Sat, 16 Mar 1996 10:04:49 EST

helpful in clarifying our discussion about those much abused and mis-
understood terms: "patriarchy" and "matriarchy"? For those unfamiliar
with her work, Lerner is a distinguished historian, avowedly a feminist
and author of The Creation of Patriarchy (Oxford 1986) and The Creation
of Feminist Consciousness (Oxford 1993). The 1986 book is more germane
to our discussion though I would recommend both.
Among the relevant points in Patriarchy (1986) is Lerner's opening
note that many terms used in academic (and folk) discourse are inadequate
to describe "the female experience, the status of women in society..."
She goes on to say that many people, including some feminists, confuse
the limited, traditional meaning of patriarchy [system derived from
Greek and Roman law giving male head of household absolute legal and
economic power over dependents, male and female] with a "wider defini-
tion...the manifestation and institutionalization of male dominance over
women and children in the family and the extension of male dominance
over woemn in society in general. It implies that men hold power in all
the important institutions of socieity and that women are deprived of
access to such power. It does NOT imply that women are either totally
powerless or totally deprived of rights, influence, and resources."
(Lerner 1986:238-239) I suggest that though other posters, such as
John McGreery, have acknowledged these two usages, either explicitly
or implicitly, it is still very easy for all of us to slide back and
forth between the two and so elide the difference. Note too that the
second, wider usage does not imply that women are completely powerless.
I would reject either patriarchy or matriarchy
in trying to understand most societies outside the Western European
tradition. OK, OK colonialism carried patriarchal (sense 2) values to
16th-century North America or 18th-century India, but these terms are not
especially useful in trying to understand Heian Japan (ca. 1000 C.E.) or
say, the Tiwi of northern Australia, often described as a patriarchal
society or a gerontocracy (remember, it's the place where every female
has always to be married from pre-birth to death and the old men have
far more wives than the young?) until Jane Goodale's Tiwi Wives gave us
a perspective on how the women operated in and manipulated the system,
and did not seem to consider themselves "oppressed".
Matriarchy is an even more loaded term than patriarchy. I
would respectfully ask Stephanie Marlin-Curiel to provide some good
evidence for matriarchal societies, either past or present. The term
is irresistible to many feminists for what should be obvious reasons
(and in case it's not already clear, I speak here as a feminist).
There is a particularly interesting discussion in archaeology these
days (Conkey et. al.) over how material remains can be used to infer
differential gender access to power, status, resources. Marija
Gimbutas contributed to this discussion and so has Ruby Rohrlich
(e.g., State Formation in Sumer and the Subjugation of Women, 1980,
Feminist Studies 6:76-102), an article in which she uses evidence
from Catal Huyuk to attempt to argue for the evidence of matriarchy.
I have no idea whether Ruby still holds to an interpretation that
she offered over 15 years ago, an interpretation that has been
challenged though perhaps not so violently as her less nuanced
statements re patriarchy on Anthro-L. Any archaeologists on
Anthro-L who could bring us up to speed on whether the current
gender interests (Conkey et. al) could contribute to our discussions
re power?
Regards, Denise O'Brien

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