Why is Antigone's death a result of her being female?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The tragic heroine of Sophocles's famous play, Antigone, initially establishes herself as arrogant and refusing to realize limits placed upon her. When she speaks with Isomene in the first act, she indicates quickly that she is to become a tragic figure who struggles against authority. Antigone defiantly tells her sister in the Prologue that she is going to bury their brother.

ISOMENE Our own death would be if we should go against Creon...
                                                               ....We are only women,
                We cannot fight with men, Antigone!
                The law is strong, we must give in to the law....(46-48)

ANTIGONE                          You may do as you like,
                 Since apparently the laws of the gods mean nothing to you (60-61)

This open defiance of Antigone's, who apparently has not petitioned Creon for her brother's body before his decree in Scene I, challenges the authority of King Creon, thereby placing Antigone quickly in a vulnerable position, especially as a woman.

Then, in Scene II when she is brought before Creon by the sentry who has caught her as she tries to bury Polyneices, Antigone is dangerously defiant. As Creon asks her if she has heard his proclamation, Antigone replies with impudence,

ANTIGONE  It was public. Could I help hearing it?
CREON       And yet you dared defy the law.
ANTIGONE  ...It was not God's proclamation. That final justice
                 That rules the world below makes no such laws....
                 But all your strength is weakness itself against
                 The immortal unrecorded laws of God. 
                 They are not merely now: they were, and shall be,
                 Operative forever, beyond man utterly. (55-64)

This public affront to Creon, were it even made by a man, would be highly insulting. But, such an challenge to his authority made by a woman, clearly places Antigone in a most dangerous position because the proud Creon, then, feels that he must assert his authority. 

This defiance of Antigone is what defines tragedy, as tragic figures often struggle against authority. Clearly, Antigone sets herself against a force who is more powerful than she. Moreover, her being a woman adds to the insults that King Creon feels; thus, he becomes determined to not be undone by a woman. In Scene III, when Antigone's betrothed Haemon, the son of Creon, comes to his father on Antigone's behalf, he tells his son that men are the lawmakers  

CREON And no woman shall seduce us. If we must lose,
           Let's lose to a man, at least! Is a woman stronger than we? (48)

Antigone's defiance against Creon challenges not just his authority as king, it also challenges his manhood, and he vows not to be defied by her.