Gender and the Problem of Prehistory

Rosemary Radford Ruether

in Goddesses and the Divine Feminine

Published by University of California Press

Published in print May 2005 | ISBN: 9780520231467
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520940413 | DOI:
Gender and the Problem of Prehistory

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As women anthropologists struggled to map the complexity of male-female roles and actual power relations in preindustrial societies, a renewed feminist movement was raising questions about the origins of patriarchy. In this context of the 1970s, the nineteenth-century theory of original matriarchy as a time of female power, harmony, and justice resurfaced. The writings of nineteenth-century matriarchalists such as Johann Jakob Bachofen, Matilda Joslyn Gage, and Jane Ellen Harrison were rediscovered and heralded as a revelation of the true history of gender relations, long concealed by triumphant patriarchy. This literature, however, had been totally discredited among professional anthropologists and archaeologists. Women archaeologists became increasingly concerned with the way in which archaeology was being cited as proof of this story of original matriarchy. In The Language of the Goddess (1989), Marija Gimbutas develops what she sees as the underlying religion of the Goddess. This chapter explores gender and prehistory, focusing on the conflict between those who endorse the perspective of Gimbutas and the feminist archaeologists who have critiqued it.

Keywords: Marija Gimbutas; patriarchy; matriarchy; gender relations; prehistory; archaeology; religion; Goddess

Chapter.  11434 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Religious Studies

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