The Role of Gender in Antigone and “Genesis”

The Role of Gender in Antigone and “Genesis”

The Role of Gender in Antigone and “Genesis” Gender inequality has been a prevalent issue in society through many centuries. Modern arguments about appropriate gender roles often cite traditional texts. Many use Sophocles’ Antigone and the creation myth in “Genesis” to defend or attack gender dominance. Antigone and “Genesis” contain a complicated view of women’s liberation and subordination. Through recognizing the role of gender in Antigone and “Genesis”, both authors reveal that even though women were presumed to subservient to men during these time periods, there were authors who did not agree with the limitations put on women.

Antigone has two main female characters, Antigone and Ismene. Even though Antigone and Ismene are sisters, Sophocles presents the women in two very different ways. Antigone is an individual. She is independent, strong-willed, and courageous. Antigone is not limited by the boundaries put on women by society. Ismene, on the other hand, conforms to how society perceives women. She remains loyal and passive to men because she is frightened by the potential consequences of disobeying a man. Antigone says to Ismene, “You chose to live, I chose to die” (626).

Antigone stands up for what she believes is right and is willing to die, but Ismene wants to follow the rules of man and chooses to live rather than face death by going against King Creon. Antigone’s characteristics are her strength, but Ismene’s character traits are her weakness. Antigone’s qualities are what give her the motivation to provide her brother the honor he deserved regardless of the King’s law. Antigone states, “And even if I die in the act, that act will be a death of glory” (86). A traditional woman of the time, such as Ismene, would have accepted the law and would not have gone against the King.

Since Antigone is bold and headstrong, she is able to overcome the stereotype of a typical woman by sacrificing everything in order to pursue what she believed was just. Ismene seems to be weak and cowardly in the beginning of the play. Ismene’s actions and ideals are expressed when she states, “Remember we are women, we’re not born to contend with men. Then too, we’re underlings, ruled by much stronger hands, so we must submit in this, and things still worse” (74-77). She is circumscribed by her perception of how a traditional woman should behave and is not able to help and support Antigone when she needed it.

King Creon played a vital role in displaying the role of gender in Antigone. As shown throughout the play, Creon believes that women are inferior to men and should remain powerless. He is insulted and shocked that a woman would disobey his law, especially since the woman was Antigone. He believes that men should be superior and is threatened by the idea of women having power. Creon states in the play, “Better to fall from power, if we fall we must, at the hands of a man – never be rated inferior to a woman, never” (759-761). He expresses the same views when he states, “While I’m alive, no woman is going to lord it over me” (592-593).

Because he is male, Creon thinks he is superior and behaves in an arrogant manner. Haemon, Creon’s son, also makes his views on women evident in the play. Haemon and his father do not share similar beliefs towards women. Haemon appears to see women as equals. If Haemon thought that women were beneath men, he would not have stood by his fiancee or bothered to defend her. Haemon states, “Then she will die… but her death will cause another” (843). Haemon is willing to risk his life to go against his father and help Antigone. Creon would not have done the same if he was in his son’s position.

The implications of gender as presented in the play shows how Sophocles could have felt sympathy for the women of his time. Sophocles created a woman protagonist who was not just a typical woman. She is able to overcome boundaries put on by society. She is surrounded by women who accepted their roles and a King who is a firm believer that women are beneath men. Sophocles presents Antigone as a hero and a martyr, which isn’t typical of a woman in this time period. These ideas possibly imply what Sophocles envisioned for society and its standards of women.

By his sympathetic treatment of women, it is possible Sophocles may have wanted females to disregard their roles in society and become individuals. Like the play Antigone, the creation myth in “Genesis” also displays inconsistent views on the role of gender. Chapter One of “Genesis” shows a differing attitude toward women than Chapters Two and Three. In Chapter One of “Genesis”, women and men are created equally. Line 27 states, “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (27).

Chapter one suggests that when God created the universe, he envisioned women and men as individuals and implied equality between them. This chapter of “Genesis” does not have any mention of women being subservient to men. Chapters Two and Three show a different position on gender. In chapter two, women were said to have been created from man, a point which contradicts the equality in chapter one. The text states, “And the rib that Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man” (22). Women were created from man in order to accompany and assist him.

This implies that women are subservient to men. Chapter three further expresses the idea of inequality when God punishes Eve for eating from the tree of knowledge. The myth says, “To the woman he said, ‘I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” (16). As a result of her punishment, Eve‘s purpose in life was to serve man and reproduce. By placing limitations on Eve, the myth set a standard for how a woman should behave.

Adam was also punished for behavior, but God did not make him subservient to another human being, unlike Eve who is forced to serve Adam and to bear his children. Evidence shows that the creation myth in “Genesis” was possibly written by two different authors, which can further show how people had differing views towards women during the time. Chapter One’s author envisioned a world of equality among men and women. The author of Chapter Two and Three sets the standard of women serving men and presents women as the inferior sex.

Characters of Sophocles’ Antigone can correspond with the characters in the creation myth “Genesis. ” Antigone’s role and Haemon’s view apply to Chapter One of “Genesis. ” Antigone, being an independent individual, would fulfill the role of a woman because God created men and women equally and Antigone exhibits that women should be treated accordingly. Haemon also sees women as his equal. Chapters Two and Three of “Genesis” justify Ismene’s behavior and Creon’s gender views. The second and third chapter envisioned women’s purpose as serving men.

Ismene behaves in a passive manner and follows the rules of men. Creon strongly believes that women are subordinate to men and the given chapters show the same values. Antigone’s characters, Antigone and Haemon, suggest a challenge to traditional gender roles as illustrated by Ismene and Creon. “Genesis” has traditionally been used to defend subordination by the implications about women in chapter two and three, but also offers a side of equality in the first chapter. Neither text, finally, offers a definite conclusion about appropriate gender roles.