Reviews

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 Pexels.com

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 Pexels.com

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!

Women in Positions of Power

Carnaval and the Emerging Princess

Princess Suus I from Ohé en Laak, Volkskrant.

Yesterday I went to Carnaval in Breda and I am happy to report that the Princess is gaining power at the Dutch Carnaval. I don’t mean sexual power. Women have had that always. So also at Carnaval. No, I am referring to that bastion of power: the function of Princedom. In this, someone chosen by the Carnaval’s Council of Eleven receives the town’s key from the Mayor to rule over town for five days in a different way.

Princess Gerrie I from Afferen, Carnaval 2018.

For centuries this position was reserved for men only, just like the position of the Council of Eleven itself. Strange in fact. Because Carnaval is about the reversal of roles. The king becomes a jester. A reserved woman becomes a witch. The rich man is dressed up as a beggar. An old lady is suddenly Little Red Riding Hood. And so on. This includes the dress-ups as members of the other sex. Women have for centuries dressed-up during Carnaval as Robin Hood, knights, firemen and sailors. In some places like in the Belgium Aalst, men have also done this for centuries.

A few Dirty Jeanets from Aalst. Carnaval 2019. Photo Marieke van der Velde. Volkskrant.

In Aalst, this figure is called Dirty Jeanet and it arose out of poverty. Workers did not have money to buy a Carnaval costume, so they used their wives’ or mothers’ clothes and underwear. Yesterday in Breda I have seen an enormous number of men dressed up as Queens, Countesses, actresses and maids. Good for you: men! So sex reversals have existed at Carnaval for a long time. Except for the position of the Prince!



Prinses Rachelle en Prins Calvin from Son en Breugel– Carnaval 2019

Yet, recently even at that bastion of power the Princess is coming up. To my knowledge, the first Carnaval Princess appeared in the Netherlands in 1969: Princess Bep I in Someren-Heide and ruled there for six years. In 1998 Betke I was chosen in Valkenswaard. She called herself Prince Betke I, because as she argued: it is a position, just like the Mayor. And in Ossenisse, Princess Margaretha has already ruled for 25 years, with an all-female Council of Eleven.

Raad van Elf van Ossenisse 2018

Lately, we see in many villages and town a Youth Princess and her female Adjudant. And even the adult position of the Princedom is now and then given to women. Yet, in the biggest Dutch Carnaval cities, the opposition against this is severe. The people in power say that we have to respect the century-old Carnaval traditions or that the Statutes of the Carnaval clubs do not allow this.

Princes Linda van District Antwerpen Belgium, Carnaval 2019.

But now something interesting is happening. In the Carnaval cities Weert and Tilburg, female members of the official city councils have raised questions in council meetings about that male monopoly and have asked a change in the Statutes at this point. In Weert they have lost, but in Tilburg they have won! Already a female member of the Council of Eleven has been admitted. So members of city councils and of Carnaval clubs elsewhere: please follow this example and pave the road for the Carnaval Princess in this way.

After all: Carnaval is about the reversal of roles!