The Representation of Women in Ancient Comedy and the Modern Sitcom. A Comparison and Analysis

Bachelor Thesis, 2022

33 Pages, Grade: 1.0


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Comparing the Formats of Ancient Comedy and the Modern Sitcom

3. Sex-Gender Systems: One-Sex vs Two-Sex Model

4. Mothers and Whores: The Dichotomy of Women in Comedy
4.1 Women as Whores: Sexualisation and Limitation to the Body
4.2 Women as Mothers: Marriage, Children, and the Household
4.3 The Dichotomy in Action: How the Dichotomy Applies to Women

5. Conclusion


This paper sets out to analyse and compare the representation of women in ancient comedy and the modern sitcom, arguing that both adhere to a dichotomy of presenting women as either “mothers” or “whores”. First, it establishes the sitcom as the modern descendant of the ancient comedy while also considering crucial differences, such as the all-male cast in ancient plays and the concentration on indoor spaces (sitcom) versus outdoor spaces (ancient comedy). Subsequently, by analysing select episodes of “The Big Bang Theory” and plays such as Plautus’ “Cistellaria” and Aristophanes’ “Assemblywomen”, it establishes essential ways in which the dichotomy manifests. The key result of the comparison between the two formats is that although both represent women using the dichotomy of “mother and whore”, the way they do so differs. Firstly, the one-sex model, dominant in the ancient world, allows for female characters to display more “masculine” traits without seeming unnatural, causing there to be more competent female protagonists in ancient plays than in the sitcom. Secondly, the dichotomy between “mother” and “whore” in ancient plays is separated strictly along class lines, limiting the role of the “mother” to citizen women and the role of the “whore” to prostitutes, whereas, in the sitcom, the dichotomy is applied more freely to all women independent of class status. In addition, while the dichotomy is a prevalent factor in both formats, it is more common in the sitcom that aspects of both sides, “mother” and “whore”, are combined in one character.

1. Introduction

Since the emergence of gender studies in the wake of the identity politics of the 1980s and 90s and their widespread influence on western culture, there is a general sense that significant progress has been made in how women are represented in the media. However, scientists and philosophers have been thinking about sex and gender for more than two millennia before gender studies emerged as an academic field, and the conclusions drawn by these philosophers have shaped the way we think about sex and gender to this day. Nonetheless, the fact that we live in an era of gender politics and unprecedented interest in gender studies may lead to the conclusion that every aspect of modern media is more aware of and less reliant on gender stereotypes drawn up by ancient philosophers. When focusing on one of the most viewed genres of contemporary television, however, the sitcom reveals itself not only as a peddler of the same ancient stereotypes but as a format that places women in a rigid system of predetermined characteristics.

This paper sets out to analyse and compare the representation of women in the two formats and, in the process, lay out the fundamental reasons for the many differences and similarities between the two. The first chapter will introduce the formats of the ancient comedy and modern sitcom, establishing the sitcom as today’s equivalent of the ancient comedy based on their role in society, basic plot structure, and reliance on stereotypes. The second chapter will then briefly define the one-sex model of the ancient world and the modern two-sex model and illustrate how their differences influence the representation of women in comedy. The fourth and most important chapter will analyse specific episodes of the sitcom “Big Bang Theory” and the ancient plays “Assemblywomen” by Aristophanes and “Cistellaria” by Plautus and use them to establish how the modern sitcom and the ancient comedy both establish a dichotomy that leaves women with two kinds of representation: Mothers and Whores.

2. Comparing the Formats of the Ancient Comedy and the Modern Sitcom

“Oh Menander, O life, which of you imitated the other?” (Fantham 44). The ancient Greek scholar Aristophanes of Byzantium said this phrase was often repeated at the beginning of every play by the comic Menander. It encapsulates the role comedy fulfils in the ancient world and arguably still fulfils today. In contrast to the ancient tragedy, which was often based on great myths and epics, the comic playwright had the goal of basing their plot in the city and around the struggles and phantasies of the average citizen (Foley 259). However, comedy must also be exciting and “deal with the exceptional, with initial situations that threaten family stability or social harmony, and complications that prolong the tension of such threats” (Fantham 45). Therefore, ancient comedy is a dramatised depiction of real life, meaning that the events, although possible, are improbable to unfold in the same way.

