“Women’s rights are human rights.”
-Hillary Rodham Clinton
I wanted to write this post last month, but I got caught up in Health Insurance Reform and afterwards I couldn’t write about anything other than singing sparrows and cars that honk orgasms for weeks–I was that depressed. But now I’m back and ready to get my hands dirty once again.
As any reader of this blog knows, my respected friend Tamerlane and I have butted heads over the subject of feminist prehistory on several occasions now, albeit of course in a friendly way. Tamerlane wrote of my last post on the subject (oh yeah, the one that Roseanne Barr linked to on her blog. Mmmhhhmm, that one. Can I get a WHAT WHAT?):
Littleisis, our fellow true liberal and bearer of the Liberal Rapturestandard, writes about an exhibit of prehistoric artifacts which have been interpreted by some to indicate the existence of ancient matriarchal societies. These goddess-worshipping cultures were supposedly peaceful and egalitarian, until being obliterated by invasions of patriarchal, hunter-warrior dudes. Most experts dismiss these theories as fanciful and unsupported by the evidence.Littleisis, our fellow true liberal and bearer of the Liberal Rapturestandard, writes about an exhibit of prehistoric artifacts which have been interpreted by some to indicate the existence of ancient matriarchal societies. These goddess-worshipping cultures were supposedly peaceful and egalitarian, until being obliterated by invasions of patriarchal, hunter-warrior dudes. Most experts dismiss these theories as fanciful and unsupported by the evidence.Pop on over to Liberal Rapture and decide for yourself. Littleisis is a witty writer & an astute observer of politics and culture, and always worth a visit.
Witty though I am, I would like to take a second to remind everyone of who I am: a nineteen-year-old school girl who frankly does not know her ass hole from her belly button about a lot of things. I’m no scholar. In time, I’d like to say I have enough life and academic experience to say I’m half the woman some of the people I blog alongside are. But for now I’m just a hyper little ball of estrogen on legs, and you should keep that in mind when I take enough time out of my life filled with text messaging, shopping, research papers, facebooking, running from the cops and chasing boys (and girls) to rifle through the all the sex, vampires, sparkly penises and make up tips filling up my brian to write down something remotely intelligent or thoughtful.
This however, does not excuse me from the fact that I have yet to fully articulate just what the hell I’m talking about when I write posts about feminist prehistory. I first mentioned it in an article about honor killings and then it just spiraled and got really out of hand. Specifically, I want to quote one of Tamerlane’s commenters Sima, because I agree with her point:
It’s so easy to look at an object and dream about what that object meant to a culture. It’s easy to take mythologies about mythology and assume they represent some sort of ancient, unobtainable being. Historically, goddesses were worshipped, sometimes as heads of pantheons. That doesn’t mean women were well-regarded. The Virgin Mary is one of the most important female icons of the Western World. Her portrait appears everywhere. Her life and deeds are celebrated by many strains of Christianity. She is especially revered by Catholics. And… she exists in the middle of patriarchy. We have little to no idea if pre-historic goddesses reflected women’s power in and over society, or women’s place in society, or both.
Gimbutas work is important as a possible interpretation of pre-history. It is not the only interpretation, or even the most valid one, at this point. Her work does need to be re-examined periodically as new knowledge and techniques come into being because who knows, she might be right.
I would never make the leap, for example, that just because a society has female diety it is not patriarchal. The Romans had female goddesses as part of their pantheons, and no one would call them egalitarian. Nor would I make a leap that a society has to be peaceful in order to have any kind of gender equality. All though I do believe gender equality, especially in government, permeates peace, because it encourages equality rather than dominance.
I don’t disagree with Tamerlane and others that there is not sufficient, solid proof that egalitarian cultures like that of the Minoans existed and that theories of feminist prehistory put forward by archeologists like Gimbatus and Eislier are just that: theories. I do however, disagree with the notion that this makes it entirely impobable that such things might possibly be true.
