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How Aristotle and Plato Philosophies Help in Understanding Gender Inequality among Ancient Greeks

Home Free essays Philosophy How Aristotle and Plato Philosophies Help in Understanding Gender Inequality among Ancient Greeks

One of the problems affecting the society since time immemorial is gender inequality. It has forced various nations to adopt laws and policies in order to address the issue of gender inequality in their countries. A look at the modern Greece known for its rich past in philosophy and similar knowledge shows that the nation suffers from gender inequality to an extent that its laws and policies address these issues in a great way. The feminist movement in the country has been of great help in making sure that the government addresses gender inequality. Gender inequality in different states and cultures is hard to trace. However, in Greece, it dates back to the traditional Greek society. Moreover, philosophy, which has a root in this nation, can be used in explaining gender inequality, especially during the times of the great philosophers, including Plato and Aristotle.

When analyzing areas of inequalities in the ancient Greek community, Wijngaards explains that the status of women in the Greek society was low. Moreover, their role only consisted of reproduction especially the reproduction of sons, who would then be highly regarded. Women were held at their parents’ homes in this society until an appropriate time when a husband would be chosen on their behalf for marriage purposes. After this, transfer would take place where a woman would be taken to her husband’s house in order to start fulfilling the duties of a wife. Sons, as discussed earlier, were better treated than daughters, who would be exposed to the dangers of prostitution, slavery, etc. On the contrary, boys could have a variety of girls or even homosexual boys in order to satisfy their desires. Women acting as wives were not supposed to socialize with their husbands and their husbands’ friends, whether these people were meeting at home or in a social gathering.

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Plato’s Views on Gender Inequality

Plato captured these inequalities in various literatures and philosophies. In some of his literature, Plato viewed men as being higher in status that women. He explained that men, unlike women, were created by gods directly and they were given souls. He continued to argue that men, who live rightly, had a better standing after death since they went back to the stars. However, men who lived unrighteous lives, according to Plato, were viewed as assuming a much lower status than the righteous ones. After death, they were likely to change into women. Plato explained that this was likely to continue if it was not reversed. Unlike men, who hoped to be better after reincarnation, women could only become better beings after reincarnating as men. Without explanations, this means that Plato’s philosophy viewed women as lesser beings than men.

Although this was one of his attitudes, Plato’s another view in his philosophies advocated fair treatment of women. For example, in the Republic, Plato created a picture of an upper class of guardians, which, unlike the previous society, did not discriminate against women. Instead, this society had equal education for all, including women; moreover, ownership of women by their husbands was not a common thing there.

When analyzing Plato’s philosophies and their contribution to gender inequality in the ancient Greek society, Hasan explains that Plato had two women in his mind. Therefore, his view of women and equality was dualistic in nature. One was the ordinary woman while another was the exceptional one. The exceptional woman was explained by Plato’s argument in the Symposium concerning a woman that Socrates had. It was also the case in the Menexenus where in both situations Socrates ascribed his knowledge to a woman. Perhaps this is the same reason Plato was more lenient with women in the Republic since they could participate in the state according to his views. According to Hasan, the ordinary woman was the one described by Plato in discriminatory terms, especially when explaining heritage distribution. In this case, Plato argued that the daughters of a deceased were subject to be inherited by the sons of the same deceased.

“If a man dies intestate and leaves daughters, that brother who is born of the same father or of the same mother and who is without a lot shall take the daughter and the lot of the deceased; failing a brother, if there be a brother’s son, the procedure shall be the same, provided that the parties be of an age suited the one to the other; failing one of these, the same rule shall hold for a sister’s son; then, fourthly, for a father’s brother; and, fifthly, for his son; and, sixthly, for the son of a father’s sister”.

It is not the case for the superior women who were described in the Republic as holding a high position and being guardians. To support his positive view of gender equality in the Republic, Plato explained that the differences that existed between a man and a woman were similar to those of a long haired and a bold haired man. It means that the differences have no essential importance. Although this is the argument presented by Hasan, the author also argues that these assertions should make people believe that Plato was for gender equality. According to the author, preparation does not make women equal to men in the Republic. Equality as presented by Plato in this case only came through preparation. In other words, women were prepared to be physicians, carpenters, and guardians like their fellow men in the society who held similar statuses. However, he did not talk about equality in its natural state, meaning that he did not favor it. This view is held by Bashawieh who explains that women, who are viewed as guardians and sharing the same skills as men are only viewed so in the city of words. In this case, the author is trying to imply that the equality that Plato talked about does not exist in real life. Instead, it existed only in his brain and words. It can be used to strengthen the conclusion that gender inequality that exists today took place in the times of Plato.  

