‘history’ Versus ‘History’

The-Creation-of-Patriarchy-9780195051858Lerner writes very clearly. This suggests she thinks very clearly too. One hopes she thinks clearly, for she has been greatly influential as a historian, writer, and educator. That she writes clearly (in English, not in her native tongue–she was born in Vienna as Gerda Kronstein in 1920 and emigrated to the USA in 1939) is a boon for us all.

Lerner distinguishes between ‘history’ and ‘History’ in a footnote on page 4: ‘I will spell “history,” the unrecorded past, with a lower-case h, and “History,” the recorded and interpreted past, with an upper-case H.’ This is a distinction I will adopt. In the Introduction she explains that history is the series of events of what actually happened. It has been going on since the beginning of time. She perceives that, ‘like men, women are and always have been actors and agents in history…, shar[ing] the world and its work equally with men…, central, not marginal, to the making of society and to the building of civilization…, preserving collective memory, which shapes the past into cultural tradition, provides the link between generations, and connects past and future.’ (4) This is unrecorded history. ‘History-making, on the other hand,’ Lerner counters, ‘dates from the invention of writing in ancient Mesopotamia.’ (4) As such, it’s only a partial record, a matter of interpretation, for we have mostly the male side of the story, written during the rise of patriarchy. She sees the historian’s task to find a better interpretation, to make a less partial record. To to get the female side of the story, Lerner, a historian of the 19th century, went way back, to ancient Mesopotamia, to about 3100BCE.

What she found astounded her. She expected an actual event when the masculine overthrew the feminine on such-and-such a date. Instead she found a gradual process, a gradual change in society’s metaphors of what it means to be male or female, lasting roughly 2500 years from 3100BCE to 600BCE. A metaphor or symbol is how we make sense of an actual event. ‘By tracing the changes in metaphor or images, it should be possible to trace the underlying historical developments.’ (11) Thus, ‘History-making’ is a series of interpreted metaphors, whereas ‘history’ is a series of actual events that underlie History-making. By studying the metaphors she hopes to deduce the events that led to the creation of patriarchy. By knowing the underlying events, Lerner hopes to show that patriarchy is not immortal but something which has been done by humans. That which is done, she says, can be undone. ‘Each chapter [in The Creation Of Patriarchy] is built around one of these metaphors for gender, as indicated by the chapter title.’ She outlines the chapters on pages 8 to 10. Briefly:

Lilith_Periodo_de_Isin_Larsa_y_Babilonia-from-wpChapters 1–‘Origins‘–and 2–‘A Working Hypothesis‘–‘The appropriation by men of women’s sexual and reproductive capacity’ leading to ‘the formation of private property and class society’ (image from wikipedia)

Chapter 3–‘The Stand-In Wife And The Pawn‘–The archaic states

Chapter 4–‘The Woman Slave‘–Slavery and dominance of others begins as dominance of women

Chapter 5–‘The Wife And The Concubine‘–Codification and enforcement of women’s sexual subordination; various means of women’s cooperation

Chapter 6–‘Veiling The Woman‘–Class and economics: men are tied to property; women are tied to men and veiled to show that they are owned

Chapter 7–‘The Goddesses‘–Goddess-worship persists despite men’s dominance and women’s economic dependence

Chapters 8–‘The Patriarchs‘–and 9–‘The Covenant‘–Goddess-worship is replaced by the worship of a monotheistic, male god

Chapter 10–‘Symbols‘–This ‘devaluing of women in relation to the divine becomes one of the founding metaphors of Western civilization. The other’ is the Aristotelian idea that ‘women are incomplete and damaged….’ These metaphors (or symbols) make patriarchy seem natural, ‘hence it becomes invisible,… an ideology.’

Don’t skip the Introduction, nor the Appendix!

What is the difference between ‘history’ and ‘History’? Lerner writes, ‘We will never know unless we begin. The process itself is the way, is the goal.’ (14)

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