It is difficult to identify as to who was the first feminist in the world and as to when the feminist movements had started, but majority of such movements can be traced during the last two centuries. However, there have been women feminists who have proved their abilities in this regard and they have been traced to earlier than two centuries ago. Antigone is the main character in the play by Sophocle and literally acts like a feminist by challenging the authorities vested in the patriarchal societies of those times. She took action in keeping with her heart felt beliefs of what was right for her to do. She certainly exhibited traits of the modern day feminist; although the present feminists are in the nature of hating men and viewed as aggressive and raging, but in its true sense feminism simply implies advocating rights of women. In Greek drama women were depicted as being very forgiving and sympathetic in not being burdened with the rigors of war, religion and politics. But these traits were not evident in Antigone as is evident from the fact that she challenged the illogical and unreasonable dictates of Creon and went ahead with conducting the burial rites of her deceased brother Polynices. This was in keeping with her strong beliefs that God was on her side. In this context, Antigone is not only praised for having the courage to conduct such rites for her brother, but also for acting in the true spirit of an educated woman. She played an active role in the political and religious affairs just as a modern-day feminist would do, and was gifted with individualism in raising her voice against tyranny and other malpractices.
Antgone has been shown as being outspoken against her uncle Creon, who was the ruler at the time and she does not hesitate in strongly criticizing his wrong doings in regard to atrocities against women in a patriarchal society. She advocates equality of both sexes as also for females to be treated equally in matters relating to God and religion. Antigone is depicted as defying Creon with a feminist mindset throughout the play, which indicates that she does not attach much value to his authority. The Chorus in the play said, “we respect what you did for your brother / But there’s no question that the orders of those in authority must be obeyed”. Antigone speaks in making a claim thus, “What Creon says is quite irrelevant”, and she almost came short to calling him a fool on several occasions. It is made clear in the play that Antigone does not accept the authority of Creon as being the sovereign and there are hints in her tones that convey a desire to overthrow him. Readers can get the hidden meaning from her assertions in this regard that she planned to prepare for a battle against him by showing all the required strength and courage.
Antigone is also shown as having noble intentions in challenging the authorities by going ahead with her brother’s burial which was in token of giving honor to the dead, and which would otherwise not have been given much credence by other women of her time. When Ismene, the ideal female of the times, refuses to assist Antigone, she tells her,” By all means, be an ashiest if you wish”. Antigone believes in the will of God in having motivated her to bury her brother so that she can achieve two goals in one go; by getting popularity amongst the dead and in getting the obedience of the commands of God. There is the strong belief that Antigone, in making such efforts would have been challenging the authority of Creon just as a true feminist would do or she may have been having an inherent desire to accede to the throne. Antigone reveals her feminist attitude while searching for popularity within the groups of people since that is an essential trait required for a person who wants to spread the message of equal rights for both sexes, and in this context, Antigone is known to have sought public support on several occasions. But when she is helpless she gives up all her efforts in asserting what she had been striving to do and cries for sympathies from the people. This is evident from the fact that she tried to evoke tears by making a sentimental speech before she was dragged away to her death.
Another way in which Antigone had demonstrated her feminist characteristics was by way of her strong willpower which was well recognized by Creon who acknowledged the same on several occasions, but he was very much against her and often challenged such feminist stands taken by her. She was said to be much like her father Oedipus in having the feminist touch and stubbornnessWe a little on the higher side and such attitude on her part was responsible for her downfall. These are the primary ways in which her feminist traits and strong will are exhibited. Antigone does make an interesting character in Sopocle’s Antigone in that she demonstrates feminist thoughts by way of her actions in dealing with the affairs to either commit suicide gracefully, to have malice towards Creon, or to exhibit divinity. Antigone specifically reveals her feminist thoughts while showing her strong will on different occasions. Such characteristics in Antigone make her appear as a feminist much before her times.
Adrian Jones, Antigone and Modern Feminists, 1996. Web.
Sophocles, Antigone, 2001, Hacket Publishing Company.