Genesis v. Antigone and the Role of Women

Throughout time, one could see the consistency on what is thought to be the women’s role in society. As consistent as waves washing upon a shore, society has thought that the women’s role is to be inferior to the men. The role of a woman is seen clearly in Sophocles’ Antigone and “Genesis”, as they both contain a convoluted view of women’s submission and liberation. Even today, pieces from both works are pulled to argue for or against gender dominance, an argument that has been happening for centuries. Both works of literature portray the women’s role in society as lesser than the men.

In Sophocles’ Antigone, the main character Antigone; daughter of Oedipus, expresses her desire to stand against Creon’s law; an urge to rebel that was rarely found in ancient society’s women. In ancient Greece, women were found to be shy, submissive, and passive. On the contrary, men were found to be strong, brave, and dominant. Antigone’s bravery and passion represents a rebellion that seems to upset the hierarchy that was ancient Greek society. Her ambition of ignoring Creon’s law and giving her dead brother; Polyneices, a proper burial marks her as a rebel among women, this can be seen when she says “He has no business keeping me from what is mine.” (Antigone, Line 48), the thought of a man not being able to control a woman.

Antigone is willing to risk all for Polyneices’ honor, this is shown when she says “Let me and the ill counsel that derives from me suffer this awful fate; what I shall suffer will be far less dire than dying an ignoble death!” (Antigone, Line 95-97). Antigone’s honor and willingness to die for what she believes is the right thing to do is what gives her drive to give her brother a proper burial, even if it went against King Creon’s law.

On the other hand, Ismene, Antigone’s sister is found to be the submissive women that appeals to Creon’s beliefs that women are inferior to men. Her character is the very image of how women are viewed by men in ancient Greece. Her disbelief of Antigone’s rebellious ways can be seen when she tries to dissuade Antigone from burying Polyneices. “What? You bury him- when a law forbids the city?” (Antigone, Line 44), Ismene expressed horror at the very thought of overstepping the women’s place, as she believed women were weak and men ruled all. This also reveals that she values the men’s laws more than the gods’ laws. “We must remember, first, that we two are by nature women and not fit to fight with men; second, that we are ruled by others stronger then ourselves,” (Antigone, Line 61-63). She argues with Antigone throughout the play, attempting to remind her that they are women, and women lack power to defy Creon’s law. Ismene is quite literally the juxtaposition of Antigone, one willing to risk their life for their blood, the other fears authority and death. Ismene being the foil to Antigone, their differences offering perspective to the story. Ancient Greek society’s belief on what the role of the women is embodied in Ismene.

The common belief of the women’s subordination is seen in King Creon’s character. Creon believes that the men should be the enforcers of the law while women should be weak and easily controlled. His belief that women should never be in control is seen when he speaks to Antigone, “Die then, and love the dead if thou must; No woman shall be the master while I live.” (Antigone, Lines 524-525). In this quote, Creon shows that his reasoning throughout the play was never based on rationality but, instead, on sexism.

Creon expressed his desire to have Antigone mother Thebe’s next heir; instead, of being put to death, showing that his thoughts were not with the women herself, but with her capabilities to pass on the royal blood. He views women as objects; something to be controlled by men, this can be seen in his conversation with Ismene. When Ismene reminds him of Antigone’s engagement to his son Haimon, Creon’s only words were “There are other plots of land for him to plow” (Antigone, Line 569), implying that Antigone is easily replaceable because she is nothing more than an object to please Haimon.

Equally important, are the gender roles in “Genesis”, the role of the women is not too different from Antigone. In the first book of the Bible, God first creates Adam and then he creates Eve. While the order of who was created first would ideally have little effect on the gender roles in society, many see Adam being created first as him being given the position of authority. “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” (Genesis, 2:18), this quote conveys that the role of Eve is to keep Adam company, to help him when he needs it. God made Eve from Adam’s flesh and bone, to some this might mean that she stands as his equal, for Adam was made from God and Eve from Adam. They are all made of the same flesh, therefore, they are all equal.

However, Adam was given the privilege to name every animal and to name the woman that would be his wife. This implies that Eve is not equal to her husband, and she does not share the same power as he does. It is not until after Adam and Eve eat the forbidden fruit that the dynamic of roles is somewhat changed. While Adam is punished, he is not made subservient to another being. Eve, on the other hand, is told that she will have the ability to bear children, only she will feel tremendous pain during the birth. In addition, the message given from “Genesis” on gender roles is noticeable when God informs Eve “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” (Genesis, 3:16). The quote quite clearly states the inferior role of the woman and the superiority of the man is expressed in “he shall rule over you”. In the Book of Genesis, one can easily observe the role of male domination.

That said, Chapter One of “Genesis’” view on the role of genders is embodied in Antigone’s character; her refusal to follow the social norm, and her desire to honor her fallen brother despite being promised death if done. When God took Adam’s rib to form Eve, he saw they were of the same flesh, therefore, the same social standing. After Chapter One of “Genesis”, Ismene is found to be embodying the role of genders; her willingness to take orders from men and to follow Creon’s law. Chapter Two and Three of “Genesis” seems to justify the views of Ismene and Creon, as it conceptualizes the inferiority of women.

In conclusion, Sophocles’ Antigone and the Book of “Genesis” both contain male dominated gender roles. The women’s role, in both works of literature, is to be inferior to the men, to serve them, and be controlled by them. Antigone shows the behavior that is expected of all women, and the role they are expected to play in society, while “Genesis” reveals the moment of women stepping in the supporting role while the man stepped into the lead. Taking all things into consideration, Antigone and “Genesis” may have started with different ideas of gender roles, but in the end, they both portrayed the lesser social standings of women.