Martin: Women And Democracy

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(HOST) As Women’s History Month comes to a close, commentator Mike Martin is recalling a classic story about women and democracy from ancient Greece that still resonates today.

(MARTIN)  Imagine a great power in decline after years of war and military adventures. Imagine a nation renowned as the birthplace of democracy, where, increasingly, affairs of state are decided only by the rich and powerful. Imagine a group of women who band together and tell the men enough is enough. We don’t want to lose any more sons to war, we don’t want to raise our children alone while our men are fighting in foreign lands, and we don’t want any more money spent on military campaigns.  And as long as you are making war, the women flatly state, don’t expect marital relations with us. Their ultimatum is simple: no peace, no loving.

The playwright Aristophanes imagined just such a situation in the ancient Greek comedy Lysistrata almost 2,500 years ago. At the time of the play, Athens was still dragging through the Peloponnesian War and had just lost its entire fleet in Sicily. Lysistrata is the brave and clever Athenian woman who sees that the men must be brought back to their senses, if necessary by refusing them sensual pleasures. She mobilizes women from all over Greece to take part in a sexual boycott. The women also occupy the Acropolis, and the state treasury along with it, to block military spending. And since the Acropolis is a temple to Athena, Goddess of the City, the women remind the Greeks they expect to have a voice in affairs of state. One of them boldly tells the men she wants to be a "full member of (their) civic club".

Athena is the Goddess of War, and these women aren’t weak-kneed pacifists, but Athena is also the Goddess of Wisdom, and the Athenian women point out that the men’s wars are bankrupting the state. The women say they do a much better job of managing the household finances than the men do with the state coffers. Of course the macho Greek men are outraged, and they alternate between acting belligerently and whimpering about their forced abstinence.

But they are also forced to see women in a new light and treat them with newfound respect. In the end, Lysistrata brings the Athenians and Spartans together at a banquet where she introduces them to an exceptionally beautiful woman whose name is – Reconciliation.

With our own wars and crushing national debt, it makes you wonder what Lysistrata would do if she were with us today. Maybe if women had a greater voice in politics, we would pay more attention to families and less to foreign adventures. Sure we have Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin, but women still only make up around 17% of the U.S. Congress, clearly not enough. And with only 38%, the Vermont Legislature has the second highest rate of women lawmakers in the U.S.

It seems to me that we need to ask more women to play a greater role in governing our country. With the serious challenges ahead, we can’t afford not to.

(TAG) You can find more commentaries by Mike Martin at VPR-dot-net.

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