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Breaking Down Patriarchy - Amy McPhie Allebest EPISODE 4, 29th December 2020
The Creation of Patriarchy, by Gerda Lerner, Part 2
00:00:00 01:12:50

The Creation of Patriarchy, by Gerda Lerner, Part 2

Amy: Welcome to Breaking Down Patriarchy!  I’m Amy McPhie Allebest.

Today we are going to resume our discussion of Gerda Lerner’s book, The Creation of Patriarchy. Written in 1986, this book  analyzes ancient texts in great detail, chronicling the development of patriarchal systems from humans’ prehistoric past through the time of the ancient Greeks. My reading partner for this book is Sherrie Crawford, and she’s joining me again today for the second half! Hi, Sherrie!

Sherrie: Hi, Amy!

[Amy: Before we start the discussion today I have to tell you: this past week my girls came to me and said someone had posted on Instagram a quote by Phyllis Schlafly that says 

“The claim that American women are downtrodden and unfairly treated is the fraud of the century.” 

And someone we are close to had “liked” that post on Instagram. So my family (including my husband and son) all talked about it - how did that quote make us feel and why? Was there any truth to it? How do we respond? And after feeling hurt and angry but trying to understand why Schlafly said it and why this person had “liked” it, we thought that one response would be to agree that American women are not nearly as downtrodden and unfairly treated as they used to be. And we should feel grateful for that. Sherrie, that’s how you ended the last episode of the podcast - with your gratitude for how much better things are now. And, that gratitude for continued improvement goes to our foremothers and their male allies for fighting for those changes, every step of the way. People are too quick to forget those battles and praise the heroes or heroines of the past who, in their time, were villainized and told they were too progressive and were ruining society, and whose “scandalous” work is now taken for granted.

So that experience this week reminded me how important this project is to me - when I encounter a quote like that and it makes me feel hurt and misunderstood, but I also kind of doubt myself… I want to be armed with knowledge about the past and facts about our present situation. And that is the purpose of this podcast.]


Ok, so last week we talked about the Agricultural Revolution, and we dug into some of humanity’s earliest written records, like the Code of Hammurabi, and we ended by talking about the ancient goddesses Inanna/Ishtar and Asherah. We talked about how those goddesses were subjugated by the male gods of other, male-dominant religions, which of course reflected the beliefs of the people who were conquering the goddess-worshipping people at the time. And that’s where we are going to pick back up today. We’ll talk about some really fascinating chapters on the Judeo-Christian scriptures and the ancient Greeks, and we’ll cover some of Lerner’s conclusions.

Amy: Overview of Hebrew Civilization/Bible as a historical document

[So we’re going to start today with the Hebrew Bible. Lerner points out that many of Western Civilization’s metaphors and definitions and ways of viewing gender come from the Bible. Kind of like the analogy I used last time of an ancient city where generation after generation builds their town along the same grid created thousands of years ago, human beings have thought about themselves and each other along foundational tracks that were laid thousands of years ago by this one particular group of people called the Hebrews. 

So who laid down these foundations that we still build on? When? What were the circumstances?

I want to tread gently here, because I grew up believing that Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible, or the Pentateuch, which in Judaism is called the Torah. I believed that God spoke to Moses, and Moses wrote a record, and that that record hadn’t been changed except in more or less accurate translations, and I trusted that it was literally true. The stories of the Bible were sacred to me. So I want to say here that we are going to be discussing the Bible as a foundational historical text and a way to understand the beliefs and culture of the people who wrote it. But there is still room to believe that the Bible is an inspired text, with many, many stories to learn from and live by.  

I also want to say that the facts that Lerner presents about Biblical authorship are consistent across several sources that I’ve studied in the past few years, from graduate courses at Stanford to Karen Armstrong’s book The History of God to reputable history sources online to Wikipedia. There’s a historical record that you can fact-check really easily. So here’s a brief summary from The Creation of Patriarchy, which I’ll summarize in my own words.

