John Zerzan

Patriarchy, Civilization, And The Origins Of Gender

anti-feminist literary theorist. “The search for a genuinely egalitarian.” in Judith Plant. a long span of time when women were generally less subject to men. I am that I am. 1989).” concludes Sherry Ortner. 38. underneath. I am Master. Ursula Le Guin. and the rest is women and wilderness. Since the 1970s anthropologists such as Adrienne Zihlman. If civilization had been left in female hands. What I want is what matter is for. to be used as I see fit. as one would for a church procession. I pause in awe and reverence. meditates thusly on civilization and women: “When I see a giant crane passing on a flatbed truck. What power of conception: what grandiosity: these cranes tie us to ancient Egypt. “Women/Wildness. culture has proved fruitless. 45. I control. To some of us the “grass huts” represent not taking the wrong path. I explore. I exploit. Are the two institutions at base synonymous? Philosophy has mainly ignored the vast realm of suffering that has unfolded since it began. Hélène Cixous calls the history of philosophy a “chain of fathers.” 2 There are certainly many who believe that early civilizations existed that were matriarchal. Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson (Yale University Press: New Haven. below. if only we still lived in grass huts! Women and nature are universally devalued by the dominant paradigm and who cannot see what this has wrought? Ursula Le Guin gives us a healthy corrective to Paglia’s dismissal of both: “Civilized Man says: I am Self. have found evidence of such societies. that of oppression and destructiveness. where monumental architecture was first imagined and achieved.Civilization. Patriarchy means rule over women and nature. p. subservient. in division of labor. I use. 24. Making Gender: the Politics and Erotics of Culture (Beacon Press: Boston. See also Cynthia Eller. and are certainly the closest of kin. Ortner. What I do is what matters.” Women are as absent from it as suffering. ed. 2000). its long course. however. let along matriarchal. p.. Sherry B. I own. p. But no anthropologists or archaeologists. 2 . Healing the Wounds (New Society: Philadelphia. In light of the globally metastasizing death-drive of technological civilization. 1996). 3 There was. Camille Paglia. feminists included. before male-defined culture became fixed or universal. The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory: Why an Invented Past Won’t Give Women a Future (Beacon Press: Boston. we would still be living in grass huts. very fundamentally. is the history of the domination of nature and of women. all the rest is other — outside. Nancy Tanner and Frances Dahlberg 4 have corrected the earlier focus or stereotype of prehistoric “Man 1 2 3 Camille Paglia. 1990).” 1 The “glories” of civilization and women’s disinterest in them.

