Woo! My prof has finally signed off on my second comps essay — I am so very relieved! Always nice to get an all-caps “EXCELLENT WORK!” too. :) So, I’m going to start posting the various book reviews from my Women & World Religions bibliography list, interspersed with whatever other stuff I feel like posting, as the mood hits me. I’ve actually got some time now where I have two brain cells free to rub together, so this should be a lovely bit of relaxation for me. So, here’s the introductory paragraph to the first subsection, which was titled “Theorizing Patriarchy Past & Present,” as well as the first draft (which also means it’s the longest version) of the actual book reviews. Enjoy!
To best understand women and their religious relationships, it is helpful to examine the cultural matrix which produced those beliefs — especially since religion is most often a fundamental structural element of the society in which it is embedded. The overwhelmingly vast majority of women, of course, are members of patriarchal cultures, so it should come as no surprise that they are most heavily influenced by the so-called “major” religions of the world — all of which are massively androcentric. Thus this subsection predominantly examines and theorizes patriarchy’s origins and effects, as well as its current reality as a damaged and damaging cultural dead end. Included will be an examination of the history of women and men both previous to and currently within patriarchy, as well as its hierarchically supportive dualist ontology and the consumerist nature of its capitalist axiology. The subsection will include reviews of a few locations of tension and resistance which may or are culminating in a more egalitarian, socially just world.
The first selection for this subsection is Gerda Lerner’s groundbreaking 1987 tome The Creation of Patriarchy. A historian, passionate activist, and feminist professor, Lerner defines patriarchy as “the manifestation and institutionalization of male dominance over women and children in the family and the extension of male dominance over women in society in general” (239). Her literary goal is to offer critical insight into patriarchal foundations of modern social organization which are so deeply embedded as to be both invisible and consequently unquestioned. Accordingly, she seeks out the initial socio-historical outbreaks of patriarchal thought — as well as the ensuing Western construction of gender — in order to subsequently comprehend and ultimately subvert the ubiquity of male social dominance.
Lerner’s reconstruction of prehistory reveals a conceptualization of patriarchy which begins with a constant and mutual re-negotiation of gender-related roles and responsibilities resulting in a slow erosion of women’s rights and privileges. For example, biological convenience rather than necessity may have inspired initial agrarian divisions of labor, but the passage of time concretized them into tradition. Couple these increasingly inflexible gender roles with the advent of slavery through violent conquest, and a new and horrible conceptualization is introduced: the use of male force to kill “foreign” males and to dominate conquered women and children. Since these individuals were perceived as not being as human as the conquering men, they could therefore be regarded as simply property, which can be disposed of however the owner wishes.
This debasing of the female leads to two understandably linked results: the overthrow and destruction of the Mother Goddess by a colonizing male deity who usurps all Her prerogatives — including that of giving birth — and, through the process of “feminizing” the enemy, the creation of a dichotomously-valued class system. It is therefore unsurprising to read of Lerner’s discerning exposure of the primary — and virulently androcentric — religious texts of Western “civilization” as powerful symbolic validation of the male oppression and enslavement of women. As Lerner herself perceptively notes:
The androcentric fallacy, which is built into all the mental constructs of Western civilization, cannot be rectified simple by “adding women.” What it demands for rectification is a radical restructuring of thought and analysis which once and for all accepts the fact that humanity consists in equal parts of men and women and that the experiences, thoughts, and insights of both sexes must be represented in every generalization that is made about human beings. (220)
Both historically and in the modern day, patriarchy stunts and diminishes both women and men, and will continue to do so until that time when women are once again regarded as both human, and an integral part of history and civilization.