In terms of timeline, remember that written language began in Sumer in 3,000 BCE. Abraham was thought to have lived in around 2,000 BCE, and Moses is supposed to have lived around 1,300 BCE. The stories of the Bible - the Creation, the flood, Abraham and Isaac, Moses rescuing the Hebrews from enslavement in Egypt, etc., were not authored by one person, but by many people over the course of four hundred years, between the tenth and the fifth centuries BCE. Prior to that these stories existed only as oral traditions, passed down from generation to generation. Not for decades, not for centuries, but for thousands of years. 

Scholars believe there are three main threads of authorship of the book that Christians call the Old Testament, who lived hundreds of years apart, and separately they wrote down the ancient oral traditions of their people. (This is why when you read Genesis you get two different creation stories, one where God creates Adam and Eve in “their” image, male and female, and one where God creates Adam first, and then makes Eve out of his rib, as a helper so he won’t be lonely. Two different stories, two different authors, from two different times, reflecting two different worldviews. And they’re just kind of pasted into the book next to each other.) Anyway, scholars have names for these different authors - one is known as “J,” because of his use of the name “Yaweh, which is sometimes spelled with a J, and another author is called “E” for “Elohist,” referring to another of God’s names, and then another author “P” stands for priests. And this author was not just one person, but a whole collection of priestly scribes, working on this project for many years. All the records were finally fused into one book in about 450 BCE under the direction of Ezra and Nehemiah, when the kingdom of Judah was under Persian domination and they needed a cohesive volume of their laws and practices and identity. Just for a frame of reference,that’s around the time of Pythagoras in Greece, and Confucius in China.

[Sources: A History of God, Karen Armstrong, 1993


So that’s just a brief introduction to where this text came from.

Sherrie: This is important information as we approach this text. To our knowledge, all of the authors, from beginning to end, were male, and these stories were gathered and embellished and changed over many centuries by different groups of men, absorbing attitudes and practices from those men and from the surrounding cultures. In fact Lerner points out that the Code of Hammurabi and the Middle Assyrian Laws had a big impact on Hebrew law. She says, quote, “The Biblical narratives of genesis, composed between 1200 and 500 BCE, reflect a social reality similar to that described in the Babylonian sales contract in 1700 BCE.”


Ok, so for the rest of the discussion, we chose what we thought were the most important points from Lerner’s analysis of the Bible. I’m going to take the Creation and Fall of Adam and Eve, then Sherrie will talk about a woman’s worth being defined by Motherhood, then I will talk a little about women’s legal standing in some scenes that involve violence against women, and then Sherrie will talk about the Abrahamic Covenant. After that we’ll switch gears and I’ll share some highlights about how women were viewed in ancient Greece. Sound good?


Amy: The Creation and Fall

Lerner suggests that when we look at any religion’s creation narrative - and all humans, in all places at all times, have them! we can ask three questions to help us understand the values of that culture.

“By articulating how things were in the beginning, people… make a basic statement about their relationship with nature and about their perception of the source of power in the universe.”

  1. Who creates life?  
  2. Who brings evil into the world? 
  3. Who mediates between humans and the supernatural (Or, to whom do the gods speak?)

Remember during the last episode we talked about the goddesses. Who created life in those origin stories? A mother goddess, in partnership with a father god.

We didn’t talk about who brought evil into the world,

But we briefly mentioned that gods spoke to both men and women through priests and priestesses, prophets and prophetesses, male and female oracles. 

Lerner suggests that we keep those questions in mind as we look at this text and what it says about the authors’ beliefs and attitudes. 

  1. Who creates life?

The Bible says “In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth. The account follows where God says “let there be light,” and He separates water from land, creates animals, then creates Adam, and tells Adam to name all the creatures. This is a male, Father-God - there is one “they” that refers to God, and Elohim in Hebrew technically means plural gods, but the pronoun is always masculine and the overwhelming conception of this person is male. There is no Mother God creating alone or creating with the help of a male. She’s just completely absent.

