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The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory: Why an Invented Past Won't Give Women a Future Paperback – Illustrated, April 13, 2001


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 276 pages
  • Publisher: Beacon Press (April 13, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807067938
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807067932
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,193,093 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

For decades, Gloria Steinem, Riane Eisler, Marija Gimbutas and other feminist authors have painted a picture of a golden age before the onset of patriarchy, a time when women ruled the earth, and all the world worshipped the Goddess. This bold and provocative book marshals archeological evidence to demonstrate that this gynocentric vision is a myth, and a pernicious one at that. Eller acknowledges that some women find the myth of matriarchal prehistory empowering but insists that it ultimately undermines genuine reform. A myth, she points out, is a weak foundation for a social movement. More to the point, gynocentric myths, she says, perpetuate the same stereotypical notions of femininity that have always served as tools of sexist oppression. Celebrating the positive virtues of motherhood, relationality, embodiedness and ecocentrism as universal feminine traits obscures genuine differences among women and limits female autonomy; as the saying goes, a pedestal is as confining as any small place. Eller's previous book, Living in the Lap of the Goddess: The Feminist Spirituality Movement in America, sympathetically described women's spiritual quests for self-validation and empowerment. Her new work affirms these goals while cautioning feminists against letting their fantasies about a past matriarchy distract them from taking real steps to end patriarchy today. Passionately argued, engagingly written, this vital book is certain to inspire wide--and much-needed--debate. (Apr.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

According to the myth of matriarchal prehistory, there was a time in social development before written records when women were the central controlling forces in community life. Goddesses were the primary objects of worship, and peace reigned between the sexes. In a systematic analysis of the underpinnings of this popular theory, independent scholar Eller (Living in the Lap of the Goddess), who is affiliated with Princeton University, applies both logic and common sense to what has become a highly emotional argument for some feminists and New Age partisans. Pointing out that much of the physical evidence upon which the hypothesis rests is open to various interpretations, she warns that adherents of the myth may be seeing what they want to see: that by relying on biological distinctions they are creating stereotypes as insidious as the patriarchal ones they abhor. While immersion in this myth may raise gender self-esteem, only hard work will change the reality-based biases of modern life. This well-structured, lucid argument is recommended for academic libraries and public libraries where interest in the subject is high.
-Rose Cichy, Osterhout Free Lib., Wilkes-Barre, PA
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

I didn't like her derisive tone that began with the title.
Silver Elm
Third and lastly, there also seem to be a lot of attacks, both personal and professional, against Dr. Eller and her work.
E. M. Hodge
_The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory_ is a very interesting expose' of the Matriarchy Myth.
Kelly (Fantasy Literature)

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

102 of 112 people found the following review helpful By E. M. Hodge on August 24, 2005
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It seems that there has been a lot of recent confusion about Dr. Eller's books, "The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory" in both its stated objective as well as its scientific accomplishment. This short review is an attempt to rectify and refute any such questions posed by reviewers who didn't seem to understand the aims of this work.

Firstly, it must be understood that Dr. Eller was not out to prove that prehistory was in any way universally patriarchal. Dr. Eller is certainly aware of the many matriarchal, matrilineal and matrifocal prehistorical societies. Rather, this book is an attempt to disprove the "Universal Matriarchy" theory presented by many authors who lack that scholastic ability and scientific methodology to prove or disprove the theory. As such, Dr. Eller doesn't need to address the myriad of "matri" prefixed societies in prehistory, all she needs to do is present a few very well-researched patriarchal societies.

Secondly, Dr. Eller's work is centered around providing solid footing for feminism in the modern context. She seems to believe, and rightly to my thinking, that so long as the majority of spiritual feminist authors rely on unsound claims of a universal matriarchy that they cannot be taken seriously by either the scholastic community or the public at large. By grounding the modern feminist movement in strict scientific methodology, she is attempting to provide a secure footing for further scholarship into the realm of women's studies.

