Most people think of ancient Athens as the city of freedom and democracy, whereas they think of Sparta as a highly restricted society. Schools teach us that modern democracies are modeled on Athens, while military dictatorships are modeled after Sparta. However, history shows us that women had much more liberty in Sparta than in Athens. In fact, the democracy of Athens was available only to free men who were citizens of Athens. Moreover, to claim citizenship, an Athenian had to prove that both his parents were "astoi." For the father, being "astos" meant that he was an Athenian citizen, but the mother could not be a citizen. Women were only able to transmit the rights of citizenship to their sons (Chase 60). The political structure of Sparta, on the other hand, provided more liberty for more people, especially to women.
Both Athenian and Spartan women lived much of their lives separately from the men of their societies. Athenian men spent time away discussing politics and philosophy, but when they went home they expected obedience from their wives. However, no Athenian citizen would ever admit that he took advice from a woman. Spartan men were gone even more, since they were soldiers. Only the men held official office, but everyone recognized the influence of women in decision making. Spartan women gained freedom from male domination, but they were not likely to get any emotional support from their marriages. The men of Athens had to be the boss in public, but not necessarily in the home behind closed doors. In Athens, the men held public power, but in Sparta the state held public power (55). .
Life in Sparta was oriented around the state. The individual lived and died for the state. Their lives were designed to serve the state from their beginning to the age of sixty. Ironically, this soldier-centered state was the most liberal state with regard to the status of women.
Athenian women were taught how to perform household chores, but they were discouraged from learning to read and write.