In many ways, Lysistrata is a challenge to conventional, patriarchal society – even now, I think, which explains why it might be apart of the banned books list. Aside from the obvious outrage that would have surrounded female autonomy, Lysistrata herself is a figure of a female authority. By the end, she is a heroine. It is by her own genius that she is able to convince and organize a band of women to rebel against sex, particularly the pleasures of the male groin. And while the women complain and begrudge this idea initially, they play into it quite nicely, employing tactics such as teasing, sexy provocation and false assurance, resulting in the ache for sexual fulfillment of the males that Lysistrata seems to believe will resolve the war between Sparta and Athens. The joke becomes the belief that males will submit under any circumstance for the release of sex. The joke becomes a reality when the men walk around with full-on erections, redirecting every conversation back to sex, pleading for the women to relieve their “pain” and “suffering.”
The thing to note is that Aristophanes is not depriving the women of autonomy in sex, but rather giving it to them. In fact, he gives them so much control that they are able to drive the men “mad” with their ability to hold out. He is giving them a sort of power that they otherwise lacked: matching physical strength (men) with mental (and even physical) willpower (women). Throughout the text, we constantly see men threaten physical violence as a form a control (pg. 68, 73, 74, 80 to name a few). It is only AFTER the women are threatened that they return the threat – after all, fight fire with fire, right? Wrong! When the women attempt to exhibit autonomy (success is irrelevant here), they are met with insults calling them “shameless beasts” (68). Females, therefore, are trapped in a double bind. What is acceptable behavior for man is not a (socially) acceptable course of action for woman. Even as women try to exercise their human RIGHT to protect themselves, sexism prevails.
One of the most illustrative and powerful scenes in this text occurs in Scene 2 (pg. 67-69). A representative from each side, an old and an old woman, bicker and threaten one another. The argument escalates from spoken threat to violent action when the old female asserts, “I’m a free woman” (68). It is this very proclamation that is met with actual violence, not the disturbing “I will devour your lungs and cut out all your guts” (68). Female autonomy angers him more than female aggression. It is this sentence that symbolizes feminine authority and it is this same sentence that threatens masculinity (namely, pride). If that isn’t telling of the male ego, I don’t know what is!
Today, women have significant sexual agency, at least, more than they once had. They also have more general rights, such as the right to vote and the right to contraception. There are even laws set in place to protect the wife from spousal abuse/rape (marriage rape laws). Changes, particularly in the law, are a result of the acknowledgment that woman are human beings just like their male counterparts. However, just because the law has transgressed over the past few decades does not mean that attitudes towards women have. Specifically, religion is a widely valued institution across the world, but its outdated perception of women as less than men is still very detrimental to the human mind. Outside of America, the less-industrialized nations deal with an even higher level of misogyny, as most of the inhabitants tend to lack access to basic education that might otherwise thwart these beliefs. So while I believe that attitudes towards women have evolved to some extent, there is still much work to be done in the realm of equalizing the sexes.