The Creation of Feminist Consciousness by Gerda Lerner

I wrote these notes about The Creation of Feminist Consciousness from the Middle Ages to Eighteen Seventy by Gerda Lerner some years ago and thought I’d publish them here because her message is still relevant. This book is a follow up to her earlier book, The Creation of Patriarchy.

Through a meticulous and inspiring look at the writings of women from the middle ages, Gerda Lerner traces the emergence of feminist consciousness. She apologises for looking mainly at Western Europe but explains that is a reflection of her expertise and wish to make the project manageable more than anything else.

These are the main general themes that I noticed:

1. From the beginning of patriarchy, every philosophical system has defined women as inferior and marginal. For thousands of years women’s subhuman-ness was taken as a given without question or any need for explanation.

She illustrates this powerfully with her account of the development of the American Constitution, which included much debate about the issue of Indian men, male indentured servants, etc. but maintained utter and total silence on the issue of women (p8-9). Aristotle used the marriage relationship to justify slavery and she says “more remarkable than Aristotle’s misogynistic construction is the fact that his assumptions remained virtually unchallenged and endlessly repeated for nearly two thousand years.”

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