Thinking Like Lysistrata: Women’s March 2018

On the first anniversary of the Women’s March on Washington that took the United States – and the world – by storm on January 20, 2017 in the wake of the deeply unsettling inauguration of 45, women everywhere came together once again to protest The Man No One (sane) Wanted in Office.

From Stanford to right here in Ann Arbor, women united to remind everyone that our fight is still not over. Our rights, and the rights of so many other marginalized groups, are still in jeopardy, and we must continue to fight for those rights as we weather this storm of a presidency for the next three years.

Although I personally could not attend the Ann Arbor march today (I did make it out to Lansing last year, which was honestly such a feeling of empowerment, being surrounded by so many other empowered women), I kept an eye on social media and felt almost as inspired as I did a year ago when I saw how many women and allies showed up. I particularly enjoyed an image shared by a friend on Instagram, who was depicted holding a sign saying ‘Public CERVIX announcement, this pussy grabs BACK’ in front of a man defiantly holding up a sign saying ‘Make me a sammich!’

It is so appalling to know that, after everything we have been through in the last year, and all of the headlines that have come out of not just the things that our President has said but also current events – like the systematic disenfranchisement of several prominent celebrity men who have sexually assaulted other members of the community – there are still people out there who think this way.

In the midst of seeing these posts throughout the day from the various Women’s Marches all over the country and spending much of the morning hashing out the inherent problems in Classics as a discipline and with classical reception in media in general, I remembered the days in undergrad, where I was exposed to Spike Lee’s masterpiece, Chi-Raq. A modern adaptation of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, what film could have been more appropriate on a day like today?

By the two Goddesses, now can’t you see
All we have to do is idly sit indoors
With smooth roses powdered on our cheeks,
Our bodies burning naked through the folds
Of shining Amorgos‘ silk, and meet the men
With our dear Venus-plats plucked trim and neat.
Their stirring love will rise up furiously,
They’ll beg our arms to open. That’s our time!
We’ll disregard their knocking, beat them off—
And they will soon be rabid for a Peace.
I’m sure of it.

-Lysistrata, Lysistrata 140-154 (trans. Perseus Online)

Released three years ago, Chi-Raq tells the story of a young woman named Lysistrata who, seeing her city plagued by gang violence and wanting to put an end to it, organizes a sex strike in order to bring peace to Chicago. It’s both heart-wrenching and hilarious, poking fun at a serious situation in much the same way that Aristophanes does in his fifth century comedy. It’s a whopping 2 hours long but it doesn’t feel like it – it’ll keep you engaged the whole way through, thanks to stunning cinematography, witty dialogue (in verse!), the periodic appearances by Samuel L. Jackson (he’s a hoot and he doesn’t even talk to anyone other than the audience), and the ingenious adaptation of such a timeless plot line.

But those aren’t the only reasons I love the film. On the one hand, it’s the representation.


If you had never heard of this film before today, would you have ever thought anyone would adapt Aristophanes in such a poignant way? I certainly never did, and yet years after I watched for the first time, a little shocked and a little intrigued, in a dark classroom in the middle of Virginia, singing its praises.

The film might not be set in fifth century Athens, but it still puts people of color in the roles we as classicists are so familiar with. And that’s something. (It is not, for instance, like the ill-fated Gods of Egypt that disappointed so many by casting white men in the lead roles of Egyptian gods. But that’s a totally different issue.)

Whether you’re a classicist or not, I think that so many people would get something out of this film. If you are a classicist, I think you can see why a film like this is so important. Think of all of the other film adaptations of ancient literature you’ve seen – Cleopatra, Troy, 300 – all attempt to stay true to the story for the most part, taking some creative liberties here and there. But what Spike Lee does here is take Aristophanes’ work and effectively transplant it into a new community, with new personalities and new problems.

But is it really new?

My answer would be a firm no.

Instead of perpetuating the white-washed Classics we have all grown so accustomed to (don’t tell me you don’t imagine the characters in your favorite Athenian comedies as white actors parading around in masks), this forces us to recast the characters, to not ignore just how timely the issues that the Athenians were faced with in the fifth century actually are.

The characters in Chi-Raq are fighting for the same things – peace in their city at a time wracked with violence and conflict – using the same tactics – withholding sex, to the utter, albeit comical, dismay of the men – and are faced with the same challenges – not being taken seriously because of their gender. This is the second reason why I love this film so much, and why I think that it is particularly important on today of all days.

It is – both the film and the fifth century play – such a strong display of the power of women to bring about change. It also, of course, highlights the problems inherent in our society – the fact that women would have to resort to something as ridiculous as withholding sex in order to get what we want because we wouldn’t be taken seriously otherwise. In a similar vein, just short of withholding sex from our male counterparts, the fact that we have to organize and wield signs in the cold for hours to get the men (not people, the men) in power to pay attention to us (not actually change anything, though; just to recognize that we are here and that we do, in fact, care about our lives) is pretty ridiculous, too.