A distinction should be made between the Old Greek Comedy, preserved mainly in the works of the comic playwright Aristophanes, and the New Greek and Roman comedy written by the likes of Menander, Plautus, Terence and many more. They differed in two substantial ways: humour and plot structure. Old Comedy relied heavily on vulgar and openly sexual humour and had a loosely structured plot that often felt more like a thought experiment than a fully fleshed out story with a beginning, main part, and conclusion. Its plot often dealt with political figures, contemporary celebrities, or the way the polis was run. Take Aristophanes’ “Assemblywomen”, for example, a play that will be analysed in chapter four, about a group of women dressing up as men, voting to hand over power to women, and then establishing a state that resembles communism. The story has no climax, tension or conclusion and is filled with vulgar jokes and sexual innuendos. After the Macedonians took over Athens at around 338 BC (Manning), the cultural demands and regulations changed, and comedy was adapted by creating what is now called “New Comedy”. New Comedy, which most Roman comedies were based on, is closer to the sitcom in terms of plot since it deals with love, relationships, friendship, family life and an exaggerated version of reality.

Consequently, it is no surprise that Hornby traces the origin of the sitcom back to Plautus and Menander (Hornby 111). The first sitcom, “You Can’t Take It with You”, already presents us with many of the same structural elements we see in sitcoms today: It takes place in a single, contemporary interior setting, with characters who speak, dress, and behave like ordinary people with fewer inhibitions, and the focus always lies on the personal lives of the characters, never on more significant political issues such as wars or financial crises. This is reflected in the plays of New Greek and Roman comedies, which always focus on the private affairs of the characters and completely disregard the existence and the terror of war, despite its near omnipresence. Comedies avoid the genuine terrors of the world to create a refuge from them and allow the audience to enter a realm in which the world is portrayed as simple and safe (Hornby 112). A difference between the two is that the sitcom takes place in one or two indoor spaces that function as the main settings for events, whereas the ancient plays take place exclusively outdoors. The audience might occasionally be told what has happened offstage or hear a scream or a cry, but the stage never depicts the inside of a house. The reason is that matters of importance in the ancient world happened outside the house, “among one's fellow male citizens” (Hornby 112) and away from the private and domestic sphere of mothers and children. In Terence’s “Andria”, for example, the audience would hear Glycerium, the female protagonist of the play who is only heard in this one scene, “call on Juno” (Terence 103) from inside the house while she is giving birth.

However, that does not mean that women do not play crucial roles in ancient plays. They are most often the driving forces of the plot since it is often the enslaved woman or the attentive prostitute who identifies the exposed child (Foley 271, Henry 144) and thereby saves the day (e.g., in Cistellaria) or the cunning mother who sees through the plans of men and gives them their rightful punishment as in Plautus’ “Casina”. The fact that modern sitcoms take place mostly indoors seems to have the simple reason that life in the 20th and 21st century is centred around indoor spaces rather than any distinction between a male and female space. Nonetheless, indoor spaces function in many of the same ways as the outdoor spaces in the ancient plays. There is often a single main set used for most of the scenes in addition to a secondary, more public setting where more casual and playful scenes take place. The ancient play will often use the street outside the protagonists’ houses, who are usually neighbours, as the primary setting and more public areas of the city as secondary more public settings. The modern sitcom imitates this structure by having a majority of the plot take place in a house or apartment, where all the protagonists live near one another or even together, for example, in “Big Bang Theory”, “Friends”, or “How I Met Your Mother”. They then have second more public location, like the bar in “How I Met Your Mother” or the café in “Friends”, for light-hearted scenes and public interactions.

The theme of a plot with two layers, one being light-hearted, playful, and most importantly disposable and the other more intimate, dramatic, and relevant to the story, is a cornerstone of both ancient and modern comedy. Aristotle wrote that in tragedies no part or character could be taken out without affecting the whole; in comedies, however, entire characters and scenes can be removed without affecting the main plot (Hornby 116). Similarly, Hornby claims that in the sitcom side-characters appear like a “supernova”. They get a moment in the spotlight to incite laughter or disturb the equilibrium of the refuge and then disappear as if nothing had happened (Hornby 117), highlighting the disposability of most scenes and even entire episodes in sitcoms. Examples of this can be found in any sitcom, be it the “Cockamouse” in the “How I Met Your Mother” episode “Matchmaker” where a cockroach-mouse hybrid wreaks havoc in the protagonist’s apartment never to be seen again, or “The One with Rachel’s Sister” in “Friends” where Rachel’s sister interferes with the relationships between the protagonists by wanting to date Ross. Both episodes could easily be removed without infringing on the overarching main plot.

