Spinning the Thread
This text is drawn from my own spiritual spinning rather than detached academical reasoning. Its underlying questions are essentially the questions shot through the fabric of my life, the life of a Lesbian historian and writer.
Who are my godesses? Who are the females that came before me? Who are my foremothers?
If twenty-five years count as a generation, it is 81 mothers to what the West calls year zero. Roughly 282 more to the woman who gave birth to the man who ended up to be the oldest Chinchorro mummy. 9718 or so to the earliest neanderthal we know of. 118000 to Lucy. 872000 to proconsul. 11480000 to first land-dwelling vertebrates. 35520000 to the first evidence of sexual reproduction. That is not even fifty million mothers between me and that first eukaryotic cell we all came from.
Every single cell of me contains mitochondrial DNA, this heirloom of my maternal line. The bacteria in my guts, the mites I probably have in my eyelashes, we are related to each other somewhere down that line of mothers.
And here I am, not breeding.
Warping the Loom
In the beginning, the mothers. This is the title of the book I’m going to review translated from the original German. It is also the way Heide Göttner-Abendroth with some linguistical authority translates ‘matriarchy’, since ἀρχή (arché) does not just translate to ‘rule’ (as in ‘patriarchy’), but also to ‘beginning‘ (p. 9).
Heide Göttner-Abendroth is one of the most important and influential scholars of matriarchy studies with countless books, essays and articles to her name. In 1986 she founded the International Academy of Modern Matriarchal Studies and Matriarchal Spirituality (HAGIA) and she has organised several international conferences about matriarchal societies and politics.
Am Anfang die Mütter, Matriarchale Gesellschaft und Politik als Alternative is a collection of essays on the fundamentals of matriarchal societies published on the occasion of Heide Göttner-Abendroth’s 70th birthday and the 2011 Kongress for Matriarchatspolitik (congress for matriarchal politics) in St. Gallen (Switzerland). I chose this collection to review not because it is particularly well-written or a pleasure to read – in fact it is repetitive to the point of annoyance – , but because it is a dense overview of and a good introduction into Heide Göttner-Abendroth’s huge life’s work.
There are two possible approaches I could follow with this review. First, I could attempt to explore whether Heide Göttner-Abendroth’s research methods make sense and if her historical and anthropological arguments are scientifically sound. Or, second, I could keep my focus strictly on the political implications of her work. In this review, I decided to do the latter.
The question I want to ask is not whether matriarchy researchers like Heide Göttner-Abendroth are right or not, if there ever were matriarchies in prehistory or not or if modern societies can be accurately described as matriarchies or not.
My question is, what does it mean politically and spiritually if there were?
A Lesbian feminist critique of matriarchal politics is direly needed. I see the term matriarchy being used in radically feminist spaces as shorthand for all the great and good when liberation comes, but little analysis on actual matriarchal societies and politics; very often reflection is forgone for the sake of hoping and wishing.
Questioning matriarchal politics is also made difficult by the existant critique of Heide Göttner-Abendroth and other scholars of matriarchal studies. In a patriarchal context they are just as marginalised as the subjects of their studies, their proposals are often ridiculed and met with a categorical refusal even to consider matriarchal perspectives worthy of academical discussion. At best, matriarchal history and politics are trivialised by a paradoxical claim of omnipresence: When the racist views of a white 1960s US senator on single-mother families in the Black community are enough to proclaim a “Black matriarchy” or every little breathing space for women in ancient societies is interpreted as evidence for a matriarchal substrate[i] the idea of matriarchy is hollowed out to such a degree it loses all meaning.
MRAs[ii] and “masculists” of all stripes[iii] drive this to the extreme. To them, even the most traditional patriarchies are actually matriarchies in disguise: They see women as pampered princesses who control men’s access to sex, take away men’s money and ressources, raise sons to serve girls’ entitlement and will ditch a hard-working decent husband for any other guy who provides more money and better sex. Needless to say, this is complete nonsense, and it would go well beyond the scope of this review to dissect it properly[iv].
Weft: What is a matriarchy? How do we achieve one today?
According to Heide Göttner-Abendroth, a matriarchy consists of three major building blocks: A political and societal order based on matriclans (see further down); an economy based on locality, sustainability, consent and democracy designed to erode social differences and uneven wealth distribution via gift-giving; and a form of of spirituality to give meaning to it all.
I tend to believe that her vision for the enconomy has the biggest merit. She of course took it directly from indigenous cultures, and since she envisions matriarchies inevitably as small-structured, nothing else makes sense.
To her, an ideal society is based on matriclans centered around biological and social motherhood. The relationship between mothers and children serves as the blue-print for all relationships inside the clan. People without children are supposed to act as co-parents for all children and maternal behaviour is required of everyone:
“Eine Frau muss noch nicht einmal persönliche Mutterschaft erleben oder wünschen, um an dieser allgemeinen Verehrung der Frau teilzuhaben. Denn die Vorstellung von Mütterlichkeit trägt und gestaltet die ganze Gesellschaft, es ist ein allgemein gültiger und real umgesetzter Wert – und keine unterdrückerische und sentimentale Schablone nur für Frauen. Deshalb gibt es keinen Mutterkult in Matriarchaten, wohl aber eine grundsätzliche Mutter-kultur.”
“A woman does not need to experience motherhood for herself or wish for it to share in the general veneration of the woman. The idea of motherliness carries and forms the whole of society, it is a shared value put into practice – not an oppressive and sentimental cookie cutter model just for women. This is the reason why there is no cult of the mother in matriarchy, but a basic mother-culture.”[v]
Lesbians of course would fall under the maternal caregiver category and would be venerated for their potential motherhood – or so I assume, because Heide Göttner-Abendroth does not once mention Lesbians in the whole book. I don’t know if this is true for all her work, but in Am Anfang die Mütter the erasure is complete.
This leaves open the question if she envisions a form of mandatory bisexuality, degrades Lesbianism to a tolerated hobby or follows what I call the helpmeet hypothesis of homosexuality[vi].
In any way, women who are not mothers have to remain a minority in society, because in Göttner-Abendroth’s matriarchy giving birth is a duty to the ancestors:
“Jedes Mitglied eines Clans ist davon überzeugt, dass es nach dem Tod durch die jungen Frauen ds Clans wiedergeboren wird. In diesem Sinne gelten die Kinder als die wiedergeborenen Ahnen und Ahninnen der Sippe und sind heilig. Frauen werden nicht nur dafür geehrt, dass sie Lebensschenkerinnen und Ernährerinnen sind, sondern besonders dafür, dass sie die Wiedergebärerinnen sind, Tod also in Leben umwandeln können.”
“Every member of a clan is convinced to be reborn after death through the young women of the clan. In this sense children are seen as reborn forefathers and foremothers of the clan and are sacred. Women are not only honoured for being givers of life and nurturers, but also particularly for being re-birthers, able to transform death to life.”[vii]
Where is the difference to a patriarchy hounding Lesbians, childfree women and gay people about children for fatherland, god or evolution? Ancestor reincarnation is by no means inherently matriarchal. The Agĩkũyũ people in Kenya believe in ancestor reincarnation while they are clearly patriarchal, practise FGM, venerate a male sky deity and have a myth to explain how men took power over women[viii].
Sacralising motherhood inherently means sacralising heterosexuality and the relationship of the two sexes. There is no other way to understand motherhood – it means het sex.
But if the institution of heterosexuality is the base of family and society, how would a young girl be able to envision a life without a man for herself? According to Göttner-Abendroth literally everything is organised in the male-female, yin-yang, chalice-blade dichotomy. If nature herself needs to be understood like this (e. g. rounded female hills vs. pointy male summits[ix]), sacred buildings (e. g. “female” and “male” stones in megalithic circles), and even music (e. g. flutes = male; drums =female), how would a young girl ever be allowed to ignore males? If motherhood is the highest spiritual honour, how would a Lesbian woman ever feel like anything but second-best?
On the surface Göttner-Abendroth’s matriarchal principles of spirituality (p. 104ff) look good enough: Everything in the world is divine and the Divine is female; there is no separation between the profane and the sacred and all actions are rituals; everything is connected to everything; the world’s three layers (sky – earth – underworld) mirror the threefold and three-aged Divine.
Dig a little deeper, though, and the stark truth comes out. With this setup, women in matriarchy are at the centre of spiritual life. This is exactly what Heide Göttner-Abendroth always points out matriarchy is allegedly not – patriarchy on its head.
It is collaborative women who carry religious patriarchy. Their deity may be male and their worldview somewhat different, but they are the ones filling the pews and volunteering spots to an extend male clergy gets uncomfortable about, they are teaching children to pray, they prepare food according to religious rules and organise religious celebrations in schools, homes and the community.
Heide Göttner-Abendroth’s matriarchy essentially works the same. Women are not just burdened with physical labour (“nurture the world through substistence farming”, see below), but also the brunt of spiritual labour.
Becoming Mothers, Betraying Daughters
This worldview leads to three major problems Lesbians would be confronted with if Göttner-Abendroth’s vision for society came true:
First, a matriarchy would inevitably mean mothers were entitled to obedience. Even if Heide Göttner-Abendroth would be right with her claim that the clan mothers would never abuse their power, since they don’t have any reason to[x] – a claim I highly doubt due to the presence of males – it still means that they have a vital interest to make their daughters into their successors. For this, they have to hand over their daughters to heterosexuality, and leave them no other choice but to walk in their footsteps to fuck and breed.
How that ends up looking in practice can be seen in young Mosuo women:
“With life centred on the maternal family, motherhood is, unsurprisingly, revered. For a young Mosuo woman, it is life’s goal. “I’ve had to advise many young women on ovulation, so keen are they to get pregnant,” she says. “You are seen as complete once you become a mother.” In this respect, Waihong, who doesn’t have children, is regarded more keenly. “My sense is that I’m pitied,” she says, “but people are too polite to tell me.” What happens if a woman doesn’t want children? “That’s simply not one of their choices. To even ask that question is to see the Mosuo through our eyes, our way of doing things. The question is not pertinent,” she says. And what if they can’t have children, or produce only boys? “They will formally adopt a child, either from an unrelated Mosuo family or, more commonly, from one of their maternal cousins,” she says. “A few generations ago, before China’s one-child policy – which extends to two in rural areas – families were huge. There are a lot of cousins around.” To western eyes, this is the less progressive side of the Mosuo way of life. Is a society that, in many ways, emancipates women from marriage, and gives them sexual freedom, actually producing glorified 1950s housewives who have no choices other than motherhood? It’s a frustration that Waihong feels with her goddaughter Ladzu, now 22. “She is a mother, and leads a very domestic life,” says Waihong. “For a young Mosuo woman, that’s not unusual. But I wish it were different. For me, it’s a waste.””
Göttner-Abendroth would of course see the domestic and economical situation of Mosuo women in a more positive light. Since she blames the patriarchy for the ‘Hausfrauisierung’, the ‘housewification’ of mothers, a matriarchal mother by definition can’t be a housewife.
To her, a housewife is a woman who is literally inside the house and does nothing but serve her husband and children (p. 183). Opposed to that, matriarchal women serve their children, have sex with men, work themselves raw on the fields, trade to make a living for the children and keep all that together with the glue of spirituality. In my perception, there is no difference at all to single-mother families under patriarchy, which often also rely on female networks of grandmothers and aunts to survive, or even to traditional patriarchal families in their idealised constellation of father-mother-children (or father-mother-mother-mother-mother-children, for that matter).
In theory, the nuclear family should be kept afloat by the working husband’s income, but this money is often enough used to gain capitalist status rather than basic needs (e. g. cars in the city, big houses in isolated and infrastructure-low suburbs, electronic gadgets, expensive travels, branded clothing) and can be withheld/withdrawn at any point. In such constellations, even middle-class women on top of their domestic work often have “non-jobs” that don’t challenge her status as a housewife (e. g. caring for the elderly, running daycares, working a few hours freelance often in social or secretary functions or selling homemade stuff). (Needless to say, poor and working-class women never were housewives to begin with.) The only difference to the all-providing, all-caring and all-achieving matriarchal mother is that the patriarchal mother’s workload is carefully concealed by trivialising her financial contributions to keep up a facade of the male “breadwinner”. Women in patriarchy are also often responsible for spiritual tasks in the family. Nothing in Heide Göttner-Abendroth’s vision for matriarchal motherhood differs categorically from this. There is just one male less.
To her, women who refuse the slavery of motherhood are simply reacting to bad circumstances for child-rearing in Western society:
“Es ist daher nicht erstaunlich, wenn junge Frauen und Frauen, die unabhängig bleiben wollen, zunehmend das Muttersein ablehnen, sogar eine Feindschaft dagegen entwickeln. Diese Haltung ist nicht unbedingt – wie es offiziell dargestellt wird – der Ausdruck eines wachsenden persönlichen Egoismus, sondern einer äußerst mütterfeindlichen, sozial beschränkten, kranken Gesellschaft. Dabei ist die Fähigkeit von Frauen zum Muttersein für jede Gesellschaft das höchste Gut, denn von Generation zu Generation lebt sie nur durch die Mütter weiter.”[xi]
“It is not astonishing that young women and women who want to remain independent refuse to be a mother more and more, and even develop hostility against it. This stance is not necessarily – as often viewed by the officals – an expression of a growing personal egoism, but of a very mother-hating, socially stunted, sick society. And yet the ability of women to be mothers is the highest good in every society, because it lives on only through the mothers, generation after generation.”
Nowhere in the whole book Göttner-Abendroth radically questions heterosexuality and motherhood. Indeed she seems to be utterly unable to even imagine women who do not want to be pregnant, give birth, lactate and raise children, no matter what, and waves off any critique of motherhood as a politically-rooted hostility of disturbed women. Her matriarchy is the same horrific nightmare to Lesbians and childfree women that is Gilead.
She even thinks that patriarchy oppresses females by reducing motherhood to a private thing:
“In Patriarchaten steht diese ganze Sache auf dem Kopf, denn die Wichtigkeit der Frau für das Leben der gesamten Gesellschaft ist hier kein Anlass sie zu achten, sondern sie zu unterdrücken und Muttersein zur rein privaten Angelegenheit zu erklären. Jedoch widerspricht die manisch ausgeübte Kontrolle aller patriarchalen Staaten über die Gebärfähigkeit der Frau dieser angeblichen Nebensächlichkeit. Warum wohl? Gerade weil das, was sie können und tun, so wichtig ist – aber sie sollen es nicht merken!”[xii]
“In patriarchies this whole matter is turned on its head, because the importance of the woman for the life of the whole society is no reason to value her, but to oppress her and declare her being a mother to a purely private matter. On the other hand, the manically enforced control of all patriarchal states over the ability to give birth in women contradicts this so-called negligibility. Why? Because what they can do and do is so important – but they are not supposed to realise it!”[xiii]
Patriarchal motherhood is not private. Patriarchal pregnancy belongs to the state demanding tax-payers, pension-payers and soldiers; it belongs to capitalism demanding consumers and workers; it belongs to religions demanding believers and tithe-payers; it belongs to the female auxiliary troops of malekind like mommy groups, midwives and doctors (today, the majority of OBGYNs are female). A pregnant woman is public property – random strangers will police her consumer choices (from drinking to smoking to eating tuna to dyeing her hair), touch her belly and ask intrusive questions (“When are you due?”). The privacy that stay-at-home-motherhood and nuclear family seem to provide is nothing but a veneer caused by the divide and conquer strategy malekind uses to oppress women. The fake isolation of housewives/mothers from other females is possible only by a controlling network of female collaborators, token torturers (e. g. midwives[xiv]) and prison guards (e. g. in-laws) – and, not least, by a voluntary denial of community with non-breeders.
Pregnancy also is not important. Collaborators milk their status as mothers and drill sergeants for the patriarchy for privilege and are allowed on the highest rung of the ladder among women. The only “important” thing they do is maintaining patriarchy.
As I write this, there are 7.5 billion people on this planet. Every single child born today is not the future, as Göttner-Abendroth likes to claim. It is one step further towards total destruction of all culture and earth’s biological balance.
“Allgemein heißt das, dass Frauen noch immer jeder Gesellschaft in der Welt das höchste Gut schenken, nämlich den Fortbestand der Zukunft.”
“In general this means that women are still giving the highest gift to every society in the world, the continuance of the future.”[xv]
The future exists independently from humans. The universes existed before we evolved, and they will after we are all gone. It is unfathomably narcissistic to believe that motherhood is needed for anything or anyone but humans themselves.
Pregnancy is also not an achievement. Brain-dead women give birth. Female children can give birth. Women with cancer and AIDS can give birth. Women in concentration camps get pregnant. Women in meno-pause can give birth to unexpected babies against all statistical odds. Artificially pregnant women beyond meno-pause can give birth. Nothing easier than to make female humans breed, even in the most adverse circumstances. The lengths barren women go with IVF and adoption completely pale against the huge efforts het women have to take NOT to get pregnant.
Nontheless, for Heide Göttner-Abendroth and others like her, motherhood is the most important thing in an individual woman’s life and in the universe as a whole. The female Divine to her necessarily has to be a mother:
“Noch häufiger als “Frau” ist der Begriff “Mutter” für die Göttin, wofür eben schon einige Beispiele genannt wurden. In allen Sprachender Welt kommen die Silben “ma”, “mu”, “mo”, “na” oder “ama”, “ana”, “nana”, “dana” in verschiedenen Kombinationen vor, und sie bedeuten “Mutter”, nicht selten in der Bedeutung von “Göttin”. In Europa haben wir im Deutschen Mu-tter, in göttlicher Gestalt als “Mutter Erde”; im Englischen mo-ther mit den “Mother-nights”, den geweihten Nächten der Muttergöttin; im Lateinischen ma-ter, die als “Alma mater” die Allnährende ist – um nur einige wenige zu nennen. Die ägyptische Mut ist eine alte Muttergöttin dieser Kultur. Die Göttinnen Anat (Alt-Palästina), Ana-hita (Alt-Persien), In-anna (Sumer), Dana und Dikty-anna (Alt-Kreta), Tana-it (Karthago) sind ebenfalls die Urmütter in ihren Kulturen. Bis in das Christentum hinein hat sich Anna als Bezeichnung für die Große Mutter erhalten, was die zahlreichen Figuren der Heiligen Anna mit ihr Tochter Maria und ihrem Enkelkind Jesus zeigen. (…) Bei den matriarchalen Arawak in Südamerika heißt sie Ama-na, sie wird als “Mondmutter” und “Große Schlange” verehrt. Bei den matriarchalen Kuna (Panama) heißt sie Mu Olokukurtilisop, was “Mondmutter” und “Blaue Schmetterlings-Frau” bedeutet. In Alt-Tibet sind die Klu-mo die Urmütter der Tiefe, die Krankheit und Heilung, Leben und Tod bringen können. In West-China heißt die Urgöttin Hsi Wang Mu, die “Mutter auf dem Weltberg”, eben die Schöpferin. In Japan ist es Ama-terasu, die “Mutter Sonne”, ohne die es kein Licht und kein Leben gibt. In Südindien werden noch heute an vielen Orten in Steinen und Tempelschreinen die Ammas, die göttlichen Mütter, verehrt (1).”[xvi]
“Even more often than “woman” it is the term “mother” for the goddess, for which I have already given some examples. In all languages of the world the syllables “ma”, “mu”, “mo”, “na” or “ama”, “ana”, “nana”, “dana” occur in different combinations, and they mean “mother”, and often in the meaning of “goddess”. In Europe we have German Mu-tter, in divine shape as “mother earth”; in English, mo-ther with the “mother-nights”, the blessed nights of the mother goddess; in Latin ma-ter, who is the all-nourishing as the “alma mater” – to just name a few. The Egyptian Mut is an old mother goddess of this culture. The goddesses Anat (Old Palestine), Ana-hita (Old Persia), In-anna (Sumer), Dana and Dikty-anna (Old Crete), Tana-it (Carthage) are also the first mothers of their cultures. Anna remained as a name for the Great Mother right into Christianity, shown by the many statues of Saint Anna with her daughter Mary and her grandchild Jesus. (…) The matriarchal Arawak in Southern America call her Ama-na, she is venerated as the “moon mother” and the “great snake”. The matriarchal Kuna (Panama) call her Mu Olokukurtilisop, meaning “moon mother” and “blue butterfly woman”. In Old Tibet the Klu-mo are the first mothers of the abyss who bring disease and healing, life and death. In Western China, the oldest goddess is called Hsi Wang Mu, the “mother on the world mountain”, the creatrix. In Japan it is Ama-terasu, “mother sun”, without whom there is no light and life. In Southern India the Ammas, the divine mothers, are venerated in stones and temple shrines even today.”
Logically, she has to divinely exaggerate the constitutional act of motherhood, i. e. giving birth:
“Die matriarchale Göttin ist allumfassend und allschöpferisch, aber nicht durch das Machen, sondern durch das Gebären.”[xvii]
“The matriarchal goddess is all-encompassing and all-creating, not by doing, but by giving birth.”
