Marilyn B. Skinner
This article examines the meaning given within different social structures to human individuals, whose relationship even with their own bodies is culturally determined. While ‘gender’ is widely understood to be a hermeneutic tool used in feminist research, its relationship to other feminist approaches is not altogether clear. Gender studies as a field is a relatively recent spin-off from ‘women in antiquity’. Investigation of ancient women, the realities of their lives and the representations of them in art and literature began in the early 1970s, as a project designed to supplement the existing historical record.
In discussing sexual identity, this article focuses on specific issues in understanding how individuals could be constructed as sexual beings. The ancient Greeks themselves had no specific or overarching terms for either gender or sexuality, yet distinctions based on biological sex were deeply embedded in the linguistic, cognitive, political, and social structures of their society at all periods. Just as biological sex precedes sexuality in many accounts, so men were thought to come into being before women in Greek mythology. Meanwhile, the sexual practices of the ancient Greeks attracted the attention of scholars much earlier than questions about the status and position of Greek women.