Of course, I know that Lysistrata is a work of fiction. It’s a caricature at best – a play written by a man in a society where he knew pretty well that women would never actually revolt and take over the Acropolis for peace. But so many aspects of that play, whether Aristophanes wanted them to or not, resonate in today’s society.

Whether you apply it to gang violence in Chicago or the sexual misconduct of men in Hollywood or the blatant mistreatment of women all over America by our political system, it’s relevant. So, I implore you all to watch this film, and continue to do the good work that you have been doing. Think like Lysistrata. One of these days – I hope – they’ll finally take us seriously.


E Pluribus (Feminis) Unum

Yesterday could have been a historic event. It wasn’t – in spite of what the new administration might have you believe – not when we put yet another white, Christian male in the most powerful office in the country.

But today was.

Today, hundreds of thousands (maybe even millions) of women around not only the country but also the globe stood up, rallied, and marched for women’s rights, civil rights, and human rights in the face of what might have been the most devastating blow to our country in a very long time. Sure, we were all upset when Hillary lost in November, but the panic didn’t necessarily set in until that dreadful man was confirmed as our 45th president. It was not until we really realized what the extent of the damage he might – and could very well – cause so many people, not only in America but all over the world, that we decided to stand together against him on his very first full day in office.

The impact was so powerful that although it started as the Women’s March on Washington, it spread in a ripple across America, into Europe and Asia, even to Antarctica! Despite it being called a ‘women’s march’ or a ‘sister march’, it wasn’t just about us ladies – it was about minorities, about access to health care, about immigration and so much more. It was about standing together in this fight – not just today but for the next for years (at least).

While I kept my Snapchat updated throughout the rally at Lansing, Michigan (our capitol), a lot of people were posting on Facebook and all over social media about why they were marching. It wasn’t until I was at home again after the fact that I really had a chance to think about all of the reasons why driving an hour, standing in muddy grass with my socks soaked and my toes cold, and being jostled by too-many-people as they tried to navigate the close quarters of the rally seemed worth it to me. I suppose, like a true classicist, my reason for marching was three-fold.

I’m a Double Minority

Not only am I a woman, but, surprise surprise, I am also a black woman, which, in the past, has not led to the best of situations. Already are women and women of color harassed, marginalized, underpaid, underrepresented, silenced, discriminated against – the list goes on and on. But knowing that, somehow, a man who has been taped saying things which imply sexual assault (i.e. ‘grab ’em by the pussy’) and a man who is and has been against allowing women to have the power to make their own choices about their own bodies were elected into the highest office of the land makes me physically ill. Knowing that those same men, who also support the safety of police OVER the safety of citizens of color (re: the concern should be more equal imo), don’t see the need for stricter gun control, and have made it known that they support ‘stop and frisk’ procedures that encourage racial profiling, are calling (most of) the shots. It makes me nervous. It makes me angry. It makes me want to get out and do something every single day.

My Friends and Family

Even if my friends and family didn’t agree with me politically, I would care about their rights. I would care if their rights were seriously threatened by a corrupt and evil man sitting in the highest office of the country. I would care if they felt afraid, or hurt, or angry, or depressed. I stood up for them, and will continue to stand (though not literally) for them for the next four years, or until we know for sure that our rights as women, as citizens, as human beings will not be infringed upon.

It is appalling to me that anyone could honestly look at our 45th president (who shall remain unnamed), look at the things he has done, the lies he has told, the cabinet he has chosen, and the utter lack of knowledge of any aspect of the American government and not see how wrong of a choice he was. How, even if they don’t see that, anyone could not see that so many people’s lives – people who they might even care about – are going to be affected in a serious way. You can already see who might be the first targets: people of color, immigrants, LGBTQ, and Planned Parenthood. I sincerely hope that anyone who continues to actively support this man will look around one day and ask themselves if they’d really be okay with seeing any one of their friends’ lives fall apart because of him.

My Education

Although my tenure as a PhD student lasts far beyond the confines of this presidency (I hope), what concern me in the here and now are the choices that are being made about Education in general. Not only is Betsy DeVos nearly as unqualified for her position as our newly elected president is, but there has been talk that many programs and funding for these programs, including Arts and Humanities ones, are under threat as well. One particularly striking bit of news was that the Heritage Foundation is considering defunding the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, because the “government should not use its coercive power of taxation to compel taxpayers to support cultural organizations and activities.”

Whether or not this action will be carried out through the new presidential administration, and whether or not this will directly affect my education in particular remains to be seen, but the defunding of NEH especially could pack a punch since its grants typically go to cultural institutions like museums, archives, and libraries, as well as colleges and universities. Moreover, my interests academically are in academia and in museums, so if funding for those areas falls through under our new president, who knows what the aftermath could look like.

It is only day one and we have so much work to do. One can only hope that our voices will be loud enough for someone in that dreadful administration to hear us and help us maintain the equality and love that thrived in the last eight years. Today was amazing and eye-opening, but the fight isn’t over. Never forget: love trumps hate.

+ More photos from today: