The strength and virtue of women

One particularly troublesome thing about the Latin and Greek words for virtue (“virtus" and “aretē”, respectively) is that they both have strong connotations of masculine achievement. The world which Socrates’ inhabited and engaged philosophically with was a world domimated by the warrior values we meet in Homer’s epic poems. An ideal human being in that world is an honorable and brave - male - warrior. Socrates and Plato aimed to radically challenge that understanding of virtue. To Socrates and Plato a fully developed human is a wise philosopher and i Plato’s most provocative work - The Republic - Socrates demonstrates that women can and should be ideal philosophers just as well as men.

On this point - as well as a lof of others - Stoicism is completely aligned with Socrates and Plato. However, in the preserved sources they don’t talk a lot about women’s capacity for virtue - and often use words such as “womanly" to describe disapproved reactions to challenging events. In fact, I am tempted to say that in Stoicism in general and Roman Stoicism in particular the concept of virtue lean a little too far back into the masculine warrior world.

On that background it's particularly significant that we have as clear a statement as the one below from a Stoic as prominent Seneca:

Who says that nature has been stingy in its treatment of women’s characters, and has imposed narrow restrictions on their virtues? Believe me, they have just as much strength, and just as much potential for moral goodness, <so long as> they want it; they endure grief and hardship just as effectively, if they have developed the habit”.

- Seneca, Consolation to Marcia 16.1