Reclaiming Femininity: Antigone's ‘Choice’ in Art and Art History
Feminist responses to Antigone's choice to rebel against masculine authority have largely refocused the text as a discourse of gender difference in order to expose patriarchy's victimization of women. This chapter, while acknowledging feminine defiance as a crucial aspect of the text's internal contradictions, equally recognizes that Antigone's performance of the burial rites situates her firmly within paternalistic constructions of femininity. In classical art, contemporary (roughly) with Sophocles' play, defiance becomes invisible: only the traditional feminine role is portrayed. A long visual tradition follows from the classical one, always casting the ancient heroine in this same, typically feminine role, and this tradition serves as a perfect example of the modern feminist critique of the history of images, in which women are robbed of their agency. Such endemic aversion to the depiction of overt defiance is, it is proposed, symptomatic of the broader cultural response to the play's revelation of two discrete, but mutually dependent feminine constructs: one demands Antigone's submission to a patriarchal definition of femininity that would require her to relinquish her autonomous perception of her feminine role, and the other involves her wilful conformance to that self‐generated identity. Meyer proposes in this chapter to demonstrate that by politicizing Antigone in the most conservative fashion, images reinforce patriarchal gender and kinship hierarchies, implying a perception of the dangers of what the author interprets here as expressions of ‘excess’ femininity, and underlining the need for continuing oppression in the interests of masculine political systems and social stability.
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