How is gender explored in the play?


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Euripides was fascinated by women and the contradictions of the Greek sex-gender system; his treatment of gender is the most sophisticated one to be found in the works of any ancient Greek writer. Medea's opening speech to the Chorus is Classical Greek literature's most eloquent statement about the injustices that befall women. He also recognizes that the position of women, and their subordination to men, is inextricable from the very core of social order in Greece. Greek society functions thanks to injustice. Athens, a city that prided itself as a place more free than the neighboring dictatorships, was nonetheless a city that depended on slave labor and the oppression of women. (The typical apology offered by admirers of Athens is that all ancient societies were sexist and dependent on slave labor; this generality is untrue. Many societies were more generous in their treatment of women than the Greeks were; and many societies functioned, even in the ancient world, without slave labor.) Euripides was aware of these hypocrisies, and he often pointed out the ways that Greek society attempted to efface or excuse the injustices it perpetrated.

At the same time, Medea is not exactly a feminist role model. Euripides shows the difficulties that befall women, but he does not give us tinny virgin heroines. He gives us real women, who have suffered and become twisted by their suffering. What we see is not a story of female liberation, but a war between the sexes in which all emerge scarred.