Academic journal article Journal of Research in Gender Studies

On Inconsistencies in Plato's Gender Equality

Academic journal article Journal of Research in Gender Studies

On Inconsistencies in Plato's Gender Equality

Article excerpt

1. Introduction: Republic V and Equality amongst Men and Women

At the beginning of Book V of Republic Plato indicates the need to overcome some obstacles, named by the phrase "the three waves," related to the configuration of the ideal state. The first wave refers to the possibility of admitting women in the class of guardians and brings about the issue concerning the differences between man and woman. Taking the dog as comparison, Socrates believes that, as in the case of female dog that accompanies the male dog to hunting or guarding the flock, women should not be excluded from the category of guardians. The only difference between man guard and woman guard is that the latter is weaker and she should perform lighter tasks. So if the women are to be used for the same things as men, they should receive the same education: the art of Muses and gymnastics. Socrates continues his argumentation showing that the female and male nature is not different, because the differences in nature do not have their causes in gender, but in the particularities of the soul. To divide the human nature according to gender is the same thing with parting human nature according to bald men and hairy men. Gender has no relevance in the differences amongst men, women and their skills:1

if it appears that the male and the female sex have distinct qualifications for any arts or pursuits, we shall affirm that they ought to be assigned respectively to each. But if it appears that they differ only in just this respect that the female bears and the male begets, we shall say that no proof has yet been produced that the woman differs from the man for our purposes, but we shall continue to think that our guardians and their wives ought to follow the same pursuits.

There is no art related to the management of the city proper only to women or men, as, in general, there is no art a priori proper only to one gender or another. Consistent with the argument that different natures perform different arts, then, if one accepts that men and women have different natures, then we should accept that they can not share the same art. But then we meet the fimny situation where if the bald men are, for example, shoemakers, this art would not be permitted for the hairy men to perform, and vice versa. So the identical and different human nature must be redefined, not dependent on bodily accidental aspects, but spiritual essential ones. And gender difference is the accidental one.

The ease with which one learns an art, and not one's gender, is a sign of the difference amongst the people. That there are differences in degree depending on arts, in which a man is more skilled than a woman, or vice versa, but this does not involve generalizations about the radical distinctions among the arts performed by one gender or another. Thus, for weaving or housework, such as cleaning and cooking, woman is more skilled than man. As a general statement, there is no art proper only to women or men, and this affirmation is valid also for art of ruling the state.2

Then there is no pursuit of the administrators of a state that belongs to a woman because she is a woman or to a man because he is a man. But the natural capacities are distributed alike among both creatures, and women naturally share in all pursuits and men in all - yet for all the woman is weaker than the man.

So, there are women suitable for medicine, likewise there are women unsuitable for the same art. It is established a correspondence between human nature and art proper to it, but gender is irrelevant in this correspondence, like all features related to body.

2. Is Plato a Feminist?

Plato's argument on gender equality from Republic V had various interpretations. What produced this variety of interpretations were the inconsistencies among this argument and other texts from Plato's dialogues where women are seen as inferior to men. Val Plumwood, in his Feminism and the Mastery of Nature, makes an interesting synthesis of these "deviations" from the supposed Platonic feminist view:3

Plato's debasement of women runs much deeper than mere personal distaste for women as a sex. …

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