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As Antigone’s defense of her familial right to bury her brother clashes against Creon’s defense of Theban law, it seems like “the female becomes the locus of oppositions between ‘nature’ and ‘culture,’ household and state” (Foley 14), especially as Antigone appeals to divine law while Creon appeals to man-made law.Foley argues that despite Antigone’s valiant fight, it is telling that closes “with the punishment of the female intruder that implicitly reasserts the cultural norm” (14), excluding the female presence from the political realm – through the punishment of death, no less – with a note of finality.As feminist theorist Elizabeth Grosz explains, essentialism "entails the belief that those characteristics defined as women's essence are shared in common by all women at all times.
As such, for Creon, the mere notion of abstaining Antigone from criminality is experienced as a loss of personal dignity.
Creon’s use of the wider category “[women]” instead of pinpointing Antigone as a specific individual suggests that Creon regards his conflict with Antigone not as one between the state and the individual, but as one between men and women.
Creon’s views thus seem to exemplify the gender essentialism in ancient Greece that aligns masculinity with dominance and femininity with subservience.
Creon enforces his gender ideology so rigidly that he forcibly interprets Haemon’s, Antigone’s and Ismene’s actions within an essentialist gendered lens.
Creon’s hoarding of the power to “[rule]” suggests that Creon designates the political sphere as masculine and deems women as apolitical or unworthy of political participation.
When Creon immediately reacts to the Guard’s news of Polyneices’ burial with, “What man has dared to do it?
Gender essentialist distinctions, while seemingly neutral, skew the power dynamic away from the feminine and towards the masculine, so much so that “the culture does not normally permit adult moral autonomy to the female agent” (Foley 126).
Such restrictions on female independence can be seen in while Antigone and, to some extent, Ismene, struggle to assert their will in the political sphere, they are overwhelmed by various male actors including Creon and the Chorus, who chastise the women for acting out of line.
The collective noun “womankind” emphasizes Creon’s gender essentialism, where women – in Creon’s worldview – are identified with intrinsically and universally feminine characteristics such as “[weakness].” Creon’s stark admission that he would be willing to concede if Antigone were a man reveals his fear of turning power over to a woman, which would upset his belief in masculine superiority.
When Creon defends his edict with “there are other furrows for [Haemon’s] plough,” his agricultural analogy strips Antigone of individuality and attributes to her the feminine function of being an object of marriage as her sole function, reflecting the gendered segregation of labor typical in ancient Greece.