The Creation of Patriarchy

Front Cover
Oxford University Press, 1986 - History - 318 pages
When precisely did the ideas, symbols and metaphors of patriarchy take hold of Western civilization? When were women, so central to the creation of society, moved on to the sidelines? Where is the evidence to support the notion that male dominance over women is a natural state of things? Gerda Lerner's radical review of Western civilization shows that male dominance over women has nothing to do with biology, and everything to do with cultural and historical habits. Dr Lerner draws her evidence from a host of archaeological, literary, and artistic sources, using them to pinpoint the critical turning points in the allocation of women's roles in society. She draws especially on archaeological evidence of the cultures of ancient Hebrew and Mesopotamian societies, cultures from which modern Western civilization has largely derived. This approach enables her to trace the ways in which men and women have been classified as essentially separate creatures - from ancient Greek philosophy onwards - and also to examine ways in which their experience of society differs, through the structures and symbols of class and religion. Most of all, by showing patriarchy as the result of an historical process, Lerner produces an irresistable argument that it can be altered, and ended, by similar means. In The Creation of Feminist Consciousness, the eagerly awaited concluding volume of Women and History, Lerner documents the twelve-hundred-year struggle of women to free their minds from patriarchal thought, to create Women's History, and to achieve a feminist consciousness. In a richly documented narrative filled with inspiring portraits of women, Lerner ranges from the Middle Ages to the late 19th century, tracing several important ways by which women strove for autonomy and equality. One of the most remarkable sections examines over twelve hundred years of feminist Bible criticism. Since objections to women's thinking, teaching, and speaking in public were based on biblical authority--most notably, passages from Genesis and the writings of St. Paul--women returned again and again to these texts, in an attempt to subvert patriarchal dominance and establish their equality with men. This survey of biblical criticism allows Lerner to illustrate her most important insight--the discontinuity of women's history. She describes how women's history was not passed on from generation to generation, forcing women in effect to reinvent the wheel over and over again. In a series of fascinating portraits of individual women who resisted patriarchal indoctrination, Lerner discusses women mystics such as Hildegard of Bingen, Julian of Norwich and later Protestant mystics, and brings to life the many women of great literary talent, from Christine de Pisan to Louise Labe to Emily Dickinson, who simply bypassed patriarchal thought and created alternate worlds for themselves.

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About the author (1986)

Gerda Lerner is Robinson-Edwards Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is the author of eight other books.