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Cynthia Eller wields a cunning scythe,
This review is from: The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory: Why an Invented Past Won't Give Women a Future (Paperback)
Cynthia Eller wields a cunning scythe. Bit by bit, she hacks away at the roots of goddess-oriented philosophy to reveal a landscape fraught with fantasy, imagination and gobbledygook. Gender studies has a new era upon it, one that must, if taken seriously, heed Eller's accounting of the rise, and, should her book have any impact, demise of this seductive, female-dominated view of prehistory.
The goddess myth obviously serves a purpose. In the evolving social consciousness of civilized culture, portrayal of women in general leaves much to be desired. Simply, the female gender is clearly richer in different ways than men are, and women, because they biologically put their lives at risk in the reproductive process have a deeper kind of burden in serving life. But mainstream portrayals of women tend to disavow this organic aspect to femininity in favor of basically relegating them to being lesser than men. Patriarchy, in other words, is alive and well.
So the matriarchal projection into the prehistoric past is a perhaps all-too convenient redress for current grievances, Eller says, and thus, she takes to task the literature purporting a matriarchal dominated prehistory. New age fluff writers, archaeologists and anthropologists are treated to her critique, namely Marija Gimbutas, who dressed in different hats as both archaeologist and purveyor of distorted interpretations of the prehistoric past. Not surprisingly, according to Eller, the academic community never really took her seriously, not even enough to critique her work.
The same can't be said for the pseudo-scientific feminist community, however, that unquestioningly buys and sells the goddess-worship trip through today. Backed by what appears to be scientific evidence, the goddess mentality emerged not so much through academic journals and professional conferences, but rather tellingly in new age bookstores and on bumper stickers. A result: reified notions of matriarchal prehistory, that, when examining the basic premises, seem to exist rightfully where they emerge: in fantasyland. Fundamentally, though, Eller takes to task the very idea that just because inequitable gender relations exist today, that doesn't in and of itself mean that it wasn't always this way.
Eller's treatment raises new, important questions, but I found her conclusions closely bordering on the same close-mindedness of the matriarchalists she broadly paints. For some, I imagine to latch onto a fanciful notion of how things could have been might serve a vital and validating rationale. Sure, to keep grounded in that purpose is also equally important, as well as to refrain from dismissing critiques ad hominem, something Eller also criticizes. Nevertheless, most religions thrive under similar cultural myths reaffirming for many a healthy way to be in the world. I'm not saying this can't be unhealthy - indeed, such worldviews continue to be very destructive - but I don't think that creation myths, which appear in most cultures, are necessarily harmful. Indeed, such myths seem to characterize at least one aspect of our humanity, sourness and all.
A much broader and important task would be to examine the significance of the civilized worldview to see why it, as opposed to our more intrinsic and sustainable tribal heritage, has flourished so uncontrollably at the expense and denial of our organic roots. Another book, perhaps?