” 9 Zubeeda 4 5 6 7 8 9 For example. It is possible to overstate the hunting/gathering distinction and to overlook those groups in which. males and females in band society move freely and peacefully from one band to another as well as into or out of relationships. Zihlman.the Hunter” to that of “Woman the Gatherer. eds. “Woman the Toolmaker. 6 In such settings where the person who procures something also distributes it and where women procure about 80 percent of the sustenance. 1981).” in Women in Archaeology (Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies: Canberra. Adrienne L. Bird. Rosalind Miles. 1979). Female Hierarchies (Beresford: Chicago. Overall. Woman’s Creation: Sexual Evolution and the Shaping of Society (Anchor/ Doubleday: Garden City NY. the men not only do not command or exploit women’s labor. “Powerful Women and the Myth of Male Dominance in Aztec Society. and her Myths of Male Dominance (Monthly Review Press: New York. See Eleanor Burke Leacock. evidence indicates that both women and men made the stone tools used by pre-agricultural peoples. C. women have hunted and men have gathered. Iroquois.. 5 But women’s autonomy in foraging societies is rooted in the fact that material resources for subsistence are equally available to women and men in their respective spheres of activity. Similarly. making no fetish of virginity or chastity.” Key here is the datum that as a general average. 1991). for example. 7 With the matrilocal Pueblo. Patricia Draper and Mina Caulfield have described a generally equal relationship between men and women. Elizabeth Fisher. Joan Gero and Margaret W. 3 . claiming that whatever male domination exists in surviving societies of this kind is due to the effects of colonial domination. pp 210–211.” Signs 4 (1978). anthropologists like Eleanor Leacock. 1975). Kay Martin and Barbara Voorhies. Meal and Money (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge. 1993).. Conkey. Crow. The Women’s History of the World (Michael Joseph: London. See also S. “Women’s Status in Egalitarian Society. James Steele and Stephan Shennan.” Archaeology from Cambridge 7 (1988). and making no demands of women’s sexual exclusivity. Zihlman and Nancy Tanner. 1981). Cafferty. M. 16.” in Lionel Tiger and Heather Fowler. and other American Indian groups. women could terminate a marital relationship at any time. Female of the Species (Columbia University Press: New York. to significant degrees. 1986). Leacock is among the most insistent. Maidens.” Current Anthropology 19 (1978). 349. p. The Archaeology of Human Ancestry (Routledge: New York. In the context of the generally egalitarian ethos of hunter-gatherer or foraging societies. p. “Gathering and Hominid Adaptation.F. p. Frances Dahlberg. 1995). Claude Meillasoux. 16. “they exert little or no control over women’s bodies or those of their children. eds. it is largely women who determine band society movements and camp locations. 1981). 8 According to Rosalind Miles. eds. and G. Woman the Gatherer (Yale University Press: New Haven. pre-agricultural band societies received about 80 percent of their sustenance from gathering and 20 percent from hunting. Engendering Archaeology (Blackwell: Cambridge MA.M. Also. Adrienne L.. “Women in Evolution. 1978).

We know that division of labor led to domestication and civilization and drives the globalized system of domination today. Sharing the responsibility for the care of offspring. 196. It is a cultural categorization and ranking grounded in a sexual division of labor that may be the single cultural form of greatest significance. a split that calls for a basis for cohesion or solidarity. What we think of as the family is not an eternal institution.” in Sandra Harding and Merrill B. pp 269–270.” 10 And yet. 12 Society is integrated via the division of labor and the family is integrated via the sexual division of labor. It also appears that artificially imposed sexual division of labor was its earliest form and was also. If gender introduces and legitimates inequality and domination. Jane Flax. isolated family life in civilization. “Aboriginal Social Inequality and Reciprocity.g. too. the formation of gender. was the situation really ever quite this rosy? Given an apparently universal devaluation of women. 4 . 1991). Identity and Gender in Hunting and Gathering Societies (National Museum of Ethnology: Osaka. From Mastery to Analysis: Theories of Gender in Psychoanalytic Feminism (Cornell University Press: Ithaca. the most deep-seated dualisms. which varies in its forms but not in its essence. eds. “Gender Politics in the Socio-Economic Organization of Contemporary Foragers. p. p. and an obvious hierarchy to this divide. in contrast to privatized. eds. The need for integration bespeaks a tension. one wonders. any more than exclusively female mothering was inevitable in human evolution. 11 Gender is not the same as the natural/physiological distinction between the sexes. For philosopher Jane Flax. “Gender is inherent in the very nature 10 11 12 13 Zubeeda Banu Quraishy. 5. are a reflection of gender disunity.. 2000). the relations of kinship become relations of production. Alain Testart. “Political Philosophy and the Patriarchal Unconscious.” in Ian Keen and Takako Yamada. e. Discovering Reality (Reidel: Dortrecht. p.” Oceania 60 (1989). 1983). in effect. Sharing food has long been recognized as a hallmark of the foraging life-way. even including those of subject-object and mind-body. 105. See Patricia Elliott. the question of when and how it was basically otherwise persists. which can still be seen among the few remaining hunter-gatherer societies. In this sense Testart is right: “Inherent in kinship is hierarchy.” 13 And with their basis in division of labor.. what could be more important to put into question? So in terms of origins — and in terms of our future — the question of human society without gender presents itself. There is a fundamental division of social existence according to gender. Hintikka.Banu Quraishy provides an African example: “Mbuti gender associations were characterized by harmony and cooperation.

