The Creation of Patriarchy

The Creation of Patriarchy1987
Oxford University Press
368 pages

Purchase from Oxford University Press

“Written by one of the most brilliant historians of our era, this book dramatically reopens a chapter of women’s history that historians had thought was forever closed to them—the origins of the collective dominance of women by men. Its evidence is fascinating, its arguments compelling, and its conclusions full of significance for our time as well as the distant past.” — Kathryn Kish Sklar, University of California, Los Angeles

A major new work by a leading historian and pioneer in women’s studies, The Creation of Patriarchy is a radical reconceptualization of Western civilization that makes gender central to its analysis. Gerda Lerner argues that male dominance over women is not “natural” or biological, but the product of an historical development begun in the second millennium B.C. in the Ancient Near East. As patriarchy as a system of organizing society was established historically, she contends, it can also be ended by the historical process.

Focusing on the contradiction between women’s central role in creating society and their marginality in the meaning-giving process of definition and interpretation, Lerner explores such fascinating questions as: What can account for women’s exclusion from the historical process? What could explain the long delay–more than 3,500 years–in women’s coming to consciousness of their own subordinate position? She goes back to the cultures of the earliest known civilizations–those of the ancient Near East–to discover the origins of the major gender metaphors of Western civilization. Using historical, literary, archaeological, and artistic evidence, she then traces the development of these ideas, symbols, and metaphors and their incorporation into Western civilization as the basis of patriarchal gender relations.


Winner of the 1986 Joan Kelly Prize of the American Historical Association


“Excellent and worthwhile for a course on status and gender.” — Prof. Hedrich, University of California, Santa Cruz

“Lerner places the patriarchal issues in a larger historical context–which is absolutely necessary for understanding how patriarchy functioned in ancient Israel, and how it finds expression in the Hebrew Scriptures.” — Alice L. Laffey, College of the Holy Cross

“A provocative and challenging interpretation of the historical subordination of women.” — The History Teacher

“Lerner’s work represents a significant step forward in the development of the feminist critique of the patriarchal edifice of knowledge and the writing of women’s history….A very serious, provocative and important book.” — America

“An important book, worthy of careful study.” — A.D. Kilmer, University of California, Berkeley

“May well be the most important work in feminist theory to appear in our generation.” — New Directions for Women

“History in the grand mode….[It] should be on everyone’s reading list.” — The Women’s Review of Books

“This book dramatically reopens a chapter of women’s history that historians had thought was forever closed to them—the origins of the collective dominance of women by men.” — Kathryn Kish Sklar, State University of New York, Binghamton

“A magnificent achievement.” — William Chafe, Duke University