To the question “Who creates life?”, Genesis answers, Yahweh and the God-like male he created. (193) [And in the Mormon temple it’s even more explicitly a team of men, with no women in sight.

***[You would think that Eve, the mother of all living, should have some kind of role in the story of creation. But she is superceded by Adam, who names her, the same way he names the animals, and thus controls, and defines her power. 

  1. Who brought evil into the world?

First of all, we’ve talked in previous episodes about the goddesses, and how they were represented by snakes and by trees - remember in our first episode Malia and I talked about the ancient symbol of the snake, and last time Sherrie talked about Asherah, the goddess of wisdom, being represented by trees. 

Let’s read the account as it appears in the Bible, just so we have the exact words in mind. Sherrie, would you mind reading this part? 


Genesis 3: 1-6

Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?

2 And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden:

3 But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.

4 And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:

5 For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.

6 And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.

And the Lord God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou?

10 And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.

11 And he said, Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?

12 And the man said, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.

13 And the Lord God said unto the woman, What is this that thou hast done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.

14 And the Lord God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life:

15 And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.

16 Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.

17 And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying,

Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life;

18 Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field;

19 In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.

20 And Adam called his wife's name Eve; because she was the mother of all living.


So who brings evil into the world? Woman. A snake, symbol of feminine power tempts Eve, the first woman, with a promise of wisdom. The woman takes a fruit from a tree, a symbol of Asherah, Goddess of Wisdom, and that brings about the fall of humankind. 

I have a lot to say about this story and the way it has impacted women’s lives throughout history, but instead I’m just going to read two quotes from Lerner’s book and let them stand on their own.

  • The consequences of Adam and Eve’s transgression fall with uneven weight upon the woman. 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 [RULED BY] her husband, and she would bring forth her children in pain. (196)
  • The divine breath creates, but human naming gives meaning and order. And God gives the power of that kind of naming to Adam. ...God granted that power specifically to the human male only. ...after the creation of Eve, Adam names her, as he had named the animals. “And the man said: ‘This is now bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh; and shall be called Woman because she was taken out of man’ “ (Gen. 2:23). The naming here not only is a symbolic act of creativity, but it defines Woman in a very special way as a “natural” part of man, flesh of his flesh, in a relationship which is a peculiar inversion of the only human relationship for which such a statement can be made, namely, the relationship of mother to child. The Man here defines himself as ‘the mother’ of the Woman; through the miracle of divine creativity a human being was created out of his body the way the human mother brings forth life out of her body. (181)

Sherrie is going to talk more about the covenant a little later, but really quickly, let’s just answer the third question: 

  1. Who mediates between humans and the supernatural (Or, to whom do the gods speak?) Lerner says:

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. (179) [I would add here that of course the Bible is full of women praying to God, the same way men do, and God answers their prayers on an individual basis, the same way He does with men, so if it stopped there it might be equitable. But added to those individual relationships, only men are entrusted with leadership in the religious hierarchy, and only men preside over their wives, who have to obey them. So to whom does God speak? He speaks to men.


So Sherrie, let’s talk about women’s value being defined by motherhood in the Bible.

Sherrie: I personally remember the fear of not ever being able to bear children as a young married woman. I didn’t have words for it then, but now I understand that it was fear of worthlessness, fear of devaluation. These concepts were very much alive in my family heritage and young Mormon girl heart.  The two main points are: 

  1. [Jewish law: “Yibbum” is the form of levirate marriage found in Judaism. As specified by Deuteronomy 25:5–10, the brother of a man who died without children is permitted and encouraged to marry the widow.]

I remember reading about this as a teen in seminary, and again as a young married woman.  No shade to my brothers-in-law, but this would simply NOT work. The law could be seen as benevolent, making sure she’s not cast out into the streets and alone, but why not create a society where a widow has better options than either marrying her brother-in-law or being destitute? 

