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Opinion: The Misrepresentation of Women in Classics

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Opinion: The Misrepresentation of Women in Classics

Classics holds many important artifacts and captures the creation of civilisation. Romans and Greeks brought a love for the theatre and literature and their ideas form the foundation of Western civilization. However, it can be argued that they also cemented patriarchal structures in place which gave rise to the misrepresentation of women in stories. Classical mythology often contains the stereotypical figure of a weeping woman or women who are filled with seemingly illogical rage. Literature often contained scare stories of what would happen to an elite woman if they had a modicum of independence in order to warn women away from attempting to lay claim to any power, thus reinforcing the male-dominated social structure.

Women were expected to create new generations, stay with their often disloyal partner, weave, get married for personal gain to the family or country. Some may say that women were seen as property, and marriage is a perfect illustration of how women were traded as part of men's self-interest in gaining land, wealth, or a title. Another point to add would be how no woman had a status even if her husband or father had wealth: they still had limited freedom that was dictated by men.

Even in the theatre, women were not allowed to act or play a part in the play since it was considered ‘dangerous,’ to their morality, so men played the parts because the Greeks thought this would ‘neutralise the danger'. Women were often displayed as fragile and weak in contrast to the stereotypical ‘strong, heroic’ male characters who would rescue the ‘damsel in distress.’ An example would be Penelope in Homer’s Odyssey when Telemachus orders his mother to ‘go to your quarters now and attend to your own work... I am the master in this house.’ Homer approves of his action as this is what would be viewed as respectable behaviour for a man with high authority, though in modern society such behaviour would be considered juvenile and arrogant. As a consequence of masculine dominance, women in classical literature were also represented as subservient to their sons.

Pandora is an example of a woman who is manipulative and full of trickery on the inside. She was created as a result of a conflict started with Zeus and Prometheus where a woman was considered punishment to society. To put in context Prometheus stole fire from Zeus and his punishment towards humanity was a woman. Pandora is blamed for releasing the worst in the world except hope and although Prometheus stole fire from a god and caused chaos he is seen as heroic. Zeus created Pandora to be full of curiosity, just like Eve in Genesis, and the story is then used to justify why the next generation of women should be subservient to men.

In Ancient Greece, men enjoyed the power they wielded, so they created stories that reinforced their supposed superiority. These stories continue to influence cultures today and indeed, we continue to see similar stereotypical representations of men and women in modern stories, films and other media.

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