The distinction she makes between ‘doing’ and ‘giving birth’ in my opinion is more than just sloppiness of writing. It is meant to gloss over the fact that giving birth is doing, that motherhood is an act of choice.
This brings us to the second big problem with a society centered around motherhood. In a matriarchy the way Göttner-Abendroth imagines it rape is rendered impossible. Matriarchal societies of today often get praised as “societies without rape” by feminists, despite evidence to the contrary.
This means that in such idealised matriarchies every pregnancy is the result of an active choice to have unprotected hetero sex. Afterwards – assuming that abortion is a woman’s choice alone, since she is the keeper of life and death, as per Göttner-Abendroth – every child born is the result of the active choice not to terminate the pregnancy. It for sure is an active choice to then raise this child. Motherhood consists of a series of choices: Even in the presence of rape and the inability to abort, actual mothering is still a choice.
This, as I have argued before, is evidence that motherhood is not something natural, akin to having reproductive organs or brown hair. Being a mother is chosen, an action that has to be set and repeated, a behaviour, not a biological trait. An organism can be female by biology, but this does not require the organism to be a mother. Having a vulva, a vagina, an uterus and ovaries is being female, but being a mother is being feminine.
The unreflected equation of motherhood with the biological requirements to conceive, give birth and lactate conflates femaleness (= the biological set-up of the sex that can get pregnant) with femininity (= the submission to the idea that women are supposed to be pregnant).
To Heide Göttner-Abendroth, the Divine is not female. It is feminine – and it must be, or else “maternal males” would not be able to share in it. All throughout Am Anfang die Mütter, Göttner-Abendroth denies that a matriarchy would be essentialist, but this is the very definition of essentialism right there.
There is nothing in a matriarchy that inherently is against gender roles. In fact, matriarchies seem to encourage gender roles on all levels. This of course is at odds with modern feminist perspectives, and has to be circumnavigated somehow.
Heide Göttner-Abendroth is a professional associate[xviii] of the Institute of Archaeomythology. A board member[xix] of IAM is rogue linguist Harald Haarmann. I came across him years ago, and dismissed him as pointlessly piggybacking Marija Gimbutas‘ work, garnished with copious amounts of mansplaining. In his book Die Madonna und ihre griechischen Töchter, Rekonstruktion einer kulturhistorischen Genealogie (Hildesheim, Zürich and New York, 1996)[xx], he develops a divine geneology from “Old European” goddesses to those of the (mediterranean) Bronze Age and Greek mythology. To him, mortal and divine women alike over millennia had exactly one field of interest: Fertility and sex[xxi].
He has a very matter-of-fact solution for the problem of gender: It is not a problem, because it is not a problem. Since all the work in archaic communities was organised along the sex lines, and all work was considered equal of worth[xxii], there couldn’t have been any structural sexism. In essence, everyone was happy with their sex role, i. e. gender, because it is natural:
“Die Differenzierung der Geschlechter gehört zu den elementarsten Alltagserfahrungen des Menschen. Dabei geht es nicht nur um die Realität der anatomischen Unterschiede zwischen Mann und Frau sowie ihrer biologischen Funktionen, sondern auch um geschlechterspezifische Unterscheidungen im Sozialverhalten. Sofern und solange der Bestand der Gemeinschaft vom reibungslosen Funktionieren der Interaktionen männlicher und weiblicher Gruppenmitglieder abhängt, wie etwa in den archaischen Jäger- und Sammlerscharen, wird das Zusammenleben der Geschlechter in einer Gemeinschaft mit Arbeitsteilung keinen sozialen Konflikt produzieren. (…) Demzufolge organisieren die Männer die Jagd, während die Frauen Wildfrüchte und eßbare Pflanzen holen, die Kinder betreuen und das Essen zubereiten. Frauen und Männer sind gleichberechtigt an den Grundnahrungsmittel (sic). Die Frau, die Beeren, Früchte und Kräuter rings um den Lagerplatz der Sippe sammelt, entwickelt sich zur Pflanzerin von Hülsenfrüchten und zur Hüterin der Fruchtbarkeit des Ackerbodens (Hodder 1992: 67).”[xxiii]
“The difference between the sexes is one of the most elementary everyday experiences of humankind. This is not just about the anatomical differences between men and women and their biological functions, but also about sex-specific differences in social behaviours. If and as long the existence of a community depends on the friction-free functioning of all interactions between the male and female members of the group, as in archaic hunter/gatherer hordes, the living together of the sexes in a society of divided labour will not produce social conflict. (…) Subsequently, men organise the hunt, while women get wild fruit and edible plants, look after the children and prepare the food. Women and men have equal rights to the staple foods. The woman who gathers berries, fruits and herbs around the clan camp develops into a planter of legumes and the keeper of the fertility of the soil (Hodder 1992: 67).”
This Flintstonesque dystopia hinges on two fictions to work.
First there is the fiction of True Equality™. Gatherers bring home the lion’s share (pun intended) of calories. They also contribute a lot of animal protein in the form of insects, invertebraes, eggs, birds, fish and sometimes small mammals. Big game hunting men are contributing way less, and only when they are willing to share their prey with women and children in the first place (which is not necessarily always the case). Women are also the ones who have their bodies wrecked by pregnancy, birth and lactation. They frequently die due to their part in fabled “fertility”, while men just need to have orgasms. So, hunter/gatherer groups which include men are unequal by design, and irredeemably so.
The second fiction is best called the Happiness in Slavery scenario. Women are supposed to want and enjoy the position Haarman and his hunters announce for them. If they don’t play nice, society is doomed. That is the very same stick women are beaten into submission with in today’s patriarchies. Be a happy fucktoy, beast of burden and broodmare, or everything will go down the gutter.
In such a world, how would Lesbians fare? Lesbians or simply women who want a life instead of eternal drudgery? Who want to move freely, without being disabled by carrying a parasite, not being leeched off by some male’s child, her mind numbed by the repetitive, never-ending labour that somehow always ends up being assigned to women? Would we be the tolerated, pitied useless woman like Waihong among the Mosuo? Cast out as anti-social elements? Forced into a third-sex category, stripped of womanhood, fair game for male competitive wars or sencented to forced spiritual service in the community?
The third major problem with motherhood as the centre of political and spiritual life is the question of matriarchal sexuality.
If motherhood is needed to keep up society’s structures and indeed the whole universe, sexuality has inevitably to be the tool to achieve this. Refusing motherhood, i. e. refusing to fuck becomes a failure towards the Divine and the community, which in turn necessitates the community and the Divine to have a vital interest to exercise control over every woman’s reproductive abilities. Logically, real matriarchies came up with a number of sexualised rituals to honour the not-yet-fucked, the fucked and the no-longer fucked triple goddess:
“In diesem Sinne wurde die Mondgöttin in dreifacher Gestalt als die Große Dreifaltigkeit des Matriarchats verehrt: als die weiße Göttin, das Mädchen mit dem silbernen Bogen (zunehmende Mondsichel); als die rote Göttin, die Frau, die Land und Meer fruchtbar macht (Vollmond); als die schwarze Göttin, die weise Alte, die das Schicksal bringt (abnehmende Mondsichel und Schwarzmond).”[xxiv]
“In this sense, the triple moon goddess was venerated as the great trinity of matriarchy: the white goddess, the girl with the silver bow (waxing moon); the red goddess, the woman, making land and sea fertile (full moon); the black goddess, the wise crone who brings fate (waning moon and black moon).”
I already mentioned women in matriarchies are supposed to re-birth the ancestors. With some indigenous people of China, this is achieved by sexualising the celebrations of the dead:
“Nun gibt es bei dieser Form des Familien-Schamanismus eine direkte sinnliche Komponente. Denn bei den indigenen Völkern auf chinesischem Boden waren die Totenfeste keineswegs Trauerfeiern mit ernsten Mienen, sondern eher Feste der fröhlichen Begegnung zwischen den lebenden und jenseitigen Mitgliedern der Sippe. Man musizierte und speiste auf den Friedhöfen und lud die Ahnenseelen dazu ein, und die Freude war oft lautstark. Insbesondere trafen sich dabei alle Mitglieder der eigenen Sippe mit denen aus der verschwägerten Sippe, und es wurde heiteres Wiedersehen gefeiert. Erotische Freuden waren bei diesem Wiedersehen keineswegs ausgeschlossen, und auch hier wollten die Ahnenseelen am Vergnügen teilhaben. Darum tanzte die jeweilige Familienschamanin – eine matrilineare (Ur-)Enkelin der Ahnenseelen – in ihren schönsten Gewändern für sie. Es heißt, sie war ein “orchideenhaft gekleidetes Mädchen”, und ihre Schönheit und Eleganz übertraf bei diesen Feiern die aller anderen Frauen. Durch ihre blumigen Gewänder, die extravagante Toilette, die Musik, den Gesang, den Tanz und die hingebungsvolle Trance lockte sie stellvertretend für alle anderen Frauen der Sippe die Ahnengeister erotisch an. Denn diese sollten in ihren Schoß bzw. in den Schoß der anwesenden jungen Frauen der Sippe eingehen, damit diese mit einer Ahnenseele schwanger würden, die sich Wiedergeburt wünschte. So verband sich mit den Totenfesten die Hoffnung auf ganz reale Rückkehr einer Ahnin oder eines Ahnen. Dank der ausgelassenen Gelage, Trinkereien und Liebesbegegnungen fand dieses Ereignis bei mancher jungen Frau dann auch neun Monate später tatsächlich statt. Damit enthüllt die in jedem Schamanenkult vorkommende Redewendung “von einem Geist besessen sein” ihren ursprünglichen Inhalt, denn sie bedeutet genauer “von einem Ahnengeist oder einer Ahnenseele besessen sein”, was unmittelbar die leibliche Schwangerschaft meint.”[xxv]
“Now this form of family shamanism contained a directly sensual component. Because among the indigenous peoples on Chinese soil the celebrations of the dead were in no way mourning festivals with serious faces, but festivals of happy meeting between the living and the otherworldly members of the clan. They would make music and dine on the cemeteries and invite the ancestor souls for it, and the happiness was often very loud. In particular all members of the own clan met with those from a clan related by marriage, and they celebrated a happy reunion. Erotic pleasures were not ruled out at all at such a reunion, and the ancestor souls wanted to join in the pleasure. Because of this the family shaman – a matrilinear (great)granddaughter of the ancestor souls – danced for them in her most beautiful clothes. It is being said, she was a “girl dressed like an orchid”, and her beauty and elegance outshone those of all other women at these celebrations. Through her flowery garments, her extravagant style, the music, dance and devoted trance she as the deputy for all other women of the clan enticed the ancestor souls erotically. They were supposed to enter her womb and the wombs of all the young women of the clan who were present, so they could get pregnant with an ancestor soul wishing for rebirth. So the festivals of the dead were connected with the very real return of an ancestress or an ancestor. Thanks to the cheerful banquets, drinking and love matches this happened for real for some of the young women, nine months later. By this, the phrase “to be possessed by a spirit” that is so common to all shaman cults unveils its original meaning, because it means “to be possessed by an ancestor spirit or an ancestor soul”, which directly means physical pregnancy.”
Just how much would you like to dance sensually for your dead grandfather…?
In a way, this incestuous vision gives away one basic truth het women are generally eager to hide: Pregnancy is possession. It is a male-induced strategy to parasitise and colonise female bodies – see Trustyourperception‘s multi-part series on men’s chemical warfare on women (Intro, I, II, III, IV, Appendix[xxvi]). That the ancestor souls choose the young woman also is fatally reminiscent of the Annunciation of Mary. In both accounts, women are vessels to be filled by the bosses of the otherworld.
Another recent matriarchal society is the Pacific island nation of Palau. German psychology professor and psychoanalyst Evelyn Heinemann visited Palau in the 1990s and wrote an anthropological book on Palauan women[xxvii]. While I’m highly critical of Heinemann’s method of ‘ethnopsychoanalysis’[xxviii], I tend to take direct quotes by her informants and also the general outline of Palau’s society as described by her at face value.
“Früher kamen Mädchen nach der ersten Menstruation in eine Hütte. Sie nahmen dort heiße Bäder und wurden von der Mutter oder der Tante defloriert. Heute haben wir diese Hütten nicht mehr. Nachdem meine erste Menstruation aufgehört hatte, ging ich zusammen mit meiner Cousine in das Haus meiner Tante, wo keine Männer waren. Dort machten uns Frauen heiße Dampfbäder mit Blumen und Blättern. Wir zogen Tücher über den Kopf und erhielten Massagen. Es roch so gut. Fünf Tage oder länger blieben wir in diesem Raum. Unsere Körper wurden mit Kokosnuß eingeölt, wir lagen herum, die älteren Frauen kamen und redeten darüber, wie man Sexualität macht, wie wir unsere Muskeln bewegen müssen. Wir waren alle nackt in diesem Raum, und die Türen waren verschlossen. Wir bekamen das beste Essen. Wir aßen Taro und besondere Speisen, die trocken sind. Wir durften nichts Saftiges essen, da saftiges Essen riecht. Meine Tante massierte meinen Körper. Sie sagte mir, daß mein Körper sich nun verändern und ich von einem Kind zu einer Frau werde. Früher wurden wir Frauen auch innerhalb des Körpers massiert. Ich dachte, daß es Sünde ist. Ich hatte Schuldgefühle, habe es aber genossen. Es roch so gut, nach all den Blumen und Kräutern. Ich wollte die Innenseiten meiner Oberschenkel nicht massieren lassen, da in der Kirche immer erzählt wird, daß das Sünde ist. Früher wurden die Frauen dann tätowiert. Das galt als schön. Auch die Geschlechtsteile wurden tätowiert, aber nur dort, wo Haare sind und die Schamlippen. Das sollte die Muskeln straffen. Nach der Heilung hatten die Frauen keine Schmerzen mehr. Meine Tante sagte, daß es nutzlos war und sehr schmerzhaft. Frauen wurden von Frauen tätowiert, Männer von Männern. Die Menstruationshütte war eine gute Einrichtung. Der Mann ist ein Fremder. Die Tochter wird Schmerzen haben. Die Geheimnisse werden in der Hütte zum Verschwinden gebracht, wenn die Mutter es tut. Die Tochter muß geöffnet werden. Wenn sie zu Männern geht, sind die Geheimnisse weg. Sie soll mit geheiltem, intaktem Hymen zum Mann gehen. Die Frau ist stark, du übernimmst die Kontrolle über deinen Körper.”[xxix]
“In earlier times girls after their first menstruation came into a hut. They took hot baths there and were deflowered by their mother or their aunt. Today we don’t have these huts anymore. After my first menstruation was over, I went with my cousin into my aunt’s house where there were no men. There women made hot steam baths with flowers and leaves for us. We put scarves over our heads and were given massages. It smelled so good. We stayed in this room five days or longer. Our bodies were oiled with coconut, we lay around, the older women came and talked about how to do sexuality, how we have to move our muscles. All of us were naked in this room and the doors were locked/closed[xxx]. We got the best food. We ate Taro and special food that was dry. We were not allowed to eat juicy things because juicy food has smells. My aunt massaged my body. She told me that my body was going to change now and that I was turning from a child to a woman. In earlier times the women were also massaged inside our bodies. I thought it was sin. I felt guilty, but I enjoyed it. It smelled so good from the flowers and the herbs. I didn’t want them to massage the insides of my thighs, because they always told us in church it was sin. In earlier times women were tattooed next. It was considered beautiful. The genitals were tattooed as well, but only where there is hair and the labia. It was meant to tighten the muscles. After it healed, women no longer were in pain. My aunt says it was pointless and very painful. Women were tattooed by women, men by men. The menstrual hut was a good institution. The man is a stranger. The daughter will be in pain. The secrets are made to vanish in the hut, if the mother does it. The daughter has to be opened. When she goes to men, the secrets are gone. She is supposed to go to the man with a healed, intact hymen. The woman is strong, you take control over your body.”
The man indeed is a stranger, because after this, a girl is sent into the communal men’s house where she has sex with the males and is paid for it. After some weeks she is picked up and brought home by her father who also gets money from the men[xxxi].
When a young woman finally gets pregnant, a whole new set of rules and sexualised rites await her. Motherhood is fraught with taboos: Palauan women are not allowed to walk in the rain, get near sacred places, desire other people’s food or to eat many common foods. To make sure the mother-to-be is paying attention to all the taboos, she is not allowed to walk alone in the streets and has to be chaperoned by women at all times[xxxii]. This shows that matriarchal pregnancy can turn women just as easily into public property like patriarchal pregnancy[xxxiii]. I don’t see a difference to the patriarchal terror of mommy wars and midwifery in the West at all. Implanting guilt in a woman because she walks in the rain is not different to implant guilt over formula feeding.
Other rituals around childbirth on Palau also show that sadism is by no means limited to patriarchy. After giving birth, women take steam baths during which they are beaten with bunches of twigs and, eventually, splashed with extremely hot water. The reason given for it is that they need to get used to the heat on the fields again, and it is crucial that they don’t cry out in pain. Since the hot water is directed against sensitive body parts like forearms and genitals, this ideal is seldom met[xxxiv].
An informant who went through this herself describes it like this:
“Ich bin sehr stolz, die Bäder durchgeführt zu haben. Sie waren furchtbar schmerzhaft, aber sie haben meine inneren Organe geheilt. Die Gerüche der Bäder waren wundervoll. Das Auftreten bei der Zeremonie des ersten Kindes ist ein Augenblick des Stolzes und soll die Schönheit der Muttter zeigen.”[xxxv]
“I am very proud to have gone through with the baths. They were horribly painful, but they healed my inner organs. The scents of the baths were wonderful. The appearance in the ceremony of the first child is a moment of pride and is meant to show the beauty of the mother.”
All this is reminiscent of the modern, pseudo-feminist fetishisation of “natural”[xxxvi] childbirth and it’s damnation of pain relief. Somehow, it always seems to be about making women suffer for their own good.
The sexual duty in the community goes even further than that – according to Göttner-Abendroth, women in matriarchal societies are literally supposed to produce time with their bodies. Other than in patriarchal understanding of time as a linear thing, the matriarchal concept of time is cyclical[xxxvii], and women are the ones to make the the cycle go round and round.
“Zusätzlich entspricht der Zyklus der Schwangerschaft mit der nachfolgenden Regeneration der Frau dem Sonnenjahr. Die Schwangerschaft dauerte neun Monate und war eingebettet ins mythische Jahr von der Frühlings-Tagundnachtgleiche bis zur Wintersonnenwende. Danach folgte eine dreimonatige Rückbildung der Gebärmutter und Regeneration der Frau, zeitlich von der Wintersonnwende bis zur nächsten Frühlings-Tagundnachtgleiche. Wir können vermuten, dass die allgemeinen Frühlingsfeste, die archaische Völker in der Gemeinschaft feierten, auch der Erotik gewidmet waren, so dass dieser weibliche Zyklus kollektiv in Gang gesetzt wurde. Sie müssen dabei nicht unbedingt um den Zusammenhang von Erotik und Empfängnis gewusst haben, denn das Thema galt der Feier des Frühlings, an dem sich alle Wesen in der Natur liebesfreudig zeigen, und nicht der Schwängerung durch den Mann.”[xxxviii]
“Additionally, the cycle of pregnancy with the regneration period of the woman equals the sun year. The pregnancy lasted nine months and was embedded in the mythical year before the spring equinox until winter solstice. After that came a three month period for the uterus to return to its previous state and regeneration of the woman, timed from winter solstice to the next spring equinox. We can assume that the spring festivals archaic peoples celebrated in community were also dedicated to eroticism, so that this female cycle was started collectively. They didn’t even need to have known about the connection of eroticism and conception, because the topic was dedicated to celebrate spring, where all creatures of nature show themselves inclined for love, and not to the impregnation through the male.”
(This passage is one of those that make me suspect scholars of matriarchy like Göttner-Abendroth just pull bullshit out of nowhere. In Europe, if you are living off the land like hunter/gatherers and agricultural societies, the absolutely worst time to be giving birth or being born is dead winter. Late winter and early spring is the time of the year with the least amount of calories available (the autumn provisions have largely been eaten and all that is left is the seed grain for the next year), let alone important nutrients (e. g. fresh vegetables to provide vitamins). Even slight malnourishment will interfere with milk production of mothers, damning the newborns and infants to starve as well. In other areas of the world this scenario probably could work, but not in Eurasia.)
Humans ascribe all kinds of meaning where there is none in reality. A matriarchal woman is not any more the “keeper of life, death and rebirth”[xxxix] than the Egyptian pharao can make the sun rise by waking up the god in charge or a Catholic priest can turn a wheat cracker into human protein.