Also, Lerner points out that a woman has to get married again in order to fulfill her purpose as a woman. She quotes L. M. Epstein’s explanation, “The family had paid for her [their son’s widow] and the family owned her. Family property was not allowed to lie fallow, so this woman, bought and paid for and capable of wifehood and childbearing, could not be allowed to be without a husband.” (118) 

Women really were seen as breeders. Used for their uterine capacity.  Used. Used as an object, void of feeling, opinion, intelligence...

  1. If you think your only worth is in fertility, then barrenness is worse than death.

The story that unifies 3 major religions begins when the childless, aging Sarai urges Abram to have intercourse with her maidservant Hagar:

And Sarai said unto Abram: “Behold now, the Lord hath restrained me from bearing; go in, I pray thee, unto my handmaid; it may be that I shall be builded up through her.” And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai.”

[So Abraham has sex with Sarah’s maid, Hagar, who conceives and gives birth to Ishmael. And then Sarah becomes so jealous, she makes Abraham kick Hagar and Ishmael out of their family and out into the desert. Hagar believes Ishmael is the heir of the Abrahamic covenant, and Islam traces their lineage through him. But of course then Abraham and Sarah had a baby in their old age, named Isaac, and Judaism and then Christianity trace their lineage and claim that they are the “covenant people” through him. There’s a lot to unpack there, but let’s move along to Isaac’s son Jacob, who had the same problem of infertility. Which is all the worse when you believe that God has promised your family posterity “like the stars in the sky and the sands of the sea.”

Lerner makes some really interesting points about this passage:

There are several underlying assumptions implicit in these accounts: a slave woman owes sexual services to her mistress’s husband, and the offspring of such intercourse counts as though it were the offspring of the mistress. All women owe sexual services to the men in whose household they live and are obliged, in exchange for “protection,” to produce offspring. The dependent status of the “free” wife is implicit in Sarai’s pathetic statement “it may be that I shall be builded up through her.” The barren woman is considered faulty and worthless; only the act of bearing children will redeem her. Rachel, before offering Jacob her handmaiden, exclaims, “give me children, or else I die.” When at last “God hearkened to her, and opened her womb,” she said, “God hath taken away my reproach.” No clearer statement of the reification of women and the instrumental use of wives can be made. (92)

Barrenness in a wife, which was interpreted to be failure to bear sons, was a disgrace to her and cause for divorce. Sarah, Leah, and Rachel… offer slave women to their husbands [rather than be childless]. (170)

I have very much enjoyed many aspects of motherhood, but it is only part of who I am. Sherrie in 2020 is able to have many roles and identities, I am a teacher, a school counselor, a psychotherapist, hiker, HOA board member, driver, voter… my identity is not centered around my sexual fruit.  I am able to be a fully fleshed human capable of attaining Maslow’s highest: self actualization. Women in the Bible were barely able to meet their psychological needs, and it appears it was due to the fact that they were not seen as completely human. Slave women had an even worse fate and societal obligation making it unclear if they had access to their basic needs being met.  

Okay Amy take it away on the discussion of women’s social standing in the time of the Bible.


Amy: I’m going to talk about a couple of scenes in the Bible that demonstrate women’s status in the culture at the time it was written. Content warning: these scenes are violent and depict rape. I’m not sharing these scenes for shock value, but because they very vividly show how the men in these stories valued women. And whether these stories technically, actually happened or not, they demonstrate the attitudes of the authors who wrote them down, because the authors don’t write “isn’t this terrible? We don’t agree with this!” They included them in their holy book, so it seems like the authors are like “yep, that seems about right.” And every man who chose to include these stores in their holy books, from the time the scribes compiled these stories in the 5th century BCE all the way through every version of the Bible with monks copying down the stories through the centuries right up to the English translators under King James in the 1600’s and our own faith tradition of Joseph Smith saying the Bible was “the word of God as far as it is translated correctly” through the translators of the New Inspired Version in the 20th century. Man after man after man after man has passed these stories along as part of what they consider “God’s word.” So again we’ll just read these passages and then share a couple of Gerda Lerner’s comments.

