On the Origin and Nature of Patriarchy (2)

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On the Origin and Nature of Patriarchy (2)
by Azadeh Azad
24-Feb-2011
 

Pre-patriarchal societies

Humanity did not always live under this pernicious system that is oppressive to women.Although there are no written records before 3100 BCE(1) when the Sumerians invented writing, archaeologists have been able to piece together a comprehensive knowledge of the pre-historical record by unearthing human bones and burial artifacts. Synthesizing these records with travellers’ accounts of the nomadic or semi-nomadic peoples and the 20th century anthropological and ethnological research on aboriginal peoples, we now know that hunter-gatherer societies of the Palaeolithic period (about 50,000-18,000 BCE), were egalitarian and peaceful matri-centric bands or clans. So were the societies of the Mesolithic period (about 18,000 – 10,0000 BCE) when early agriculture with hand-held digging sticks or hoes was introduced by women. These peoples were economically transitional between hunting-gathering and feminine agricultural practices. They were semi-nomadic foragers, with a primary home-base used for part of the year that was sedentary and agricultural.

In hunter-gatherer societies, where many wrongly assume male muscle strength should have had a role in the domination of women by men, there was equality between the genders and women had a central position in socio-economic life. The centrality of women’s role resided in the fact that not only did they bring children into the world, but also their main occupation, food gathering, was vital and central to the survival of the community. While men went out hunting for months and sometimes came back empty-handed, women made sure that children and older people ate on a daily basis. Hunting is low yield / high risk activity, while gathering is high yield / low risk occupation. Sexual relationships of the members of these clans or bands happened with the outsiders (exogamy) and with several of them (polygyny and polyandry.) The role of men in procreation was unknown to humanity throughout the Stone Age.

In Neolithic period (about 10,000 to 4000 BCE), women used polished stone axes, invented pottery and plaster, domesticated animals (2) and plants, and practiced agriculture with hoe. The feminine agriculture and the keeping of the domesticated animals by women (different from animal husbandry) led to sedentism, the transformation of life-style from nomadic to permanent, year-round settlements. These inventions and cultural transformations, which were carried out exclusively by women, constitute the Neolithic Revolution. While exogamic marriages did exist during the Stone Age, they never led to the formation of the institution of family. The horticultural villages of the Neolithic period were based on matri-centric, egalitarian and peaceful clans. These clans were matrilineal: the mother and her brother were seen as the parents and children took their mother's name; the inheritance passed on to the daughter or the mother's brother. They were also matrilocal: mother, daughters, and children all lived together in one residential unit. They venerated, not a male God, but mostly Goddesses (e.g., Çatal Hüyük, a peaceful Neolithic city in Turkey (7500-5500 BCE) with developed agriculture and domesticated animals, where women played a prominent role in the spiritual practices, as well as the production of goods and commerce activities.)

It is important to note two important historical facts about the Stone Age:

1. No archaeological, ethnographic or anthropological records demonstrate, in human history, the existence of a matriarchal society, a correspondent copy of patriarchal system, where women dominated men and children. Indeed, with the uncovering of the origin of patriarchy, it will become clear why women, as a social category, were never motivated to dominate men and children.

2. One of the most important historical facts that determined the equality between the sexes all along the Stone Age was that Humanity did not know about the biological role of male animal and that of man in the procreation. It was thought that pregnancy happened because women had magical powers, because a mysterious power acted, or under the influence of a food, etc. Numerous ethnographic documents show that various aboriginal tribe of Australia such as the Kariera, Namal, Injibandi and Aruntas, the Trobriand-Islanders, indigenous peoples of New Zealand and Borneo, the Bagandas of Central Africa, and the Kais of New Guinea ignored the connection between sexuality and birth. Bronislaw Malinowski, the British anthropologist who spent a couple of decades living and researching among the matrilineal inhabitants of the Trobriand Islands, writes:

‘’Their attitude to their own children also bears witness to their ignorance of any causal relation between congress and the ensuing pregnancy. A man whose wife has conceived during his absence will cheerfully accept the fact and the child, and he will see no reason at all for suspecting her of adultery. One of my informants told me that after over a year’s absence he returned to find a newly-born child at home. He volunteers this statement as an illustration and final proof of the truth that sexual intercourse has nothing to do with conception.’’(Malinowski, 1929:193).

And Gordon Childe, the Australian archaeologist and prehistorian, concludes:

‘’As neither male personages nor phallic were thus represented in Palaeolithic and early Neolithic cultures, it may be assumed that, as among some contemporary tribes, the part of the father in reproduction has not yet been appreciated.’’ (Childe,1963, PP.64-65)

I will be writing in details about the matri-centric societies of the Stone Age, later on.

