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Women in Ancient Times: from Matriarchy to Patriarchy

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Women in Ancient Times: from Matriarchy to Patriarchy

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  • October 8, 1999
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In addition to age, gender is one of the universal dimensions on which status differences are based. Unlike sex, which is a biological concept, gender is a social construct specifying the socially and culturally prescribed roles that men and women are to follow. Women have always had lower status than men, but the extent of the gap between the sexes varies across cultures and time.

Images of women, mostly figurines of the same type as the "Venus" of Willendorf*, Lespugue** and Laussel*** (old statuettes representing obese women, women whose wombs and hips are extremely exaggerated) all dating to the Paleolithic period, far outnumber images of men. This has lead to speculation about the place of women in Stone Age society. Some have argued that these female figures denote the existence during this period of a prominent female deity identified usually as the Earth Mother or the Mother Goddess. On the basis of this assumption, it has been suggested that, unlike today, women played a considerably more important, if not dominant, role in Paleolithic society; that possibly a matriarchy existed and women ruled. That means men haven't always been the leaders; it's not an inborn quality (as a lot of them suggest)!

Johann Bachofen was a 19th Century Swiss archaeologist and classicist who was among the first to recognize the presence of an early matriarchal stage in proto-European cultural evolution. Bachofen used Greek myth to support his arguments. He felt that there were three cultural stages that the early European culture went through. In his view the first stage was a barbaric or hetairistic stage (from the Greek word hetero meaning both) where both or actually neither sex was really in control for there was no control. The strong took advantage of the weak, and there was wide-spread "wanton" sexual activity, uncontrolled by values or morals. Bachofen thought that Aphrodite, Goddess of Love, was the chief deity of this time. The second stage was...