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The Myth of the Matriarchal Prehistory

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About the Author

Cynthia Eller is the author of Living in the Lap of the Goddess: The Feminist Spirituality Movement in America, a Choice Outstanding Academic Book of 1994, and of Conscientious Objectors and the Second World War. She is assistant professor of women and religion at Montclair State University.


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 Cahners Business Information.

Fascinating. . . . Eller carefully clips every thread from which this matriarchal myth is woven. -Natalie Angier, The New York Times Book Revie"Passionately argued, engagingly written, this vital book is certain to inspire wide-and much-needed-debate." -Publishers Weekly (starred review) "[An] engaging critique of a popular but perhaps self-defeating belief." -Mark Odegard, Utne Reader "In unraveling the pretensions of matriarchalists, Eller seeks to show that wider matters are at stake. . . . Matriarchal myth, [she] argues, is actively harmful at worst and at best unnecessary." -Lawrence Osborne,

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 Cahners Business Information.

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