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The Creation of Patriarchy, Part III

The Creation of Patriarchy by Gerda Lerner is a 1986 study into the possible origins of our current societal structure. I'm reviewing it in sections, because each chapter has a lot of ideas worth discussing. Part I can be found here, and part II can be found here.

If you will remember, this book focuses on ancient civilizations and the earliest records we have of patriarchal formations. Most of these chapters talk about the Code of Hammurabi, and Babylonian, Assyrian, and Hebrew law. In these we can see the gradual subjugation of women as it became codified and then part of our collective consciousness. This post is solely focusing on chapter 5, as it got way too long while I was writing it.

Chapter 5: The Wife and the Concubine

[A] man's class status is determined by his economic relations and a woman's by her sexual relations...It is a principle which had remained valid for thousands of years.
A civilization's laws don't show us how its citizens actually behaved, but rather what the values were of the ruling class, and therefore what its interests were. What started happening in ancient law was that women began being mentioned almost solely concerning their sexual "purity" and as people capable of producing offspring. This became their total value.

Apparently when societies develop "plow culture" and complex social stratification, they also develop "patriarchal monogamous marriages, homogamy [marriage within the same class], strong emphasis on premarital chastity, and a high degree of societal control over the sexual behavior of women." Essentially, people see a connection between the regulation of inheritance & marital property in a society, and restricting female sexual behavior. Because how else are you going to ensure that your stuff remains your stuff? You've gotta have your stuff. Better lock your lady down. No, not literally--ah, too late.

It's infuriating to read about ancient laws against women, and also to realize how little things have changed, at least in cultural perception: 

The various laws against rape all incorporated the principle that the injured party is the husband or the father of the raped woman.
 Reading about it reminded me of how guys won't leave you alone sometimes unless you say you have a boyfriend, the principle there being that if you "belong" to another guy, then he'll take it seriously, as opposed to thinking of you as a human being with opinions whose current opinion is you want him to leave you the fuck alone. 

The penalty for abortion in Assyria was death, despite there being a cultural practice of leaving infants to die of exposure when they were unwanted. The difference here, Lerner states, is that 

The right of the father, hitherto practiced and sanctioned by custom, to decide over the lives of his infant children, which is practice meant the decision of whether his infant daughters should live or die, is in the [Middle Assyrian Law] equated with the keeping of social order. For the wife to usurp such a right is now seen as equal in magnitude to treason or to an assault upon the king.

The Code Hammurabi is the first law code to equate a healthy family with a healthy state. It is in the interests of the state for the woman to regard her husband as king and the husband then to give his loyalty to the king. Without that, chaos! Anarchy! And with that idea, the state began punishing women instead of using the previous system where their husbands would.  

Essentially, as of appx 1700 B.C. women continue to be treated terribly. Which comes as a surprise to no one. The main purpose behind Gerda Lerner's book is to probe into how these systems came into being and why. Thus far, it seems to be about power + property rights. Everything comes down to property rights. This book's going to make me into a Marxist.

Think about it, ladies


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