Philosophy Colloquium: "Feminizing the City: Plato on Women, Masculinity, and Politics," Josh Wilburn

October 15th, 2021

Speaker: Josh Wilburn, Wayne State University

Historically, commentators who assess Plato's treatment of women in the Republic have focused almost exclusively on two key observations. First, Socrates includes women in activities that are traditionally considered "masculine" by Greek cultural standards (e.g. warfare and politics), and he attributes corresponding, praiseworthy qualities to them that are typically reserved for men (e.g. courage). Second, corollary remarks scattered throughout the dialogue also condemn negative behavior as “womanish” (e.g. weeping) and criticize the character and conduct of certain women. This dual emphasis has left many scholars with the impression that Plato’s singular goal vis-à-vis Greek gender norms is to promote or permit “manly” traits and pursuits in the Kallipolis’ guardian women, while discouraging “feminine” ones in men and women alike. In this paper I argue that this characterization oversimplifies Plato’s position, however. In a number of crucial passages that have been underappreciated in this context, Plato is highly critical of—and aims to eliminate from his just city—several traditionally masculine qualities and activities that he considers vicious and politically toxic. At the same time, he also aims to make the guardian men more "woman-like" or "feminine" by Greek standards in ways he thinks are conducive to virtue and civic harmony.