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Socrates' proposals concerning women:feminism or fantasy?

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Focusing on Socrates' proposals concerning women in The Republic Book V, in what follows I will attempt to show that Plato did not intend them as an argument for the desirability and feasibility of gender-neutral politics. A reading of Book V as the first feminist manifesto is thus anachronistic. I will also try to show that Socrates' rejection of gender-neutral politics is not to be explained as a chauvinist reaction to a perceived female incursion into the properly male domain of politics. Because the Socratic discussion of gender and politics comprises issues that relate to and transcend embodiment, a proper reading of Book V must appreciate the ways in which it operates on both a gender and transgender level. On the gender level the question is the extent to which differential embodiment precludes sexual equality and communism. In agreement with the nonfeminist reading of Book V, I argue that problems pertaining to embodiment prevent the arguments for equality and communism from succeeding. But, because gender does not prevent women from becoming philosophers, on the transgender level the question concerns not the possibility of female philosopher rulers but the possibility of the guardian personality as such. In an attempt to further the case for reading Book V in the light of Socratic dissimulation, I argue that a second, perhaps deeper layer of irony is revealed when the possibility of the guardian nature as such is shown to be incompatible with what can be called psychic heterogeneity -- the irreconcilability, irrespective of gender, within the soul of what Socrates refers to as the natures of the spirited, the philosophic, and the warlike.

Keywords: Book V; Plato; Republic; Socrates; gender; politics

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: State University of New York, Geneseo.

Publication date: 1995-02-01

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