Womens Revolution: Neolithic Era
Patriarchy has not always existed. There is strong evidence that in the millennia before the rise of statist civilisation the position of women in society has been very different.
Patriarchy has not always existed. There is strong evidence that in the millennia before the rise of statist civilisation the position of women in society has been very different. Indeed, the society was matricentric – it was constructed around the women.
Within the Zagros-Taurus system, Mesolithic and subsequently Neolithic society started to develop at the end of the fourth glacial period, around twenty thousand years ago. This magnificent society, with its well-developed tools and sophisticated settlement systems, was far more advanced than the preceding clan society. This period constituted a wondrous age in the history of our social nature. Many developments that are still with us can be traced back to this historical stage: the agricultural revolution, the establishment of villages, the roots of trade, and the mother-based family as well as tribes and tribal organisations.
Many methods, tools and equipment we still use today are based on inventions and discoveries most likely made by the women of this era, such as various useful applications of different plants, domestication of animals and cultivation of plants, construction of dwellings, principles of child nutrition, the hoe and hand grinder, perhaps even the ox-cart.
To me, the cult of the mother-goddess in this age symbolises reverence for woman’s role in these great advances. I don’t see it as deification of an abstract fertility. At the same time, the hierarchy based on the mother-woman is the historic root of the mother-concept, by which all societies still respect and acknowledge the mother as an authority. This authority she demands because the mother is the principal life-element that both gives birth and sustains life through nurturing, even under the most difficult conditions. Indeed, any culture and hierarchy based on this acknowledgement cannot help but revere woman. The true reason for the longevity of the mother-concept is the fact that the mother concretely forms the basis of the social being, the human; it is not due to an abstract ability to give birth.
During the Neolithic period a complete communal social order, so called “primitive socialism”, was created around woman. This social order saw none of the enforcement practices of the state order; yet it existed for thousands of years. It is this long-lasting order that shaped humanity’s collective social consciousness; and it is our endless yearning to regain and immortalise this social order of equality and freedom that led to our construct of paradise.
Primitive socialism, characterised by equality and freedom, was viable because the social morality of the matriarchal order did not allow ownership, which is the main factor behind the widening of the social divisions. Division of labour between the sexes, the other issue related to this divide, was not yet based on ownership and power relations. Private relationships inside the group had not yet developed. Food that had been gathered or hunted belonged to all. The children belonged to the clan. No man or woman was the private property of any one person. In all these matters, the community, which was still small and did not have a huge production capacity, had a solid common ideological and material culture. The fundamental principles sustaining society were sharing and solidarity – ownership and force, as life threatening dangers, would have disrupted this culture.
In contrast to mainstream society, Neolithic society’s relationship with nature was maintained, both in terms of the ideological and material cultures, through adherence to ecological principles. Nature was regarded as alive and animated, no different from themselves. This awareness of nature fostered a mentality that recognised a multitude of sanctities and divinities in nature. We may gain a better understanding of the essence of collective life if we acknowledge that it was based on the metaphysics of sanctity and divinity, stemming from reverence for the mother-woman.
What we need to understand is this: Why and how was it possible to supersede the matriarchal system of the Neolithic age?
Since the earliest social groupings, there had been tension between woman’s gathering and man’s hunting, with the result that two different cultural evolutions developed within society. In the matriarchal society surplus product was, although limited, accumulated. (This was the start of economy – not as a concept but in terms of its essence – and it is here that we will find the roots of the different types of economies, such as capitalist and gift economies.) It was woman, the nurturer, who controlled this surplus. But man (quite possibly by developing more successful hunting techniques) bettered his position, achieved a higher status and gathered a retinue around him. The “wise old man” and shaman, previously not part of the strong man’s band, now attached themselves to him and helped to construct the ideology of male dominance. They intended to develop a very systematic movement against the women.
In the matriarchal society of the Neolithic age, there were no institutionalised hierarchies; now they were slowly being introduced. The alliance with the shaman and elderly, experienced man was an important development in this regard. The ideological hold the male alliance established over the young men they drew into their circle strengthened their position in the community. What is important is the nature of the power gained by men. Both hunting and defending the clan from external dangers relied on killing and wounding and thus had military characteristics. This was the beginning of the culture of war. In a situation of life and death, one must abide by the authority and hierarchy.
Communality is the foundation on which hierarchy and state power are built. Originally, the term hierarchy referred to government by the priests, the authority of the wise elders. Initially, it had a positive function. We may perhaps even view the beneficial hierarchy in a natural society as the prototype of democracy. The mother-woman and the wise elders ensured communal security and the governance of the society; they were necessary and useful, fundamental elements in a society that was not based on accumulation and ownership. Society voluntarily awarded them respect. But when voluntary dependence is transformed into authority, usefulness into selfinterest, it always gives way to an uncalled for instrument of force. The instrument of force disguises itself behind common security and collective production. This constitutes the core of all exploitative and oppressive systems. It is the most sinister creation ever invented; the creation that brought fourth all forms of slavery, all forms of mythology and religion, all systematic annihilation and plunder.
No doubt, there were external reasons for the disintegration of the Neolithic society, but the main factor was the sacred state society of the priests. The legends of the initial civilisations in Lower Mesopotamia and along the Nile confirm this. The advanced Neolithic society culture combined with new techniques of artificial irrigation provided the surplus product required for the establishment of such a society. It was mostly through the newly achieved position and power of the man that the urban society which formed around the surplus product was organised in the form of a state. Urbanisation meant commodification. It resulted in trade. Trade seeped into the veins of Neolithic society in the form of colonies. Commodification, exchange value and ownership grew exponentially, thus accelerating the disintegration of the Neolithic society.