The fact that this society was more for gender inequality is explained in Bashawieh’s notes that Plato was hesitant or not willing to share his idea of gender equality with others in the Republic since he knew the consequences. In a society that so much believed in gender inequalities, Plato knew that his assertions or ideas about an ideal city that existed only in his mind and words would not be received with much positivity. Bashawieh’s notes that Plato only agreed to share his thoughts since he had no other choice.

Therefore, Hasan concludes by arguing that what can be deduced from Plato is that queens and female guardians had right to exist in a state since nothing can prevent women from being what they want to be. However, this is not the end of it all, As long as a woman can work hard to be what she wants, she cannot totally be equal to a man since Plato in his Republic discriminated women based on their sex. This weakness is also seen when Plato explained that lighter tasks should be allocated to women, meaning that there was still some weakness in them.

Women’s inequality can also be discussed using Plato’s view of prostitution, which is one of the ways used for degrading women. The discussion by Soble reinforces the view that prostitution emphasizes the fact that it is a way of epitomizing the oppression of women and their unequal treatment in the society. Soble argues that prostitution is a practice inherently unequal that is mostly defined by such practices as patriarchy and capitalism. He continues to argue that prostitution takes place between two people who are not in rank: the woman, who is the inferior in this case, and the man, who assumes the superior position. Multiple power relations are also employed, which is one of the proofs that prostitution is an unequal practice. Sometimes, the man may dominate, degrade, and treat the woman in the subservience way.

This form of inequality is clearly mentioned in Plato’s Symposium. There, the discussion about a woman is seen when she was asked for sexual favors and requested for payment for the same services. It proves that prostitution explained earlier as one way of gender inequality was present in the Greek society in the times of Plato. Although Plato did not support prostitution, the fact that it was mentioned several times in some of his philosophical work is a strong implication that it was present.

Aristotle’s Views on Gender Inequality

Using his philosophies, Aristotle also helped in explaining the low status of women in the Greek society. His ways of analyzing things included explaining them as they were viewed. The low status of women made him deduce that they were inferior in nature. When talking about reproduction, Aristotle explained women’s defect, which was natural. According to him, men could produce semen and women could not. Semen was highly regarded by this philosopher since it was seen as containing a human being’s substance. It meant that semen contained the form, which could only be provided by the man and not the woman. The role of the woman in the reproduction process was only that of nourishing the matter. Therefore, his argument in this case was that form was more superior to the matter, meaning that the one who provided form was much superior to the one who provided matter. The higher individual, according to Aristotle, was not supposed to mingle with the lower one. Therefore, the woman was viewed as having a certain inability while the male was viewed as having a certain ability, meaning that both were not equal.

Aristotle also explained that man’s intelligence is superior to that of a woman. Thus, he deduced that it was right for a man to take charge or dominate a woman. According to Aristotle, it would be a profit to women since they were viewed as depending on men. When expounding on this, he compared this dependency with the taming of an animal, which was the best way forward in order to make sure that they were kept alive.

When explaining these points of view, Ibid Wijngaards argues that Aristotle used the term nature to refer to the way things are in a natural setting. When interpreted in the context of gender inequality, then it means that it was natural for women to be subordinates and men to be higher since that is how they were made. When viewed in the context of slavery, Aristotle explained that a person naturally belonged to another was a slave or a person who did not possess but only took part. Slaves, according to the same philosopher, were used in doing the necessary things and providing body help to their owners. He explained that a slave was his master’s tool.


In conclusion, gender inequality heavily existed in the times of two philosophers. Unlike males, who were naturally fortunate, the women were naturally unfortunate and were viewed as lesser beings. This inequality, according to the philosophers continued even in the afterlife since righteous men could evolve into higher beings while unrighteous ones could assume a lower level of women nature after reincarnation. Women were also viewed as objects that could be owned by men and as objects that could be controlled to serve men’s desire. Women could also be inherited after the death of those who controlled them such as their parents. As time continued, this view seemed to change as explained by Plato, who started developing an equal view of women in one of his writings. In Plato’s mind, women could be guardians and could share the same skills as men. However, such a situation was possible only in Plato’s mind since he was reluctant to share his thoughts with others because of their strong support of inequality in the Greek society. Therefore, through the writings of these two philosophers, it is clear that gender inequality in the Greek society was high and it was almost impossible to make people believe otherwise. 

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