Ultimately, the question of of matriarchal sexuality boils down to the question of the relationship between the individual and the collective. Heide Göttner-Abendroth in this context criticises the Western, “rationalist” idea of individual freedom:
“Der Mensch ist als sogenanntes “freies” Individuum, wie er zu Beginn der Neuzeit definiert wurde, hebt sich schließlich selber auf. Denn die “Freiheit” dieses Individuums besteht in der Verleugnung von Geburt und Tod als Grundlage der menschlichen Existenz. Als “freies” Individuum ist er völlig unabhängig von Natur, Müttern, Herkunft und der eigenen Körperlichkeit, “frei” von anderen Menschen Geschichts- und Lebenszusammenhängen. Mit diesem Begriff von Individualismus wird jede Verbindung zur Natur geleugnet, doch bleibt dieser “Mensch” ein rein gesellschaftliches Konstrukt und unerreichbares Ideal.”[xl]
“Human as the so-called “free” individual, as defined at the beginning of modernity, is cancelling itself out eventually. Because the “freedom” of this indivdual consists of the denial of birth and death as the base of human life. As a “free” individual, he is completely independent from nature, mothers, origins and his own physicality, “free” from other human beings in the context of history and life. With this idea of individualism every connection to nature is denied, but this “human” remains a purely societal construct and unattainable ideal.”
In contrast to this, the matriarchal human in her view is unimaginable without a clan – true freedom comes from submission to the ruling collective. The mothers (and fathers!) in matriarchal societies may wield softer power than the patriarchs, but they still maintain the structures that keep them in their place of authority that needs to be obeyed, aided and enforced.
The heterosexual family is the building block of matriarchy, just headed by the “other” parent, i. e. the mother – and this is how Heide Göttner-Abendroth suggests a future society should be build[xli].
Families centered around mothers and children should come together in matriclans, united by their matriarchal values. This starts with a mother choosing her “sisters” to join her. These “sisters” may or may not have children themselves; all of the women, however, are expected to act as mothers to all the children of the clan. They also choose men to be their “brothers”, which means they can’t be their lovers and they have to parent their children. All adults have to care for the children and maternal behaviour is the norm for everyone.
Beyond that, all clan members are free to have occupations and hobbies, but they ideally should be useful to the clan as a whole. Lovers have to come from the “outside” or from other matriclans. There should be representatives of the matriclan who interact with the outside world; Göttner-Abendroth thinks of elected matriarchs or mother-brothers (!!!).
As soon as more and more people live in matriclans, the clans ought to join in economically and politically autonomous villages and towns, which in turn makes up culturally and geographically distinct regions. Political decisions are to be made on the base of consent.
Unnervingly similar visions and strategies can be found with outright fascists: From hippie communes drifting right, Nazi settlers in Eastern Germany and the European Identitarian movement to US-American militias, preppers and assorted compound-dwellers, not to mention the Klan itself, if you switched out matriarch for patriarch, I’m positive this political vision could be sold to them easily. The melody of blood and soil does not change just because it is transposed from major to minor.
The idea of matriclans is also staggeringly naive. Chosen “brothers” are not related by blood or Westermarck, so it is completely impossible to curb sexual relationships in the clan. Men get off on incest porn on such a big scale[xlii], the narratives of “forbidden love” as the most romantic one and love as an act of rebellion justifying everything are so pervasive and culturally ingrained, I don’t see how people could shed these imprintings. From Kinderläden to communes to Freetown Christiania, alternative forms of community-based living have always ended with patriarchal powergrabs and sexual abuse of minor and adult members of the group.
In any way, the “incest taboo” inside the non-genetically-related, constructed “first generation” clan gives away that Heide Göttner-Abendroth on some level is very much aware that even for the slightest semblance of equality between men and women, sex has to be removed from the equation completely.
All the more upsetting it is to see Göttner-Abendroth defend practices to sexually submit the individual to the collective. On the on hand she firmly defends something that can best be described as polyamory, a form of serial monogamy without commitment, exclusivity and jealousy:
“Hier taucht die Frage auf, ob bei wechselnden Beziehungen nicht Eifersucht aufkommt. Das ist ein Thema, das Menschen in patriarchalen Liebes- und Familienmustern sehr beschäftigt, denn im allgemeinen sind hier Abhängigkeiten wirtschaftlicher und emotionaler Art mit im Spiel. Erst diese Abhängigkeiten zweier Personen voneinander erzeugt jedoch die Verlustangst, die allgemein “Eifersucht” genannt wird. In matriarchalen Gesellschaften findet jede Person, ob Frau oder Mann, persönliche Sicherheit und Geborgenheit im eigenen mütterlichen Clan, deshalb können Abhängigkeiten, gepaart mit Verlustangst, nicht entstehen. Doch es gibt natürliche Gefühle des Schmerzes und der Traurigkeit, wenn eine Frau oder ein Mann die geliebte Person verliert. Junge Mosuo-Frauen gaben mir bei der Forschung vor Ort darauf eindeutige Antworten: Wenn zwei Männer sich in dieselbe Frau verlieben, gibt es keinen Streit, weil in matriarchalen Gesellschaften stets die Frau die Wählende ist. Sollte der Nicht-Erwählte – der vielleicht bisher der Geliebte war – Eifersucht zeigen, so gilt das als verächtlich, weil er die Wahl der Frau nicht respektiert, sondern eine Art Besitzanspruch erhebt den man auf Menschen nicht haben kann. Wenn hingegen zwei Frauen sich in denselben Mann verlieben, dann kann der Mann wählen. Auch bei den Frauen gibt es keinen Zank deswegen, denn “wir streiten nicht mit unseren Schwestern wegen eines Mannes!” So lautete die Antwort. Schließlich ist der oder die Nicht-Gewählte nicht allein gelassen, die Schwestern und Brüder des eigenen Clans stehen jeweils tröstend zur Seite. Außerdem gibt es die schöne Aussicht auf eine neue Liebe, weil niemand zeitlebens gebunden ist.”[xliii]
“Here the question presents itself, if there is no jealousy with changing relationships. This is a topic people in patriarchal patterns of love and family are very concerned with, because generally it involves economical and emotional dependencies. But it is only these dependencies between two people creates this fear of loss that is generally being called “jealousy”. In matriarchal societies every person, male or female, has personal safety and security in their maternal clan, so dependencies combined with the fear of loss can’t develop. But of course there are natural feelings of pain and sadness when a man or a woman loses the beloved. Young Mosuo women during my research among them have given me unambigous replies to this: If two men are falling in love with the same woman, there is no quarrel, because in matriarchal societies it is always the woman who chooses. If the non-chosen man – who probably so far had been her lover – should show jealousy, this is viewed with contempt, because he does not respect the woman’s choice, and feels entitled to possessing a human which is not possible. When on the other hand two women fall in love with the same man, the man gets to choose. There isn’t any quarrel between the women either, because “we don’t quarrel with our sisters because of a man!” That was the answer. The non-chosen person is not being left alone, after all, the sisters and brothers of their own clan are at their side to give comfort. There is also the beautiful hope for a new love, because nobody is bound for life.”
This bonobo model of world peace[xliv] in which sex is unambigously good and the solution to everything has an extremely dark side to it:
“Darauf weist die Heiratsregel der sogenannten “Sippen-Polygamie” hin, die zwei matriarchale Sippen dauerhaft miteinander verband. Es gibt eine Reihe Hinweise, dass sie früher bei matriarchalen Gesellschaften allgemein üblich war. Bei dieser Sippen-Polygamie heiratete eine Gruppe von jungen Frauen aus der einen Sippe, die Schwestern waren, eine Gruppe von Männern aus der anderen Sippe, die Brüder waren. Es war eine Gemeinschaftsehe, keine Individualehe, und sie festigte von Generation zu Generation das Bündnis der beiden Sippen. Die Hochzeitszeremonie wurde von der ältesten Schwester und dem ältesten Bruder stellvertretend für die anderen vollzogen, die ebenfalls in vollem Hochzeitsschmuck anwesend waren. Durch die Stellvertreterhochzeit waren nun die Gruppe der Schwestern und die Gruppe der Brüder gemeinsam miteinander vermählt, das heißt, alle jüngeren Schwestern hatten gleichzeitig Anspruch auf den Gatten der ältesten Schwester, und alle jüngeren Brüder genauso auf die Gattinnen des ältesten Bruders. Die jüngeren Brüder wurden von der ältesten Schwester zu “Helfer-Gatten” ernannt, die der Reihe nach einsprangen, wenn der jeweils älteste Bruder aus dem anderen Clan abwesend war. Hatte die älteste Schwester gerade einen von ihnen in ihrer Kammer im mütterlichen Sippenhaus als Gast empfangen, so stand es jeder jüngeren Schwester frei, jeweils einen der jüngeren Brüder zu sich einzuladen. Es gab die feste Regel, der oder dem jeweils Älteren den Vortritt zu lassen; auf diese Weise kam es nicht zu Streit. In diesem Sippen-Heiratssystem gab es keine “Ledigen” als Verlassene oder gar Unversorgte, Frauen und Männer hatten stets Partner und Partnerinnen und Helfer, denn dieses Heiratssystem war ein gegenseitiges Hilfssystem. Es verband gegen alle Nöte des Lebens je zwei Clans zu einem dauerhaften Bündnis. So fest die matriarchale Sippen-Polygamie als gegenseitiges Hilfssystem war, bei dem die PartnerInnen schon von Kindheit an als miteinander verlobt galten, so wenig zwängte es die Liebe in ein starres Korsett oder sperrte sie gar in ein kollektives Gefängnis. Denn dieses System schloss individuelle erotische Beziehungen außerhalb keineswegs aus, das heißt, “Seitensprünge” waren erlaubt. Weder waren vor-eheliche Jungfräulichkeit noch sexuelle Ausschließlichkeit in der Ehe Ideale im Matriarchat, trotz des festen Gefüges der Sippen-Polygamie.”[xlv]
“This is being hinted by the marriage rule of so-called “clan polygamy” linking two clans together permanently. There are several leads that it was common with all matriarchal societies in early times. In clan polygamy, a group of women from one clan who were sisters got married a group of men from the other clan who were brothers. It was a group marriage, not an individual marriage, and it tightened the alliance of the two clans generation after generation. The wedding ceremony was consummated by the oldest sister and the oldest brother representatively for all the others who were also present in full wedding adornments. Through this substitute marriage the group of sisters and the group of brothers were commonly joined in marriage, which means, all younger sisters were entitled to the older sister’s husband and the younger brothers to the wife of the older brother. The younger brothers were dubbed “helper husbands” by the oldest sister, who one after the other helped out when the oldest brother of the clan was absent for any reason. When the oldest sister had one of them as a guest in her chamber in the maternal clan house, every younger sister was free to invite any of the younger brothers. There was the fixed rule that the older ones came first; this way there was no quarrel. In this clan marriage system there were no “unweds” left alone or even without being taken care of, women and men always had partners and helpers, because this marriage system was a mutual aid system. It linked two clans together in the face of all misery of life. No matter how tight the matriarchal clan polygamy was as a mutual aid system, in which partners were considered engaged from childhood on, it did not force love into a strict corset or locked it into collective prison. This system did not exclude individual erotic relationships, which means that “affairs” were permitted. Pre-marital virginity and sexual exclusivity were not ideals of matriarchy, despite the firm structure of clan polygamy.”
There even could/should/would (?!) be arranged and forced marriages:
“Eine spätere Form der alten Sippen-Polygamie war dann die Individualehe zwischen einer Frau und einem Mann aus den beiden verbündeten Heiratsclans. Diese Form gibt es bei etlichen matriarchalen Völkern bis heute. Doch aus diese Verbindung ist nicht mit “Ehe” im patriarchalen Sinn zu vergleichen, bei der zwei junge Menschen verpflichtet werden, ihr Leben lang zusammen zu bleiben, auf Gedeih und Verderb und meist allein gelassen – was selten gut ausgeht. In matriarchalen Gesellschaften konnten beide Eheleute die “Ehe” bald wieder verlassen und andere Liebesbeziehungen eingehen. Das Bündnis zwischen den zwei Sippen bleibt davon unberührt.”[xlvi]
“A later form of the old clan polygamy was an individual marriage between one woman and one man from allied marriage clans. This form exists within many matriarchal peoples even today. But this connection is not to be understood as a “marriage” in the patriarchal sense, in which two young people are obligated to to stay together for life, no matter what, and being left alone – which rarely has a good outcome. In matriarchal societies the spouses could soon leave the “marriage” and have other love matches. The alliance between the two clans remained untouched.”
The very problem of patriarchal arranged/forced[xlvii] marriages is that the couple is not left alone at all. Hindu joint families, Christian fundamentalists (from Amish to Mormons to Evangelicals), Muslim clans planning out networks of marriage for all their underaged members, even bog-standard farming families with in-laws under the same roof, their destructive force is always that the individual is controlled by the group to maintain religion, honour and ideology. This is evidenced by e. g. the low rates of divorce in societies with such traditionalist structures even in the face of violence.
Matriarchy or patriarchy, social customs like these always come down to females being fucked in the interest of the group. The only difference is for how long these rapes are going to last. A short period of rape (“spouses could soon leave the “marriage””) is not defensible on the ground that others commit a long period of rape. Consent is impossible if it can’t be refused or withdrawn, and real life examples of het sex enforced by matriarchal group pressure show that it can’t:
“Wir waren stolz, es war eine Ehre, als Klub in ein anderes Dorf zum Männerhaus zu gehen Wir gingen zum Mann unseres Ranges, zum Mann, der unserem Rang entsprach. Es war nicht direkt Zwang, aber wir hatten nicht einfach die freie Wahl. Wir wollten Geld bekommen, selbst die ranghöchsten Frauen wollten gehen. Alle gingen zum Mann, der die ihr entsprechende männliche Position innehatte. Auch wenn er häßlich war, mußte man ihn nehmen (Antwort auf meine Frage). Es war eine Ehre. Wir konnten aber Affären nebenher haben im Männerhaus. Wir wohnten im Männerhaus. Alle Frauen gingen zuerst ins Männerhaus, dann gingen manche zu den Häusern des Dorfes und fragten nach Essen. Geschlechtsverkehr hatten wir mit den Männern nicht im Männerhaus, dazu gingen wir mit dem Partner ins Kanu oder in den Busch (Antwort auf meine direkte Frage). Es war tabu für Ehefrauen, dorthin zu gehen. Es durfte keinen Kampf geben, höchstens verbale Kämpfe zwischen den Frauen. Wenn Frauen kämpften, mußten sie Strafe zahlen. Die Ehefrauen gaben uns Frauen Essen. Wir gingen, um Geld zu bekommen. Wenn wir einen Mann genommen hatten, mußte er Geld geben. Manchmal heirateten einige auch. Um den Ruf zu wahren, muß der Mann Geld geben.”[xlviii]
“We were proud, it was an honour to go into another village to the men’s house as a club[xlix]. We went to a man of our rank, to a man befitting our rank. There was no direct force, but we didn’t just get free choice. We wanted to get money, even the most high-ranking women wanted to go. All went to the man who had the male position corresponding to theirs. Even when he was ugly, we had to take them (Answer to my question). It was an honour. We could also have affairs at the side in the men’s house. We lived in the men’s house. All women first went to the men’s house, then some went to the houses in the village to ask for food. We didn’t have sexual intercourse with the men in the men’s house, for this we went with the partner into a canoe or into the bush (Answer to my direct question). It was taboo for wives to go there. There mustn’t have been any quarrel, at the most verbal quarrels between the women. When women quarrelled, they had to pay a fine as punishment. The wives gave us women food. We went to get money. When we had taken a man, he needed to give money. Some got married, too. To save face, the man had to give money.”
It is bad enough to be correctively raped under patriarchy. It was done to me and very nearly broke me. But it is unfathomably evil to claim practices like the above are in the interest of women and lead to liberation from patriarchy.
No girl, no woman could choose other girls and women to love in Heide Göttner-Abendroth’s world. No girl and no woman would remained unfucked. Her matriarchy is not about women, but heterosexuality. It is about mothers, and therefore about fathers, and it should more aptly be named matripatriarchy.
Unravelling: The Invisible Male of Matripatriarchy
In Am Anfang die Mütter, Heide Göttner-Abendroth systematically leaves out the actions of men in matripatriarchies. There is no essay on the role of men or how men are supposed to unlearn their patriarchal conditioning. They are found only in the negative space of everything Göttner-Abendroth does not write about them.
The Invisible Killer
She never says it explictly in Am Anfang die Mütter, but Göttner-Abendroth heavily insinuates that males are not violent or at least not very much when they are kept “species-appropriate” in matriclans.
It is passages like this through which her readers are supposed to come to the conclusion that even the occasional incident of male violence is more an aberration than anything else:
“Spannend wird es hingegen bei der Frage nach dem Aufkomme von “Gewalt” von 5600 – 5400 vor u. Z. an bei den von Südosten her eindringenden Bandkeramikern, den Rinderbauern, die höchstwahrscheinlich matriarchal organisiert waren. Darauf weisen ihre Langhäuser für Sippenverbände hin. Sie brachten die jungsteinzeitliche Entwicklung aus Westasien nach Europa und übten angeblich notorisch Gewalt aus. Wie sehen dafür die archäologischen Belege aus? Wir haben aus Deutschland bisher zwei Beispiele (Ofnet-Höhle und Thalheim), in anderen europäischen Ländern gibt es auch ein paar davon. Dabei wurden einige Menschen mit Äxten erschlagen, wobei nicht klar ist, wer wen tötet: Erschlugen die neu angekommenen, matriarchalen Rinderbauern die mutterzentrierten, einheimischen WildbeuterInnen, oder war es umgekehrt? Denn es drang hier eine neue Lebensweise ein, die vielleicht bei den Alteingesessenen nicht gleich erwünscht war. Es liegt also nur eine Handvoll Beispiele dieser Art für einen Zeitraum von zwei Jahrhunderten Einwanderung und einem Jahrtausend Zusammenleben vor. War dieses Jahrtausend friedlich oder unfriedlich? Man muss das einmal mit heutigen Zuständen vergleichen! Ich frage mich, mit welcher Berechtigung etliche Archäologen hier von flächendeckender Gewalt reden, sozusagen von einer brutal gewalttätigen Epoche, welche die Jungsteinzeit angeblich gewesen war? Was soll denn mit solchen Behauptungen verdunkelt werden? Außerdem sollten wir bedenken, dass vereinzelte Gewalt als menschlich-männliche Schwäche vielleicht eine Fehde ausmacht, aber noch keinen organisierten Krieg und noch keine auf organisiertem Krieg beruhende Herrschaft, das heißt, noch kein Patriarchat.”[l]
“It is getting interesting with the question about the appearance of “violence” around 5600 – 5600 before our time through members of the Linear Pottery culture, cattle farmers from the South-East, who most likely were matriarchally organised. This is hinted by their longhouses for clans. They brought the neolithic development from Western Asia to Europe and are notorious for inflicting violence. But how does the archaeological evidence look for this? We so far have two examples from Germany (Ofnet cave and Thalheim), and a few more from other European countries. Some people were killed with axes, but it is not clear who kills whom: Did the newly-arrived, matriarchal cattle farmers kill the mother-centred, local hunter/gatherers or the other way around? A new way of life invaded with them, which probably was not very much desired for by the locals. There is only a handful of such examples for two centuries of immigration and a millennium of living together. Was this millennium peaceful or warlike? This needs to be compared to the state of affairs today! I wonder what gives archaeologist the right to talk about comprehensive violence, of a brutally violent era, that the Neolithic age is being claimed to have been? What is supposed to be glossed over with such claims? Also we need to keep in mind that singular examples of violence as a human-male weakness maybe amounts to a feud, but not organised warfare and no rule based on organised warfare, i. e. no patriarchy.”
This passage has several problems. I will not go into the fact that it is nowhere general opinion among prehistorians that the Neolithic period was very violent, because this would lead me right into the question about Heide Göttner-Abendroth’s scientific merits I tried to avoid.
Rather, I will focus on two other aspects. First, it is obvious Heide Göttner-Abendroth finds herself in a classical catch-22: When two matriarchal cultures clash, she does not know whom to root for. So she choses the shameful route of intellectual and political dishonesty and trivialises dead women and children. Second, the archaeological record is giving us only a very small window into people’s lives. Any kind of violence not leaving traces on the bone is lost to us, which limits our ability to even make an educated guess about realistic rates of non-war-related male violence.
Göttner-Abendroth right from the beginning is asking the wrong question. It is not war that makes or breaks patriarchy – we have decades of peace in Western Europe, but still patriarchy.
War’s organised nature is a change in quantity rather than in quality to an individual man’s spontaneous violence. If your head is caved in by an axe, it is of zero interest whether it was a warrior who wielded the axe or your husband.
Looking at the actual violence committed makes Göttner-Abendroth’s dismissal of male dysfunction even more infuriating. In the Ofnet cave system archaeologists found two pits full of human skulls, the majority of which were the remains of women and children. At least two children and four young men were killed by blows to the head carried out with an axe, while two of them also had older, healed head traumata[li]. Someone in the 8th millennium BC attacked not just young men (the demographic generally found as warriors), but also children with impunity[lii].
