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Antigone and Medea: Early Feminists?

            Antigone and Medea are often considered amongst the first feminists' in literature. A feminist is one who protests discrimination against women. Both Antigone and Medea live in sexist societies in which they are treated as inferiors because of their gender. Both rebel against powerful men who impose an injustice on them "Antigone defies Creon's law, Medea gets revenge on Jason. But their motives for rebellion are quite different. Medea's primary motive is revenge, but she also protests against women's discrimination. This makes her a feminist. Antigone is motivated by the desire to bury her brother. At the same time she protests against unjust and tyrannical governments. However, nowhere does she make reference to a desire for more equality amongst the sexes, let alone a demonstration of those values that would make her a feminist. .
             Antigone lives in a sexist society in which woman are second class citizens who are expected to mind their own business and do what they are told. When Creon learns of Antigone's defiance of his decree his anger seems to stem not merely from the burial, but also from the insolence of a woman: .
             "I am not the man, not now; she is the man.
             if this victory goes to her and she goes free."" (545-546).
             His contempt for women recurs several lines later:.
             "When I'm alive.
             no woman is going to lord it over me."" (593-594).
             Later in the play he uses "woman's accomplice- (837) and "woman's slave- (848) as insults when arguing with Haemon. Even Ismene seems to buy into the superiority of men. Trying to convince Antigone not to bury Polynices, she cautions her that:.
             " we are women.
             we're not born to contend with men."" (74-75).
             Medea lives under the same prejudices as Antigone. Again, in her city, women are considered discriminated against. Jason states his beliefs quite directly:.
             "If only children could be got some other way,.
             Without the female sex! If women didn't exist,.
             Human life would be rid of all its miseries.

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