Gerda Lerner

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We now know that man is not the measure of that which is human, but men and women are.

Gerda Lerner (30 April 19202 January 2013) was an Austrian-born American feminist, historian, author, and advocate of Women's History.


The Creation of Patriarchy (1986)[edit]

  • The Creation of Patriarchy, Introduction, p. 3
  • Women have been kept from contributing to History-making, that is, the ordering and interpretation of the past of humankind. Since this process of meaning-giving is essential to the creation and perpetuation of civilization, we can see at once that women's marginality in this endeavor places us in a unique and segregate posi­tion. Women are the majority, yet we are structured into social in­stitutions as though we were a minority.
  • The Creation of Patriarchy, Introduction, p. 5
  • What women must do, what feminists are now doing is to point to that stage, its sets, its props, its director, and its scriptwriter, as did the child in the fairy tale who discovered that the emperor was naked, and say, the basic inequality between us lies within this framework. And then they must tear it down.
  • The Creation of Patriarchy, Introduction, pp. 13-14
  • There was a considerable time lag between the subordination of women in pa­triarchal society and the declassing of the goddesses. As we trace below changes in the position of male and female god figures in the pantheon of the gods in a period of over a thousand years, we should keep in mind that the power of the goddesses and their priestesses in daily life and in popular religion continued in force, even as the supreme goddesses were dethroned. It is remarkable that in societies which had subordinated women economically, educationally, and le­gally, the spiritual and metaphysical power of goddesses remained active and strong.
  • The Creation of Patriarchy, ch. 7, pp. 141-142
  • There was therefore no inevitability in the emergence of an all­ male priesthood. The prolonged ideological struggle of the Hebrew tribes against the worship of Canaanite deities and especially the persistence of a cult of the fertility-goddess Asherah must have hardened the emphasis on male cultic leadership and the tendency toward misogyny, which fully emerged only in the post-exilic pe­riod. Whatever the causes, the Old Testament male priesthood represented a radical break with millennia of tradition and with the practices of neighboring peoples. This new order under the all-powerful God proclaimed to Hebrews and to all those, who took the Bible as their moral and religious guide that women cannot speak to God.
  • The Creation of Patriarchy, ch. 8, pp. 178-179
  • The consequence of sexual knowledge is to sever female sexuality from procreation. God puts enmity between the snake and the woman (Gen.3:15). In the historical context of the times of the writing of Genesis, the snake was clearly associated with the fertility goddess and symbolically represented her. Thus, by God's command, the free and open sexuality of the fertility-goddess was to be forbidden to fallen woman. The way her sexuality was to find expression was in motherhood. Her sexuality was so defined as to serve her motherly function, and it was limited by two conditions: she was to be sub­ordinate to her husband, and she would bring forth her children in pain.
  • The Creation of Patriarchy, ch. 9, pp. 196-198
  • It should be noted that when we speak of relative improvements in the status of women in a given society, this frequently means only that we are seeing improvements in the degree in which their situation affords them opportunities to exert some leverage within the system of patriarchy. Where women have relatively more eco­nomic power, they are able to have somewhat more control over their lives than in societies where they have no economic power. Similarly, the existence of women's groups, associations, or eco­nomic networks serves to increase the ability of women to counter­ act the dictates of their particular patriarchal system. Some anthro­pologists and historians have called this relative improvement women's "freedom." Such a designation is illusory and unwarranted. Re­forms and legal changes, while ameliorating the condition of women and an essential part of the process of emancipating them, will not basically change patriarchy. Such reforms need to be integrated within a vast cultural revolution in order to transform patriarchy and thus abolish it.
The system of patriarchy can function only with the cooperation of women. This cooperation is secured by a variety of means: gender indoctrination; educational deprivation; the denial to women of knowledge of their history; the dividing of women, one from the other, by defining "respectability" and "deviance" according to women's sexual activities; by restraints and outright coercion; by discrimination in access to economic resources and political power; and by awarding class privileges to conforming women.
For nearly four thousand years women have shaped their lives and acted under the umbrella of patriarchy, specifically a form of patriarchy best described as paternalistic dominance.
  • The Creation of Patriarchy, ch. 10, p. 217
  • Most significant of all the impediments toward developing group consciousness for women was the absence of a tradition which would reaffirm the independence and autonomy of women at any period in the past. There had never been any woman or group of women who had lived without male protection, as far as most women knew. There had never been any group of persons like them who had done anything significant for themselves. Women had no history—so they were told; so they believed. Thus, ultimately, it was men's hegemony over the symbol system which most decisively disadvantaged women.
  • The Creation of Patriarchy, ch. 10, p 219
  • As long as both men and women regard the subordination of half the human race to the other as "natural," it is impossible to envision a society in which differences do not connote either dominance or subordination. The feminist critique of the patriarchal edifice of knowledge is laying the groundwork for a correct analysis of reality, one which at the very least can distinguish the whole from a part. Women's History, the essential tool in creating feminist conscious­ness in women, is providing the body of experience against which new theory can be tested and the ground on which women of vision can stand. A feminist world-view will enable women and men to free their minds from patriarchal thought and practice and at last to build a world free of dominance and hierarchy, a world that is truly human.
  • The Creation of Patriarchy, ch. 10, pp. 227-229

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