Student Question

Explain how Aristotle's early philosophy of women's role informs the current global women's movement.

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In Politics, Aristotle views women as having an important role in society but one which is inferior to, and subject to guidance by, men. Often, Aristotle's insistence on the importance of women in society appears to rely on mere strength of numbers. He says that a society is not happy overall unless the women in it are contented, and condemns Sparta, because he says the women there do not share the virtues of the men. If half the population is not subject to the law, Aristotle asserts, then the state should be regarded as lawless.

When the current global women's movement refers to Aristotle at all, it is as an early example of misogyny in the philosophical canon. The attached article from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy gives details of some feminist critiques of Aristotle, but in general terms the fact that he thought women were inferior to men and should be subordinate to them is enough to mark him out for criticism. Aristotle is one of the ancient philosophers most frequently cited in academic feminism, both because he has been exceptionally influential on a range of cultures and because he had more to say about the role of women than most other philosophical and political writers.

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