The most recent book I’ve read about this was written in 2007, by Craig Barnes. (Highly recommended. Everyone on Amazon gives it five stars.) Regarding the theory of “hunter warrior dudes” as Tamerlane puts it, he explains:
…among these scholars, including Joseph Campbell, a tradition that war-like nomads had swept down from the steps of Asia bringing patriarchy and oppression and that the origins of misogyny were from these nomads. A furious intellectual debate then raged through the 1990s over the issue of who these nomads were, why they had not left more evidence, what language they spoke, where their pots and houses were. In the end, many modern scholars, including many women, turned to critique Campbell and Gimbatus and the so-called nomad theory. In addition, when the evidence was insufficient to establish these nomadic invasions in a certain time and place or to establish whether they were outsiders or insiders, the critics began to disparage not only the Campbell-Gimbatus theory of invasions but also the whole of the “goddess movement.” Critics disparaged the idea that there ever had been a universal Mother Earth Goddess or that there had ever been a peaceful society or that there had ever been anything like nomadic invasions that caused a change to patriarchy. They argued, with substantial justification, that there had never had never been proof of matriarchy or a universal goddess in western European history. With less justification, however, they went beyond these reasonable questions about nomads and a universal Earth Mother goddess to dispute whether women had ever been more prominent in Western culture and whether some pre-greek societies were women centered, or egalitarian, or peaceful. As a result, scholarship has since settled back into a comfort zone with it’s time honored patriarchal conclusions.
Barnes doesn’t make the case that society became patriarchal and war like because of hunter warrior nomad types from Asia that invaded and raped, killed and took over Goddess-centered societies, regardless of whether that theory is true or not. He does make the case that people are not war-like by nature. I believe that also but my personal belief that human beings are basically good, personally responsible and fully in charge of their own destinies rather than hopelessly condemned and entrenched in original sin–totally controlled by the whims of of an evil satan monster who lives underground and makes them do bad things is just that. Personal.
What Barnes does say is that while war can be effective in changing society, it is consciousness that moves it to change the most. The American Revolution, for example, started way before the battle of Lexington and Concord. It started with an idea that turned into a shot heard ’round the world. And the same can be said of any time in human history.
A few thousand years ago, Homer wrote the Odyssey and The Iliad around the same time the Hebrews wrote the Old Testament, both of which are highly patriarchal and violent and both of which are taught to young children as guidelines to having upstanding moral values, for some reason.
There is strong evidence that society was not originally patriarchal, but that is not what is important. What is important is what is right in front of us, right now. As I said before, one needs to merely pick up a history book and they’ll know that Patriarchy is simply not beneficial to human evolution. Whenever, as SOD calls it, social dominance takes a back seat to some kind of equality, we as human beings improve.
Hunter warrior dudes or not, we can assume that society was at one time egalitarian and is capable of being egalitarian because history tells us so. Women have been involved in every single positive change in modern history. Civil rights, gay rights, abolition, et cetera. Countries like Finland and Iceland, whose governments are fairly gender equal have better health care, better economies and do not constantly involve themselves in the conflicts of other nations. As flawed and ridiculous as we human beings can often be, facts just show that we can’t have come as far as we have by doing the same thing over and over again. That is the definition of insanity and insanity destroys itself from the inside out.
And when I say human beings, I mean all human beings, male or female. Tamerlane and I are in agreement that some people who do appear to believe in the nomad theory do try to use it as evidence that men are by nature inferior and predispositioned to violence, stupidity and war while women are docile and motherly and rely on right brain thinking rather than logic. That is not only bull shit, it is frankly sexist. Equality is acknowledgement that the only differences between men and women are biological. Like in Sally Potter’s Orlando. “Same person, just a different sex.” And I do feel sorry for Tamerlane, seeing as how he was attacked by women who apparently had that ridiculous attitude.
Either way, I am moving forward. As I said before, this information is relevant and no, it does not embarrass feminists. As our shero said,
“There cannot be true democracy unless women’s voices are heard. There cannot be true democracy unless women are given the opportunity to take responsibility for their own lives. There cannot be true democracy unless all citizens are able to participate fully in the lives of their country.“
You tell ’em, Hillary.