However, even the main plot is sparse, and most importantly, it is predictable. Both in the sitcom and the ancient comedy, the outcome and basic structure of the plot are known to the experienced viewer very early on since comedy works with simple, reusable building blocks and stock characters. In ancient plays, the virtuous woman will always turn out to be the exposed child of a citizen, and if a token is mentioned, it will always be used to identify a rapist or lost child. In the sitcom, the pretty girl will always end up with the nice guy rather than her hypermasculine boyfriend and if a guy sees a beautiful woman on a train, he will always hunt her down or run into her again. This predictability is built on the foundation of the stereotypical stock characters who make up the cast of most comedies, thereby making stereotypical characters an inescapable part of the genre. For this reason, combined with comedy’s objective to depict an exaggerated image of contemporary life, comedy is an effective tool to inspect and compare dominant contemporary stereotypes.

It should be added that the reliance on simple plotlines and stock characters partially originates from how ancient plays were performed. Although more amplifying than one might think, large venues and crowded amphitheatres often caused the audience to have difficulty understanding what was being said on stage. This circumstance, combined with the limiting factor of an all-male cast, forced ancient playwrights to give the actors large, universally known masks, recognisable to the ancient audience. Focusing on the masks used for women, we can identify at least “fourteen types for young women, including 2-3 in each category of little slave-girl, maiden, wronged maiden (our concealed citizen), hetaerae, and concubines, with others again for old women, whether honest nannies or grasping procuresses” (Fantham 71). This extensive collection of characters might be mistaken for a diverse plethora of female characters. In reality, however, these characters can be boiled down to two core groups: the hetaerae (whores) and the citizen wives/mothers. The fourth chapter of this paper will focus on how these two groups manifest in a play and to what extent they prevail in the sitcom. Still, before the dichotomy of “mother” and “whore” can be analysed, it is essential to understand the differing sex-gender systems of the ancient world and the 20th and 21st centuries.

3. Sex-Gender Systems: One-Sex vs Two-Sex Model

The representation of women, men or any other social group never takes place within a cultural void and thus demands a thorough analysis of the cultural system enveloping the piece of art that attempts a representation. Since a holistic approach would go beyond the limitations of this paper, this chapter will merely focus on one cultural difference between the ancient and modern world that greatly affects the representation of women since it sets the foundation on which gender stereotypes are constructed: the one-sex versus the two-sex model.

The one-sex model is based on the understanding that the female genitalia are identical to the male genitalia except they are inverted. This idea was supported by the Alexandrian anatomist Herophilus in the third century B.C., who claimed that “a woman has testes with accompanying seminal ducts very much like a man’s, one on each side of the uterus, the only difference being that the male’s are contained in the scrotum, and the female’s are not” (Laqueur 4). This misidentification of the female genitalia as a mere variation of the male genitalia had widespread consequences, beginning with the lack of research or interest in female anatomy since it was thought to be essentially identical to that of a man and thus required no further investigation or even labelling of the individual parts, leading to ovaries being called testes for most of medical history (Laqueur 10). The most dramatic impact of this model, however, was social. It gave way to the system in which women were not just any kind of variation of men but a twisted and hierarchically inferior variation. This was argued based on the arbitrary metric of heat since it was believed to be the “primary instrument of nature” (Laqueur 28) and thus a measurement of superiority. Even Aristotle, who theoretically claimed to believe in the existence of two sexes (Laqueur 28), wrote: “There are hirsute, viral women-the virago-who are too hot to procreate and are as bold as men, and there are weak, effeminate men, too cold to procreate and perhaps even womanly in wanting to be penetrated” (Laqueur 52). To Aristotle, the physiological differences between men and women were far less philosophically interesting than concepts that we would now see attributed to culturally charged gender stereotypes. That men are active, women passive, men hunters, women gatherers, and men contribute the form or spirit and women the matter to a foetus were natural truths to him and most other philosophers of the ancient world. Consequently, pre-enlightenment, sex was contingent on circumstance, whereas gender was primary (Laqueur 8).

The quote by Aristotle also exemplifies another crucial characteristic of the hierarchy created by the one-sex system: mobility within the hierarchy. One can move up or down within the hierarchy by displaying characteristics commonly attributed to the opposite gender, such as heat or boldness. This goes so far that many believed the body would adapt if one wandered too far toward the opposite side of the hierarchy. For example, when women became “too masculine,” i.e., powerful, strong, and socially influential, they were often said to have grown penises or dropped their scrotums too low (Laqueur 123) since their body temperature was too high to keep their genitalia inside (Laqueur 127).

