestic life on its core. Having a family appears to be a choice not a compulsory for women. Look on how the character of Mary Fisher lives as a single but are prosperous and admitted by her fans (18 1-). Marriage is not more than a business deal and having children is a choice. They are implied on how Ruth can easily leave her children to plan the revenge and her suggestion to Vickie to sell her children (18 8, 07). Even men are also encouraged to share in child care and household cores although there is still a notion that man should have more power over his woman partner.

With these improvements on man-woman relationship at home, there appears new condition that forces another struggle from the women. The rivalry now shifts to a clash between single women and mothers. Fay Weldon herself stated that the world was not ready to create an environment where a mother is going to have the same opportunities with a single woman (18). A single woman can gain equal position with a man but once she gets married, everything is changed.

To sum up then, Lysistrata does the protest because the husbands are away from home often for a long time. She is not protested of becoming a wife but she is bothered when she has been a good wife but the husband does not even know about it. The Athenian women are directly and sincerely back to their duties right after the war stops. On the contrary, Ruth does not stop her action after Mary Fisher, her rival, dies and Bobbo returns. She continues her life living as a she-devil. She takes after the model of a single and successful woman; it is a choice to live as a mother.

II. B. Women and Their Intelligence

In the discussion of women’s intelligence, there is a quotation from Lysistrata said by the Chorus of Women (170 58) “….To commence there’s Beauty, Duty, Prudence, Science, Self-reliance, Compliance, Defiance, and Love of Athens in balanced alliance with Common Sense.” Indeed, these are the characteristics of the women characters in the play. Those women have the brave to show their intelligence and they are good debaters to the men’s arguments. However, does it only appear in the play or could it be real?

The Athenian wives of course were good partners for the husbands at home. Husbands talked about their secret and serious matters, discussed it with the wives at home and no one could change the wives’ positions at this point (Kitto, 157 1). Their education came from conversation, debate, and the theatre. The woman characters are undeniably clever but the important point is that they dare to expose their cleverness, something that is considered as unfeminine and boyish. This is a proof that there is a feminist movement in the play. Those women are not afraid to show and explore all of their potentials. These women do not believe that they are generally dumber than the men and that they have the right to get freedom of speech.

The same thing happens in Weldon’s novel. Ruth has the confident that she is able to accomplish her mission by careful, wise, and intricate planning. The ability to arrange this kind planning is believed to be owned exclusively by men. Ruth shows the reader that she can have everything she wants by cultivating her brainpower maximally. On the other hand, Weldon also gives a criticism that not all people like smart girl by ending the story with Ruth having a figure of a woman playing dumb.

A smart woman like Ruth may have a lot of money or fame by continuing her business in Vesta Rose Agency but she prefers to live like Mary Fisher, who writes about lies and rubbish, as she once said before, because Bobbo and many other people love this kind of woman. Professor Mira Komarovsky of Barnard College reported in 16 that 40 percent of undergraduate girls in two campuses preferred to play dumb on the date in order to attract their partner’s attention or not to receive the label of being unfeminine (Koch 16 7). Ruth as a she-devil chooses not to look smart in front of Bobbo. She knows that Bobbo, like most of other men, wants to dominate the relationship.

Although, some women are more likely to hide their intelligence, the others have tried to sell their ability. Just look on how Vesta Rose Agency is doing well. In this story, an intelligent woman has more access to express their opinion or ideas. There is a possibility that they can gain respect by showing their talent as a workingwoman. Decades ago, the best skill owned by women should concern with household matters. Now, there are many fields to be exploited by women without loosing their feminine side or pride.

Furthermore, Ruth’s decision to play dumb also explains that women now have choices of what they can do or be. They are not confined to be housewives because they are women. These feminist women can be housewives because they chose to be housewives. Unless they take this traditional role, they may take other “jobs” to do. There is the world out there to explore by women.

In Athens during Lysistrata’s period, women barely had good access to express their brainpower. A married woman was not allowed to go out without permission. Actually, there were single women who were well educated and got more freedom because they lived alone but they were less respected by the society. These women, usually foreigners, are called hetaerae, and placed somewhere between the ladies and prostitutes (Kitto 157 0). Being housewives is the only thing to do by the women in Lysistrata because they are ladies. Thus, the position of an intelligent woman in The Life and Loves of a She-Devil is more respectable than in Aristophanes’ era.

II. C. The Social Response toward Feminism

Devoted herself in a domestic life may not bad at all. But if this duty is attached to her because she is forced to do so, then the devotion is unacceptable. In Lysistrata the women are confined in the house because the society, the state, and the husband create such an environment where they are not allowed to participate in the affairs outside the house. Moreover, the women should wear veils directed to remind them of their inferiority (170 57).

