Biesecker's "Rhetoric, Possibility, and Women's Status in Ancient Athens"

Biesecker, Susan L. "Rhetoric, Possibility, and Women's Status in Ancient Athens." Rhetoric Society Quarterly 22.1 (1992): 99-108. JSTOR. Web. 19 Jan 2016.

Biesecker writes that while women in ancient Athens had long been disallowed from participating in politics and government, women's status actually worsened as the society shifted toward democracy; they became even more subordinated as the political arena made room for men's oratory (99-100). Biesecker states that women's progress toward equality is often assumed to be a linear trend, but investigation into certain events, through the oratory of the time, may illuminate details about the wins and setbacks on the path toward women's progress, ultimately painting a clearer picture of how and why changes occured (100-101).

Biesecker writes that Pericles' law in 451/450 B.C.E. aimed to clarify how Athenian citizenship was granted by stating that both of a child's parents needed to be Athenian in order to be a citizen (101).  This ended up both granting that women could be citizens, and further complicating matters, because proving a mother's citizenship required proving her mother's citizenship, and there were no citizenship records for women  (102-103). We have an oration from Euxitheus' court defense around 345 B.C.E. that shows how this law complicated questions of citizenship (104).

Biesecker next compares Isocrates' encomium of Helen with Gorgias' encomium of Helen, noting that Gorgias' speech takes the form of forensic oratory and while it uses Helen as its supposed topic, the oration actually functions to demonstrate the power forensic oratory has to affect social change (105).  Isocrates' speech, on the other hand, uses the deliberative form to promote unity, thereby silencing the voices of women and acting as a setback to positive social change for women (106). Both these examples show how oratory can sway the sociopolitical environment, and show that a trend is not unidirectional; rather, it happens through numerous competing conversations (107).