Just really quick for context, Lerner points out that the various laws against rape all incorporated the principle that the injured party is the husband or the father of the raped woman. The victim was under an obligation to prove that she had resisted the rape by struggling or shouting. 

Jewish law was more detrimental to the wife than was Hammurabic law. The same was true for legislation pertaining to rape, in which Mesopotamian law afforded somewhat more protection for the woman. Jewish law forced the rapist to marry the woman he had raped and specifies that he may not divorce her. Implicitly, this forces a woman into an indissoluble marriage with her rapist. (deut 22:28-29).

Genesis 19:1-8 says

19 And there came two angels to Sodom at even; and Lot sat in the gate of Sodom: and Lot seeing them rose up to meet them; and he bowed himself with his face toward the ground;

2 And he said, Behold now, my lords, turn in, I pray you, into your servant's house, and tarry all night, and wash your feet, and ye shall rise up early, and go on your ways. And they said, Nay; but we will abide in the street all night.

3 And he pressed upon them greatly; and they turned in unto him, and entered into his house; and he made them a feast, and did bake unleavened bread, and they did eat.

4 But before they lay down, the men of the city, even the men of Sodom, compassed the house round, both old and young, all the people from every quarter:

5 And they called unto Lot, and said unto him, Where are the men which came in to thee this night? bring them out unto us, that we may know them.

6 And Lot went out at the door unto them, and shut the door after him,

7 And said, I pray you, brethren, do not so wickedly.

8 Behold now, I have two daughters which have not known man; let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you, and do ye to them as is good in your eyes: only unto these men do nothing; for therefore came they under the shadow of my roof.

Lerner makes the comment:

Yahweh, to whom the crimes of sodom are so abhorrent that he destroys the city and all its inhabitants, nevertheless saves Lot. Lot’s right to dispose of his daughters, even so as to offer them to be raped, is taken for granted. It does not need to be explained; hence we can assume it reflected a historic social condition. (173)

Another similar episode happens in Judges, chapter 19, when in a different city, a group of rapists surround a house and demand a man’s male houseguest, who is a Levite. In this story, the host again offers his virgin daughter to the rapists, but instead, the Levite takes his own woman - it’s unclear whether she’s his wife or his concubine - and throws her outside. She is gang-raped all night, and when she collapses at the front door the next day, the Levite demands that she get up. She can’t stand up, so he puts her on his donkey and she apparently dies on the way home. He is furious that the rapists killed her, so more violence ensues which results in the murders of many innocent people, and the whole story is understood to illustrate the people’s depravity and the need for a king. However, when you look at what this story says about the way women were regarded,

Lerner says:

[This was a crime] because of the spoiling of the levite’s honor and property. The Levite’s attitude toward his concubine, who in the Masoretic text is alternatively referred to as “his wife,” shows not only his willingness to surrender her to the gang rape but in his sleeping peacefully during the night of her ordeal. Nowhere in the text is there a word of censure toward him for his action or toward the host, who offers up his virgin daughter to save this guest’s life and honor. (174)

These scenes are so horrifying, but I just have to throw in that that mentality still persists in the way we view sexual violence. Remember when Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped, and she later described that her very first thought, as a 14-year-old being raped, was of a Sunday School lesson she had been taught that compared a girl to a piece of gum. If a girl had sex before marriage, then it was like being a chewed piece of gum, that no other man would ever want. So the man was the one who chewed, and the girl was the gum. And she thought “Oh no, now I’m ruined.” It’s not a far stretch to see that this mentality persists in our culture today.


Sherrie: The Covenant

In a large lecture hall class at BYU-Idaho, a female student began discussing some aspect of feminism, quickly, a male student interrupted the conversation stating the importance of masculinism. While there were a few chuckles, he barrelled on saying,  every time he hears the word “feminism,” “woman” or “women” it makes his head boil.  Imagine, just for a moment if the tables were turned. Throughout the Hebrew Bible, there is

  1. Patriarchal language: God names Isaac “the son of Abraham,.” “Generations of the sons of Noah” are “sons of their fathers.” “Unto Eber was born two sons.” Descendants are known as “seed,” i.e., “Abraham’ seed.” This refers to the male portion of procreation. [This is not just patrilineal - the women are so totally erased that it reads as if procreation is a completely male act.] (189)

I mentioned this in our last recording.  I am embarrassed by how long I believed a creation story fulfilled by men only, completely devoid of women. 