This hierarchical mobility, enabled by the existence of both genders within one vertically oriented sex, with a significant overlap between the two, is of great importance when analysing ancient plays compared to modern sitcoms or any other modern format. The hierarchical mobility allows female characters to be powerful, bold, intelligent, and thus traverse higher up the hierarchy without being perceived as unnatural. Modern comedies, however, function within a horizontally oriented two-sex system. Each sex has its domain and set of characteristics and is considered an “incommensurable opposite” (Laqueur 10) of the other. If one thing is regarded as an “incommensurable opposite” of another, there is no overlap between the two, creating two distinct categories with a much more impermeable border. The two-sex system, by acknowledging that female and male exist as ontologically equivalent in a horizontal structure, has paved the way for progress in our understanding of the female anatomy, equal rights for men and women, and the widespread emancipation of women. However, it also hardened the border between what is considered masculine or feminine. Despite the widely recognised modern distinction between sex and gender, attempting to separate the biological from culturally charged characteristics, formerly conflated within the one-sex model, the two sexes are still closely entwined with their corresponding gender stereotypes.

For the sitcom, a genre that, as we have seen, relies heavily on stereotypes, the opposition of sexes leads to a rigid system in which one sex showing characteristics of another is very rare. When it does occur, it is most often to produce a short moment of laughter (e.g., a muscular man doing something feminine) or introduce a stock character that is funny because it goes against what is considered natural (e.g., the burly woman or the petite straight man with a high voice). This leaves women with few preselected characteristics that are hard or impossible to escape without crossing the border to what is considered “manly”. These characteristics can be summarised as the dichotomy between “mothers” and “whores”.

4. Mothers and Whores: The Dichotomy of Women in Comedy

The following chapter will analyse and compare ancient comedies and modern sitcoms and their depiction of women. The sitcom “The Big Bang Theory” will serve as a primary source, focusing on the analysis of two episodes to allow for a more in-depth study of the material and using other sitcoms as additional examples. Similarly, for the ancient plays, this paper will only focus on two plays chosen to represent the different types of plot structure and humour provided by Old Greek Comedy compared to New Greek and Roman Comedy. The play “Assemblywomen” by Aristophanes will serve as an example of Old Greek Comedy since its plot revolves around a group of women taking power, thereby creating a rare and intriguing depiction of what men at the time thought women would do if given the reins of government. It should again be noted that Old Comedy is structurally very different to the format of the modern sitcom; nonetheless, it is included in this paper due to its similarities in humour. Where the Roman and New Greek comedies rely on subtle changes in stock characters, common plot structures and situational comedy to be entertaining to the audience, Old Comedy does not shy away from crude and sexual humour revolving around stereotypes of the sexes, making it a fruitful source for ancient stereotypes. Additionally, although the modern sitcom draws from both kinds of humour, it is often more akin to Old Greek Comedy regarding its blatant exploitation of stereotypes for entertainment thus making Old Comedy’s inclusion in the analysis imperative. The ancient Roman comedy will be represented by Plautus’ “Cistellaria”, chosen for two reasons. Firstly, its classic plot elements of rape of a citizen woman, exposure of the child, recognition of the child using tokens, and a wedding to a citizen man enabled by this recognition. Secondly, Plautus’s attempt, in this play and others, to highlight the dichotomy of “mothers” and “whores” while also blending the borders between the two. This is particularly noteworthy since, in ancient comedy, the categories of “mother” and “whore” are strictly separated along class lines, in contrast to the modern sitcom, which, due to a less rigid class distinction, can apply the dichotomy more freely. Consequently, the sitcom allows for one character to be represented as both “mother” and “whore” without, as we will see, disrupting the dichotomy itself.

The first two subchapters will analyse the plays and comedies and determine the extent and manner to which they adhere to the dichotomy of “mothers” and “whores”, laid out and popularised by Freud. Freud’s thesis was based on the understanding that sons of distant mothers treat wives as substitutes for mothers, consequently separating objects of emotional love (“mothers”) from objects of sexual desire (“whores”) (Dutch 200). Although popularised by Freud, this dichotomy was neither discovered by him nor is it limited to men with distant mothers. It is at the core of how we have perceived and represented women for over two millennia in ways that still affect us today. Kathryn Carovano, for example, argues that in AIDS care, the reliance on the dichotomy prevents all women from having equal access to the healthcare they need since prevention is focused primarily on “women in the sex industry and, more recently, prenatal women” (Carovano 131). The third and last subchapter will then show how the dichotomy applies to women differently in sitcoms than in ancient comedy due to the social structure they inhabit and briefly outline how Plautus uses “Cistellaria” to blend and distort the two categories.

