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The Creation of Patriarchy, Part II: Leslie Knope GIF Edition

Continuing on with Gerda Lerner's The Creation of Patriarchy, her 1986 attempt to discover how we arrived at the current patriarchal system that OPPRESSES OUR VERY SOULS and does things like make the default character on Grand Theft Auto a dude with no lady option unless you log into your online account, which is bullshit. It also does a lot of other things, most of which are very important. The Grand Theft Auto one was maybe not the most important. But it came up this weekend. So there we are.




Lerner's book is really hard and I am here to read it for you and give you nice quotey bits that make you feel like you've learned something.

Chapter 2 is "A Working Hypothesis." This begins with:

The basic assumption with which we must start any theorizing about the past is that men and women built civilization jointly.



She basically says that yes, man probably hunted, and woman was "the inventor of clay and woven vessels, by means of which the tribe's surpluses could be saved for lean times," and basically that while having children generally made women not be able to roam far on hunting trips, "[h]er skills must have been as manifold as those of man and certainly as essential."

There's a kind of hilarious theoretical bit where she says that while in "civilized society," girls have a hard time with ego formation, i.e. society tells us boys are better pretty much 24/7,  in "primitive society," she thinks boys had a more difficult time because of their fear and awe of the mother and of things like menstruation that make women seem to have "a sense of participation in the mystic powers of the universe." 



Lerner also talks about why women were exchanged between tribes instead of men, and unsurprisingly, her idea is that women have a greater ability to add to the tribe's numbers. Because of babies. They would also be less likely to be violent: 


Men would be capable of violence against members of the strange tribe; with their experience in hunting and long distance travel they might easily escape and then return as warriors to seek vengeance.
Like this, but...for dudes.

One of my favorite things Lerner says in here is one that counteracts a sort of feminist cliché:
"I suggest that abandoning the search for an empowering past--the search for matriarchy--is the first step in the right direction. The creation of compensatory myths of the distant past will not emancipate women in the present and future."

As already mentioned, she definitely thinks there were egalitarian (or egalitarianish) societies in the past.


Chapter 3 is "The Stand-In Wife and Pawn" and I was not that into this chapter, other than the fact it informed me we have letters from women in Mesopotamia complaining to their fathers about their husbands. That's pretty great. She says there's some evidence women were scribes back in the day in Mesopotamian culture, but then they got shuttled to weaving and having babies and stuff. If the babies were men, they could be scribes. And their mothers could be very happy for them.



Chapter 4 is "The Woman Slave" and was pretty hard to read, mostly because she goes into theories as to how slavery might have developed, and guess what, it involves raping women. While she of course doesn't go into graphic detail about this, having to think about the thousands of years this has been going on in basically every culture ever and how it probably provided the model for oppressing entire classes of humans, which in turn led to widespread slavery -- that's a giant bummer.

Lerner states that humans' "new" ideas usually consist of "a new ordering of past experience," so when they saw that women could be entirely dominated after they put them into a position where they were totally dependent on their husband/tribe leader/whomever, they realized you can do that to just humans if you get them in right situation. 

For those hoping we can find out why things are like this, i.e. why the patriarchy dominates, Lerner has this depressing news:

If we remember that we are here describing a historical period in which even formal law codes have not yet been written, we can begin to appreciate how deeply rooted patriarchal gender definitions are in Western civilization. The matrix of patriarchal relations between the sexes was already firmly in place before economic and political developments fully institutionalized the state and long before the ideology of patriarchy was developed.

BEFORE FORMAL LAW CODES HAD BEEN WRITTEN, we had the patriarchal structure. Do you know how long it's taken women to climb up from that and be able to make a living on their own, not having to defer their life choices to their fathers, husbands, etc? And it's not even for all women! There are tons and tons in our 2015 world who still have to do that, and that is bullshit.
 

She also points out that class oppression cannot be considered the same for men and women, because with women, oppression almost certainly means sexual exploitation, whereas this is much much less of a certainty for men. Lerner looks at the Bible and how the wives of the patriarchs just offer up their handmaids to their husbands to have children for them. There's no consent there. It's just assumed they are owned. 

THIS OPTION HAS ONLY RECENTLY BECOME AVAILABLE

Identifying the problem helps us fix the problem. Calling patriarchy by its name means it's one of many options, and one we don't have to live with. I'm looking forward to the rest of this book.

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