  1. [Covenant between Yahweh and Abraham completely excludes women]:  Here is where I will need to articulate that I am completely unashamed of the human body and will be using anatomically correct terms such as penis. 

Genesis 17:9-10 says “This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between Me and you and thy seed after thee: every male among you shall be circumcised. And ye shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of a covenant betwixt Me and you.

This covenant can only be made with people who have a penis. Period. Women are not able to covenant with the God of the Bible.

Lerner points out something that I had never noticed before! She says:

We must take note of the fact that Yahweh makes the covenant with Abraham alone, not including Sarah, and that in so doing He gives divine sanction to the leadership of the patriarch over his family and tribe. Abraham incorporates the tribe and the family in a manner which Roman law at a much later period will institutionalize as pater familias. Sarah is mentioned in the covenant passage only as the bearer of Abraham’s “seed”. ...the covenant relationship is only with males - first with Abraham, then explicitly with Abraham and Sarah’s son, Isaac, who is referred to only as Abraham’s son. Moreover, the community of the covenant is divinely defined as a male community, as can be seen by the selection of the symbol chosen as “token of the covenant.” The image of the breasts of the fertility-goddess nurturing the earth and the fields has been replaced by the image of the circumcised penis signifying the covenant contract between mortal men and God. (190) 



I’m going to very briefly cover just a couple of highlights from Ancient Greece, which refers to a huge span of time roughly the year 1,200 BCE to the year 600 CE (which is, again, roughly the time period that the stories of the Bible were starting to be written down). 

Lerner points out several things:

  1. [As in Mesopotamia], male gods take over power from the forces of chaos identified with the fertility-goddesses. (204)

  1. Women in Athens were excluded from participation in the political life of the city and were legally lifelong minors under the guardianship of a male. The common practice of men in their thirties marrying girls in their teens reinforced male dominance in marriage. ...the main function of wives was to produce male heirs and to supervise their husband's households. Many female children were exposed at birth and left to die, with the decision over their fate always made by the father. Premarital and marital chastity were strictly enforced on women, but their husbands were free to enjoy sexual gratification from lower class women, heterae [a type of courtesan or prostitute], and slaves and from young men. Respectable women spent most of their life indoors, while men of their class spent most of their time in public places. (203)

  1. The legacy of philosophers like Aristotle 

[***ARISTOTLE ensured that these beliefs and attitudes spread throughout the world and still reverberate today]

[Aristotle was a scientist, but of course there were no microscopes so they didn’t know how stuff worked yet, and his ideas about sex were unfortunate.]

In line with Greek philosophical thought, Aristotle considers matter of lower importance than spirit. In his explanation of the origin of human life, three of the four causes for being were attributed to the male’s contribution to procreation (semen), with only the fourth and lowest, the material, being the woman’s contribution. Aristotle even strongly denied that the semen contributed any material component to the embryo; He saw its contribution as spiritual, hence “more divine.” 

[It follows, of course, that, any birth defects are because of the female contribution. And the most common birth defect is that the fetus is female.]

****...for just as the young of mutilated parents are sometimes born mutilated and sometimes not, so also the young born of a female are sometimes female and sometimes male instead. For the female is, as it were, a mutilated male.”

Human society is divided into two sexes: the male - rational, strong, endowed with the capacity for procreation, equipped with soul and fit to rule; the female - passionate and unable to control her appetites, weak, providing only low matter for the process of procreation, devoid of soul and designed to be ruled. (209)

[Plato (in the voice of Socrates) argued in The Republic for women’s education, but his was a treatise on a utopian society, whereas Aristotle was writing about reality. So it was Aristotle’s vision that carried on. Aristotle also went on to tutor Alexander the Great, so his ideas were spread far and wide]

So to wrap up, I’m just going to share a summary from the conclusion of the book, and then Sherrie, I want to know what your points are from the conclusion.

