Creation of Patriarchy

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* Book: The Creation of Patriarchy. By Gerda Lerner. Oxford University Press,


"A radical reconceptualization of Western civilization that makes gender central to its analysis."; focuses on Mesopotamia 3100 to 600 BC


"A major new work by a leading historian and pioneer in women's studies, The Creation of Patriarchy is a radical reconceptualization of Western civilization that makes gender central to its analysis. Gerda Lerner argues that male dominance over women is not "natural" or biological, but the product of an historical development begun in the second millennium B.C. in the Ancient Near East. As patriarchy as a system of organizing society was established historically, she contends, it can also be ended by the historical process.

Focusing on the contradiction between women's central role in creating society and their marginality in the meaning-giving process of definition and interpretation, Lerner explores such fascinating questions as: What can account for women's exclusion from the historical process? What could explain the long delay--more than 3,500 years--in women's coming to consciousness of their own subordinate position? She goes back to the cultures of the earliest known civilizations--those of the ancient Near East--to discover the origins of the major gender metaphors of Western civilization. Using historical, literary, archaeological, and artistic evidence, she then traces the development of these ideas, symbols, and metaphors and their incorporation into Western civilization as the basis of patriarchal gender relations."



From the Wikipedia:

"In the text, Lerner argues that women have historically played a large role in the systemic subjugation of women, whether for self-preservation, to receive the benefits of class and more modernly "race", or for other reasons. She claims that it is likely that women accepted sex-segregated tasks in their societies long before it led to sex-based oppression.

Lerner also argues that the widespread existence of misogyny in societies is not due to biological or psychological differences between males and females, but rather that it has historical explanations. She states that since patriarchy "has a beginning in history", it "can be ended by historical process" (Lerner 6).

The book contains eleven chapters, the majority named after a metaphor for gender (Lerner 10). Each chapter traces a different aspect of "the development of the leading ideas, symbols, and metaphors by which patriarchal gender relations were incorporated into Western civilization (Lerner 10).


"Origins" argues that the formation of private property and class society occurred after the appropriation of women's sexual and reproductive capacities.

"A Working Hypothesis" claims that archaic states had a great interest in maintaining a patriarchal family structure because they were organized from it.

"The Stand-in Wife and the Pawn" states that men learned to subjugate other groups from practicing dominance over women, and that this was expressed through slavery, beginning with the enslavement of women from conquered groups.

"The Woman Slave" asserts that according to many different ancient legal codes, states enforced women's sexual subordination through force, economic dependency, class privileges, and the artificial division between "respectable" and "non-respectable" women.

"The Wife and the Concubine" argues that class differences exist for men based on their relation to the means of production while for women they are based on their sexual ties to men who grant them material resources. This chapter also claims that laws defined "respectable" women as attached to one man and "non respectable" women as those unattached to a single or any men, and that these laws were institutionalized through the veiling of women.

"Veiling the Woman" explains that long after women had become subordinated to men in most aspects of their lives, metaphysical female power, especially birthing, was still worshiped by women and men in the form of powerful goddesses and that women played respected roles as mediators between humans and gods. This chapter also describes the historical procession from first, the invention of Near East kingship; to second, the replacement of goddesses with a dominant male god figure; to third, the understanding of fertility control as being conceptualized as a goddess' undertaking to the "symbolic of actual mating of the male god or God-King with the Goddess or her priestess" (Lerner 9); to fourth, the split between eroticism/sexuality and pro-creativity as expressed by the creation of desperate goddesses for both functions; to finally, the transformation of the Mother-Goddess into "the wife/consort of the chief male God" (Lerner 9).

"The Goddess" claims that early Hebrew monotheism was expressed as an attack on different cults of various fertility goddesses. It asserts that the Book of Genesis and its writing ascribes creativity and pro-creativity to an all-powerful God with titles of "Lord" and "King", establishing him as male. It also discusses the foundations of the association of female sexuality dissociated from procreation with sin and evil.

"The Patriarchs" explains the establishment of a covenant community that both symbolizes and actually contracts an assumed, inherent subordination of women in the relationship between the monotheistic god and humanity. It argues that through this, women are excluded from the metaphysical covenant and the earthly covenant community, leading them to solely access God and the holy community as mothers.

"The Covenant" argues that this symbolic devaluation of women in relation to the divine becomes one of the metaphors that founds Western society, along with the assumption that women are incomplete and damaged human beings of a different and lower order than men, as described by Aristotle.


"The Creation of Patriarchy"