4.1 Women as Whores: Sexualisation and Limitation to the Body

Throughout human history, women were excluded from academia and politics for systemic and ideological reasons that require a much broader scope than this paper can provide. Nonetheless, for our purposes, this exclusion can be sufficiently understood by using the “symbolic construction of the view of the biological body” (Bourdieu 54), in which certain traits and power relations are naturalised and somaticised, making a person “inclined and able” to enter the “social games most favourable to the development of manliness” (politics, business, science), thereby discouraging girls from entering the same games (Bourdieu 54). The consequences of this exclusion cannot be understated. Two things are likely to occur if a group of people is excluded from the central institutions of power and knowledge for an extended period. Firstly, the group itself will find other ways of accessing power and knowledge, although the power and knowledge gained are most likely of lesser quality or dependent on the dominant group. Secondly, the dominant group(s) will claim that the deficiencies of the inferior group are “implanted upon [them] by nature or the gods” (Elias et al. 34), which will then, since it was claimed by the dominant group, be perceived as universally true and thus adopted by the submissive group (Bourdieu 62). Accordingly, women found access to power through sexuality, marriage, and manipulation. This strategy, however, may have contributed to the sexualisation of women and the limitation of women to their bodies, thereby naturalising and reaffirming the exclusion of women from institutions of power and knowledge. Although in the modern world of the sitcom, women arguably have equal access to knowledge and power as men, considering that women now make up the majority of university students1 (Hewitt) and increasingly more women hold political office (Inter-Parliamentary Union), we can still find an abundance of evidence for women being limited to their bodies and having to resort to sexuality to exert some influence or power.

The sitcom “The Big Bang Theory” lends itself well to the analysis of this phenomenon since most of the characters are scientists and thus navigate academia and often hint at or comment on intelligence and competence. The character that stands out in that respect is Penny, who fulfils the trope of the “dumb blond”. She is a waitress at the “Cheesecake Factory” and functions as a contrast to the scientific geniuses that make up the group of male characters. She is often depicted as unintelligent and uneducated but more attractive, socially competent, and sexually active than the rest of the group. The trope of the “dumb blond” is amplified when combined with its counterpart, the “unattractive intellectual”, who is represented by Amy. Amy is not conventionally attractive and wears unflattering, baggy clothes that are usually brown or grey and make her look like an older woman. Her outfits also oppose the often colourful, form-fitting, and youthful outfits worn by Penny. Amy’s sex life is only referred to when the lack thereof is ridiculed, and her only partner in the show is Sheldon, who avoids physical contact. She is a neurobiologist, an expert in her field and, in contrast to Penny, highly educated. The dynamic of the “dumb blond” and “unattractive intellectual” is in no way unique to “The Big Bang Theory” but can be found in many sitcoms. In “Modern Family”, for example, Haley is the dumb, hypersexual “blond” obsessed with looks, outfits, and boys. In contrast, Alex is the smart one, who, at least in the early seasons, is ridiculed for her singleness and unflattering outfits and is perceived as less socially skilled.

Analysing the last scene in the episode of “The Big Bang Theory” called “The Tenure Turbulence” provides a great example of the two tropes interacting and being compared by the other characters. The protagonists find themselves at the funeral of a late colleague whose death made a tenured position available that the male protagonists compete for when the following interaction takes place:

Penny: I’m here to support my man, just like you.

Sheldon: What are you going to do? Take people’s drink orders and get them wrong?

Leonard: Do it. [Penny reveals her provocative outfit exposing her cleavage]

Sheldon: What? Did she do it yet?

Amy: She plans on flirting with members of the tenure committee to further Leonard’s cause.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Raj: You two should be ashamed of yourselves. Using women to advance your cause with sexuality and whatever Amy plans on doing.

Sheldon: Are you implying that my girlfriend has no sexuality to exploit?

Raj: Yes.

Sheldon: Okay, because that was not clear.

