Feminism in Antigone is a crucial step in the breakthrough of gender roles in modern-day media; Sophocles’ play held various influential themes that tackle societal issues that transcend up to this very day. One of which is the controversial topic of feminism. Feminism, by definition, is the radical belief in the egalitarianism of both sexes, which includes political, societal, and economic equality.
Written in a time where women are subject to fewer rights than men, our Greek writer’s take on the portrayal of femininity and women’s rights held great importance to both the women of its time and the women of today. The patriarchal society in which the play was made dramatically affects the people’s psyche. Still, Sophocles stripped all predisposed societal influence to create the woman that is Antigone.
Antigone and Feminism
Feminism can be seen in various points of the play and is portrayed at different levels, giving the viewers a glimpse of the varying faces of femininity. The tragedy premiered in 441 BCE, where women were greatly influenced to solely take care of their children and family.
Career-driven women in Ancient Greece were few, with female Spartans and courtesans as their only career choices. That is why the portrayal of a strong woman opposing a man in power for the sake of justice is such an essential portrayal of feminism for feminists, and Antigone was one of the very first plays to tackle this.
To fully grasp Sophocles’ representation of feminism, we must go over the play and focus on the women in Antigone, their struggles, and how they deviated from the societal expectations of their male-dominated upbringing.
At the beginning of the play, we see Antigone discussing Creon’s unjust laws to her sister, Ismene. The two siblings argue over what to do with their brother’s body as both have opposing ideas on the matter. Antigone, unwavering in her version of justice, urges her sister to join her in her tryst to bury their brother’s body, but Ismene shakes her head, fearing for both of their lives.
Antigone portrays a brave, headstrong woman who brazenly faces obstacles that come her way, which opposes the portrayal of women of that time. In ancient Greece, women were portrayed and even urged to be submissive and soft to appeal to the men of their times. Yet, Antigone is described as a headstrong woman who bows to no man, contradicting the gender roles in Antigone.
On the other hand, Ismene is portrayed as a fearful and submissive woman, true to the characteristics of ancient Greek women, which cements the importance of representation and the varying role of women in Antigone. Even though they’re siblings, Antigone and Ismene could not be any more different. Despite this, they love each other dearly.
In the next scene, we witness Antigone bury her brother, and she gets caught by two palace guards who compare her to a wild animal, an image believed to be unfit for a woman. This comparison gives rise to the pressing matter of misogyny in the play.
Antigone honored the Divine law, making her the heroine of Thebes, while King Creon, who strongly opposes Antigone for her bold act, sentences Antigone to death. This act re-establishes Creon’s masculinity and cements his position in power, allowing fear to rule his reign. Thus, Sophocles portrays misogyny negatively with the use of politics and the ever-old argument of church vs. state.
Women of Antigone
As Antigone is sentenced for her crimes, Ismene cries and begs to join her sister in her punishment. The fear of losing her only family overcoming her fear of death. This scene is essential to emphasize the fact that beliefs can be changed, and solidarity is important.
It also shows both sisters’ bond and the familial duties brought upon their shoulders by their brothers’ actions. In this sense, Ismene chooses to face her fears of death for her sister’s sake, representing the impact of heroic acts and how they can sometimes influence others to do the same.
As Ismene declares her intention of joining her sister in death, Creon’s misogyny is shown as he proclaims: “They are, but women and even brave men come running in the face of death.” Despite his assumption, neither of the two sisters run away from death nor beg for his forgiveness. This act illustrates the strength and character of the women in Antigone.
Haemon and Gender Roles
The next bout of feminism we witness is in the character of Haemon, Antigone’s lover. Haemon begs his father, Creon, to free the woman he loves and forgive her for her sins. With his father’s refusal, Haemon marches into Antigone’s cave to free her. Upon arrival, Haemon sees Antigone’s corpse hanging from above. Determined to join his lover in death, Haemon takes his life. In Antigone, Haemon is portrayed as a submissive lover, willing to leave everything behind for the woman he loves.
Haemon exists as only that of a lover, while Antigone lives amid confusion and war. Antigone struggles as she faces the unjust tyranny of Creon, while Haemon’s major crisis is the imprisonment of his lover. Sophocles reverses the stereotypical gender roles portrayed even in modern-day media and reiterates the importance of representation; that women can be protagonists instead of lovers and men can exist as lovers instead of protagonists.
In the end, Creon loses his son and wife to grief. This tragedy could be translated as his punishment for his hubris and misogyny. He wanted to punish Antigone for defying him and ended up killing his son in the process. His only remaining sons’ death leads to his wife’s suicide, leaving him alone in the mortal realm.
Antigone and Its Importance in the Modern World
Contextualizing Antigone and comparing it to modern society helps us understand that humanity isn’t as advanced as we like to think. The issues unresolved in the year 441 BCE are rampant despite the many years that have come.
Sophocles’ play contains various obstacles that transcend to modern-day struggles. The play talks about issues on politics, gender roles, and religious faith that we have yet to fix. From ancient times up to the modern age, these issues have yet to be resolved. However, they are slowly being acknowledged, and this is due to media consumption and education.
Sophocles’ take on these issues plays an essential role in influence; the play educates viewers on the adverse effects of misogyny, bringing light to the problematic nature of patriarchal hubris, tyranny, and religion. Sophocles’ play has influenced various literary works that pass down the same teachings and educate the new generations to come.
Now that we’ve talked about feminism, its meaning, role in Antigone, and how it’s impacted modern-day literature, let us go over the key points of this article.
- Feminism, by definition, is the radical belief in the egalitarianism of both sexes that include equality in politics, economics, and societal demands.
- Feminism in Antigone plays a crucial role in the breakthrough of gender roles in modern-day media, shaping and changing the definition of femininity along the way.
- The different levels of feminism can be seen in bouts throughout the play, from the first scene until the last.
- Sophocles’ play tackles a handful of themes that transcend to modern-day struggles; it talks about politics, religious faith, and gender biases that have been imprinted onto us.
- Antigone illustrates the flexibility of gender roles by creating a strong-willed woman as a protagonist and a submissive man as her lover instead of the stereotypical reverse.
- The women in Antigone provide us a clear picture of solidarity despite differences that despite differing opinions, love cannot be erased; this is seen through Ismene, who attempts to join her sister in death in fear of losing her.
- Antigone represents the rebellion against injustice and the strength and bravery needed to combat it.
- Antigone’s wit, bravery, and strength make her a strong character that any woman can stand behind.
- Sophocles’ play has influenced various literary works that pass down numerous lessons on the struggles we face today; for example, tyranny; because fascist regimes have a long history of ruling, democracy emerged to combat the unjust sentences.
- Antigone also teaches us that we do not need to conform to societal demands; gender roles do not exist, and you can be a submissive man like Haemon or a strong independent girl like Antigone.
In conclusion, feminism in Antigone has influenced modern-day society into the semi-progressive state it is in now. Albeit slow, the progress and acknowledgment of these issues would not have come to light without influence from the media, and Antigone is one of the first forms of media that shed light on such important matters.
Because of feminism in Antigone and others, these issues were addressed, and their negative implications were recognized. We can start by slowly building awareness and fixing the mistakes and notions our forefathers have made. Feminism in Antigone, its importance in modern-day literature, and other issues the play shed light on.