cit. the gender revolution had won the day. It is clear. That which had been far more unitary or generalized. 254.” in Günter Brauer and Fred H. “which could not exist without it. At the same time. “The Gender Revolution and the Transition from Bisexual Horde to Patrilocal Band. This is revealing in terms of 14 15 16 17 18 Salvatore Cucchiari. “above all a symbolic organization of behavior. p. In the new polarization activity becomes genderrelated. eds. about 35. this pattern deepened later on.A..000 years ago.” 17 The which-came-first question introduces itself and is difficult to resolve. based on sexual division of labor. its requirements attributed to the male gender as desired traits. 1984). Gender consciousness arises as an all-encompassing ensemble of dualities. the symbolic emerges as a separate sphere or reality. kinship structures formed the infrastructure of relationships that developed in the direction of inequality and power differentials. 15 Gender and the kinship system are cultural constructs set over and against the biological subjects involved.. by “the need to mediate symbolically a severely dichotomized cosmos.. 36. op. beyond the supposed requirements of that gender role. Ortner and Harriet Whitehead. a specter of divided society. The Mothers: the Matriarchal Theory of Social Origins (Macmillan: New York. 1931). gender-defined. 16 It may be more telling to look at symbolic culture itself as required by gendered society. Women: The Longest Revolution (Virago Press: London. had now become the separated spheres in which sexual jealousy and possessiveness appear. that there is no evidence of symbolic activity (e. p.” in Sherry B.” 14 It is in this area that the root of the domination of nature as well as of women may be explored. As combined group foraging in band societies gave way to specialized roles. 62.of kinship.g. p. for example. Cucchiari. 159.” as Cucchiari points out. This essay is of great importance. 83. The role of hunter. “Social Transformations at the Middle to Upper Paleolithic Transition. was apparently under way. Masculine and feminine signs are present in the first cave art. 1984). cave paintings) until the gender system.” according to Juliet Mitchell. that epoch immediately prior to the Neolithic Revolution of domestication and civilization. Women typically became immobilized by a privatizing child care role. Juliet Mitchell. 18 By the Upper Paleolithic. develops into association with males. p. Robert Briffault. Balkema: Rotterdam 1992). however. Olga Soffer. 5 . Sexual Meanings: The Cultural Construction of Gender and Sexuality (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge UK. eds. Replacement: Controversies in Homo Sapiens Evolution (A. such as group foraging or communal responsibility for child tending. This gender-based separation and division of labor began to occur around the transition from the Middle to Upper Paleolithic eras. p. Smith.

