Three things every woman should know about her past
The majority of us have grown up believing that men have always ruled the world. Male domination has been marketed as natural, immutable and eternal. It is all we have ever known, so it’s easy to believe that it might be all we have ever had.
Yet, a couple of years ago, I learned that this was not the case. In fact, I learned that in the grand scheme of things, male domination, aka patriarchy, is a relatively recent phenomenon. Given that our species of human emerged about 300,000 years ago , and patriarchy reared its ugly head an estimated 8,000 years ago, it is clear that it had a beginning, and a relatively recent one at that. The problem is that patriarchy came just before our first extant written records, and so what has been passed down to us is what these victors wanted us to believe, not necessarily what was actually true.
What lies in the little glimpse we know of what was before is exciting, empowering, and addictive. I learned a bit and now I can’t put it down. I want to know as much as I can, and I want everyone to know the truth that has been buried, destroyed, and lied about, for millennia.
There are three main things I have discovered recently that are not in mainstream consciousness:
The first, is that all of society used to be matrilineal. In case you’ve not heard the term, ‘matrilineal’ means descending from the mother’s line. Nowadays the majority of societies are patrilineal, tracing their descent from the father. A woman is given her father’s name, and when/if she marries, she takes her husband’s name, and the mother’s line is lost. Still, often, this name change is justified as being traditional, yet actually it was not always the case. In our etymology, and in fragments of our earliest documents, we see clues to a past where people followed their mother’s line. Early Chinese dynasties traced their descent from women, and in ancient Greece, Arabia and Rome, decent was originally matrilineal. In Egypt, royalty was transmitted through the female line, up to and after, Cleopatra’s day. Female descent was found among the early Teutons, the Celts, the Picts and Eskimos. There are even societies that remain matrilineal today. A matrilineal belt runs across Africa, and matrilineal societies survive among the Mosuo of China, the Minangkabau of Indonesia, and other communities.
Secondly, all of our ancient communities were originally centred around women in matri-clans. This was not matriarchy, as it is sometimes portrayed, but matricentricity. Society was not dominated by women, society was egalitarian, yet mothers were the focal point (aka matrifocal) and made the key decisions for the clan. In all of our pre-historic societies organised by the mother’s clan, mothers lived with their brothers and sisters and male spouses came to live with the woman’s family. This arrangement is called matrilocality. It is opposed to patrilocality, when the wife goes to live with the husband’s family, as it is in many societies today. In ancient society, Hebrews were originally organised into matri-clans that were also matrilocal. This arrangement was also seen among the Goths, and Japan was both matrilineal and matrilocal until the fourteenth century. There are still some places that are matrilocal today, such as some communities in Malawi, and the Hopi and Navajo Native Americans. Yet, as we can see around us, the majority of matrilocal and matrifocal communities have died out as they have been turned gradually to patrilineal, patrilocal and patriarchal arrangements.
Third, we all worshipped Goddesses. Before we were told God was male, we celebrated her as a Goddess. The earliest representations of female divinity are vulvas engraved on rocks in the caves of Abri Blanchard, Abri Castanet and La Ferrassie in France during the Aurignacian period. These evolved into statuettes of Goddesses which have been found from 35,000 years ago in Palaeolithic Eurasia, predating pottery. They have been found worldwide from Valdivia and Mesoamerica, to the Fertile Crescent and Neolithic Anatolia, to Jomon Japan. Whilst some seem desperate to dismiss these prolific figurines as pornographic or toys, or translate their femaleness into expressions simply of fertility, their ubiquity and centrality implies a more universal diety. Their presence is made stark by the fact that there is no trace of any kind of male figure in the Palaeolithic period, or indeed any male idol to be found before the Bronze age. Further, female-creation stories breathe life into these figurines. Our very earliest creation stories were Goddess myths. From the Sumerian Goddess Nammu who created the sky and the earth, to the Dohomey’s Goddess Mawu and the Greek Gaia who created the earth, Goddesses were the originator Creatrices and the first focal points of our religious consciousness.
When you put these three things together; a world of matrilineal decent, matricentric and matrifocal societies, and extensive worldwide Goddess worship, and contrast them with what we see across the globe today; patrilineal decent, patrilocality, and major world religions that centre around a male God, we can see how radically different our past must have been.
The question now is: How did we move from this powerfully female egalitarian society to a society dominated by men? This is the question I will not rest until I uncover.
Did you learn something new or interesting? If so please clap. If you want to be the first to hear about new articles from Marianne please click follow.
Marianne is a historian fascinated by history and pre-history. Using history and strategy, Marianne writes on justice, liberty, and power. Using the lessons of the past, she provides ideas and mechanisms to build new structures and values in our world.