Women’s rights and societal roles have varied throughout history. Yet, a common theme that is notable across many times and cultures is the notion that women are inferior to men. In ancient Greece, the opinion toward women followed this trend, and women were often overlooked in how they could contribute to society. It was rarely considered that the traits women share could be of use beyond their household duties. In this essay I will analyze the Platonic and Aristotelian views on the role and status of women. Although Plato and Aristotle had distinct beliefs on what women could contribute to the collective well being of society, they shared similar opinions about the genuine status that women had in comparison to men. The Platonic view advanced the idea that secluding women to the home was counter-productive to the community as a whole. As such, women should be afforded roles that stretched beyond the boundaries of the home for the benefit of the community. The Aristotelian view, contrastingly, believed that the natural characteristics of women, which deemed them physically and intellectually inferior to men, made the home their proper place within society. In this essay I will advance the view that through the logic constructed by both Plato and Aristotle it follows deductively that women not only have a place outside of the home but their distinctive nature can add something of value to many areas of society.
A Platonic View Toward Women: A Community of Women and Children
It is sometimes contended that Plato was a feminist, but his concern for women did not stem from an interest in women’s rights, but rather the usefulness women could contribute to the benefit of the community. Meaning, society would receive its optimal benefit if women were used to their full potential, and Plato’s believed this extended beyond their role in the home. In the Republic of Plato, Plato’s views are described through his teacher Socrates, and it is in Book V of the Republic that Plato’s view on the role of women is illuminated. The discussion until this point in the Republic had concerned the search for justice within the city and within the soul. At the end of Book IV, justice in the city was found within the principle of specialization, that each should adhere to the work they are best suited for. Likewise, justice within the individual was discovered within the tripartite structure of the soul, and resonated when the rational part of the soul ruled over the spirited and appetitive sections (Republic 440c-445e). Although the search for justice at the city-level and within the individual had been found the question of justice led into the further discussions of equally fundamental questions.
In Book V the discussion delved into the idea of a community of women and children. This proposal had arisen from Socrates’ discussion of the lifestyle of the guardian class. The societal structure that Plato offered contained three main classes: The...