Third and lastly, there also seem to be a lot of attacks, both personal and professional, against Dr. Eller and her work. These often come from the same people who then critique the acidic or condescending tone of her writing style.
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29 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Kelly (Fantasy Literature) VINE VOICE on February 5, 2003
_The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory_ is a very interesting expose' of the Matriarchy Myth. You know the one. Everybody lived in perfect peace and harmony, worshipping the Goddess, until the Big Bad Patriarchal Invaders swept in and ruined everything. Cynthia Eller isn't afraid to ask the questions that seem to get swept under the rug by this theory, for example: Where is the evidence for this matriarchy? How did the Big Bad Invaders become patriarchal themselves? Is the idea of a feminine utopia sexist? And why (I'm glad I'm not the only one who has had this question) does everyone think the Venus of Willendorf looks pregnant?
Eller shows that there is little evidence for an ancient matriarchy. There isn't much evidence against it, either; very little decipherable record remains. Goddess-interested researchers tend to see Goddess symbols everywhere. A straight line represents the Goddess. So does a wavy one. (I suppose my own propensity to doodle spiderwebs in the corners of my papers means I'm invoking Arachne every time I make my grocery list.) Eller shows these excesses for what they are, and shows that there is very little proof of the matriarchy theory.
Even more interesting than this, though, is Eller's spotlight on the ideas behind this proposed utopia. Matriarchalists seem to believe that women, merely by virtue of being women, have certain personality traits such as compassion, cooperation, nurturance, pacifism, and a greater connection to emotions and intuition than to logic. And if women ran the world, society would reflect these traits. Eller notices, though many other writers do not, that these "feminine" traits are the same ones ascribed to women in medieval times, or in the Victorian age. Traits that have been used to bring women down.
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40 of 47 people found the following review helpful By Kaulika on December 4, 2003
Despite what other reviewers have said about her writing being "rubbish" or otherwise unworthy, Cynthia Eller has done a wonderful job with this book. A skeptic from the beginning of all forms of revisionist history, I found this book to be refreshing, even if I didn't agree with it 100% of the time (but what book do you agree with 100% of the time, particularly if you're a religious scholar?).
Far from saying that feminist mythology is somehow imbued with scurrilous intent, she asserts, as many religious scholars have before her, that mythology need not be true. But she doesn't discount its power or relevance. Rather, she makes us question the fervent approach to a mandate of myth as fact in the feminist community, and does so with aplomb.
I enjoyed reading this book as much for the content as for the questions it raised. I highly recommend this book to anyone familiar or unfamiliar with the debate over pre-history, and to every woman involved in goddess spirituality. It's good to have balance and rational thought mixed in with faith, and this book aids in finding that balance.
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26 of 32 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 25, 2001
Eller's few detractors have missed the point. This book will clear up any lingering desires you may have for the bogus, gift-shop "spirituality" that keeps women trapped into idealized femininity, when what they really want and deserve is knowledge and insight into their own condition. I applaud Eller's dry-eyed analysis (and it is frequently hilarious, too).
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47 of 61 people found the following review helpful By Danusha V. Goska on February 23, 2005
"The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory: Why An Invented Past Won't Give Women a Future" is that rarest of things: a scholarly book that is as easy and fun to read as it is informative and profound. I recommend this book without reservation. I just wish all scholarly books were as well-written and socially engaged as this one is.

Cynthia Eller's work was cut out for her. She had to debunk a very popular myth that has given comfort to thousands of women beaten into the mud by misogyny.

Everywhere women turn, they are told that they just aren't as good as men, and, further, that their very status as women makes them frivolous and good for one thing and one thing only: to support and please men, including giving men lots of children.

We've been told that women's status is so debased that she can't function fully as a spiritual being. Even God, who is meant to represent peace, justice, and transcendence, cares so much women's anatomy, that God *him*self discriminates against women, and does not want women in his pulpits. Or, so we are told.

The Goddess Myth -- the idea that "once upon a time" all humanity worshipped a female deity and life was bliss -- came along and offered women salvation from misogyny's most pernicious form, the denigration of women in the eyes of God -- a denigration that paves the way for, and supports, everything from battery to rape.

Eller has the courage to point out that no matter how good a falsehood makes us feel, it is still a falsehood, and lies have their price.

Eller also manifests the grace and sensitivity to speak these difficult truths with care and concern for women like her who are invested in freedom and dignity for women.
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