Artistic Representations of Women’s Sexuality in Ancient Greek: Lysistrata

Posted on: 13th May 2023


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Research Question



Women in the ancient Greek world were considered second class citizens but I often felt as though their strength in their femininity were misrepresented as weak. I would like to explore the artistic representations of women in the ancient Greek world, more specifically literary representations of women.


What is the correlation, between the representation women’s sexuality and how women are represented in art in the ancient Greek world?


5th century comedic plays

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Artistic Representations of Women’s Sexuality in Ancient Greek: Lysistrata

In ancient Greece, men considered women inferior and mostly used them as sexual objects and childbearing roles. The women had no political rights and were regarded as second-class citizens. They could not own land or participate in voting or influencing power dynamics in the ancient Greek. Some art drawings, such as in pots, helped depict women's role as bearing and rearing children and sometimes objects of sexual pleasure for the men. This represented the women to be inferior to the male gender. However, considering the rising feminist propositions at the time, most men underestimated the representations of women as weak based on their sexuality and femininity. One of the mediums the artists depicted women's power as underestimated was through the ancient comedic plays during the 5th century. One of the comedy films in ancient Greek that displayed the women's sexuality representation in the country and how it could awaken the underestimated power of women is Lysistrata. In this paper, the film Lysistrata will be used to demonstrate that although women's sexuality representations in ancient Greek depicted them as sexual and childbearing objects, women had the potential to use their femininity to shift the power dynamics from men to the female gender.

Firstly, women's sexuality was considered weak and inferior to men, only to serve the purpose of home chores, sexual pleasure, and childbearing. In places such as Athens, women were considered weak compared to men due to the differences in women's bodies. They were considered not strong and unable to be influential in power positions or involvement in the war (Evoleary, 2018). Instead, the women were regarded as passive and second-class citizens. They were barred from voting and denied other rights, including owning land. These left women at home mostly spent their time doing house chores and taking care of the homestead. Another essential role in the sexual representation of women in ancient Greece was that they occupied a unique position in bearing and rearing children (Evoleary, 2018). To an extent, most men preferred that the children be male. Mothers who had male children were more valued than giving birth to a female child. This is because it was considered that the male child would grow to contribute to the essential tasks in the country, such as being a provider, fighting in wars, or being involved in power positions (Evoleary, 2018). All the leaders were majorly male, and women were considered inferior to work or get involved in the power positions. Besides bearing children, men viewed women as sexual objects to satisfy their desire for pleasure. Men could get involved in war and sometimes spend time away from home where they could seek sexual pleasure from several women.

The women's sexuality representations are highly correlated to how literary illustrations in ancient Greek depicted them. However, some of the films showed this representation of women as inferior. They discussed how women could use this femininity to advance their strength and shift power dynamics from men to women. One of the films that will be the main center of this discussion is Lysistrata, a comedic play produced in the 5th century, 411 BCE (Evoleary, 2018). The film is contextualized during the period of ancient Greek, especially the Peloponnesian war involving Athens and Sparta. In this case, the name Lysistrata is also from the leading actor, a female showing how men undervalued women and only used them as bodies to produce children and obtain sexual pleasure. However, she can turn around this demonstrates that women can use their sexuality to make men listen to them and consider them in decision-making positions. The comedy in this film is derived from Lysistrata asking fellow women to deny the men sex until they could yield to ending the war. This resulted in setting the regulations under which the women could restrict the men's sexual pleasure, including in extreme instances where a woman is forced to do the act, deny them gratification, and does not show that they are experiencing pleasure. Through her charismatic and robust leadership, she can control the women to remain committed to the course until finally, the men agree to stop the war, leading to a celebration through the magistrate's decision.

The film Lysistrata helps portray the ancient Greek representation of women's sexuality. In this case, the depiction of the conditions leading to women agreeing to participate in the plan of Lysistrata is due to how they are treated as sexual objects and only left at home for childbearing and rearing purposes. In the film, the women complain that the men go to war and leave them at home. Considering how the Peloponnesian war had extended for years, the women claimed that the men did not consider their interests of the women (Evoleary, 2018). In one instance, Lysistrata argues that there are young women who would want to enjoy their marriage and stay with their husbands. Still, the men who marry them are too busy involved with the war to the extent that the women are only left at home to grow into old age by themselves. In this case, the director tries to discuss the feminist view of what composes a family and how the ancient Greek women suffered in loneliness despite being in marriages which led to the protest and willingness to contribute to ending the war and getting back their families (Evoleary, 2018). In terms of sexuality, this shows the changing roles where women who were considered to stay at home, bear children and rear them now demand that such a role should not only be the woman's duty, but also the men should be responsible.

Women's sexuality representation is also represented in Lysistrata as a source of power shifts. Considering the perceptions of women as weak and not able to be involved in power, let alone the war, it was difficult to imagine that they could come out strong by just denying men sexual pleasure (Peralta, 2015). In this case, the director uses the comedic input in the film to discuss how desperate men can be to attain sexual pleasure and how women can use it as a valuable approach to negotiating with the men to influence their perception by offering them equal rights. Before the negotiations, women were politically weak (Peralta, 2015). Therefore, getting involved in the war in ancient Greek could make the people emerge as powerful and robust. Thus, the women's ability to successfully abstain until an agreement was reached helped show that if the females united and demanded their rights, eventually, they would become involved in powerful positions. On the other hand, showing the desperation of men to obtain sex from women also indicates the men's view of women as sexual objects (Peralta, 2015). In ancient Greece, women participated in promiscuous sex, which attracted many men showing it was so valuable to them (Peralta, 2015). However, when they are deprived, they are left suffering, making them vulnerable to yielding to the demands of women. During a debate in front of the magistrate, Lysistrata argues that women need to be involved in the decisions, including the involvement in war and military campaigns because the consequence of choices made by men affects everyone in the community (Peralta, 2015). The argument, therefore, indicates the women using a neutral platform through which they argue their case and demand involvement in power positions before they could yield to the demands of men to allow them to continue having sexual pleasure. By using the confinement to place the women in one area where they can defend themselves, the group of young women and older women confront the men and eventually drive them away, indicating that women's power was shifting. They could not be considered second-class citizens of Athens anymore.

In conclusion, the comedic play Lysistrata helps to show women's sexuality representations in Ancient Greek and the plight of women to have equal rights and not be treated as second-class citizens. Therefore, the literary expression became a medium through which feminists in the ancient Greek could voice their concerns, especially by decrying that they were not sexual objects to men but also crucial in playing their roles as mothers and citizens of ancient Greece. Therefore, they needed to be involved in the decision-making, which indicates the changing perceptions of women as weak and inferior based on their sexuality at the period.



Evoleary. (2018). Lysistrata and the Role of the Woman in Classical and Modern Society. Women in Antiquity. Retrieved 15 April 2022, from

Peralta, J. (2015). Lysistrata and gender roles in ancient Greece. City Tech Writer, 10, 28-29. Retrieved 15 April 2022, from

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