**By the time men began symbolically to order the universe and the relationship of man to God in major explanatory systems, the subordination of women had become so completely accepted that it appeared “natural” both to men and women. As a result of this historic development the major metaphors and symbols of Western civilization incorporated the assumption of female subordination and inferiority. With the Bible’s fallen Eve and Aristotle’s woman as mutilated male, we see the emergence of two symbolic constructs which assert and assume the existence of two kinds of human beings - the male and the female - different in their essence, their function, and their potential. This metaphoric construct, the “inferior and not quite completed female,” became embedded in every major explanatory system.

Sherrie, what are your main takeaways?

Sherrie: Conclusion

Sherrie: Here is where I feel I have participated in the upholding of patriarchy.  My husband encouraged me to finish my higher education at the same time he did.  I chose the breeder/nurturer path, largely out of fear and obligation, the will of God and of my own father.  I was unaccustomed to heeding my own will in my twenties. Here, Lerner has taught me that my psyche had been shaped from before my birth to feel this way.  Education has been the only key to unlocking that psychological door.  

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 another, by defining “respectability” and “deviance” according to women’s sexual activities; by restraints and outright coercion; by discriminaiton in access to economic resources and political power; and by awarding class privileges to conforming women. (217)



Thank you so much, Sherrie. That was a marathon and a half, and I so appreciate you putting in the time and doing this project with me. I think I would just wrap up by saying it’s really worth getting this book, even if you just read the introduction and the conclusion. They are chock full of mind-blowing insights and we didn’t even scratch the surface. I think the sound bite to leave us with is perhaps Gerda Lerner’s most famous quote: “The system of patriarchy is a historic construct. It has a beginning; it will have an end.”

Our next episode will be a brief, supplemental insert in between essential texts, to fill in a historical gap. I’ll be reviewing Marina Warner’s Alone of All Her Sex, The Myth and Cult of the Virgin Mary, and I’ll pull from several different texts to demonstrate the different patriarchal structures within the Catholic and Protestant traditions.

Next, we will review The Creation of Feminist Consciousness, again by the incredible Gerda Lerner, which covers a time span from the Greeks to the 19th Century, bringing to light the very first women’s writings as they woke up to the male supremicist system they were living in and began to challenge it. Join us for the discussion on the next episode of Breaking Down Patriarchy.

Quotes that didn’t make it:

The Biblical narratives of genesis, composed between 1200 and 500 BCE, reflect a social reality similar to that described in the Babylonian sales contract (1700 BCE)

The childless, aging Sarai urges Abram to have intercourse with her maidservant Hagar:

And Sarai said unto Abram: “Behold now, the Lord hath restrained me from bearing; go in, I pray thee, unto my handmaid; it may be that I shall be builded up through her.” And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai.”

Similarly, Rachel urges her husband Jacob:

Behold my maid Bilhah, go in unto her; that she may bear upon my knees, and I also may be builded up through her.” (This is like Handmaid’s Tale)

There are several underlying assumptions implicit in these accounts: a slave woman owes sexual services to her mistress’s husband, and the offspring of such intercourse counts as though it were the offspring of the mistress. All women owe sexual services to the men in whose household they live and are obliged, in exchange for “protection,” to produce offspring.The dependent status of the “free” wife is implicit in Sarai’s pathetic statement “it may be that I shall be builded up through her.” The barren woman is considered faulty and worthless; only the act of bearing children will redeem her. Rachel, before offering Jacob her handmaiden, exclaims, “give me children, or else I die.” When at last “God hearkened to her, and opened her womb,” she said, “God hath taken away my reproach.” No clearer statement of the reification of women and the instrumental use of wives can be made. (92)