Because of the rules set by the society for the Athenian women, the husbands of course are shocked when they acknowledge the women strike of “total abstinence of sex”. This is what the husbands think of their wives and the strike

“…And yet, I never thought my wife

was anything more than a home-grown brother.

But now dadblast her,

she’s a National Disaster!” (170 6)

This quotation describes how some sets of rules are made all across the country as guidance for woman behaviours. The strike results in a catastrophe for the soldiers, the family, and especially the husband. By putting Akropolis in the women’s hands, the soldiers are unable to pay the war costs. The women live in this city, abandoning the children and the daily tasks. Moreover, the husbands are miserable for the absence of their sexual life.

Male supremacy is the grand victory and plainly expressed in the play (170 40). The play shows a male dominant society in which the women have no roles. Matriarchy is an unknown word. Athens is not a country for women. H. D. F. Kitto stated that Athens Assembly was male territory. Women were one of the parties who could not give their voice to the affairs (157 14-15). In the story, Lysistrata argues that women can be valuable if they are allowed to take part in ending the war.

Unfortunately, although the women’s demand is fulfilled, they still cannot get the equality. Misogyny has become the credo of the Athenian males and they reject the women to be their friends or partners.

Meanwhile in Weldon’s novel, the society seems to be divided into two opinions. There are men who can accept women with jobs but the others are not. The difference is that the fields of work have been provided. There are many things that can be done by women outside the house, the question is whether they want to explore it or not.

Angus, Ruth’s father-in-law, is one of the men who support the idea that it is somewhat important for women to have jobs. When he thinks that Ruth is getting depressed at home, he suggests her to get a job and keep herself busy (18 44).

However, men are likely to keep themselves as dominant parties in a relationship. Take the example of Bobbo. He does not directly say that Ruth or Mary Fisher should stay at home. He lets Mary Fisher write novels but at the same time, he criticises her writing all day long. He does not believe in her ability to sell the novel. He tries to prove that he knows the best and is more than his lady-partner (18 118). He is the kind of man who can make a woman stuck at home. For him, the best capability owned by women should be about household matters and this is the reason why Ruth reads the “Litany of the Good Wife”. Unintentionally, male being dominant is still important for him.

Chapter III


Both Aristophanes’ Lysistrata and Fay Weldon’s The Life and Loves of a She-Devil are stories of women’s struggle to diminish their inferiority, known as feminist movement. Each story represents its own era. Traced back from Lysistrata’s time, the women have undergone some progress to come into Ruth’s time.

First, having a domestic life is now a choice for women. In the past, women must be housewives because they were women. They gave birth to children so automatically they had to stay at home to nurse the babies. Now, the women may choose whether they want to have families or not. The movement is not only physicall but mental and psychological one.

Second, the change occurs on the position of an intelligent woman and the access to explore her brainpower. In Lysistrata, the women are all look very clever but the men’s refusal to the women’s logic is a proof that women have little access to show their intelligence in public places. Having an intelligence exposure is considered unfeminine and improper for a lady. In She-Devil, there are more ways that can be used by women to prove their cleverness. There have been many women accepted international acknowledgement for their capabilities.

Third is connected with the society’s response to feminist movement. In both stories, male supremacy gets a wider acceptance. However, there is a progress in She-Devil. In this story, there are men who can accept the idea that women are not the second class, that they are not inferior to men.


Aristophanes. 411 B. C. Lysitrata. Trans. Douglass Parker. Canada New American Library, 170.

Brockes, Emma. “Life and Loves.” The Guardian. 6th May 00. 0th August 00. http//books.guardian.co.uk/departments/generalfiction/story/0,6000,71588,00.html

Guerin, Wilfred L. et al. A Handbook of Critical Approaches to Literature. 4th ed. New York Oxford University Press, 1.

Jenkins, Tabitha. “On Life and Loves with the Original She Devil.” Interview with Fay Weldon. rd February 18. 0th August 00. www.varsity.cam.ac.uk/varsityOnline/Online/Content/Life/Stories/008_meetsFayWeldon.html

Kitto, H. D. F. The Greeks. Great Britain R. & R. Clark Ltd., 157.

Koch, Adrienne. “Two Cheers for Equality.” The Voice of American Forum Lectures. San Fransisco The University of California, 16.

Lester, Gideon. “Comedy of War.” American Repertory Theatre. 10th May 00. 1st August 00. www.amrep.org/lysistrata/comedy.html

Mannes, Marya. “The Problems of Creative Women.” The Voice of America Forum Lectures. San Fransisco The University of California, 16.

Montagu, Ashley. The Natural Superiority of Women. New York The Macmillan Company, 15.

Weldon, Fay. The Life and Loves of a She-Devil. New York Ballantine Books, 18.

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