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The patriarchs

Reviewed by Mini Kapoor

Published : Saturday, 9 September, 2023 at 12:00 AM  Count : 462
Angela Saini

The patriarchs

The patriarchs

A science-based inquiry into the history of patriarchy is a rousing call for reform�

Angela Saini opens her inquiry into the origins of patriarchy, or "gendered oppression", with a timeline and a map of the world in The Patriarchs: How Men Came to Rule. The map is marked with bold dots to locate matrilineal populations, that is, communities in which individuals trace "ancestry through mothers rather than fathers". To give a few examples, in India there are the Nairs in Kerala and the Khasis in Meghalaya, in the U.S. the Haudenosaunee around upstate New York, and in Ghana the Asante.

There are in total a few dozen dots, and some areas are marked with dense clusters of dots. The dots, however, merely denote that matrilineal groups or groups that were matrilineal till recently reside in these areas, not necessarily that entire populations in the area thus marked are matrilineal.
The timeline starts at 13 million to 4 million B.C.E., when "the human lineage diverges from other apes". Saini zips forward to the next date on the calendar, roughly 300,000 B.C.E. when Homo sapiens appear in Africa. Around 10,000 B.C.E. an agricultural revolution starts in the Fertile Crescent in West Asia; and round about 7400 B.C.E. in Catalhoyuk, considered the oldest city in the world and the site of some remarkable excavations that continue to nourish new and old hypotheses to this day, signs are that the "large Neolithic communities [were] gender-blind". The gaps between notable dates, as you can see, are vast, but in the last third of the timeline, we are firmly in the 20th and 21st centuries, with the last two entries belonging to the same year, 2022, with the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe vs Wade's assertion of the federal right to abortion, and twenty something Mahsa Amini's death in Tehran after her arrest by Iran's morality police sparking among the most robust challenges to the post-Shah regime.

Root of gender inequality
The instances of matriliny (mind you, not matriarchy) in today's world and multiple science-based readings about societies long past show there is nothing inevitable about patriarchy. Her recap of the archaeological record and the insights available through advances in genetics is dazzling, taking us from the Anatolia of millennia past to Genghis Khan's realm centuries ago. But the pivot of the book is this passage a little more than halfway through the book: "It is difficult... to pin gender inequality firmly to the emergence of agriculture or property ownership. If there were changes in the balance of power between people in prehistory because of these factors, they must have been subtle because they left no appreciable trace in the archaeological record. Where we can really start to spot a shift in gender relations, the first shoots of overarching male authority, is with the rise of the first states."

Saini details the staggering toll that overarching male authority has taken, as well as the fightback against it. Gender rights have been hard-won over the past century - and there have been reverses. These rights must be secured and vastly expanded; and her survey of the past is given added urgency with her closing rebuttal to those who may "claim that oppression is permanently woven into who we are": "...would we still manage to care about each other so much if that were true?"
Courtesy: THE HINDU

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