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Friday, June 08, 2007


Lysistrata, written by Aristophanes in 411 B.C, is considered as one of the best comedies in respect to dramatic structure. At the moment of its publication, Athens’ fortunes were at their lowest point: the disaster of the Sicilian Expedition in 413 had stripped the city of a large part of its manpower, many of the strongest allies had revolted, the Spartans were striving for control of the Aegean Sea with Persian support, and internally the city was on the verge of a revolution. In the midst of this situation Aristophanes produced Lysistrata as his last ad best plea for peace. The plot of this comedy is simple: the women of Greece, led by the Athenian Lysistrata, unite and agree on a sex-strike to force their husbands to make a just and reasonable peace.

When discussing how Lysistrata convinced her folks—both from Athens and Spartans—to refuse their horny husbands to have sex, my students laughed. One female student said, “Nowadays, if a woman refuses to have sex with her husband, it will not frighten him. I think the husband will easily say, “What? You don’t want me to make love to you? Fine! There are many other girls out there. I don’t need to worry about that.” LOL.
What can we conclude from this? People in modern times no longer consider sex as a sacred action that is supposed to be done only with the spouse.

When the first time Lysistrata proposed her idea of sex-strike to end the war between Athens and Spartans, all women showed their open disagreement, without feeling shy. Below are some responses of Lysistrata’s idea:

MYRRHINE: I won’t do it. Let the war go on.
CALONICE: Nor I! Let the war go on. Anything else you like. I am willing, even if I have to walk through fire. Anything rather than sex. There’s nothing like it, my dear.
LAMPITO: ‘Tis cruel hard, by my faith, for a woman to sleep alone without her nooky; but for all that, we certainly do need peace.

When I asked my students whether the idea of sex-strike is proposed in the modern times like now (especially in Indonesia) to end something villainous, will women react like those women in LYSISTRATA in that ancient time, or will they easily approve the idea; meaning they don’t mind at all, no need a complicated argument or debate. My students answered that Indonesian women (perhaps also in some other areas) possibly choose the latter.

“Do you know why?” I asked them.

No one came up with satisfying answer. Well, at least satisfying for my common sense. LOL.

“It is because we have been ‘taught’ that sex only belongs to men. Women just serve their husbands in bed, for their husbands’ satisfaction, and not for themselves. Besides, sex has been considered as personal affair. It is taboo to talk about sex publicly. Like what Michel Foucault stated in his book THE HISTORY OF SEXUALITY volume 1:

At the beginning of the seventeenth century a certain frankness was still common, it would seem. Sexual practices had little need of secrecy; words were said without undue reticence, and things were done without too much concealment; one had a tolerant familiarity with the illicit. Codes regulating the carce, the obscene, and the indecent were quite lax compared to those of the nineteenth century. … it was a period when bodies “made a display of themselves.” …

But twilight soon fell upon this bright day, followed by the monotonous rights of the Victorian bourgeoisie. Sexuality was carefully confined; it moved into the home. The conjugal family took custody of it and absorbed it into the serious function of reproduction. On the subject of sex, silence became the rule.” (1990:3)

“Women are also worried if they are categorized as bitches if they are open about sex. They had better choose to appease their passion very strongly rather than to be called as bitches. For Indonesian people who most of them claim as religious, being very sexual can be considered sinful because it means they just follow Satan’s desire. And they do believe that women were created with low passion. Therefore, they would rather become hypocrite about sex.”

Being more open about sex for both men and women, does it mean that people in ancient Greece are not misogynist?

The answer can be seen in the following utterances in the drama:

LEADER OF MEN: No poet is more clever than Euripides: “There is no beast so shameless as a woman.”

MAGISTRATE: Oh, damn it all! I’ve run out of policemen. But women must never defeat us.

LYSISTRATA; … Now, if you’re willing to listen to our excellent proposals and keep silence for us in your turn, we still may save you.
MAGISTRATE: We men keep silence for you? That’s terrible; I won’t endure it!
MAGISTRATE: Silence for you, you wench, when you’re wearing a snood? I’d rather die!

Referring to what Rosemary Ruether wrote in her book NEW WOMAN NEW EARTH, that the root of the misogynist was firstly moulded in the early first millennium B.C. in Hebrew and Greek cultures (1995:13) certainly misogynist culture already existed when Aristophanes wrote LYSISTRATA. Nevertheless, I must admit that I give him two thumbs up with his idea in LYSISTRATA: women held a very important role in reconciling two opposing countries. Lysistrata even gave command to men involved in the war to make truce and find a way out for both countries’ satisfaction.

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