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In this essay, I will argue the question through the character of Socrates in Plato’s Book V from the Republic, how he chooses to stand on the base of having an efficient and prospers republic and the arguments he uses to reach that conclusion. To many readers even myself included, when first listening to the proposals laid by Plato to educate women and give them the same role class as guardians might look as a liberation towards women, but the more you keep reading you can find the deep meaning of utilizing people in its best efficient way. I will be further discussing the arguments by Plato towards how gender equality and later expanding on what their eternal goals are.
In book V of the republic, it starts off with Plato getting into a discussion with his listeners over the role of the women in the ideal republic. He then starts off by convincing his listeners about the importance of assigning women into the guardian class, by having them educated in both aspects of physical and political life. By doing so, he puts himself in a position of vouching for gender equality and perceived as a feminist. Furthermore, his position and ideas can also be seen as a revolutionary move towards gender equality.
Over the discussion on the guardian class living arrangements, the subject of having wives and children has definitely caught my interest, when Socrates mentions that wives and children will be held in common by the guardian class (423e-424a), than further explaining more on the subject where families would be separated from birth and being brought up not knowing who their kin is. In this event it shows what Plato’s main argument is for the greater common good. First, he begins by asking a question that has the theme of equality in human nature. In the stage where Socrates proceeds to ask his listeners about what they think about the wives of our guardian watchdogs should guard what the male’s guard, hunt with them, and do everything else like them? Or should we keep the women at home, as incapable of doing this, since they must bear and rear the puppies, while the males work and have the entire care of the flock? (451d). leaving his listeners, no choice but to agree with his reasoning in the role of the male and female guardians should have the same role and responsibilities when guarding the city, but to leave them without the realization that they agreed on the men and women sharing the same natural differences. Plato also mentions of what is just for the city is only when its citizens perform the tasks which they are naturally suited for (423d). Consequently, if women are left out from their natural abilities to be guardians will end up developing to a city that is unjust. In addition, he proceeds to explain why the differences arise not from looks and gender but in a deeper meaning which is the soul. He uses the example of the bald man and the long-haired man, if the nature of the bald and long-haired men are opposite, then we agree that bald haired men are cobblers, then we ought to forbid the long-haired ones to be cobblers, and if the long-haired ones are cobblers, we ought to forbid this to the bald ones. (454c) Moreover, they both can be seen having a soul of a cobbler, it is not of what they look like that could justify what their best suited for, only their natural difference of functions which can identify them, and that is the soul and the same goes for other men and women. Plato also argues for both the men and women when it comes to the perspective of merit and what they are naturally suited for (454d-455e). By having the same education for both genders the republic can reach a flourished state.
Plato’s main reason to reach equal rights between men and women in the guardian class was to help construct and elevate the republic, utilizing the people not for the sake of reaching equality between genders but it is to maximize efficiency. Additionally, Plato mentioned that in order for the republic to achieve total efficiency it has to become one “For what is there any greater evil we can mention for a city than the which tears it apart and makes it many instead of one? Or any greater good than the which binds it together and makes it one?” (462a-462b). His attempt to view the family as the weak link that would ultimately divide the guardian class, in which therefore lead to the divide within the republic, because family in the guardian class will prefer to ultimately choose to be protecting their own kin than the republic. Which in the end he stands with the abolishing family relation in hopes to eliminate the divide from occurring. Another point that could be argued that women can be seen as a threat to Plato’s republic for women use their power through family which had to be stopped to ensure the unity of the guardians. He uses an example of the mother and child relationship, when the mother was unsatisfied with her husband’s actions and proceeds to paint a picture of the father actions to her son as his actions aren’t good and he must choose a different path to better the family at the cost of harming the republic: “When he listens, first, to his mother complaining that her husband isn’t one of the rulers and that she’s at a disadvantage among the other women as a result. Then she sees that he’s not very concerned about money and that he doesn’t fight back when he’s insulted, whether in private or in a public in the courts but is indifferent to everything of that sort. She also sees him concentrating his mind on his own thoughts, neither honoring nor dishonoring her overmuch. Angered by all this, she tells her son that his father is unmanly, too easy-going, and all the other things that women repeat over and over again in such cases” (549c-549d). Thus, Plato reaches the conclusion of abolishing the family ties, for women are seen to have a big role in shaping society therefore it is crucial for him to create equality to female in the guardian class. Finally, he brings the subject of having a rigged lottery system that involves breeding the best man and women to ensure a healthy and strong guardian class. (460a-460b)
In conclusion, it might seem to sound as a radical idea to give equality to the female guardians as warriors and give them education to help support the city and fight for it. But on the other hand, from a different perspective Plato is seen as a faulty feminist. However, it should not be missed for Plato’s stand in granting women of the guardian class equality to education and training was an important one. It built a platform for future generations of people to look at the role of women in society differently than what tradition aimed to be. Although, the main argument which Plato was concerned about was not freeing women from the shackles of tradition, but in fact it was only an aim to extend the women to the guardian class and not to all the women in the city as a mean to obtain a healthy republic.