Both women attend the event to support their partners in attaining a more secure and well-paid position, but in this interaction, it is clear whose help is valued more. Penny wordlessly reveals her body, and it is understood that this will have great impact. On the other hand, Amy is ridiculed for not having a “sexuality to exploit”. Not only is her ability to use her sexuality to manipulate put into question, but she is also denied sexuality itself. This might seem like a radical interpretation, however Amy functions as a sexual neutral between the dichotomy of “mother” and “whore”, fulfilling neither one nor the other. This is possible due to the more flexible application of the dichotomy in the modern sitcom compared to the ancient comedy, which will be discussed in the third part of this chapter. Hence, it is possible for Amy to not be defined by her status of “mother” or “whore”, but by her desire to belong to either of them. Through that craving she is subjected to the dichotomy, for it is her failing to adhere to the stereotypes that defines her character. Therefore, this kind of exclusion from the “mother and whore” dichotomy does not indicate that the dichotomy no longer applies. Characters like Amy are thought to be humorous for the very reason that they do not adhere to the dichotomy and thus, as an exception to the rule, contradict the expectations of the audience.

In addition to Amy’s exclusion from femininity, she is also depicted as seemingly masculine. She is intelligent, which is equated to masculinity at different points in the show. At the end of the Episode “The Matrimonial Momentum”, for example, Sheldon says that Marie Curie is an “honorary man” since she “had a penis made of science”, thereby equating intelligence (symbolised by science) with masculinity. Hence, Amy is depicted as neither “mother” nor “whore” but as intelligent, a trait perceived as masculine both within the show and, arguably, in modern society since studies have proven a bias against girls and women in jobs that require intelligence. This bias is deemed significant enough to “represent a major obstacle for women aspiring to prestigious careers in today’s society” (Bian 33). The value attributed to Penny compared to Amy is especially noteworthy, given the academic nature of the goal that is to be achieved. Amy argues so herself before the funeral when she says: “I’m well-versed in academic politics, and as a respected scientist, I can only raise your stock as a candidate.”. However, despite her intelligence, education and academic successes, Sheldon fails to see the value in her support, merely noting she might be of use as a driver. Another example of this can be found in the “How I Met Your Mother” episode “Subway Wars”, when Robin, one of the protagonists of the show, must co-host the news with a classic “dumb blond” character called Becky. Despite Robin’s competence, intelligence, and professionalism, the audience and crew prefer the work of the incompetent “dumb blond” and Robin is paid no more attention.

Through examples like this, it becomes clear that it is neither intelligence nor skill that is used to rank the ability of women to convince and influence others, but rather attractiveness and social skills. This is highlighted when drawing a comparison to the way men are valued. In an argument between Penny and her newlywed husband Leonard, after he struggled to carry her across the threshold of their room, he says: “I may not have been entirely faithful, but you, you are not easy to lift.” Here, two entirely different metrics are presented as equal. He is judged for a moral misstep, a lack of virtuousness, whereas she is judged for her body. Despite being only a single line, it exemplifies the application of different metrics for men and women, with men being judged by their intellect and morality and women for their attractiveness. Another example is how Leonard explains the concept of tenure to Penny. When she understands that a tenured position cannot be terminated, despite bad performance, she says: “Sounds a lot like being a pretty waitress at the cheesecake factory.” The intelligence, skill and competence required to get a tenured position are equated to the attractiveness required to give Penny security at her job. Although this may be an exaggerated example, and tenure can hardly be compared to a job as a waitress regarding job security or pay, it can nonetheless be used to show how different traits are associated with attaining job security for men and women.

To summarise, in the selected episodes, female characters who are depicted primarily as “whores” are sexualised and limited to their bodies in one crucial way. They are judged and valued based on their physical appearance and ability to manipulate people. Their bodies are their best way to affect change, and their attractiveness determines their power to influence and manipulate. On the other hand, intelligence and competence are not valued as much by the other characters. Consequently, women and men are evaluated by different metrics. Women are valued based on their bodies, whereas men are valued based on their intellect, competence, and morality.

In ancient comedies, this kind of sexualisation cannot be identified in the same way. In contrast to the sitcom, ancient plays, both Roman and Old Greek, provide no shortage of intelligent, cunning, and strategically thinking women who are not forced to surrender their beauty or femininity in return. As explained above, this is possible due to the one-sex model dominant in the ancient world, which allows women to move up the hierarchy of the one sex by displaying more masculine traits without contradicting what is considered natural. However, these strong female characters often come with a caveat, possibly to make them less threatening and more acceptable to the male audience.


1 56.6% in the academic year of 2017/18 in the UK according to the Higher Education Policy Institute

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The Representation of Women in Ancient Comedy and the Modern Sitcom. A Comparison and Analysis
University of Tubingen
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representation, women, ancient, comedy, modern, sitcom, comparison, analysis
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Kevin Jasinski-Moore (Author), 2022, The Representation of Women in Ancient Comedy and the Modern Sitcom. A Comparison and Analysis, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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