 

Notes:

(1) Before Common Era.

(2) Dog was domesticated before the Neolithic period, between 30,000 to 14,000 BCE.

 

References:

Briffault, Robert. 1927. The Mothers, vol.1, McMillan & Co, New York.

Childe, V. Gordon. 1963. Social Evolution, C.A.Watts , London.

Draper, Patricia. 1975. !Kung Women: Contrasts in Sexual Egalitarianism in Foraging and Sedentary Contexts. In: Towards an Anthropology of Women, Reiter, Rayna R. (dir), Monthly Review Press, New York.

Eaubonne, Francoise d’. 1977. Les femmes avant le patriarcat, Payot, Paris.

Friedl, Ernestine. 1975. Women and Men: an Anthropologist’s View, Hold, Rinehart & Winston, New York.

Gimbutas, Marija. 1991.The Civilization of the Goddess: The World of Old Europe, HarperCollins Publishers, New York.   

 

Gimbutas, Marija and  Joseph Campbell. 2001. The Language of the Goddess, Thames & Hudson, London.

Kaberry, Phyllis M. 1939. Aboriginal Woman: Sacred and Profane, Routledge, London.

Leacock, Eleanor. 1978. Women’s Status in Egalitarian Society: Implications for Social Evolution. Current Anthropology 19 (vol. II):247-275.

Malinowski, Bronislaw. 1929. The Sexual Life of Savages in North-Western Melanesia, Harcourt & Brace, New York.

Marcireau, Jacques. 1980. Le matriarcat, Editions Best-Seller, Paris.

Mellaart, James. 1967. Çatal Hüyük: A Neolithic Town in Anatolia, McGraw-Hill, New York

Reed, Evelyn. 1975. Woman’s Evolution, Pathfinder, New York.

Slocum, Sally. 1975. Woman the Gatherer: Male Bias in Anthropology. In: Towards an Anthropology of Women, Reiter, Rayna R. (dir), Monthly Review Press, New York.

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Azadeh Azad

incognito

by Azadeh Azad on

Remain at a loss for words!

Who spoke of marxist-feminism? Just because Evelyn Reed is marxist-feminist, it does not mean that I am.

I have given you hints. For complete understanding of this subject, you need to wait and read more.

Azadeh


incognito

I am at a loss for words here

by incognito on


Marxism-feminismis not my forte. Nor am I comfortable engaging in what appears to be more a philosophical (religious?) exercise than a scientific one (presenting rhetorical argument in place of evidence). You write, “while generally males are hunters and by extension in charge of counter-attacking aggressors, they do not rule over females..” Fine! If that is not the reason for the invention of patriarchy, then what is? You still haven’t answered my original question.

You write, “in fact, male animals’ genetic traits have been obstacles to the formation of human societies, which had to be overcome.” Was it overcome? How? You didn’t explain. You write, “There are three behaviours in animal males, their genetic traits, which had to be forbidden within the group (to become taboos) in order for the human society to be formed in the first place: 1) aggression, 2) sex, and 3) cannibalism.” This is the most sanctified image of the hunter-gatherer society I have ever seen. Nevertheless, if your point is that the hunter-gatherer community was gender egalitarian, then I like to know if domestication of crops and animal husbandry led to patriarchy.

P.S. I am quite sympathetic toward your argument about the role of racism, and even sexism, in science. However, that should not be considered a license to disregard the rule of evidence. 


Azadeh Azad

For incognito

by Azadeh Azad on

Speaking of patriarchal societies among animals is a typical case of anthropocentrism or anthropomorphism, which I reject as unscientific. Animals follow their instincts and don’t initiate social institutions and behaviours, let alone patriarchal ones. The study of hunter-gatherer societies show that while generally males are hunters and by extension in charge of counter-attacking aggressors, they do not rule over females who remain the main  guarantors of the small community’s survival (by their gathering activities and their mothering.) Hunters are often away from the band or clan anyway. It is women who have to defend themselves and the rest of the community while men are away for many months. Territoriality is not a ground for male domination. The division of labour between the sexes is fluid and does not have the rigidity of patriarchal and class societies. Hunting of small animals is part of women’s gathering activities, and there are many cases of women participating in fishing and hunting and in protecting the community even when men are present.