One of the examples outside of Germany Heide Göttner-Abendroth brushes off so nonchalantly is the mass burial at the fortified settlement of Schletz-Aspern in Austria. Around 300 dead people from the 6th millennium BC, the 67 bodies examined in detail so far showing signs of a violent death via arrows and axes. The demographic conspicuous by their absence in the funeral pit is the young females. Make of that what you will.
The Thalheim site she mentioned contains 34 dead people from around 5000 BC whose bones show both massive healed and fresh traumata consistent with attacks carried out with contemporary weapons, shoe-last celts/adzes and arrows. Sixteen of them were children, and at least seven women.
Just off the top of my head I can think of several similar finds from the 4th and 3rd millennia. Near Wagram (again Austria) a man from the Baden culture (3600-2800 BC) was found buried with five children’s skulls at his feet. The scientists who published this had no idea what to make of this. Their only comparable reference was from the over a thousand years earlier Lengyel culture, and suggested some cultic reason. This shows very clearly how reluctant even female scientists are to consider male violence behind a find like this.
World-famous glacier mummy Ötzi (around 3200 BC) was killed by an arrow, which was publicised heavily all over the world – that he had the blood of up to four other people on him (including on his dagger) nobody seems to care about. Without Ötzi’s discovery by pure luck and and modern DNA analysis we also would not know anything at all about male violence at the time, illustrating just how much the absence of proof is not the proof of absence in archaeology[liii].
Another massacre was committed by males near the German town of Eulau between 2500 and 2000 BC. Thirteen people died from having their heads caved in and being shot with arrows, eleven of them women and children. A strontium isotope analysis showed that the women did not grow up in the Eulau region but at the same place as the attackers who were identified by their highly significant arrowheads.
Danish Bogs gave up the remains of two teenagers from the 4th millennium BC with head trauma (the Sigersdal skeletons) and a man from the 3rd millennium BC who still has an arrowhead embedded in his nose bone who likely died of an arrow shot to the aorta (Porsmose man).
The Neolithic Wagram children, Ötzi and the people in Eulau and Denmark show the exact same patterns of male violence as the earlier Mesolithic sites of Ofnet, Aspern and Thalheim. Researchers like the German prehistorian Heidi Peter-Röchler[liv] try to differentiate between full-blown warfare with an hierarchical society in the background and the forerunner of tribal, non-hierarchally organised combat; Peter-Röchler uses the term ‘feud’ for this. But as I said already, for the victims such niceties of categorisation are secondary to the fact that they have been killed. Even if some examples I gave may be informed by cultic aspects (e. g. the Wagram children), all this is just one thing and one thing only: classical male violence.
There is another example for male violence I want to write about. It is from the 1st millennium BC, i. e. the Bronze Age period. The Bronze Age saw the invention of kingdoms, empires, armies of full-time warriors and technologies of war like man-killing weapons (e. g. swords) and chariots. Europe at the time didn’t have anything comparable to the Hittite or the Egyptian empires, but there are clear signs its cultures were already very stratified and hierarchical as well as concerned with warfare[lv]. Grave goods show big differences between rich and poor people and big fortified settlements serving as the seat of power for the ruler demonstrate both the need for defense and the ability to organise and force a population to contribute labour and money for the construction and upkeep.
In the late Bronze Age, the Austrian village Stillfried was a huge fortified trade post along the Amber Road and belonged to the warlike Urnfield culture. Stillfried is a place of huge historical significance, continuously inhabited from the last ice age until today. As the name Urnfield culture gives away, people at this time cremated their dead and buried them in urns – except sometimes, they didn’t.
In Stillfried, some people were found in storage pits without having been burned. Most famous is a family of seven – two adult females, one adult male and four children. Their cause of death can’t be determined, but they all died at the same time and someone took the effort to put them all huddled together in one burial.
When I was sixteen, I saw a facsimile of this burial and was utterly fascinated. When I visited Stillfried recently, sixteen years later, and finally saw the actual remains, it felt like I was meeting old friends. Of course I tried for the umpteenth time to figure out what on earth had happened to them to end up like this, and as usually came up blank. The explanatory sign next to the skeletons suggested they had been poisoned, since there are not traces of violence on the bones. I have trouble to believe this, and wonder if they probably were ill and people tried to not catch or spread the disease by avoiding to handle them overmuch or turning them into smoke. (Smoke is considered numinous by many different cultures all over the world, so if they e. g. died of the measles, their relatives probably didn’t want to risk a spreading this way, despite smoke of course not being infectious).
Looking at them, I just had a gut feeling that they had not died violently. But then I turned around and was struck by something else – or rather, someone else. In a glass casket sat the tiny, delicate skull of a young girl with four gaping holes in it. Her front teeth are splintered, the edges showing no difference in colour to the rest, so maybe they were broken before her death or when the skull was removed.
She was found in another storage pit and without a doubt has been killed by the same type of violence as the people in the Ofnet caves, over six thousand years earlier. Someone caved her head in with four blows, removed her skull from her neck and lower jaw, disposed of her body in some way, and put her head into a storage pit with a lot of burned grain husks.
We don’t know what this was done for. She could have been murdered and after that given this unusual burial by someone who may or may not have been her killer. She could have been murdered, mutilated for sexual gains (not unusual for young female victims) and hidden under tossed-out husks. Or, as speculated by the museum, she probably was killed in a cultic context for reasons unknown.
She was found around wild animals like deer and wolves who were kept as “pets” or cattle before their death, whose bones show signs of bridles, of healed beatings and old age. One deer had their antler tips sawed off and was buried without them. The scientists who work at Stillfried don’t make much sense of these burials either. But they rightfully point out Stillfried’s size and importance at the time and that it was inhabited by a patriarchal population headed by a male ruler. This type of not-yet-kingdom is described with the anthropological term ‘chiefdom’.
In pre-dynastic Egyptian Hierakonpolis, thousands of years earlier and thousands of miles away, wild animals including aurochs, elephants (!), hartebeests, a hippo and crocodiles were kept and buried with an elite who had a similar status in their own society as the potential chief of Stillfried in his. Whether the man in Stillfried had the same bright idea to keep a menagerie to prove his rule over nature or just as pets, or if on the other hand, the animals ins Stillfried were killed for spiritual reasons, we don’t know.
But we know they were beaten when they were alive, they were killed, and then, like a fourteen year old girl, buried in pits inside the fortress wall by men and for men.
I seemingly have strayed far from Heide Göttner-Abendroth, but I’m bringing all this up to point out three things:
First, it is extremly easy to become blind to human suffering when it is removed by time and space and buffered with personal bias. The Stillfried family are not my friends, and even if they died of disease or through some kind of accident rather than through violence, someone probably cried for them. They would have liked to live on, the little ones having their whole lives before them still. So I’m not entirely unsympathetic to Heide Göttner-Abendroth trying to downplay matriarchal violence. I have my biases and she has hers. But we owe it Stillfried girl and all the other women and girls dead and killed in the examples above to not let our emotional bias or – on the other hand – scholarly detachment belittle past suffering and pain.
Second, certain patterns of male violence don’t come out of nowhere and they don’t just end. Essentially the same patterns of violence can be found in the 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th and 8th millennia BC. The only constant connecting all these is the presence and spiritual and political influence of males.
My third and final point brings this back to the topic: Neither Heide Göttner-Abendroth nor mainstream patriarchal historians show clear analysis of what really happened. Men killed women, children and animals. Women, children and animals were killed by men. But nobody names the perpetrators explictly and brings up their sex as the decisive factor.
They are hiding the killers, millennia later.
The Invisible User
A less extreme example for Heide Göttner-Abendroth remaining silent about the role of men is the economy. In matriarchies, women are said to dominate it:
“Genauso ist es an der Zeit, Frauen wieder als das anzusehen, was sie schon immer gewesen sind, nämlich als das Fundament für das Leben und Überleben der Menschheit insgesamt. Weltweit garantieren sie die Generationenfolge und als Substistenzbäuerinnen die Ernährung des größten Teils der Menschheit. Im menschlichen Bereich sind sie die Trägerinnen des Lebens und daher das zentrale Geschlecht. Die von ihnen geprägte Kulturschöpfung der matriarchalen Gesellschaftsordnung war frei von Herrschaft und entsprach vollendet den menschlichen Bedürfnissen.”[lvi]
“It is about time to once more view women as what they have always been, namely the bedrock for the life and survival of humankind as a whole. All around the world they are the ones who guarantee the succession of the generations and as subsistence farmers the sustentation of humankind. In the interpersonal context they are carriers of life and therefore the central sex. The creative culture of matriarchal society was formed by them and free of domination and fits the human needs perfectly.”
At first glance, this sounds good enough – women are so important, their work feeds the world. Their work does feed the world – particularly the male world. Once again Heide Göttner-Abendroth completely leaves out that in her model women are male’s beasts of burden. Men leech off their physical and reproductive labour in a way that happens in every patriarchal household: “Oh no, honey, you do the dishes – you are so much better with that, I would just break them”. Tying women to the task of feeding the world makes them glorified housewives, nothing else. To praise this as their best achievement puts matripatriarchal dreamers in row with fascist men’s organisation Proud Boys and their slogan “Venerate the housewife”.
Women already feed the world, birth the world, care for the world, and it does not give them more power than it does give power to an economically dependent stay-at-home-mother to claim she is the neck that turns the head.
The Invisible Father
Heide Göttner-Abendroth also attemps to blind everyone to the fact of biological fatherhood. Hetero sex is the foundational act of matripatriarchy; outside lab conditions every single pregnancy requires male sperm. Motherhood is impossible to cut loose from a man orgasming, even if people actually are not aware of the connection. The potential lack of the social custom of fatherhood, e. g. children being taken care of by their maternal uncle, does not take away from the material reality of mammalian conception.
Conflating these two is just a cheap trick to obscure males’ part in sex and procreation:
“Durch die Forschung bei den Trobriandern kommt noch ein zweiter, sehr wichtiger Aspekt ans Licht, nämlich die klassisch matriarchale Auffassung, dass Kinder nicht von den Männern, sondern von den Ahnen kommen. Der Hintergrund dafür ist der sehr konkrete matriarchale Wiedergeburtsglaube. Gemäß diesem Glauben leben die Ahninnen und Ahnen in der Anderswelt weiter und genießen dort ein unbeschwertes Dasein voll Freude und erotischer Lust. Jedoch entschließen sich die einen oder anderen Ahnengeister nach einiger Zeit, ins Diesseits zurückzukehren, und zwar genau in dieselbe Sippe, aus der sie stammen. So pflegen sie bei den Trobriandern in den Leib der Frauen schlüpfen [sic], wenn diese im Meer baden, und nachdem eine Frau ein Ahnengeistlein empfangen hat, nährt sie es mit ihrem eigenen, neun Monate lang ausbleibenden Menstruationsblut und formt seine Gestalt als Kind. Deshalb kommen nach trobriandischer Auffassung – welche die allgemein matriarchale Auffassung wiedergibt – alle Kinder von den Ahnengestern und sind deshalb heilig. Schwangerschaft und Geburt gelten als sakrale Akte, und die besondere Würde der Frau besteht in ihrer Fähigkeit, den AhnInnen durch Wiedergeburt zu einem neuen Leben zu verhelfen. Deshalb würden Fragen nach der Zeugung der Kinder durch einen Mann matriarchalen Frauen höchst abwegig und lächerlich vorgekommen; solche Fragen bedeuteten in einer matriarchalen Kultur eine Entheiligung des geheimnisvollen Geschehens der Wiedergeburt.”[lvii]
“Research among the Trobriand islanders brings to light the classical matriarchal concept that children do not come from the men, but the ancestors. The background for this is the very concrete belief in matriarchal reincarnation. According to this belief ancestresses and ancestors keep living on in the Otherworld and enjoy a carefree life full of joy and erotic pleasure. But sometimes some of the ancestor spirits decide to return to this world, in to the exact same clan they came from. So they use to slip into the bodies of women bathing in the sea, and after a woman has received a little ancestor spirit she nourishes it with her own menstrual menstrual blood which is not shed for nine months anf forms its body as a child. Beause of this in Trobriand thought – which mirrors a general matriarchal view – all children come from the ancestor spirits and therefore are sacre. Pregnancy and birth are seen as sacred acts and the special dignity of a woman is comes from her ability to help ancestresses and ancestors to a new life. Because of this, questions about the fathering of children through a man would have seemed highly absurd and ridiculous to matriarchal women; such questions in a matriarchal culture mean a desacralisation of the mysterious happenings of reincarnation.”
Motherhood as the “special dignity of women” is a word-by-word takeover from Catholic doctrine.
Heterosexuality is always to the disproportionate advantage of the male: A female body has to deal with the life-threatening conditions of pregnancy and giving birth, and will irrevocably be damaged by the aftermath, while a male body experiences exactly zero repercussions for procreating. Het sex is completely irredeemable, and glorifying it into women’s highest pleasure and calling will only lead to more dead women and destruction of the earth. I do support a complete legal abolishment of father’s rights in favour of a model of father’s duties, but denying the biological base of fatherhood and by this, the inherently unequal design of human procreation just blurs out which sex is weighed down by the oppressive load of reproduction and which is not.
The Invisible Beneficiary
A particularly vile aspect of matripatriarchal culture is that sex and procreation often are also at the centre of women-only space. I already gave the example of Palau, but there are also Asian and African cultures with similar customs around girls’ first menstruation.
Anthropologist Camilla Power (in the wake of a girl in Nepal dying in a menstrual hut, no less) argues that a form of “sex-positive” separation around menarche is a good and enjoyable thing for girls:
“Among African hunter-gatherers, where gender egalitarianism is strong, a girl’s first menstruation triggers special celebrations embracing the entire community. For hunter-gatherers of the Ituri Forest in the eastern part of the Congo, the elima ritual is a collective and joyous affair. Lasting several moons, activities centre on an elima hut, which is in fact the most impressive structure ever used – more like a temple at the centre of the community. Girls who have recently begun menstruating go inside with older women to be given practical lessons about boys and sex, but mainly to learn ancient, polyphonic songs and the hut resounds with their singing. The girls emerge “on the warpath” to playfully hunt out boys with big whippy sticks. Festivities revolve around this sexual wargame of girls laughingly chasing boys and the boys countering and teasing back. If any boy gets whipped, he must try to enter the elima hut, assuming he can get past the mums and aunties guarding the entrance. In this way elima becomes a type of initiation for both sexes, very much on the girls’ terms.”
Descriptions like these completely leave out the possibility that girls might not be interested in sex with males or don’t want to participate for any reason. Neither do they take into account that the onset of menstruation has no link whatsoever with emotional and intellectual interest in het sex – or even the ability to carry a pregnancy to term. Menarche ages vary wildly. To suggest that in traditional structures all girls magically turn into heterosexual beings when they start to bleed is Western naturalistic romanticism and patriarchal propaganda. These girls are railroaded into a life of reproductive oppression – and even those who consent (I’m sure the majority of them do![lviii]) will be the ones to put her life at stake for a man everytime they have sex. That boys are not risking early pregnancy and life-long repercussions should put into perspective Camilla Power’s assessment of elima as “very much on the girl’s terms”, but she is among the many who make invisible the male beneficiaries of female-only space created in the interest of heterosexuality.
The Invisible Priest
Heide Göttner-Abendroth finally manages to pull off the ultimate matripatriarchal mind trick: Underneath all the poetic waxing about the goddess with a big G lies the fact at in her matriarchy males get to share in the divine.
She has written extensively all throughout her career on the Goddess and her Heros, which includes a divine position for a male, and she very favourably writes about the sanctified fucking that is so perfidiously named ‘hieros gamos‘[lix], sacred marriage. In it, very real matripatriarchal males once more assume a quasi-priestly position, as if all of patriarchy wouldn’t have been enough:
“Es gibt jedoch eine spätere Entwicklungsphase, in welcher der Mann stärker in die matriarchale Gesellschaftsform integriert ist als zu Beginn ihrer Entstehung. In diesen Anfängen behielt er vermutlich seine angestammte Jägerkultur bei, während die Frauen längst schon Garten- oder Ackerbäuerinnen geworden waren. Nachträglich wurde er dann auch Ackerbauer und Mitglied einer rein agrarischen Gesellschaft. Nun hatte er, als Sohn und Bruder in seinem matrilinearen Clan, Anteil an der Fruchtbarkeitsmagie und den großen Festen im Jahreszeitenzyklus. In der Gestalt des Heros oder Heiligen Königs, der eine rein rituell-repräsentative Funktion und keine Macht innehatte, trat er nun auch die magische Reise durch die drei Regionen Himmel, Erde und Unterwelt an. Allerdings konnte er sie nicht in Nachahmung der Göttin tun, wie die Priesterin-Königin, aber er durfte sie stellvertretend für die Menschen und zum Wohl seines Volks tun. Denn die Reise des Heros durch die drei Regionen der Welt ließ ihn weise werden und brachte seinem Volk den Segen der Göttin. Die spätmatriarchale Mythologie überliefert dieses Muster reichhaltig, bei dem die Göttin ihren Heros durch die drei Regionen der Welt führt und ihn Initiation, Heilige Hochzeit, Tod und Wiederkehr erfahren lässt.”[lx]
“There is also a later phase of development, in which the man was better integrated into the matriarchal society than at the beginning of its formation. In these beginnings he kept belonging to his original hunter culture, while the women had become garden- and agricultural farmers already. He secondarily became a farmer and member of a purely agrarian society himself. Now he had, as son and brother in his matrilinear clan, a part in the fertility magic and the big celebrations of the cycle of the year. In the role of the Heros or the Sacred King, who had a purely ritual and representative function and no power, he too started the magical journey through the three regions heaven, earth and underworld. But he could not do this in imitation of the goddess like the priestess-queen, but he was allowed to do it as an emissary of humankind and for the well-being of his people. Because the journey of the heros through the three regions of the world made him become wise and brought his people the blessing of the goddess. The late matriarchal mythologie passes on this pattern in manifold ways, in which the goddess leads the heros through the three regions of the world and lets him experience initiation, sacred marriage, death and rebirth.”
After the male had become priestly, he could claim a priestess’ sexuality:
“Demgegenüber bedeutet die Zeremonie der Heiligen Hochzeit im matriarchalen Kontext nicht die Verbindung von Mann und Frau, sondern die symbolische Verbindung der Göttin als der umfassenden irdisch-kosmischen Natur mit den Menschen, ihrem Volk, für das der matriarchale Heroskönig als Stellvertreter steht. Dafür gibt es reiche mythologische Belege (18). Hier liegt auch keine Hierarchisierung der Frau über den Mann vor, wie fälschlich angenommen wird. Dies verkennt, was matriarchale Menschen mit “Göttin” meinen: auf keinen Fall dasselbe, was “Gott” im Patriarchat bedeutet, sondern die gesamte schöpferische Welt, von welcher der Mensch ein Teil ist. Die Heilige Hochzeit nur als Mann-Frau-Begegnung zu sehen oder gar als “Heiligung der Sexualität” zu deuten, ist eine unzulässige Sexualisierung aus heutiger Sicht und hat nichts mit matriarchaler Kultur zu tun. Denn der männliche Partner verstand sich dabei nicht als “Mann” und künftiger “Papa”, sondern als Repräsentant seines Volks. Und da für ihn die Heilige Hochzeit ein einmaliges Erlebnis blieb – im nächsten Jahr feiert sein Nachfolger diese Zeremonie mit der Sakralkönigin, welche die Göttin repräsentierte – , frage ich mich, wie er daraus seine Vaterschaft oder gar die Vaterlinie ableiten können sollte? Erst unter patriarchaler Herrschaft konnte diese Zeremonie, wie vieles andere aus der matriarchalen Kultur, zu solchen Zwecken missbraucht werden. Doch statt einer schönen Zeremonie fanden im Frühpatriarchat ohnehin eher Vergewaltigungen der matriarchalen Sakralköniginnen statt, direkt und brutal – dazu brauchte es keine “Heilige Hochzeit” mehr.”[lxi]
“Contrary to this, the ceremony of the sacred marriage in a matriarchal context is not the connection of man and woman, but the symbolic connection of the goddess as the all-encompassing earthly-cosmic nature with the humans, her people, for whom the matriarchal heros-king acts as a emissary. There is rich mythological evidence for this (18). Here also is no hierarchisation of the woman over the man as it is wrongly assumed. This mistakes what matriarchal people mean with “goddess”: in no way the same thing what “god” is under patriarchy, but the whole creative world, of which humans are a part. To interpret the sacred marriage as a meeting of man and woman or probably even a “sanctification of sexuality” is an inadmissable sexualisation from today’s viewpoint and has nothing to do with matriarchal culture. Because the male partner did not understand himself as “man” and future “dad”, but a representative of his people. And since the sacred marriage remained a one-time experience – in the next year his successor celebrates this ceremony with the sacred queen who represented the goddess – , I wonder how he would infer his fatherhood or even a paternal line? Only under patriarchal rule this ceremony, like so many other things from matriarchal culture, could be abused for such uses. But instead of a beautiful ceremony it is more likely that in early patriarchy rapes happened to the matriarchal sacred queens, directly and brutally – and that for they didn’t need a “sacred marriage” anymore.”
