History Theory

The Creation of Patriarchy

The Creation of PatriarchyGerda LernerOxford University Press1986

A major work by a leading historian and pioneer in women’s studies, The Creation of Patriarchy is a radical reconceptualization of Western civilization that makes gender central to its analysis. Gerda Lerner argues that male dominance over women is not “natural” or biological, but the product of a historical development begun in the second millennium B.C. in the Ancient Near East. As patriarchy as a system of organizing society was established historically, she contends, it can also be ended by the historical process.

Focusing on the contradiction between women’s central role in creating society and their marginality in the meaning-giving process of definition and interpretation, Lerner explores such fascinating questions as: What can account for women’s exclusion from the historical process? What could explain the long delay–more than 3,500 years–in women’s coming to consciousness of their own subordinate position? She goes back to the cultures of the earliest known civilizations–those of the ancient Near East–to discover the origins of the major gender metaphors of Western civilization. Using historical, literary, archaeological, and artistic evidence, she then traces the development of these ideas, symbols, and metaphors and their incorporation into Western civilization as the basis of patriarchal gender relations.

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 of women of knowledge of their history; the dividing of women, on from another, 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.

Gerda Lerner in The Creation of Patriarchy

May well be the most important work in feminist theory to appear in our generation.

New Directions for Women

Table of Contents

A Note on Definitions
A Note on Chronology and Methodology

Chapter 1: Origins
Chapter 2: A Working Hypothesis
Chapter 3: The Stand-in Wife and the Pawn
Chapter 4: The Woman Slave
Chapter 5: The Wife and the Concubine
Chapter 6: Veiling the Woman
Chapter 7: The Goddesses
Chapter 8: The Patriarchs
Chapter 9: The Covenant
Chapter 10: Symbols
Chapter 11: The Creation of Patriarchy

Appendix: Definitions