Sunday, August 28, 2005


There's a pervasive myth that prior to 'patriarchal' civilization, in the mists of prehistory people lived in greater harmony with nature, worshiping 'the goddess' in a matriarchal society. This myth is exploded by Cynthia Eller's The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory. I for one have long held this theory counterintuitive as our closest relative the chimp is essentially patriarchal, and given that current human societies are largely patriarchal the trajectory of gender organization hardly suggests a matriarchal phase. For more on this line of reasoning, why male violence is more prevalent than female violence, and the curious case of the bonobo, see Demonic Males.

But the main point of this post is to highlight something of the history of feminism so that those who are alienated by some aspects of it don't throw away its valuable components. Eller describes three major schools of feminism:

1. Liberal Feminism: Historically linked to the sufferage movement, this view focussed on securing rights for women that men already were believed to have--equal pay for equal work, eliminating discrimatory laws/policies, in general being recognized as equal members of a democracy. The ultimate goal is to permit more 'women in the boardroom.'

2. Radical Feminism: Rooted in the 1960s New Left movement, these folks didn't want women participating in 'late capitalist' society already poisoned at its roots in terms of race and class issues. They held that exploitation of women--like exploitation of the working class--were fundamental features of capitalism, and that this economic system thus needed revolutionary change.

3. Cultural Feminism: Like radical feminists these folks didn't want women to simply take on men's roles, but focussed on who women are. They believed that women are distanced by patriarchal society from their true female selves, and that femininity is simply better than masculinity. The possibility of a 'matriarchal prehistory' particularly appeals to these particular feminists.

Again, this is a synopsis of a very complex subject, one which Eller is more familiar with than I. But I do think it's useful to separate out different strands of feminism, and remember that while the feminist movement is a coalition like any movement, the fact that there are brands of feminism that one finds extreme should not overly sully the goals of the movement in general.


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