Göttner-Abendroth can write about how much the position of a sacred king does not give a male power as much as she likes, her argument is still logically inconsistent.
Either there is no power in an elevated sacred role, then being a priestess-queen does not say anything about the actual standing of women in a society – or there is power in it, then a heros-king participates in it. (Not that being a sacred vessel embodying land or state or goddess would be something inherently matriarchal or woman-friendly, as proven by used women from the Vestal Virgins as the embodiment of hard patriarchy Rome[lxii] to marriageable noblewomen as extra-goodies after medieval conquer.)
I also seriously wonder how Göttner-Abendroth wants to see this ritual celebrated in a potential contemporary matriarchy – every year with someone else? In any way, this puts a male foot in the door of spirituality despite all claims to the opposite, and this will inevitably lead to a powergrab.
Reality gives precious little hope that it would be any different. Males can’t even be trusted to hold down a fair conversation, have a realistic image of themselves or actually pull their weight in childcare and household – not even if they have good incentives to try.
Heide Göttner-Abendroth’s insinuation that men somehow are going to be fundamentally different in matriclans is so much more extraordinary than my assertion that males are violent no matter what, that she better had stellar evidence for it. I see little to none, even in so-called matriarchies of today. Palau knows queens, kings, chiefs and clan leaders like any patrilinear society. It also has established a communications rule for male title-holders to rely on go-betweens and messengers during political negotiations with the explicit reason to curb their potential aggression (female titleholders are exempt of the rule and communicate directly)[lxiii].
The Northern African Tuareg are also often brought up as an example for a modern matrilinear people – and this despite their extreme social hierarchisation that is based on inheritable slavery of black people. Their society is pyramid-shaped. On top are the Imascheren and Ineslemen, who in English are often called nobles. In any way, they are fully free and independent and have vassals, the Issekamaren, Iregenaten and the Imrad. There are the even more dependent Isseggaren and, eventually, the Iklan who are slaves. The members of the Iklan class are black and the descendants of the Kanuri, Djerma and Hausa peoples who were enslaved by whites (insofar as Tuareg people see themselves as white) centuries ago[lxiv]. This separation of the classes is based on marriage rules and social codes which are enforced by public shaming, and their status has remained that of an oppressed people[lxv].
Matriarchal male, patriarchal male, they only seem to function when there’s hierarchy and exploitation. To obscure this fact is nothing but bog-standard hetero collaboration.
Tearing the Ties: Separatism Is the Only Alternative
My initial statement was wrong.
There are not just fifty million mothers between me and the first eukaryotic cell. There are just as many daughters, and many more.
Janice Raymond and Mary Daly were the first to point out that the one experience all girls and women share is not motherhood, but daughterhood. The one thing we all have in common is that we were born, not that we have given birth.
There always were those of us who chose not to be mothers, those who had to run, flee and fight not to be made mothers against our will, or who had to put their own life at stake to be rid of pregnancies forced on them by rape.
There were always those of us who walked alone or with other females in the face of danger. Outcast, at the fringes, they had community with each other and security in the knowledge that they were not the first and would not be the last of their kind. They could be sure of that, because they, like us, chose their path. They, like us, were not born to it. They were not impregnated with it. They chose each other and they became each others’ Chosen.
Matriarchy is the order of the mother alright. What we need, though, is the symbolic order of the female.
This includes all females, but not the Feminine. Feminity is defined and definable only in relation to men, and the symbolic order of the female excludes them explicitly. Maternal femininity can never be part of it either, and motherhood can never be the determining principle of a female separatist community.
Female separatism means to exclusively center females, without any interference of male children, sperm donors, step-fathers or male relations. The symbolic order of the female means to not serve any males ever, and separatism builds communities for females fleeing patriarchy to turn to.
These communities are not utopias. οὐτοπία, ou-topía, means non-place and they are very much real. We need to defend these spaces against male encroachment through political means rooted in radical analysis, but we also need a different way to think about women’s spirituality. I believe it is the spiritual side of matriarchy that makes it so treacherously attractive and sellable even to radical-leaning feminists.
In a (Western) world dominated by male gods every female goddess seems revolutionary, so there is little questioning about them in the first place. The goddesses we meet are new to us – we meet them in the past or far away and we sense that something about them is about us. Looking at their myths on the other hand makes us realise quickly that they are presented to us by patriarchy: They are written about by patriarchal males and/or venerates by them, which inherently means they can be useful to them and patriarchy.
This puts us in the position that we have to dig through all the trash males have heaped on them – and still do[lxvi] – to see if there is anything beneath it and what that may be.
The Layers of the Goddess
In elementary school I desperately wanted a Skipper doll. I had a bunch of Barbie dolls who all had first and last names, gainful occupations and lived complex, rich lives in an all-female commune I for some reason I envisioned to be halfway between Bergen and Tromsø in a fjord (I had a Ken doll once, but I drowned it in a lake). But these dolls were adults, and Skipper looked at least a little more like me. So when I got one eventually, I was enthusiastic and immediately named her Pallas Athene.
My elementary school teacher read an abridged children’s version of the Odyssey to us during art class, and I adored Athena who was everything I wanted to be: Smart, fearless, independent. I draped my Skipper doll in a white scarf and tried to fix a Lego sword to her hand. I was not overwhelmingly successful with that, but I had no qualms to use the whole doll as a weirdly shaped rapier in playfights with friends.
When I was fourteen, I finally put my dolls away, feeling like I stuffed my friends into a box under the bed. Still, in a way, I did not give away Athena, and I for sure wonder until today – who are my goddesses?
Reading Am Anfang die Mütter brought this question to the forefront of my mind once more. Who is the female Divine to me? It for sure is not the mother or the embodiment of fertility. What do these collaborator deities of patriarchy have to do with me and all the girls and women like me?
I could not disembody the goddesses of the myths into an abstract Goddess with a big G. The women who came before me were clear about having different goddesses with different responsibilities. Their goddesses were persons, not some shapeless force that could be represented through anything and everything. I also could not just twist patriarchal pagan stories like a Christian theologian desperate to explain away horrific bible quotes. What I could do, though, was to ask where I actually got what I seemed to know about the goddesses from.
I feel drawn to the fat goddesses of prehistoric Eurasia and to the goddess of Willendorf in particular. I threw a tantrum at a school trip when the teachers wanted to skip the visit of the museum she is housed in. After I got my way and was allowed to see her, I spent the rest of the day dumbfounded. Today I visit her often and somehow I always end up alone in the little shrine they built for her.
I could look at her for hours, although it doesn’t make much sense: It is always the same disgusting things I hear about her. She is a fertility idol. She is porn. She is the Great Mother. Patriarchal scientists or feminists, to them she always is just good for sex and giving birth. It didn’t help me at all to look into neopaganism and Marija Gimbutas’ work. Professor Gimbutas sees fertility symbols everywhere, her Goddess with a big G being the Great Mother and nothing else. When I looked at the goddess of Willendorf (and the dancing goddess of Galgenberg and the women of Les Combarelles and pictures of so many other fat goddesses), they just do not feel motherly to me.
She does not look pregnant. When I look at her, I see myself. I’m not as heavy as her, but nearly there – and I am not a mother. I have a rounded pubic mound like her, but I never gave birth. I have big breasts like her, but I never produced milk. My belly is big like hers, with a deep navel like hers, but I’ve never been pregnant. Why are her body and mine only acceptable when forced into the one acceptable shape for fat females under patriarchy, that of the mommy/mammy (for women of colour)?
I never found it plausible to ascribe to her a role in general fertility magic. Why would anyone use the human body as the epitome of fertility, with all its pregnancy and birth complications, childbed deaths and a reproduction rate of just a handful per lifetime when frogs spawn pondsful of tadpoles, fish flood the river and rabbits pour from their dens by the half-dozen, four times a year?
Would European hunter/gatherers in the Upper Palaeolithic even think that they could influence nature’s fertility? Isn’t it a farmers’ and animal breeder’s mindset that he had the power to command nature in the first place?
At best, she could embody human fertility, but as I said, she just is fat, not pregnant. Her navel is deep, not the hernia-like nub on a pregnant woman’s overstretched abdomen[lxvii]. Being fat does not make women more fertile. Having big breasts does not mean a woman makes more milk or the baby will have an easier time feeding.
Underneath all these layers of male or at least male-identified interpretations, couldn’t there have been something else entirely about her? To me, she always just was. Not good for anything, just her Who Is and Who Is Anything, containing herself and nothing else, her face hidden not just because she doesn’t want to see, but also because she doesn’t want to be seen?
She is femaleness condensed, the interconnectedness of everything female made comprehensible, the goddess of all women who love other women and the Female itself. She is the goddess-by-herself, and she is not the only one.
All goddesses have been molded over by and for males, so scraping off the layers can be attempted with all goddesses we know. Here, I chose the goddesses of the Greek myths to try and see if I can find something underneath.
They are not part of my own heritage directly[lxviii], but there is a lot of information about them freely available, the sources are easy to come by and they have long been in the focus of feminists and neopagans. I myself used mostly Wikipedia articles despite their male bias. I could go all scientific and bring up Greek and Latin texts, but my point is that scraping off the patriarchal layers of goddesses is neither difficult, nor does it require special training. All I’m going to do is to look at when certain myths are attested for the first time and who molded their own ideas over the goddess in particular.
As a general trend it can be said that the goddesses were not just associated with each other (e. g. Hellenistic Isis and Hekate taking over traits from all over the pantheon), their heterosexual/maternal aspect also eventually takes over everything else about them. Antique and modern authors were and are hell-bent to turn every goddes in some kind of mother goddess, even those who are virgins in the first place.
The first goddess I want to free from her patriarchal layers is Hera. She may be an unlikely candidate, since she is best known as the petty, jealous, nagging wife of god-father Zeus, always sniffing after him and punishing his innocent lovers out of spite. This image has been popularised by Jungian psychologists casting her as the archetype of the dysfunctional wife/mother and also found its way into pop culture via the TV show Hercules: The Legendary Journeys in which she was the hero’s main antagonist.
In classical antiquity she was the goddess of marriage (how’s that for some irony?), weddings and wedding nights and associated with the basics of domesticity. In Homer’s Iliad, the oldest piece of Greek literature, she already is pictured as Zeus’ wife, but there is an even older, archaic Hera underneath it. Her name appears centuries earlier on Mycenean Greek Linear B tablets. The etymology of her name is a matter of controversy, but it is clear she is a ruler, probably the lady of citadels and mountains. Even in classical Greek she has utterly undomestic epitheta (bynames): Ἀκραῖα, ‘(She) of the Heights’; Βασίλεια, ‘Queen’ and Βουναία ‘(She) of the Mound’ . She also was associated with cattle, being called Βοῶπις the ‘Cow-Eyed’ or the ‘Cow-Faced’ ) and, in Sparta, Αἰγοφάγος, the ‘Goat-Eater’. Does not sound very wifely.
Hera’s marriage to Zeus is shaky right from the beginning. He only managed to force her into marriage by exploiting her compassion. He faked to be a bird in distress, she pitied him, picked him up, and he turned into his human form to rape her. By this, she was forced into marriage – and yet, she was still was venerated as Παῖς (child), Παρθένος (virgin) and Χήρη (the Widowed One) who bathed in a sacred well every year to regain her virginity. Rape victims often enough feel a compulsion to wash over and over again.
Compared to all these signs of Hera not being a wife, let alone a good one, her aspect as goddess of marriage (Τελεία) pales. It is also telling that in the Iliad, when Hera strategically seduces Zeus[lxix], she has to borrow Aphrodite’s belt which makes the wearer irresistible. She by herself plainly is not sexy enough, despite Zeus being called Zeus Heraios frequently.
In contrast, the goddess Aphrodite seems to have been patriarchal right from the beginning. Born from a cut-off penis as a fully formed adult without a childhood[lxx], she is an empty husk of fuckability. She is married to the disabled smith-god Hephaestus and has several affairs with gods and mortals, which is just about everything classical myth has to say about her. In antiquity she was philosophically re-interpreted and linked to Near Eastern fertility goddesses like Astarte. Those interested in goddesses today tend to type-cast her as the ultimate sex goddess. For Harald Haarmann[lxxi], she is liberated sexuality personified, and searching for her roots never leads anywhere beyond heterosexuality and fertility. Whether she is the lady of Paphos[lxxii] or Aphrodite of Cyprus[lxxiii], her business is prettiness and procreation.
The ancient sculptor Praxiteles made her most famous rendering, the Aphrodite of Knidos. A naked stone woman with her hand in front of her genitals, she for Haarmann is the very image of sensuality[lxxiv]. He himself links this statue to the myth of Pygmalion[lxxv], the patron saint of sex doll users, giving away what the oh-so-matriarchal linguist seems to think of as “sensual”: Look fuckable, not have actual senses.
Aphrodite is also a favourite of those who like the idea of women subjected to sacred sexuality; Haarmann clearly approves of the idea that Greek girls had to prostitute themselves for the goddess and to become more fertile:
“Zu den Riten des Aphroditekults gehörte auch die heilige Prostitution. Darüber, daß diese Sitte an verschiedenen Orten Zyperns praktiziert wurde, berichtet bereits Herodot (I, 199, 1-5). Mädchen aus der Gegend wohnten für eine Weile im heiligen Bezirk der Göttin und warteten darauf, von irgendeinem männlichen Besucher des Heiligtums ausgewählt zu werden. Mit den Worten “Ich rufe die Göttin durch dich an” suchte ein Mann ein Mädchen aus, und nachdem der Akt vollzogen war, konnte das Mädchen nachhause zurückkehren und durfte heiraten. (…) Dem römischen Historiker Pompeius Trogus (überliefert von Justinus in seiner Epitome 18.5) zufolge schickten die Eltern an den Aphrodite heiligen Tagen ihre mannbaren Töchter an bestimmte Stellen der Küste, wo sie sich, stellvertretend für die Göttin, in heiliger Prostitution Männern hinzugeben hatten. Diese “heilige” Entjungferung wurde ebensowenig wie die einmalige Prostitution im Heiligtum als unmoralisch empfunden, im Gegenteil, über das Medium des vollzogenen Aktes durfte die junge Frau der Berührung durch die Göttin der Fruchtbarkeit gewiß sein.”[lxxvi]
“The cult of Aphrodite also consisd of sacred prostitution. Herodotus (I, 199, 1-5) already reports about this custom being practised at different places in Cyprus. Girls from the area for a while lived in the sacred district of the goddess and waited for to be chosen by any of the male visitors of the sanctuary. With the words “I address the goddess through you” a man chose a girl and after the act was consummated, the girl was allowed to return home and to get married. (…) According to Roman historian Pompeius Trogus (perserved in Iustinus’ Epitome 18.5) parents on Aphrodite’s holy days sent out their nubile daughters to particular places at the coast where they hd to give themseves to men in prostitution as substitutes for the goddess. This “sacred” defloration was not considered immoral any more than the one-time prostitution in the sanctuary, in the contrary, through the medium of the consummated act the young woman could be sure of the touch of the goddess of fertility.”
The question whether anything of this really happened is too complex to go into here and I will write about it another time. There are good arguments that sacred prostitution existed neither in the ancient Mediterranean nor the Near East. It is however telling that Harald Haarmann believes it did and doesn’t seem to have the slightest problem with it in a matriarchal context.
He also is in good company. Even Robert Graves connects Aphrodite with sex cults:
“The later Hellenes belittled the Great Goddess of the Mediterranean who had long been supreme at Corinth, Sparta, Thespiae, and Athens, by placing her under male tutelage and regarding her solemn sex-orgies as adulterous indiscretions.”[lxxvii]
Aphrodite began her life as the embodiment of all deformations of heterosexuality, and to this day serves as a tool to subject women to sexual service to men. There is nothing else behind her, and there never was.
Not even the virgin goddesses were left alone by patriarchy. They, too, were subjected to the paradigm of heterosexuality, even if it was patriarchy that granted them virginity in the first place.
Hestia, the goddess of the hearth, family and household[lxxviii] is the most “virginal”, domestic one and seems very archaic to us. But she isn’t attested in the Iliad or Odyssey, only in the later Homeric Hymns and in Hesiod, whose Theogony Professor Bettany Hughes calls “revisionist theology”[lxxix]. Hesiod has a lot of myths preserved found nowhere else, and he is such a profound woman-hater it even stood out for his contemporaries and modern patriarchal scholars. With him originate the stories about the woman Pandora bringing evil into wold and the image of the wasteful and luxuriant wife burning her hard-working husband’s fortune. If there is an older Hestia, Hesiod is a good candidate for the patriarchal tamer of her fire.
Roman poet Ovid in his Fasti (VI, 319ff) eventually makes sure Hestia’s virginity does not remain unchallenged and lets Priapus try to rape her. Not only is this layer relatively recent, it is also the literal god of dick who comes after her. Bit see-through.
Vastly better attested is the goddess Athena. She, like Hera, was probably around already in Minoan and for sure in Mycenean Greece. A Mycenean depiction of her shows her in arms and she even then was connected to birds and snakes.
She ist most familiar to us as the goddess of intelligence, strategic thinking in war and inventrix of technologies. In the myth she clearly prefers heroes who (at least occasionally) use their brain over those who are mindless slayers – which of course makes her popular with all the men who fancy themselves clever (so, all men).
The Greeks turned her into a the ultimate symbol of male-identified femaleness. They even took her mother away. Athena is older than Zeus. She appears in Linear B tablets before he did, and yet, the classical Greeks turned her into his daughter. Even more, they turned her into a creature sprung from his forehead, a brain-child, the Motherless One.
Mary Daly writes on Athena the daughter:
“In making this metapatriarchal leap into our own Background, feminists are hearing/naming the immortal Metis, Goddess of wisdom, who presided over all the knowledge. In patriarchal myth she was swallowed by Zeus when she was pregnant with Athena. Zeus claimed that Metis counseled him from inside his belly. In any case, the Greeks began ascribing wisdom to this prototype of male cannibalism. We must remember that Metis was originally the parthenogenetic mother of Athena. After Athena was “reborn” from the head of Zeus, her single “parent,” she became Zeus’s obedient mouthpiece. She became totally male-identified, employing priests, not priestesses, urging men on in battle, siding against women consistently. Radical feminist metaethics means moving past this puppet of Papa, dis-covering the immortal Metis. It also means dis-covering the parthenogenetic Daughter, the original Athena, whose loyalty is to her own kind, whose science/wisdom is of womankind.”[lxxx]
Even – or rather, in particular – this daddy’s girl has had heterosexuality forced on her in the figure of Erechtheus. Partially identified with the half-mythical first ruler of Athens, this half-man, half-snake in the Iliad is born from Gaia and given to Athena to rear. Pseudo-Apollodorus in his 1st to 2nd century AD Bibliothēkē has Hephaestus try to rape Athena and ejaculate on her thigh. She wipes the sperm off with a bit of wool she then throws to the ground. From this Erechtheus is eventually born. Athena is a snake goddess, so a snake consort is nothing out of the ordinary, but the rape tale was added to make sure she could not remain a virgin. She may have refuted all the male gods, but a human male managed to write her being sullied into eternal memory.
Patriarchal Athena is also a token torturer, a punisher of women. After the end of the Trojan war, victorious king Agamemnon brings the enslaved and raped priestess Cassandra to his home in Mycenae. His “jealous” wife and queen Clytaemnestra has her lover kill Agamemnon and Cassandra. His son Orestes then kills the lover and his mother in revenge. This is the story told by Homer in the mid-8th century BC. Playwrights of classical Greece expanded on this story, among them Aeschylos in his play The Eumenides. In it, the Erinyes pursue Orestes for what they see as a crime against human and divine laws – the killing of his mother. Athena organises a formal trial for Orestes to figure out if he is guilty or innocent, since his hand was forced by the demands of family honour; his adulterous mother had his father killed, after all. The court is made up of twelve Athenian citizens (i. e. mortal males) and supervised by Athena herself. When the jury is tied, Athena is the one who votes in favour of Orestes, freeing him from the wrath of the Erinyes.
This story is generally read as Athena taking the side of men: Loyalty to one’s father overrides loyalty to one’s mother, even allowing for matricide. But this is a play with a very clear political agenda, not myth. It was written with the political situation of Athens in mind rather than Athena’s core nature. Aeschylos uses her as a plot device, and it is him who forces her into loyalty with mortal men, not any inherent trait of the old goddess herself.
