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