The Creation of Patriarchy (and of prostitution)

Oxford University Press, 1986

I have just read Gerda Lerner’s The Creation of Patriarchy and am most impressed by this well-structured and documented book. With overwhelming material she shows how the patriarchal model of society has been built up over a period of nearly 2500 years from appr. 3100 to 600 BC in the Mesopotamian societies. Later this model was transferred to Europe. The book shows how patriarchy started with the appropriation by men of women’s sexual and reproductive capacity. This began prior to the formation of private property and class society.

Patriarchy as historical phenomenon

One could easily decome depressed by such a book and yet I think that there are so many positive lessons and pearls of wisdom in it. Let me start with the obvious one: if patriarchy is a creation, it can also be ended. Not easily, not in one stroke, but over time. And also, that we should not chose for the opposite ruling form: a matriarchy in the sense of women ruling men, which would be equally bad. Instead, we should choose for a plurality of ways governing people, just as there was before patriarchy. But this time with more respect for women and girls.

Prostitution as historical phenomenon

worship of Aphrodite

Secondly, the book shows that prostitution is neither the oldest profession nor an eternal one. This one too is an historical phenomenon and can be changed. Commercial prostitution developed in the hallways and the square around the temples in the Near-East. Inside the temples sometimes also another type, namely temple prostitution, took place with the priestesses orwith someone else to worship the goddess. This was also combined now and then with gifts. These two different forms of sexual activities should not be confused, because while the former looked down on femininity, the latter worshipped it.

The importance of woman’s rulership over her body

Thirdly, the insight: if men’s power over women has started by controlling their sexual and reproductive capacities, how right are we in emphasizing the importance of women’s rulership over her own body. How crucial this is. Not a side issue, but the crucial, fundamental one. And that we should never forget to emphasize the importance of this. Feminism may have been succesfull in giving us many rights, equal to men, but is has not become superfluous. After all, this issue remains in need of our care and alertness.

The dangerous division between ‘respectful’ and ‘disrespectful’ women

Fourthly, Gerda Lerner’ lesson that the oppression of women and slavery of women has worked by the the division made between so-called ‘respectful’ and ‘disrespectful’ women. The first category was those connected to one man ( a husband, father etc.) who operated as a kind of ‘protector’ /loverboy for them. The second group were seen as whores or otherwise ‘loose’ women. This has undermined the solidarity between women. We should be wary that this keeps happening again, now for instance with the veil as a symbol of the division between ‘devout women’ versus ‘atheistic loose women’ or seen from the other viewpoint as ‘repressed women’ versus ‘liberated’ women.

Think for yourself

Foto door julie aagaard op

Finally, I find the last pages of the book the most inspiring. Here Lerner calls us up to think for ourselves and no longer letteing ourselves be caught by following the pathways of male thinkers and philosophers. She says: “in accepting such a dialogue, thinking woman stays for longer than is useful within the great boundaries or the question-setting defined by ‘the great men’. And just as long as she does this, the source of new insight is closed to her”(1986, p. 227). According to her we need to getting rid of the “great men in our heads and substituting them by ourselves, our sisters, our anonymous foremothers” (p. 227).

Foto door bruce mars op

Yet as she says, the alternative does not lie in following a female thinker instead, but √§bove all, we need to develop intellectual courage, the courage to stand alone” , to think for ourselves, “trusting our own, the female experience” and to √§sser the right to reorder the world”(p. 228). Incredibly inspiring. Indeed, let us start today!



The Weissensee series

I have just binge-watched the German Netflix series Weissensee. In my view it is the best series since the German series Heimat (now also available on Netflix). The three series of Heimat are situated in the 1930s and 40s in Germany, showing the terribly consequences of when everyone attempts to conform to one set of political ideal and one set of ideal human type. Yielding to their fear. Fascism in a small village in Baiern.

The Heimat series

Vaclav Havel: Attempt to live in Truth

Weissensee could be seen as a modern follow-up from this. Yet the latter three series are put in Ost-Berlin from 1980 untill 1990. It is the DDR-time and the circumstances of this Stazi-period are in several respects comparable to the Nazi time. Yet Weissensee has a young man and woman as their main characters who try to live in truth. Indeed, their story can be seen as a cinematic translation of the philosophic book, Power of the Powerless or with the more intruguing German title: Versuch in der Warhheit zu leben (1978) from the later Czeck prime minister Vaclav Havel. It shows how extremely difficult it is to live in truth. It shows the braveness of these young people. But also that love and truth are the only important things in life.

Gender aspects in Weissensee

What makes Weissensee also intriguing and even more interesting than Vaclav Havel’s book is that the series also illuminates the gender aspects of the challenges of living in truth. Several times the series indicate how the DDR men are pressed to keep everything in control, not just at their work, in their social appearance, but also within their families. So the men are the ones been primarily assigned to control their wives and children to conform and to not speak the truth. The men also force their female partners to keep their children in control. When the men are absent in families as we see in examples, mothers are easily forced or lured in to help the Stazis out of fear for what will happen to their children. I will not reveal the plot. Just watch it: breath-taking!

Gender aspects in Weissensee

Current city state control

After having watched this, I start to read the letters from my city government of Rotterdam with a new perspective. I see that several letters start with “We have been told that you are….” and and continue with “Would you please come to the office to ‘clarify this matter’?” The source is not indicated and the civil servants feel no need to tell me this. Or: ‘We are investigating whether you still have a right to ….. Would you please send us the following information and see us at the office to help us sorting this out?” Or also: “If you do not give us this information, this could have serious consequences”. I need to think of how to behave in these administrative control issues.

Challenge to live authentically in relationships

Authentic relationship talks in Weissensee

Finally, I see a great challenge following from Weissensee for all of us to try to live in truth, not only where it concerns politics or civil administration, but also in our relationships. How to live authentically, being ourselves and telling the truth, while not trying to harm the ones with whom we are in a relationship with. How extremely difficult is this! But what a great challenge! Love and truth are after all the only things really worth in life.