Building on this, there are even later additions to the myth of Athena sharpening her patriarchal profile as the punisher of women. One example is story of the mortal weaver Arachne (spider). She and Athena are pitted against each other in a petty contest on who is the best weaver. The story is told by Roman writers like Ovid and has more than one ending, but ultimately, Athena always comes out on top and Arachne is dead for her hubris to challenge the goddess.
Ovid is also the one who puts an extremly cruel spin on the story of Athena and Medusa. Another very late account, as Laura Shannon in her article on Athena and Medusa points out:
“The portrayal of Athena as antagonist to Medusa first appears in Ovid, as late as the first century CE. (12) In Ovid’s version of the story, Athena curses Medusa with a horrifying countenance and snakes for hair, then assists Perseus on his quest to cut off Medusa’s head. (13) Athena is depicted as an enemy of women, a traitor to her gender, an impression strengthened by the oft-quoted words put into her mouth by the classical playwright Aeschylus: ‘I am exceedingly of the father…’ (14)
But these are later interpretations. Earlier Medusa myths, as related by Homer, Hesiod, Pindar and others make no mention of enmity from Athena; nor do authors contemporary with Ovid including Strabo. (15) Ovid and Aeschylus exemplify classic patriarchal strategies that blame the victim, set women against one another, and reframe ancient myths to the detriment of powerful females. Athena, Medusa, and Metis have all been diminished in this way, as has Athena’s mother Metis, who has been ‘disappeared’ from the scene of Athena’s birth. But do we really wish to let these great goddesses of wisdom be defined by the authors and artists of patriarchy? Older, pre-patriarchal versions of Athena reveal her deeper nature.”
In relation of Athena’s mother Metis, Laura Shannon obviously builds on Mary Daly’s work, but in her description of Athena’s roots, she falls back on the same interpretation Harald Haarmann uses for his picture of Athena. He likes her, calling her a ‘much talented super-goddess’, as if she came out of a Marvel studios brainstorming session.
And of course, she must never, ever be a feminist:
“Sucht man nach der klassischen Antithese zur Vorstellung von der Großen Göttin als Muttergottheit, man findet sie in den Wesenzügen der Athene, die, ewig jungfräulich, auf Heirat und Mutterschaft verzichtet. Allein dieser Umstand macht sie unabhänging von der Welt der Männer, mit denen sie auf allen Ebenen konkurrieren kann. Diese Konkurrenz artet aber nicht in eine verbissene Rivalität aus, und sie verflacht auch nicht in einer feministischen Kampagne gegen die patriarchalische Ordnung des griechischen Pantheon. Athene ist eine Emanze durch ihre natürliches Wesen und ihre intellektuellen Fähigkeiten, nicht etwa aus Aggressivität, ein ihr fremder Wesenszug.”[lxxxi]
“If one looks for the antithesis of the Great Goddess as the Great Mother, it can be found in Athena’s traits, who, eternally virginal, renounces marriage and motherhood. This circumstance alone makes her independent from the world of men, against whom she is able to compete on all levels. This competition never degenerates into a sullen rivalry, and it does not slacken into a feminist campaign against the patriarchal order of the Greek pantheon. Athena is “emancipated”[lxxxii] through her natural character and her intellectual abilities, not because of aggression, a trait alien to her.”
Athena was called potnia, lady, by the Myceneans, and her very first depiction shows her armed and carrying a shield. It is hard to argue that she does not know any aggression when aggression, power and strength seem to be her core.
Haarmann also breaks down her intellectual side to her being – natürlich, naturally – the inventor of weaving, which is to the use of Zeus:
“Als Frau ist Athene natürlich verantwortlich für die Textilherstellung und die Erfindung der Webkunst wird ihr zugeschrieben. (…) Athene bringt auch den irdischen Frauen das Spinnen der Wolle, das einfache Weben und das Musterweben bei. Athene selbst ist in dieser Kunst die geschickteste. Die Geschicklichkeit der Göttin in der Weberei wird vom Göttervater Zeus selbst in Anspruch genommen, denn auf sein Geheiß weiht Athene Pandora – nachdem dieser Leben eingehaucht worden ist – in die Geheimnisse der Weberei ein (Hesiod Erga V, 64f.).”[lxxxiii]
“As a woman, Athene naturally is responsible for textile production and the invention of the art of weaving is attributed to her as well. (…) Athene also teaches the mortal women to spin wool, simple weaving and weaving in patterns. Athene herself is the most skilled in this art. The agility of the goddess in weaving is also employed by father of the gods Zeus, because he orders Athene to teach Pandora – after she has been given life – the secrets of weaving (Hesiod Erga V, 64f.).”
Underneath all the patriarchal appropriations, she is older than all of them (Zeus, Aeschylos, Hesiod and Ovid). She will remain the personification of women’s strength and intelligence, and little girls will keep on sensing this beneath the heap of patriarchal myth trying bury it.
Next to Athena, the goddess who has been patriarchally worked over the most is Artemis. Men have tried to make her theirs in really any way they could; they could not outright strip her of her virginity, but the they painted her as heterosexually interested, made her her brother Apollo’s henchwoman of discarded lovers, conflated her with all kinds of other patriarchal goddesses like Eileithyia, decorated her in Ephesos with either multitudes of breasts or cut-off bull testicles, cast her as the punisher of raped women opposed to a “merciful” Zeus, and eventually, turned her into a tranny goddess who “punishes” a voyeur by making him a girl[lxxxiv].
This onslaught was necessary, since she is the best example of all Greek myth for the goddess-by-herself. She is the goddess of the mountains, of wilderness, animals and plants, and of time and space[lxxxv].
Her name could be related to the Greek (and the Proto-Indoeuropean) word for bear. It would not only fit because she is a hunter and lives in the forest, but also by her cults and myths:
“The name could also be possibly related to Greek árktos “bear” (from PIE *h₂ŕ̥tḱos), supported by the bear cult that the goddess had in Attica (Brauronia) and the Neolithic remains at the Arkoudiotissa Cave, as well as the story about Callisto, which was originally about Artemis (Arcadian epithet kallisto); this cult was a survival of very old totemic and shamanistic rituals and formed part of a larger bear cult found further afield in other Indo-European cultures (e.g., Gaulish Artio). It is believed that a precursor of Artemis was worshipped in Minoan Crete as the goddess of mountains and hunting, Britomartis.”[lxxxvi]
The ritual at Brauron in which little girls called themselves bears of course has been read as an initiation rite for marriage, despite the actual evidence for this being very thin. These little girls had not even hit puberty when they did the ritual, dressed up as bears with masks and probably (in older times) bear skins. This discrepancy between the age of the little bears and the onset of puberty (i. e. the time they would be forced into marriage) has been interpreted as a ritualised period of wildness which the girls eventually shed like their clothes, coming out at the other side as perfectly human “women”. A much simpler explanation would be that these girls were wild, and were meant to remain wild with the goddess. Given how strictly modesty standards in Greek society[lxxxvii] were enforced in dress and behaviour, going naked was peak wildness. The saffron robes they cast off in lieu of bear skins were bridal items of clothing – how clearer can a ritual rejection of marriage get?
Another myth connecting Artemis with bears is the story of the nymph Callisto. She is impregnated by Zeus and gets turned into bear by Artemis as “punishment”. Artemis’ ostensible cruelty towards Callisto is once more attested first by Hesiod; later versions of the myth go even farther and make Artemis the slayer of Callisto and Zeus into her saviour. Not that there is anything else to be expected by Greek and Roman patriarchs.
The core of the myth remains that Artemis turns Callisto in a bear. Whether Callisto originally was a byname of Artemis herself and she fled from Zeus as a bear (or because she was a bear), or whether Callisto was a seperate mythical entity from the beginning, it makes no sense that Artemis would punish anyone by making her a bear. Bears are dear to her, and so are virgins. She is the Great-She-Bear of Brauron, and the little bears are her beloved followers. It makes vastly more sense to connect Callisto’s myth and the little bears of Brauron to a female-only form of bear shamanism, a sacred way for girls and women to run wild and free of males.
Artemis in antiquity was conflated with the goddess Eileithyia, the goddess of childbirth and midwifery. Eileithyia has been attested in Minoan Crete and appears in Homer as a seperate goddess(es), so her association with Artemis was done much later, probably only in the 3rd century BC. It also sat oddly with the Greeks themselves who had a hard time to reconcile a virgin goddess of the wilderness with childbirth, domestic women’s main business. They managed this mental somersault by playing up Artemis’ relationship to animals: Animals breed, therefore Artemis somehow has to do with fertility, and hey-presto, she can be the goddess of childbirth.
Modern neopagans and writers tend to follow this trail of thought. Harald Haarmann goes one step further and adds on two more layers. To him, her responsibility for fertility[lxxxviii] makes her the lady of death and rebirth, who by this virtue also becomes a weaver goddess (death and life – thread of life – weaving)[lxxxix].
All this does not take away from the fact that Artemis is a virgin, even if according to Hellenistic writer Callimachus (3rd century BC) she was so only by the grace of Zeus. Virginity under patriarchy by definition has to be challenged – a woman not having het sex is a woman not making anyone into a πατήρ/patēr/father.
One strategy is to conflate motherhood and virginity by miracle, as attested by ancient virgin mother goddesses and Mary. Feminists have interpreted this as a sign that virginity meant to be sexual with males, but without committing to them in marriage. Modern religious fundamentalists see virginity as a strictly temporarily limited thing that has to be discarded the very moment a woman says ‘I do’ (but not a blink before). In practice there are also sexually active virgins, who do anything but a complete penis-in-vagina-until-ejaculation act. The occasional female celibate women religious (Vestal Virgins, Catholic and Buddhist nuns) still are committed to mental heterosexuality and support the order of the (properly patriarchally married) mother[xc] and father. Sexual liberals see virginity as something get rid of – depending on the particular stripe of sexual liberalism either by defining it away (“There is no universally agreed definition of virginity, therefore it does not exist and girls shouldn’t think of themselves as virgins”), make it into a complete commodity by selling it off in a truly Neo-Victorian fashion[xci], or – to go full circle with their idiocy – queering it.
It seems never to come down to the most obvious definition: No heterosexuality, ever, with any male. Artemis is a virgin goddess in this sense, and she can very well be the goddess of seperatists.
There were real women in antiquity who kept to themselves (not calling them full seperatist, since some of them still had children with males) – the Amazons. Male historians generally brush them off as an erotic (!) male fantasy, but the work of German professor Renate Rolle, and US-American scholars Adrienne Mayor and Jeanne Davis Kimball should have made clear to even the most stubborn patriarch that there were real warrior women in the steppes. Greek patriarchal males viewed Amazons as a separatist society with occasional heterosexual relations to neighbouring tribes in order to have children. Herodotus says they called themselves Oiorpata, Mankillers. They had to bring back one or three male skulls from battle in order to be allowed to marry – an excellent loophole for any warrior woman not wanting to “marry”. Leave the heads on the battlefield, remain a separatist oiorpata forever.
This vision of female independence frightened Greek males of antiquity like it frightens men today. They have to turn the Amazons into porn or trannies, or they have to put them down as weak and inefficient. Harald Haarmann as a perfect example for a matripatriarchal male going down this route. It is inherent to his writing on the goddesses that matriarchal females are supposed to serve men, not kill them. Logically, he has to put down the Amazons. He points out[xcii] that in Greek myth they are always defeated because they act irrational in their fury against males. His patriarchal puppet Athena of course is much better, because she fights not out of blood-thirst, but only if she has to and with strategic rationality – the classical patriarchal rationality discourse in matriarchal disguise! Also, not in the least surprising, since Athena in his opinion fights for men, and the Amazons against them:
“In jeder Hinsicht erstaunlich ist der Umstand, daß die Griechen seit ältester Zeit einer Frau überragende intellektuelle Fähigkeiten im Bereich des Kriegswesens beimessen. Im Vergleich dazu sind die Amazonen nichts weiter als kriegslüsterne, wenn auch tapfere Kämpferinnen, die aber nach der mythischen Überlieferung immer und überall von den Männern besiegt werden (Lefkowitz 1986: 26f.). Während sich das Handeln der Amazonen nach griechischer Überlieferung auf die Motivation kriegerischer Auseinandersetzung mit der Männergesellschaft reduziert, steht die kriegstüchtige Athene mit ihrem Können weit über dem Niveau der wilden Kriegerinnen.”[xciii]
“It is amazing in every regard that the Greeks since time immemorial ascribed brilliant intellectual abilites in matters of war to a woman. Compared to this, the Amazons are nothing but war-thirsty, if brave fighters, who according to mythical tradition are defeated by men everywhere and all the time (Lefkowitz 1986: 26.). While the according to Greek tradition the actions of the Amazons are reduced to the motivation of war-like struggle with male society, Athena skilled in the art of war is high above the level of these wild warrioresses.”
There is nothing astonishing about the Greeks envisioning strategic thinking and intelligence as a female trait. The didn’t need to envision (i. e. make up), because there always were intelligent, strong women in reality. With the Amazons, they even saw free women who were virtually invincible so long they didn’t fall prey to the most destructive force of all: heterosexual “love”, the vicious force embodied by the traitor goddess Aphrodite, leading to a betrayal between women in the interest of males and the downfall of female-only community.
Males were so greatly comforted by stories of sex-crazed Amazons selling each other out for men and Amazons being slaughtered and raped by their heroes that they even allowed them in their females’ spaces. The Louvre museum has a an epinetron, a clay thigh covering used by women for woolwork, and it depicts Amazons prominently. For the longest time I saw this as proof that the Greeks couldn’t have feared the Amazons if they allowed their image in women’s chambers for the little girls and adult women to see every day. But maybe this is just part of the truth: Maybe their images served the same purpose as fairytales about wild bears and wolves. They could have been a warning of the dangers lurking in the wild; a vaccination against the idea of uprising if female warlikeness is reduced to a decorative doodle; and a stark reminder that heterosexuality will subject all females, always.
The Symbolic Order of the Female
In this context I have to go into something that on the first glance may look like a digression. I already mentioned that Am Anfang die Mütter does not mentions Lesbians at all. In Die Madonna und ihre griechischen Töchter, Harald Haarmann goes even a step further. He not just manages to write about the labrys[xciv] without mentioning Lesbians, he also has a waxing piece about Sappho[xcv] without even hinting she could have been a Lesbian or bisexual! He achieves this by desexualising her and her poetry – according to him, Sappho prepared girls for marriage and het sex as a servant to Aphrodite:
“Hier tritt bereits das Wesentliche von Sapphos Dichtung hervor. Die Dichterin beschreibt in ihrer Lyrik die feinsinnigen Wesenszüge der Liebesgöttin, ihre Anmut und Schönheit, ihre Gefühlstiefe und Herzeswärme, ihre Verantwortlichkeit für das Wohl der weiblichen Jugend. Sappho besingt eine fast platonisch anmutende, feingefühlige Liebesgöttin. In ihren Liedern finden sich keine Anspielungen auf fleischliche Lust, auf sexuelle Begierden oder gar auf den ekstatischen Liebesakt. (…) Sie widmet sich der Erziehung heiratsfähiger Mädchen, die sie im Namen der Göttin Aphrodite auf das Familienleben vorbereitet.”[xcvi]
“This already shows the essence of Sappho’s poetry. The poetess describes in her verses the subtle character of the goddess of love, her grace and beauty, her depth of feeling and warmth of heart, her responsibility for the well-being of the female youth. Sappho praises an almost platonic, delicately feeling goddess of love. In her songs there are no hints of carnal lust, of sexual desire or even the ecstatic act of love. (…) She devotes herself to the education of nubile girls, whom she prepares for family life in the name of the goddess Aphrodite.”
He not only reduces Sappho to a servant to heterosexuality, not much better than a brothel madam, he also has the audacity to speak for her. According to him, Sappho would have been against women’s history in universities etc. because she, like goddesses and queens, was a Strong Woman™ by her own merit:
“Sappho hätte sich gewundert, weshalb in der Moderne soviel Energie darauf verwendet wird, den Frauen eine Geschichte zu geben und damit “die Vergangenheit zurechtzurücken” (Miles 1990: 11). An begabte und starke Frauen hat man sich immer erinnert, seien es Herrscherinnen wie Kleopatra aus Ägypten oder Katharina II., aus Rußland, Dichterinnen wie Sappho oder Marie de France, die weiblichen Heroen der christlichen Heiligenlegenden (Schmitt Pantel 1992), Forscherinnen wie Caroline Herschel oder Marie Curie (Alic 1986), usw. (…) Sappho, die selbstbewußte Dichterin aus Lesbos, hat sich ihren gesellschaftlichen Status als Aristokratin in der frühgriechischen Gesellschaft nicht von griechischen Patriarchen zuteilen alssen, sondern durch ihre Persönlichkeit ausgefüllt, und sie wurde berühmt wegen ihres lyrischen Talents und ihren Fähigkeiten zu sozialem Engagement. (…) Ähnlich steht es mit den antiken Göttinnen, deren Genealogie im Buch beschrieben wird. Deren Platz im griechischen Pantheon begründete sich nicht aus einer Demonstration von Macht über andere, sondern resultiert aus ihrer natürlichen Ausstrahlung. Der patriarchalische Chauvinismus macht Halt vor der respektheischenden Autorität dieser Göttinnen, in deren Persönlichkeitsprofil Ideale von emanzipierter Weiblichkeit nicht nur der antiken Gesellschaft, sondern ebenso der Moderne auskristallisieren. (…) Was die Gestalten der antiken Göttinnen zeitlos sympathisch macht, ist ihr soziales Engagement für die Belange der Menschen, von denen sie zwar die unbedingte Einhaltung der Riten und uneinangeschränkte Aufmerksamkeit für ihren Kult erwarten, denen sie aber gleichzeitig ihren uneingeschränkten Schutz gewähren. Dies ist die Rolle der Schutzpatronin, der Demeter für den Ackerbau, der Hestia für das Herdfeuer, der Aphrodite für die Fruchtbarkeit, der Artemis für die Mutterschaft und der Athene für die Verteidigung des Gemeinwesens sowie ihr Patronat über Handwerk und Wissenschaften. Keine der Göttinnen ist eine männerfeindliche Amazone, selbst wenn sich einige von ihnen – we Hestia, Artemis und Athene – den Männern verweigern. Deutlich wird dies besonders in der Gesalt der Athene, die keine Liebschaften unterhält wie Aphrodite, aber denno ständig als Partnerin männlicher Heroen auftritt. Dies eben ist das eigentliche Profil der Emanzipation: Kooperation der Geschlechter dort, wo es sozial gefordert wird oder auch wünschenswert ist, der Verzicht auf Kooperation dort, woe es der Mentalität von der Erfüllung des individuellen Freiraums entspricht, aber ohne die Selbstisolation im feministischen Grabenkampf.”[xcvii]
“Sappho would have been astonished why in modern times so much energy is used to give women a history and by this to “adjust the past” (Miles 1990: 11). Talented and strong women always were remembered, may it be rulers like Cleopatra of Egypt or Catherine II. from Russia, poetesses like Sappho or Marie de France, the female heroes [sic!] of the Christian saints’ legends (Schmitt Pantel 1992), and so on. (…) Sappho, the self-confident poetess from Lesbos, did not let Greek patriarchs hand her her status as an aristocrat in the early Greek sociey, but filled it out with her personality, and she became famous because of her lyrical talent and her ability for social engagement. (…) It is similar with the antique goddesses whose genealogy is described in this book. Their place in the Greek pantheon is not caused by a demonstration of power over others, but is a result of their natural charisma. Patriarchal chauvinism stops before these goddesses’ respect-demaning authority, in whose personalities ideals of not just antique, but modernity’s emancipated womanhood are embodied. (…) What makes the figures of the antique goddesses timelessly likeable is their social engagement for humanity’s interests, of whom they expect uncompromising obedience to their rites and the unlimited attention for their cult, but whom they gave their unlimited protection. This is the role of a patron saint, Demeter for agriculture, Hestia for the hearth, Aphrodite for fertility, Artemis for motherhood and Athene for the defense of the polity as well as her patronage of crafts and science. None of the goddesses is a man-hating amazon, even if some of them – like Hestia, Artemis and Athene – refused themselves to men. This gets obvious in particular in the character of Athena who doesn’t have flings like Aphrodite, but still always appears as a partner to male heroes. This is the very profile of emancipation: Cooperation of the sexes where it is socially needed or wanted, the abstinence of cooperation where the mentality of the fulfillment of the individual freedom is demanding it, but without the self-isolation of feminist trench warfare.”
This is a matriarchal male directly connected academically and ideologically to Heide Göttner-Abendroth. If she has read Die Madonna und ihre griechischen Töchter and still associates with Harald Haarmann, I have to assume that she at least tolerates, if not shares his ludicrous positions.
Nothing in Am Anfang die Mütter looks in any way like a promising way to liberation. Matriarchies are no place for Lesbians. Matriarchies are patriarchies in which women are doing all the work, the systematic Hausfrauisierung, housewification of everything female, human, animal[xcviii] and divine. They gender goddesses, taking away their sex and their individuality, the very traits that young girls and women are drawn to.