You speak of the ‘’roles of genetic traits.’’ I don’t ignore these roles: in fact, male animals’ genetic traits have been obstacles to the formation of human societies, which had to be overcome. There are three behaviours in animal males, their genetic traits, which had to be forbidden within the group (to become taboos) in order for the human society to be formed in the first place: 1) aggression, 2) sex, and 3) cannibalism. As these three behaviours are initiated by male animals, and by male humanoid Apes, it is very possible that females were initiators of the above taboos and makers of the first human societies. (Ref:  Reed, Evelyn. 1975. Woman’s Evolution, Pathfinder, New York.)

Another false argument regarding the presence of male domination in animal kingdom is the anthropocentric concept of ‘’harem’’: a triumphant alpha male having a bunch of females to copulate with, while the weaker males either have lost and gone or killed. Well, from an evolutionary point of view, the nature gives this alpha male to females as the best possible sex partner, as ‘’a stud who serves all these females’’ in order to have the strongest possible offspring.

There is a very good book that points out all the male biases in social sciences. It’s Sexism and Science, by Evelyn Reed .

Azadeh

Ps.

I found a review on Amazon.com, by Tony Thomas, which is not bad:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/0873485416/ref=asc_df_08734854161410499?creative=395261

Sexism and Science author Evelyn Reed, writing her Introduction in November, 1977, explains that this book is as important as and similar in purpose to the books written to reveal the racism that infiltrated supposedly scientific researchers in biology, genetics, zoology, sociology, and anthropology. As a lifelong student of anthropology, Reed has no problem exposing many authors as unscientific and sexist by quoting and then destroying their main arguments. Among these are Lionel Tiger, author of Men In Groups, Robert Ardrey, author of The Territorial Imperative, Konrad Lorenz who wrote On Aggression, and Desmond Morris, writer of Naked Ape. She reserved a whole chapter for the famed Harvard zoologist Edward O. Wilson and has a field day describing his version of 'social Darwinism'--the erroneous view that human societies are simply varieties of animal societies and human nature is identical with animal nature. Women surrounded today by these same backward ideas will love this book. for its confident and well-researched content. The ardent animal lovers of today also should read this small, powerful book for our differences and similarities are intriguing in the able hands of this Marxist-feminist author.


Azadeh Azad

Monda & Anahid

by Azadeh Azad on

Thanks for reading :)

Cheers,

Azadeh


incognito

Thanks, Ms. Azad

by incognito on


I’ll be looking forward to reading your sequels. However, as a student of evolutionary biology, I am interested in the natural/historical event/circumstance that precedes and possibly even precipitates what you refer to as “men's determination to create the institution of social paternity”. Was it the discovery of male’s role in procreation, as you indicated? If that is the case, what about the patriarchal societies among animals? What about the ability of the male to protect the female and offsprings during pregnancy and nursing periods, and thus the concept of territoriality, as the ground for patriarchy? In other words, can the roles of genetic traits and biogeography be ignored? Thanks again.


Monda

Staying tuned!

by Monda on

I think I know where this is going. But, had never read it in such nicely condensed format. Your essay reads like an upscale cultural anthropology cheat sheet, which really works best with short attention spans, like mine. Thank you!


Anahid Hojjati

Azadeh jan, Very interesting blog, and so educational.

by Anahid Hojjati on

Dear Azadeh, thanks for your blog. It is getting quite interesting. I mean where you write:

"1. No archaeological, ethnographic or anthropological records
demonstrate, in human history, the existence of a matriarchal society, a
correspondent copy of patriarchal system, where women dominated men and
children. Indeed, with the uncovering of the origin of patriarchy, it
will become clear why women, as a social category, were never motivated
to dominate men and children."

and also discussion of not knowing about role of men and its effect on the type of society. Is this a case of ignorance that was bliss?  Looking forward to the next one.


Azadeh Azad

incognito

by Azadeh Azad on

Yes, absolutely. And we'll see, in future sequels, how men's determination to create the institution of social paternity became the motivation for their suddenly - historically speaking - beginning to look for new productive technologies and accumulation of wealth (private property) as one of the efficient means of this creation. An historical fact that makes social classes by-products of male power /patriarchy and not vice versa, as the Marxist theory proclaims. Stay tuned. Azadeh

 


incognito

Ms. Azad,

by incognito on


Is there any known causal or temporal relationship, or correlation, between the discovery of the male’s role in procreation and the advent of patriarchy?


vildemose

Excellent blog. thanks.

by vildemose on

Excellent blog. thanks.


Azadeh Azad

The image in this blog

by Azadeh Azad on

The Goddess of Willendorf is a statuette of 11 cm in height, discovered in Austria by archaeologists . Carved  24,000–22,000 BCE, it is the oldest image of the Mother Goddess.