for example.” in Steele and Shennan.” overriding the previous two million years of non-dominating intelligence and intimacy with nature. relatively speaking.” called finiik. 19 Similarly. Elena G. of the gender/symbolic alteration came another Great Leap Forward.” 22 The simultaneous rise of symbolic culture and gendered life is not a coincidence. both are dialectically interconnected to earliest. The feminine “essence. 123. 20 With band societies. eds. Megan Biesele and Robert K. All are imposed on women by constraint. 1988). 1979). not only signifies powerful. 1997). 369.” or khaapkhabuurien. Steven Harrall. Hunters and Gatherers in the Modern World (Berghahn Books: New York. artificial division of labor. p. Schweitzer. Each of them involves a basic shift from non-separated. “Examples of the link between ritual and inequality in forager societies are widespread.cit. into agriculture and civilization. sensuous. conjugality or paternal filiation. all are therefore facts of civilization which must be explained. The Bimin-Kushusmin of Papua New Guinea. Human Families (Westview Press: Boulder CO.. and ignorant of ritual. On the heels.” according to Stephan Shennan.” in Peter P. warlike qualities but also those of ritual and control. Hitchhock. “Social Inequality and the Transmission of Cultural Traditions in Forager Societies. 23 19 20 21 22 23 Theodore Lidz and Ruth Williams Lidz. 396. is wild. the Mansi of northwestern Siberia place severe restrictions on women’s involvement in their ritual practices. 89. “The Role of Women in Mansi Society. Gayle Rubin.” Toward an Anthropology of Women (Monthly Review Press: New York. p. 176.cit. Fedorova. p. it is no exaggeration to say that the presence or absence of ritual is crucial to the question of the subordination of women. This is the definitive “rising above nature. non-hierarchized life.. The masculine “essence. 21 Gayle Rubin concludes that the “world-historical defeat of women occurred with the origins of culture and is a prerequisite of culture. nor such institutions as marriage. Meillasoux. p. 2000). op. op. This change was decisive as a consolidation and intensification of the division of labor.the content of art. as well as ritual and its practice.. yet surviving non-industrialized cultures may shed some light. “The Traffic in Women. not used as explanations. experience the masculine-feminine split as fundamental and defining. The logic of their development and extension is a response to tensions and inequalities that they incarnate. pp 20–21. p. Meillasoux reminds us of its beginnings: Nothing in nature explains the sexual division of labor. Oedipus in the Stone Age (International Universities Press: Madison CT. impulsive. It is hazardous to extrapolate from the present to the remote past. 6 .

Women in Ancient America (University of Oklahoma Press: Norman. Gender Relations in Forest Societies in Asia: Patriarchy at Odds (Sage: New Delhi. in terms of how much more work is done. pp 99. 26 Here another dichotomy appears.. eds. for example.” in Govind Kelkar. which for so many. colonial civilizers attacked this stance by trying to replace Muskogee matrilineal tradition with patrilineal relations. “had a tremendous effect on women’s work and women’s health.. Also. Martin. 24 The transition from foraging to food production brought similar radical changes in societies everywhere. Gilda A.Kelkar and Nathan. 25 The locus of the transformation of the wild to the cultural is the domicile. eds. to cite another example closer to the present. The reference is from Karen Olsen Bruhns and Karen E. 268. Joel W. In Homer’s Greece. Hormones. 1999). 143. one of North America’s contributions to domestication. p.” in Mary Ellen Mabeck. compared to men. by women who farm vs. Worthman. 1999). complex governed settlements. Like nature. of value as something to be made to produce. “Growing Up Female in a Farmer Community and a Forager Community. mobile anarchic groups to controlled status in large. Confined. did not find very much gender specialization among hunter-gatherers in western India. 88. compared to agriculturalists there. activation from outside herself/ itself. Sacred Revolt: The Muskogees’ Struggle for a New World (Beacon Press: Boston. See also Catherine Panter-Brick and Tessa M. The Evolving Female (Princeton University Press: Princeton. compensations of divided society. 1991). Mythology and religion. “Work and Hormonal Variation in Subsistence and Industrial Contexts. from the Latin domus. The production of maize. many generations did not exist. awaiting fertilization. 7 . Panter-Brick and C. women are defined as passive.” in C. Stothert. of Circe. those who forage. Health. Pollard. It is instructive. and Behavior (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge. and a lower life expectancy than males are among the features of agricultural existence for women. Women experience the move from autonomy and relative equality in small. Dev Nathan and Pierre Walter. less robusticity than with foraging. of the Sirens 24 25 26 Cited by Indra Munshi. From the gendered production site and its constant extension come further foundations of our culture and mentality. undomesticated forest.” Women’s status “was definitely subordinate to that of males in most of the horticultural societies of [what is now] the eastern United States” by the time of first European contact. 2003). that the Muskogee people of the American Southeast upheld the intrinsic value of the untamed. 219). testify to the reduced position of women. fallow land (not domesticated by grain culture) was considered feminine. the distinction between work and non-work. Morelli. or household): drudge work.M.. 1997): “Young Efe [Zaire] forager children are growing up in a community where the relationship between men and women is far more egalitarian than is the relationship between farmer men and women” (p. p. for example. Domestication is grounded here (etymologically as well. eds. as women become progressively limited to its horizons. “Women and Forest: A Study of the Warlis of Western India. if not fully pacified. Alison Galloway and Adrienne Zihlman. the abode of Calypso. many more children.