They have been our goddesses, not theirs, a long time ago, and we need to take them back.
“In making this metapatriarchal leap into our own Background, feminists are hearing/naming the immortal Metis, Goddess of wisdom, who presided over all the knowledge. In patriarchal myth she was swallowed by Zeus when she was pregnant with Athena. Zeus claimed that Metis counseled him from inside his belly. In any case, the Greeks began ascribing wisdom to this prototype of male cannibalism. We must remember that Metis was originally the parthenogenetic mother of Athena. After Athena was “reborn” from the head of Zeus, her single “parent,” she became Zeus’s obedient mouthpiece. She became totally male-identified, employing priests, not priestesses, urging men on in battle, siding against women consistently. Radical feminist metaethics means moving past this puppet of Papa, dis-covering the immortal Metis. It also means dis-covering the parthenogenetic Daughter, the original Athena, whose loyalty is to her own kind, whose science/wisdom is of womankind. In this dis-covering there can be what Catherine Nicholson named “the third birth of Athena.” As this happens, Athena will shuck off her robothood, will re-turn to her real Source, to her Self, leaving the demented Male Mother to play impotently with his malfunctioning machine, his dutiful dim-witted “Daughter,” his broken Baby Doll gone berserk, his failed fembot. The metaethics of radical feminism means simply that while Zeus, Yahweh, and all the other divine male “Mothers” are trying to retrieve their dolls from the ashcan of patriarchal creation, women on our own Journey are dis-covering Metis and the third-born Athena: our own new be-ing. That is, we are be-ing in the Triple Goddess, who is, and is not yet.”[xcix]
Also, our community has been, is still, and will always be coming out of ourselves. Our communities will not require the abolishing of the individual like matriarchal collectivism à la Göttner-Abendroth, nor the denial of the reality that we are woven in with others like capitalist individualism does. We will not share, not nourish and not behave quasi-maternal except with our own Chosen, putting all achievements second to the idea of motherhood. There will not be ritual submission to malekind even in the absence of material submission and no sexual service whatsoever to males or the collective.
There was never and there will never be space for fucking the invisible male of matripatriarchy, no birthing and raising the invisible male enshrined as the Heros Heide Göttner-Abendroth believes the goddess to need.
We always have been connected to one another by biology – not the biology of breeding, but by the crucial act of thinking, talking and living. My foremothers are my forespinsters, the ones whose threads of words I follow and add to, shovelling away all the debris patriarchy has heaped on us.
We were the followers of the fat goddesses-by-themselves. We were the bear shamans, the ones who listened to snakes and birds and boars. We were the oiorpata who didn’t keep skulls. We were the ones who found ourselves in Sappho’s songs. We ran and ran again, and came into our own decades ago, between the mountains and the sea. We have an eternal future by chosing women, over and over again, just like we always have.
[i] One particularly glaring example for this is ancient Sparta. Spartan society was deeply rooted in violence – towards their own children who were subjected to physical abuse, neglect and sexual exploitation, but also towards the enslaved helots, whose forced labour made the aggressive Spartan warrior culture possible in the first place. Spartan women were supposed to be athletic and fit to ensure health and strength for their offspring. This ideal was driven so far that Spartan wives were allowed to take lovers to improve their children’s genetic fitness. This of course is extremly different from women’s status in other Greek poleis (city states) where women working out in public, participating in sports in the nude and sleeping with males other than their husbands were considered highly immoral. Contemporary male writers also considered Spartan women to have particularly sharp tongues, which, together with their relative freedom of physical movement has been interpreted by anthropologists and feminists as residual matriarchal traits surviving into Greek patriarchy. On a second glance, though, the Laconic wit of Spartan women is not much more than a variation on the misogynist trope of nagging women common to most ancient Greek writers and serves mostly as a tool to enforce Spartan patriarchal values in the community. Similarly, the cult of the fit and beautiful female body allowing Spartan girls and women to do sports, eat the same amount as their brothers and have sex with more than one man have to be seen as a proto-fascist eugenics program rather than personal and sexual freedom. A healthy broodmare is still a broodmare, and Leni Riefenstahl and Kraft durch Freude didn’t make nazi Germany a residual matriarchy.
[ii] For more information on this worldview, see the blog We Hunted the Mammoth. The blog owner is male and very liberal, but he does good work in wading through the filth of the abuser lobby and neo-nazi scene.
[iii] Another example is Chinweizu Ibekwe with his book Anatomy of Female Power: A masculinist dissection of Matriarchy (1990).
[iv] Just to complete this, there are of course also liberal feminist critiques of matriarchal politics. See e. g. Max Dashu’s take-down of Cynthia Eller’s The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory, Why an Invented Past Won’t Give Women a Future.
[v] Göttner-Abendroth 2011, p. 185/186. The English translation, like all translations in this post, is of course mine. The term ‘Mutterkult’, cult of the mother, in German carries overtones of national socialist propaganda. Under patriarchy, mothers hold the most relative privilege of all women, and fascist and theocratic regimes often formalise this elevated position within the oppressed class with special rewards to make use of mothers’ work and energy (e. g. the Mutterkreuz in NS Germany).
[vi] The helpmeet hypothesis of homosexuality suggests that Lesbians and gay men should not be discriminated against because they are useful to patriarchal families: Either by their labour (e. g. free childcare), their financial and economic contributions (e. g. as tax-paying DINKs ensuring good infrastructure for families or being that extra-successful hunter/gatherer able to move further away from home) or the biological benefits they are supposed to provide to their blood relatives (e. g. alleged higher fertility in sisters of gay men). These ideas span all kinds of ideologies, from evolutionary psychology to liberal forms of traditional faiths. Remnants of it can even be found in hard patriarchies (e. g. homosexual attraction as social glue in the army of Thebes).
[vii] Göttner-Abendroth 2011, p. 18.
[viii] According to the myth, this submission of women was achieved by men making all women pregnant at the same time, rendering them unable to fight back when men took control. This is evidence that men know and always have known that pregnant, birthing and nursing women are weak, no matter how much birth fetishists and natalists today babble about how empowering giving birth supposedly is.
[ix] Having grown up among rounded, forest-covered hills with male names and many more craggy, rough, rocky, female high summits covered with glaciers and snow who were female by name and mythology, this projecting of pricks makes me feel sick.
[x] Göttner-Abendroth 2011, p. 177: “In matriarchalen Gesellschaften werden die Ratschläge der Sippenmütter oder anderer weiser Frauen (und Männer) in der Regel angenommen. Die Basis dafür ist Vertrauen. Diese weisen Ältesten genießen bei den Mitgliedern ihrer Familien und Sippen so großes Vertrauen, dass, wenn sie Rat geben, die Akzeptanz außerordentlich hoch ist. Eine Hierarchie kann aber nicht aufgebaut werden, denn wenn ein Rat den anderen nicht gut erscheint, wird er nicht angenommen. Die Sippenmuter kann nichts dagegen tun, sie kann noch nicht einmal ihre Autorität als Druckmittel geltend machen – das würde nur das Vetrauen in sie untergraben. (…) Der erste Grund ist, dass in matriarchalen Gesellschaften die älteste Frau die Mutter und Großmutter aller im Hause wohnenden Töchter, Söhne, Enkelinnen und Enkel ist. Denn in einem matriarchalen Clanhaus leben nur die in der Mutterlinie verwandten Menschen zusammen. Diese nehmen nicht an, dass die Frau, die sie geboren, genährt und geschützt hat, etwas gegen sie unternehmen will – hier spielt das familiäre Band eine entscheidende Rolle. Im familiären Bereich muss Vertrauen nicht erst hergestellt werden denn die Mitglieder der blutsverwandte (sic) Gemeinschaft leben jeden Tag miteinander und kennen sich bestens.” “In matriarchal societies the advice of the clan mothers and other wise women (or men) are generally accepted. The base for this is trust. These wise elders enjoy great trust among the members of their families and clans, so, if they give advice, the acceptance is exceedingly high. A hierarchy, however, can’t be build up, because if some advice doesn’t seem good to the others, it will not be accepted. The clan mother can’t do anything against it, she can’t even use her authority to put pressure on them – it just would destroy the trust in her. (…) The first reason is that in a matriarchal society, the oldest woman is the mother and grandmother of all the daughters, sons, granddaughters and grandsons in the house. They don’t assume that the woman who gave birth to them, nourished and protected them wants to act against their interests – here it is the family bond that plays the decisive role. In the area of family trust does not have to be fabricated, because the members of a community related by blood live together every day and know each other very well.” This is taken from an essay on female natural power and natural authority – to go to the bottom of the historical and philosophical context of Heide Göttner-Abendroth’s obsession with “natural” this and “natural” that would warrant a whole second essay.
[xi] Göttner-Abendroth 2011, p. 185
[xii] Göttner-Abendroth 2011, p. 185
[xiii] This bit is also a really good example why it is so hard to read Heide Göttner-Abendroth. Her writing is convoluted and sloppy at the same time. Am Anfang die Mütter really, really would have needed a good editor.
[xiv] For anyone irritated I keep calling midwives patriarchal collaborators – in my opinion everything and everyone ideologically and economically invested in childbirth is part of patriarchy by default. That obstetrics are patriarchal by nature is pretty much agreed on by feminists, given the field’s history and (only recently abandoned) practices. To me, midwifery is potentially worse, since it actively endangers women (home- and solo birth propaganda), hinders damage control (e. g. by cajoling women into giving birth vaginally and without pain relief by threatening vague health repercussions, potential complications and psychological ramifications be damned) and pass themselves off as feminist. They are the fifth column of the backlash, putting on a women-friendly face while deeply, deeply rooted in sexism and woman hating. This is particularly true for the so-called natural childbirth movement. Here are two excellent comments on the origins of this movement and its proponents. In particular Ina May Gaskin and her sadistic, dangerous cult is well worth more research for anyone interested in the topic.
[xv] Göttner-Abendroth 2011, p. 185.
[xvi] Göttner-Abendroth 2011, p. 78/79.
[xvii] Göttner-Abendroth 2011, p. 83.
[xviii] So are Max Dashu who build up the Suppressed Histories Archives and Charlene Spretnak.
[xix] Note that of course two of the five board members are male.
[xx] The title means ‘The Madonna and her Greek Daughters, Reconstructing a geneology of cultural history’. Nowhere he explains how on earth Greek goddesses would be daughters of the Virgin Mary. Can’t imagine why this title was chosen by him or his publishers.
[xxi] According to him, goddesses are givers of life (Haarmann 1996, p. 27ff), responsible for vegetation and agriculture (p. 29 ff) and the fertility of cattle (p. 31ff) and humans (p. 33ff). In case they are death goddesses, he frames them as goddesses of rebirth. All intellectual traits he interprets as offshoots of their responsibility for pottery and weaving (p. 36ff) and their fiery side of course has to represent the hearth (p. 57).
[xxii] To Catholic readers: “Equal of worth” rings bells, doesn’t it?
[xxiii] Haarmann 1996, p. 21 and p. 22/23.
[xxiv] Göttner-Abendroth 2011, p. 153/152.
[xxv] Göttner-Abendroth 2011, p. 109
[xxvi] I obviously do not agree at all with Trust’s conclusion that women have it in their hands to influence evolution towards peaceful males by breeding with smaller, less aggressive men. For her, separatism is only harm reduction, not a solution – I think it is literally the only option we have.
[xxvii] Evelyn Heinemann, Die Frauen von Palau, Zur Ethnoanalyse einer mutterrechtlichen Kultur (Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, Frankfurt a. M., 1995.
[xxviii] Psychoanalysis makes no sense in an European context, but ethnopsychoanalysis really takes the biscuit of stupidity. Why on earth a psychoanalyst and psychology professor specialising on special needs education thinks she is competent in anthropology and history (some of her other works are about historical topics like the witchcraze) is beyond me.
[xxix] Heinemann 1995, p. 55/56.
[xxx] The German word allows for both translations.
[xxxi] Heinemann 1995, p. 83ff.
[xxxii] Heinemann 1995, p. 81.
[xxxiii] Heinemann 1995, p. 81.
[xxxiv] Heinemann 1995, p. 85ff.
[xxxv] Heinemann 1995, p. 88.
[xxxvi] Here it is again, that claim of naturalness we have encountered in Göttner-Abendroth and Haarmann before.
[xxxvii] Göttner-Abendroth 2011, p. 90ff.
[xxxviii] Göttner-Abendroth 2011, p. 88.
[xxxix] Göttner-Abendroth 2011, p. 91.
[xl] Göttner-Abendroth 2011, p. 32.
[xli] Göttner-Abendroth 2011, p. 205ff.
[xlii] Year after year, when the most-used search terms re: porn are published, “step sister” and “step mother” come up among the most common.
[xliii] Göttner-Abendroth 2011, p. 135/136.
[xliv] To be fair, Heide Göttner-Abendroth explicitly says it is impossible to derive insight into early humans’ lifestyle by looking at Bonobo society (p. 55), but the ideas of make love not war/free love solves everything are reminiscent of statements like these:
Taken from the comment section of Austria’s http://derstandard.at, “the” leftist-liberal newspaper. Translation: “The example Bonobo shows that the matriarchy could be put into practice quite easily: Everytime Dad is upset, Mom sits down on him…. brrrt, until he is calm again. Test it, ladies ;-)”
There is a political litmus test for evopsych boys in this: Right-wingers justify male cruelty because we are like chimpanzees, left-wingers say women should fuck men to solve all problems of the world because we are like bonobos.
[xlv] Göttner-Abendroth 2011, p. 136/137.
[xlvi] Göttner-Abendroth 2011, p. 137.
[xlvii] NGOs often argue that arranged marriages are fundamentally different to forced marriages and they should not be treated as two sides of a coin. In practice I observe that arranged and forced marriages are on a continuum. In the West romanticism is the ideology that ensures a societal climate making it hard to deny heterosexuality. In other cultures the family-orchestrated idea of arranged marriage does the same.
[xlviii] Heinemann 1995, p. 57/58.
[xlix] Side note, women and men in Palau are organised in “social clubs” as Heinemann calls them. These clubs are social agents in their own right, and an interaction between two such clubs is described here.
[l] Göttner-Abendroth 2011, p. 58. Without going to deep into historical and archaeological faults of her argument, it is still ridiculous to take the mere presence of a longhouse as solid evidence for a matriarchy, and yet downplay the way more extensive evidence for violence in the Mesolithic period because it was “rare”. Longhouses are in no way exclusively matriarchal. The people of the so-called viking period in Norse history lived in longhouses which possessed spiritual meaning and they were still patriarchal down to their very names.
[li] Jörg Orschiedt, ‘Die Kopfbestattungen der Ofnet-Höhle: Ein Beleg für kriegerische Auseiandersetzungen im Mesolithikum‘, in: Archäologische Informationen 24/2, 2001, p. 199-207.
[lii] It is unclear how many different individuals actually are buried in the Ofnet caves, since it depends on how fragments are counted. Jörg Orschiedt’s in his excellent paper has 28. He also puts together all the C14 analyses done on the skulls, and this is where I got a date around the middle of the 8th century BC from (there are other dates floating around on the internet). The skulls were obviously buried over a longer time frame, adding more skulls as time went by. They also had gifts with them (e. g. beads from deer antlers) and were stacked very neatly. So we can assume the people who put them there didn’t just store them to have them out of the way, but buried them according to a certain framework of ritual. Since there is a high overrepresentation of female individuals and quite some children, it has been suggested that this funerary ritual could suggest a headhunter society. Anthropological comparisons show a similar sex and age pattern in the skull collections of more recent headhunters (see Joachim Wahl, 15 000 Jahre Mord und Totschlag, Anthropologen auf der Spur spektakulärer Verbrechen, Stuttgart 2012, p. 37.).
[liii] “absence of proof etc” by R. Turck, quoted from Joachim Wahl 2012, p. 61.
[liv] She has made available several of her papers and her dissertation thesis (in German) on academia.edu. You can make a free account to browse academia.edu, or you can log in with your Google account. If you are interested in all kinds of research fields, this is a great resource to get free insight.
[lv] While the Neolithic immigration wave into Europe by farmers from Anatolia seems to have been made up in equal numbers of males and females, a migrational movement from the Pontic steppe at the beginning of the Bronze Age seems to have consisted of mostly males. Masses of males clashing with other males are never good news.
[lvi] Göttner-Abendroth 2011, p. 6.
[lvii] Göttner-Abendroth 2011, p. 134/135.
[lviii] One of the most-quoted bits from The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood is this: “A rat in a maze is free to go anywhere, as long as it stays inside the maze.” Fits.
[lix] It is ironic that a Greek term is being used for this religious phenomenon. Between Spartan women getting married by abduction and having their heads shaved, being dressed up as boys and being (often anally) raped on their wedding night and Athen’s idée fixe to make girlchildren give up to their dolls to Artemis before they are married off and forced underneath the full veil as well as into their husband’s house until their death, ancient Greek marriage customs are anything but matriarchal, feminist or spiritual. They were a tool to subject girls and women to patriarchy, which is clearly expressed in the Roman term nox iugalis, yoking night for the wedding night. That a religious coupling of a goddess and a king is called gamos, wedding, probably gives away more of the underlying patriarchal/matripatriarchal forces than those who use the term today would like.
[lx] Göttner-Abendroth 2011, p. 124.
[lxi] Göttner-Abendroth 2011, p. 59.
[lxii] Although I have heard yahoos suggesting that at some point there must have been a matriarchy in rome, since Latin knows a special term for ‘brother of the mother’…
[lxiii] Heinemann 1995, p. 42.
[lxiv] Gerhard Göttler, Die Tuareg, Kulturelle Einheit und regionale Vielfalt eines Hirtenvolkes (Ostfildern, 1995), p. 14.
[lxv] Göttler 1995, p. 13.
[lxvi] I have piece on patriarchal Neopaganism in the pipeline, which turned out to be a huge topic. It will not be the next thing I’m going to publish, but I will publish it at some point.
[lxvii] Harald Haarmann (1996, p. 33) has a hair-raisingly stupid explanation for “dots” or rectangles on fat goddesses’ bellies: To him they represent male semen or an embryo. Sure.
[lxviii] My own heritage lies with the pre-Indoeuropean Alpine traditions. To get to these, I have to dig my way through the German layers which were imposed in the first millennium AD. The non-Indoeuropean speaking tribes of my mountains were influenced by Celtic traditions (the Celtic heartland was in continental Europe) to a point where Roman writers were unsure whether the Alpine tribes were Celts or not. Linguistically, they were not related to them so much than to the Etruscans – who in turn were in contact with the Greek world and were absorbed/conquered by the Romans. Older finds from my home of birth also show that the people living in the valleys and on the mountains were part of a bigger Bronze age cultural space in the north, east and west. Recent analysis also has proven that in the late Neolithic there was contact to the south – the copper from Ötzi‘s axe came from Tuscany, where much later the Etruscans would live. Some recent relatives of Ötzi don’t just live in the mountains, but also in Sardinia and Corsica. So, what is my heritage? I have spent years and years studying antique history (focusing on Greece and Rome, but looking out to Mesopotamia, Egypt, Anatolia and the ancient Mediterranean), holding a phD in the subject. Is that not my heritage as well, then? In the end, all of that is secondary anyways. It were the river, the forest and the mountains that build my teeth and bones, and they are what I carry wherever I may live.
[lxx] Honestly, between this myth and the Twilight character Renesmee who as a seven-year old in an eternally seventeen-year old body falling in love with an adult male, why do people not see how fundamentally creepy this idea is?
[lxxi] Haarmann 1996, p. 84ff.
[lxxii] Haarmann 1996, p. 85.
[lxxiii] Haarmann 1996, p. 88.
[lxxiv] Haarmann 1996, p. 97.
[lxxv] Haarmann 1996, p. 98.
[lxxvi] Haarmann 1996, p. 102.
[lxxvii] Robert Graves, The Greek Myths (London 1960), vol. 1, p. 71, note 1.
[lxxviii] Haarmann 1996, p. 156ff.
[lxxix] Bettany Hughes, Helen of Troy, The Story Behind the most Beautiful Woman in the World (New York, 2007), p. 149.
[lxxx] Mary Daly, Gyn/Ecology, The Metaethics of Radical Feminism (Boston 1978), p. 13/14.
[lxxxi] Haarmann 1996, p. 162.
[lxxxii] I put this under scare quotes because I don’t know how to exactly translate the overtone of Harald Haarmann’s original German ‘Emanze’. This is a pejorative abbreviation for “emancipated woman” and was/is (?) used to insult second-wave feminists or really any woman who is more than a doormat. Nowadays it is old-fashioned, but still viewed as an insult. When us girls called our female history teacher in school in admiration an “Emanze”, she was so offended she shouted at us. The closest translation I can find is the just as casually insulting “women’s libber”, but of course Athena in Haarmann’s view does not “lib” anyone. So I stuck to the quotes.
