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Plato as a proto-feminist: Tendencies towards the development of feminist thought

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  1. Introduction
  2. The first issue: Allowing women to be rulers in the Republic
    1. Socrates: Does a difference in gender constitutes a difference in nature or physis
    2. Socrates and his interlocutors
  3. Women who have natures similar to that of the Guardian men
  4. A very utilitarian argument
  5. A male dominated, menacing perspective of women
  6. Examples on how the Republic is not a feminist argument
  7. Conclusion
  8. Works cited

The idea of Plato's Republic being one of the true first pro-feminist arguments seems to have some steam in modern times. However, there seems to be major flaws with these theories. The fact that modern feminism is not grounded in Platonic feminism is perhaps the most striking issue. For, if he were a feminist, one would certainly see some basis of modern feminist ideology in the Republic. It is rather on the contrary, Plato himself seems to be just as critical of the female gender as any of his contemporaries such as Aristophanes and Solon. From claims of women being weaker than men in every possible way, to the fact that there is mythology written to justify women as the evil given to men by the gods, there is no possibility of a pure feminist ideology at the time of Plato. In this paper I will argue that even though Plato shows tendencies towards gender equality, he is far from supporting a fully fledged idea of equality, and at best we can only claim that Plato was a proto-feminist.

[...] From the Epic poets Homer and Hesiod we are given a male dominated, menacing perspective of women. Therefore, even Plato would have been contaminated by the stereotypical issues of the time. So, we cannot claim that he argues for true feminism in the Republic. It is, as Julia Annas correctly points out, far from a feminist ideal (Annas 4). Even if his argument perhaps promotes a shortening of the gender gap, it is far from anything any feminist would argue as feminism today. Thus, Plato was not the first feminist. [...]


[...] Therefore, one can see how the opportunity for feminism to arise during the time of Aristophanes as well as Plato existed; however, there is no specific proof in either of these authors to validate the rise of feminism during their time, there is only a contextual implication that there are tendencies towards the equality of women. Another clear example on how the Republic is not a feminist argument is the fact that Socrates states in regards to eliminating the nuclear family. [...]


[...] This is important in relation to the implementation of women as Guardians for the simple fact of the ability to search for knowledge, or to have a love of truth. This is something which by nature both men and women who have the correct physis share. Therefore, it is relevant in the debate regarding female rulers due to the fact that women also have the ability for love of the truth, thus they can by nature become Guardians with the proper education. [...]

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