Form and Content
The Creation of Patriarchy, the first book of the two-volume work Women and History, begins with Gerda Lerner’s conviction that patriarchal systems are historical, that they emerge from historical processes and therefore can be ended by historical processes. If one does not understand patriarchy’s historicity, one may be tempted to see it as natural, a product of human biology or psychology and perhaps ordained by God. In fact, these very views of patriarchy have dominated Western culture for more than two thousand years. Lerner’s book traces the emergence in the ancient Near East and classical Greece both of patriarchal social systems and of the structures of ideas that led most women and men to accept them as immutable.
Patriarchy, as Lerner defines it, is more than the sexual asymmetry of many tribal societies in which the tasks assigned to women are different from those given to men. It is a system which has institutionalized men’s dominance over women and children, both in the family and in the larger society. In a patriarchal society, legal systems give men power within families, and organizational systems deny women access to power in the society’s important institutions. The term does not imply that women in patriarchal societies are completely without rights, power, or resources. Lerner leads the reader through the steps, however, by which women in the ancient world came to live in cultures which strictly regulated their sexuality, subjected them to the rule of husbands, and...
(The entire section is 623 words.)