[lxxxiii] Haarmann 1996, p. 169ff.
[lxxxiv] As if she would see being a girl as a punishment! Also, her way to deal with voyeurs violating her and her female companions is to have them killed, not making them into girls.
[lxxxv] The connection to time is made through her being a lunar goddess – she spans the earth and tracks the phases of the moon. This of course and inevitably has been twisted into her being a goddess of the menstrual cycle in order to force her into the fertility paradigm. However, menstruation is not and has never been in any way linked to the moon (neither do cycles in females align if they live together, by the way). To assume that the moon is timing human (and opossum) females’ cycles while having no influence on pigs or chimpanzees once more shows the incredible narcissism hidden in so many “spiritual” people. Many of them seem to be unable to make a distinction between “humans are part of nature” and “nature revolves around humans”.
[lxxxvi] Quoted from Artemis’ Wikipedia article, retrieved on August 13th, 2017.
[lxxxvii] Only for girls and women, and minus Sparta, of course.
[lxxxviii] Haarmann 1996, p. 108.
[lxxxix] Haarmann 1996, p. 107.
[xc] Göttner-Abendroth 2011, p. 188: “In diesem Sinne eines für die einzelnen Frauen nicht zwangsweise verordneten und nicht abgespaltenen Mutterseins ist Mutterschaft das tragende soziale und kulturelle Element im Matriarchat. Mutterschaft wird nämmlich nicht biologistisch missverstanden, sondern ist ein symbolisches System, eine gesellschaftlich verwirklichte “symbolische Ordnung der Mutter (Begriff von Luisa Muraro). Denn auf Mutterschaft beruht die matrilineare Genealogie, die wiederum das ordnende Prinzip der ganzen Gesellschaft ist.” “In this sense, meaning not being forced on individual women and not alienated when being a mother motherhood is the primary social and cultural element of matriarchy. Motherhood is not misunderstood as biologistically, but is a symbolic system, a societally materialised “order of the mother” (term by Luisa Muraro). Because the matrilinear geneology relies on motherhood, which in turn is the ordering principle of society as a whole.”
[xci] Brothels in Victorian London made good money by having young-looking girls pretend to be virgins and put up a show of crying and blood with their johns. Those who view virginity as a consumer good today have a purely capitalist approach: “Should I rather give my virginity to a man who is going to leave me at some point anyways, and isn’t it better to instead take a lot of money for it?” This statement from an Austrian 18-year old is mirrored by a statements found on Tumblr (whose posters are notoriously young):
[xcii] Haarmann 1996, p. 163.
[xciii] Haarmann 1996, p. 163.
[xciv] Haarmann 1996, p. 69ff. To him, a labrys is not a double axe, but a stylised butterfly.
[xcv] Haarmann 1996, p. 105 – 107.
[xcvi] Haarmann 1996, p. 105.
[xcvii] Haarmann 1996, p. 176ff.
[xcviii] In Am Anfang die Mütter, animals figure most prominently as a food source for humans; they are hunted, fished or bred to feed matriarchal communities. Harald Haarmann does not care overmuch about animals either. All throughout Die Madonna und ihre griechischen Töchter pigs for example are only brought up as domesticated symbols of fertility, boars are not even mentioned.
[xcix] Daly 1978, p. 13/14.
thank you for this thorough takedown of Heide G.-A.’s ideas. I read the book years ago when I was just finding feminism..but even then something didn’t quite add up, to say nothing of the repetitive and convoluted writing..nevertheless, at first, her ideas of matriarchy inspired me (yay, women are worth something!!). However, the more I radicalized the more her obvious fixation on heterosexuality and including males annoyed me – as you say, there is no space for women rejecting males there at all, or for a lesbian-centered culture that is commited to women’s integrity, freedom and power – unrelated to males (who are, in fact, contradictory to women’s integrity, freedom and power).
I’d love to talk about this more with you.. however, I am tired of typed conversations on blogs lately..Can I write you an email maybe? Seems to me we are both in the same country, unless you have moved away that is.
Anyway, thanks again for the trouble of writing this thorough, clearsighted and loooong essay.
This is phenomenal. I so wish it were a book already. You are brilliant. I’d love to visit museums with you! I love your politics, but also your comments, so succinct and perfect. “…a Catholic priest can turn a wheat cracker into human protein.” “The melody of blood and soil does not change just because it is transposed from major to minor.” “How much would you like to dance sensually for your dead grandfather…?” “If motherhood is the highest spiritual honour, how would a Lesbian woman ever feel like anything but second-best?”
And throughout it all, your working class, Radical Lesbian Feminist brilliance shines through.
I’m glad you like it!
Of course I do!!! I love your brilliant Dyke Separatist politics and wisdom, but also your deep class awareness, which makes your work even more powerful. You are one of my most trusted and beloved friends in the world. I wish you were able to just live from your writing, and some who are so less aware do. And then we would have more to read from you! XOXOXOXOXOXOXO
I finished, but feel I need to read it over and over. I love your clarity, anger, humor, and everything about your writing and politics. I so wish we could visit those museums together…. XOXOXOX
I finally finished this, so good!!! I have felt uncomfortable with the glorification of heterosexuality inherent to this whole matriarchal stuff. I recently read an anthology of Claudia Von Werlhof writings translated to Spanish and by the end of it I kept wondering where do lesbians exist in this type of society, what place is there left for us, and more, why the agent isn’t named, as if patriarchy exists beyond and detached from males. I actually wonder what you would think about her work, as it seems a little different from the one you analyzed in this post although both authors talk about matriarchy as some lost female centered social organization but also as an ideal society for us to strive for. Anyways, your whole blog is so good. Hugs from Brazil!
Hey, thank you so much for your comment and support! Sorry also about the delay. Because this is a female-only space I have to approve comments manually and that sometimes takes a little time.
I know Claudia von Werlhof, but I’ve not yet read much by her. She has some more off opinions, for example that the US made the earthquake in Haiti with machines and the like. I don’t know enough to make an assessment here, but maybe I should read her! Thanks for the idea!
I also saw your comment at my poem. It is so painful to lose friends to this. I’m a couple of years older than you and I still sometimes dream (as in during sleep) of my friend and wake up in desperate grief.
Hi, thanks for answering me.
I actually mentioned her because it was the first author I read writing about matriarchies, after that I did some research and found the authors that discuss the gift economy theory, their whole theory is based on the mother-child relation as the epitome of ideal human interactions.. I was kind of surprised by the whole thing because I spent 5 years in an academic environment and never heard of it, but it was just same old heterosexual thought. Then I found your blog and a whole post from a radical lesbian perspective and it made very happy. I just read the whole blog this week.
The posts about sadomasochism are very good, although I have to admit it made me kind of sick reading some of the quotes, especially about the saints. I think it was in part II that I got to me that Simone de Beauvoir in the Second Sex book pretty much implies that lesbians are not strong women because we “avoid males”, that a fulfilled brave women would not have any problem with males and would pair up with them on an equal field and how much her whole chapter on lesbianism is not only full on lesbian hatred but a defense of submission, inherent to heterosexuality, as some kind of strength. But then again it does not surprise me since she liked marquis de sade work. But it does bother me since she is quoted all the time by radical feminists here in Brazil.
And yeah, I really get your pain expressed in the poem, I still feel grief too.
Reblogged this on Your social constructs are showing.
I don’t mean to make demands and I know it takes a lot of time and focus to do this kind of research–this post is so in-depth–but if I could throw a request out there? Would you consider writing a bit more about Powers’s contention that gender egalitarianism is strong among African hunter-gatherers. The idea that societies outside and before the west were radically different in terms of their sexual practices and absence of misogyny is so popular, and has been for a while.
I am very much aware of the claim among many feminists that societies outside the West or in the past were less woman-hating than they are now in the West. At least for the past, which is my field of expertise, I am highly doubtful and think that there is a huge amount of wishful thinking on the part of women who make these claims. Wishful thinking and over-interpretation of sources.
My contention is that even if it were the case that hunter-gatherers of any kind (whether in today’s Africa or Mesolithic Europe) are “egalitarian”, any society built around heterosexuality and procreation is irredeemably bad for women.
As long as women are the ones to risk their lives every time they have hetero sex and girls are brainwashed into heterosexuality by custom, rites, family pressure/example and religion, there will be no liberation.
I agree. I’m tired of hearing about all the ‘egalitarian’ matriarchies where females are bonded to males for life.
Yes of course. I was actually wondering more about how these kinds of anthropologists are accepted in the larger anthropological community. I see here and there in this post you hint at having opinions on some people’s theories and methods. Do imagine ever doing a post about how anthropology has evolved over the past fifty years? Since so much feminism has been connected to it–e.g Margaret Mead–I think it would be enlightening. Thanks again for the hard work you put into this post it really really helped me.
Just thought this was interesting
Thank you for the link. It is a classical example for how marxist analysis is not able to see through patriarchy fully. I have not read Vogel or Leacock, but it is telling that the author of the piece has to go back to 1981 to find historical backup for her analysis. I am a historian, and in terms of methodology and, ultimately, results, 37 years is a lifetime of development and new insights. So much for that.
Framing motherhood as labour is also where the marxist angle falls really short to understand what is going on. The author’s own situation is not one of oppression, but one of failed expectations. She chose to be a mother (even loves it, as she says). She by this chose actively promote heterosexuality and is disappointed she is not rewarded in the way she expected it to be. Choosing to have a male’s child is doing patriarchy’s work (even more when that child happens to be a son). Her sleepless nights are not oppression, but the outcome of a choice she plainly didn’t think through before.
It also shows the unbearable Northern American centric view of this analysis: Here in Europe most states have maternity leave. In my own country, there are three models to chose from, and the longest option is for three years. In Europe, it is also the conservatives,the right-wingers and the fascists who are mostly promoting maternity leave, because they WANT women out of the paid workforce. The result is plain in my country: Most women take the longest leave, often two or three times in a row for subsequent children, and then go back to work part time. This means two things: In case of divorce, they end up with the children (as primary caregivers they tend to get the kids, unless the father demands custody) and in poverty (since males are organising to teach each other to shrug off custody). In case of old age, their pensions are tiny, because they are calculated off all those years they were on maternity leave and worked part-time. But since they did work those few hours, they are also not eliglible for a widower’s pension if their husband dies before them (which statistics make likely). Maternity leave is a classist, right-wing plot and it is a speciality of the US (and maybe Canada) not to have it, as far as Western countries go.
This marxist analysis also does not provide a good analysis of homophobia. In short, transgenderism and “rainbow families” ARE the capitalist form of the backlash against feminism and rights for Lesbians and gay people.
The Lesbians and gay men who stood up since the 1950s were not pushing for marriage and the right to have a family originally. This whole reactionary rainbow family stuff and renting wombs to buy children has become the centre of activism for the LGBTIQTAAWTF-letter soup only after the 1990s. It very loudly demands to be included into the capitalism paradigm – we want our wedding dresses, we want our cakes, we want our suburban house, we want our children (and if we have to buy one in Thailand we will do that), we want the family car, the private school, the baby showers etc. Capitalism is making good money of homosexuals (sic!). Same with transgenderism. It is a a-historical lie to claim that there always have been trans people in the modern sense of the word. Some particularly heterosexist historical and indigenous societies had categories for a third sex in order to deal with male homosexuality. The very few and far between third sex categories for women also dealt with the specific needs of patriarchal societies who had their patriarchy backfire on them, e. g. the sworn virgins in Albania, who compensated the extinction of males in their clans by blood feuds demanded by their tribal, patriarchal, medieval law (canun). some women cross-dress and passed themselves off as males to be free or at least somewhat safer. Cross-dressing and drag-practicing gay men were also never trans and saw themselves as male, even such high-profile cases like “Marsha” Johnson or Ray Rivera at the edge of the Stonewall riots.
The trans idea is utterly capitalist – buy that make-up, those heels, those expensive haircuts, those dresses, those hormones, those surgeries, those binders,those ‘how to woman’-classes, those counselling hours. Buy, buy, buy, consume, consume, consume. Trans people often brag that their “neovagina” is better, because they paid for it. I saw one of those repulsive males brag that his is better than the “factory installed” ones that women have.
Trans and the lettersoup activism are the fifth column of actual radical analysis and activism and not in any way at odds with capitalism.
I wanted to ask for your advice since you are an anthropologist (right?). The blogger at trust your perceptions was going to do a post on “Genetic Mapping Shows a Global History of Rape”, but I don’t know if she is around anymore. Do you know where I could look to find this kind of evidence, or if someone has done a study like this already? I have access to scholarly research so it can be from anywhere.
Right now I am working on a review of ‘Beyond War: Archaeological Approaches to Violence’ edited by Abert Garcia-Piquer and Assumpico Vila-Mitja, have you read it? Some of the essays are rubbish (although most are interesting) and I don’t know why they added them in there, but chapters 7 and 8 are about the prevalence of violence against women, and are very interesting. Chapter 8 in particular is great because the authors are hard-core Marxists who are forced to admit that the oppression of women existed with or without inequality and class stratification in society. Of course they wonder about the “real cause” and their minds won’t allow them to think that the cause could possibly be the fact that males have an evolutionary purpose, to impregnate females. They talk about how often gang rape was used to punish women in many cultures, so I wonder, even if people map the history of rape, they would probably only do so when it was clear some sort of invasion or conquest happened, right? That would likely not cover all of the rape that happened.
They also pointed out that the evidence does not support the idea that men control women’s sexuality out of jealousy of other men, nor does it support the idea that men care at all about reproduction. Actually men want the right to let other men “have sex with” the women they control. Are you aware of this? I see a lot of feminism takes for granted that one aspect of the oppression of women is that men don’t want women having sex with other men, and the mainstream largely believes that men are driven by jealousy of other men and hate the idea of other men “having sex” with their wife/girlfriend. Do you think a lot would change in feminism if the idea of male jealousy was replaced with what the evidence suggests is the reality of male motivation for controlling women? Here’s some of what they wrote:
“Some authors have also seen male domination as a decisive factor in the control of reproduction. This idea has also produced two symmetrical theses: Paola Tabet’s identification of the mechanisms of “forced reproduction” (1985), and Estévez and Vila’s focus on birth control (Estévez et al. 1998; Vila and Estévez 2010) Again, at least regarding nomadic hunter-gatherers, these arguments are not clearly supported by the ethnographic evidence; frequently one finds customs pointing in one direction and the other within the same society. In Aboriginal Australia, for instance, young girls were systematically forced from puberty onwards into sexual relations with their husbands but, at the same time, mothers were free to practice infanticide at birth.”
“One cannot help being struck by the fierce vigilance that husbands exert over any encroachment of their conjugal rights but at the same time by their propensity to concede these rights voluntarily to other men, whether in a ceremonial context or simply in order to seal an alliance or settle a quarrel. A. P. Elkin (1938, 128) provides a vivid description of these practices for Australia; and among the Inuit: “When a man punishes his wife for being unfaithful, it is because she has trespassed upon his rights; the next evening, he will probably lend her himself” (Birket-Smith 1937, 173). Moreover, these facts challenge head-on the sociobiological reasoning that male sexual jealousy is the foundation of human marital institutions. In all these societies, what men defend, by force of arms if necessary, is not their exclusive sexual access to their wives, but their exclusive right to dispose of them at their will.”
You should check out Gail Zawacki if you have never heard of her, she is another one among the vanishingly small minority of us who don’t believe that humans were once equal and peaceful, this is one of my favorite posts from her, https://witsendnj.blogspot.com/2013/11/the-why-of-woo.html.
First of all, I’m not an anthropologist. I have a phD in the history of antiquity, with a focus on religious history, social history and the the origins of early state organisation and complex societies (think Mesopotamia and Egypt), so there is plenty of overlap with anthropology.
As for genetic evidence for rape, I can’t tell you what Trust your Perceptions means, but I strongly suspect she is referring to the (relatively) new genetic studies done on the genetic history of Europe; there is a consistency of a new influx of people in the late neolithic/early bronze age and a decline to vanishing of the older European male lineages. The female lineages remain intact, so the picture to draw from that is that it was the new “immigrants” who suddenly fathered the children of the local women, while the local men were either killed or otherwise removed from the gene pool of the older European populations. This went through the media quite a bit when the study came out, of course boiled down to the usual racist “These immigrants back then killed our men, stole our women, and therefore we need to close Europe’s borders today!”
Thank you for the book recommendation. I have not yet read it, but I’m brooding over a post on a similar topic for quite some time already. In the last fifteen to twenty years archaeologists found quite a lot of new evidence that shows that prehistory was not the hippiesque paradise that it was made out to be since the 1970s. Also, the groundbreaking new technologies that made it possible to read ancient DNA and also things like isotope analysis provide us with even more insight that was not there only ten years ago, let alone decades. A great many radical feminists believe that there was a time before patriarchy for humans, and that this is evidence and justification why we can and should end patriarchy now. Evidence does not back this up, and it doesn’t need to. We are allowed to demand an end of patriarchy, even if we can’t justify it with a comfortable fantasy. When I will get around to write this post, I will put a lot of noses out of joint, since so many radical feminists are so heavily, deeply, emotionally invested in their fantasy of a peaceful prehistory.
Re: sexual jealousy not being men’s driving force, agree. I have another post I’m brooding about, which will be on the fundamental misunderstanding in many feminists’ (non-radical or radical) analysis regarding female sexuality under patriarchy; there is this pervasive myth that patriarchy wants women as asexual and therefore the best that women can do to liberate themselves is to fuck. What you write about the Inuit is perfect evidence for my counter-argument that women under patriarchy are good for nothing else BUT fucking.
Thank you also for the blog link; I haven’t gotten around to read it yet, but I hope will find the time on the weekend.
Maybe she meant that. I was hoping someone somewhere had made a comprehensive analysis of all the forms of evidence, not just genetic, that suggests how rape has shaped human evolution. Something like the theory about how war and the response to war shaped us. (Of course, war and rape are the same thing, so I guess that’s a good place to start). I suppose it’s probably wishful thinking that this culture would produce something like that, but I’ll keep looking.
I think “putting noses out of joint” is a bit too optimistic, they simply won’t believe it. There is something about this topic that makes people unable to accept the truth. Recently there was a “most comprehensive analysis yet” declaring that, yes, it was humans that killed off the megafauna (with the possible exception of north america), that the evidence for it being caused by climate change just crumbles into dust. This is an old debate, so how long will it be until the next “most comprehensive analysis yet” proves that it was so obviously the climate that killed them off? I give it two years.
Well, I just got through reading ‘War Before Civilization’, and the truth is that although prehistory was likely far more violent that than they would like, the violence in terms of war was infrequent enough to kind of make the case that “it wasn’t that bad”. However, as the people in the book of essays I mentioned said, the way women were treated was horrible. I think the debates over war and over egalitarianism are red herrings. I can accept that the war was infrequent enough for a person to dismiss it if they want, and I concede that, economically speaking, they were egalitarian in the way people mean (compared to class-stratified societies), And yet, despite all of that, women were still gang raped, mutilated, and married off at ages below 14. (I know that when you dig into the real data they were not really egalitarian, but there is enough there to give people an argument, and those arguments are not worth the time.)
A while ago I googled something about hunter gatherer egalitarianism and all the recent articles were saying how hunter gatherer societies had “gender equality”. Only a outlet called Quillette that I’d never heard of dissented from this. They pointed out that in all these egalitarian societies the average age of marriage for girls is 13, while the average age of marriage for men was 20, and how anthropologists conveniently leave that part out. So the liberal media is feeding people the idea of ancient “gender equality”. I need to go back an look at what they were reading to come to those conclusions. Right now I am working on a project to trace the different trends in anthropology over the years, and the fact is that a lot of these “scientists” are very prone to drawing unscientific conclusions and cherrypicking evidence.
It’s amazing that people think, or pretend to think, that women getting men off or otherwise pleasing them is somehow going to anger men, and be a threat to them. There is certainly something there, but have the people who wanted women to be celibate not also wanted men to be celibate? It’s like when people say “when men have sex with a lot of people they are called a stud, when a women does, she’s called a slut”. So, we’re just pretending that it is not common for people to call such men pigs, dogs, and womanizers, and that “undersexed” girls are not just as mocked and pathologized as sluts are? I think it’s all about the need to find some system or culture that has caused bad things, anything to deny that it is just human nature/men. That blog post I recommended is about the Kogi. The thing about the Kogi is that the men actually do teach the men and boys to not have sex with women. They are told to seek spiritual enlightenment, and that women will drain this from them. This challenged me because I always saw women’s oppression to be about fucking women, and here was something that might give credence to the idea that a low opinion of women coincides with repressing sex between men and women. But the reality is that cultures where there was a lot of openness between men and women abused women, and cultures that tried to limit sex between men and women abused women. All the evidence together shows that there is no culture that is “right” and that will cause men to not abuse women. It’s not culture, it’s just men.