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ANAHITA  December 1999

ANAHITA December 1999

Subject:

Re: matriarchy?

From:

Susan Kray <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Women and Gender in the Ancient World <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Fri, 24 Dec 1999 14:14:56 EST

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (100 lines)

Deborah Ferber writes

>Thomson also quotes Herodotus, Strabo and Nicolaus of Damascus who describe
>  several matriarchal situations.  Strabo, for example, says that the
Cantabri
>  of Spain 'have a form of matriarchy; their daughters inherit and give their
>  brothers in marriage.'

What kind of evidence is this? Eyewitness reports or third-hand long-distance
reports about unfamiliar cultures? Considering the points that Geertz makes
about the impossibility of conveying accurate information about another
society even using modern scholarly apparatus, and given that we as feminists
usually maintain a certain skepticism about "patriarchal" persons'
perceptions and reports, we have some serious epistemological problems here
and with your other "evidence."

The fact that one cannot rely on biased "patriarchal" reports does not
constitute any kind of evidence that something biased patriarchs might have
"covered up," given the chance, actually did exist and was covered up.

Of course there is no proof that ancient societies that did not leave written
records were patriarchal, either.

Sometimes we just have to admit that in the nature of things, there are
things we can never know.

Susan

>
>  Now we're getting to the good stuff!  First of all, you mention that the
>  existence of matriarchial  societies is generally controversial, but let's
>  ask, "among whom is the existence contoversial?"  -- the established
>  institutions of our current partriarchy?  Do you think we'll have a female
>  president anytime soon?
>
>  Secondly, I would define a matriachy as a society where leadership, status
>  and property -- privileges usually accorded to men in patriarchies -- are
>  accorded to women instead. Also, I would expect to see these privileges
>  handed down from mother to daughter.  I agree that matrilinerality or
>  matrilocality are not equivilent to a society where the dominant authority
>  is held by women, but honor and recognition of the mother's clan rather
than
>  the father's is closely allied to women's power and visibilty in general.
>
>  There is enough evidence based on these criteria to say that matriarchies
>  have existed in historic times, and by studying linguistic and cultural
>  evidence, to say that they most likely existed in prehistory as well.
>  Archeological evidence seems more uncertain.  The people of Minoan Crete
>  portrayed women in positions of power, as in the "grandstand fresco" from
>  Knossos, but you are right -- we can't base a matriarchy on pictures alone.
>
>  In historic times, we have examples of matriarchies from all over the
world:
>  ancient China, Africa, Tibet, and the Iroquios, to name a few.  In the
>  1840s, the Khasis near Dacca in Bangladesh were subject to British rule.  A
>  Lieutenant Gurdon reports on the culturally isolated society whose center
of
>  life is the village: *
>
>          " . . . Not only is the mother the head and source of the only bond
>  of union of the family; in the most primitive part of the hills, the
Synteng
>  country, she is the only owner of real property, and through her alone is
>  inheritance transmitted.  The father has no kinship with his children, who
>  belong to their mother's clan.  What he earns goes to his own matriarchal
>  stock, and at his death his bones are deposited in the cromlech of his
>  mother's kin."
>
>  * From "Studies in Ancient Greek Society," by George Thomson, Citadel
Press,
>  1965
>
>
>  If you would be interested in more evidence, I could provide more.  I am
>  hoping that others on our list-serve will respond and we can more clearly
>  evaluate our common history, rather than taking on the beliefs fostered by
>  institutions whose best interests are served by promoting a dominant male
>  paradigm as though it were all that ever was or will be.
>
>  Deborah Ferber
>  Seattle,  Washington
>

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

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