524. cyborg “escape from the body” and its gendered history of subjugation. Feminism and the Technological Fix (Manchester University Press: Manchester. Over time as the losses mount. Carol A. Agriculture is a conquest that fulfills what began with gender formation and development. known for her hunting prowess. as in the punishments for those associated with domestication and technology. both culturally and psychologically. In Genesis. in some areas more than others. But his theories assume an already present 27 28 29 The Etoro people of Papua New Guinea have a very similar myth in which Nowali. wedded to the touchstone of fertility. as a violation. 133. is everywhere. Jacques Cauvin. the Bible’s first book. “many feminists. who bears the stigma of the Fall. Raymond C. for instance. p. 8 .who tempted Odysseus to abandon civilization’s labors. p. Despite the presence of goddess figures. and once again the inferiority of nature is presumed. Constructing Inequality (University of Michigan Press: Ann Arbor. p. From the emotional dimensions of this masculinism. Stabile. The Birth of the Gods and the Origins of Nature (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge. animal domestication must have been principally a male initiative. The Fall from Eden represents the demise of hunter-gatherer life. woman is born from the body of man. while the Garden myth blames the chief victim of its scenario. one frontier after another. Both land and women are again subjects of domination. The dis-embodied high-tech future can only be more of the same destructive course. hence. 5. But this flight is illusory.” says Carol Stabile. bears responsibility for the Etoros’ fall from a state of well-being. the incidence of rape in the stories of Demeter. The project of agriculture was felt. It is blamed on Eve. for example — — disappear. 1994). as Cauvin sees it. Fortunately. This trajectory has reached overwhelming proportions. Kelly. in general Neolithic culture is very concerned with virility. as male energy subduing female nature. frontier expansion. a forgetting of the whole train and logic of oppressive institutions that make up patriarchy. the expulsion into agriculture and hard labor.” 29 There are other feminists who claim a part of the technological enterprise. But this imperialism betrays traces of guilty conscience. in that domestication is the fear and refusal of nature and woman. 1993). hold that “a rejection of technology is fundamentally identical to a rejection of patriarchy. Clytemnestra-Iphigenia. 28 The distancing and power emphasis have been with us ever since. Jocasta-Antigone. 2000). too. of course. But patriarchy. which posits a virtual. the great motherdaughter relationships of Greek myth — — Demeter-Kore. 27 Quite an irony. Freud considered taking one’s place as a gendered subject to be foundational. in the tales of Prometheus and Sisyphus. in reality. and we are told on all sides that we cannot avoid our engagement with ubiquitous technology.

and the fact that we enter this world as bisexual creatures. Separation and inequality begin here at the period when symbolic culture itself emerges. 30 Carla Freeman. Without a deeply radical women’s liberation we are consigned to the deadly swindle and mutilation now dealing out a fearful toll everywhere. “Is Local:Global as Feminine:Masculine? Rethinking the Gender of Globalization. such as gender as an expression of power relations.” Signs 26 (2001). “Is Local: Global as Feminine: Masculine? Rethinking the Gender of Globalization”.gendered subjectivity. Various considerations remain unaddressed. 30 The general crisis of modernity has its roots in the imposition of gender. soon becoming definitive as domestication and civilization: patriarchy. and thus beg many questions. 9 . Carla Freeman poses a pertinent question with her essay titled. The wholeness of original genderlessness may be a prescription for our redemption. The hierarchy of gender can no more be reformed than the class system or globalization.

insurgentdesire.uk . Civilization.org. 2012 John Zerzan Patriarchy.The Anarchist Library Anti-Copyright May 21. And The Origins Of Gender Retrieved on 13 April 2010 from www.

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