The Position of Woman in Primitive Society - A Study of the Matriarchy
by C. Gasquoine Hartley
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"Be not ashamed, women, your privilege includes the rest.... You are the gates of the body, you are the gates of the soul.... And I say it is as great to be a woman as to be a man. And I say there is nothing greater than the mother of men."


7 Carlton Terrace, Child's Hill. 1914.























The twentieth century is the age of Woman; some day, it may be that it will be looked back upon as the golden age, the dawn, some say, of feminine civilisation. We cannot estimate as yet; and no man can tell what forces these new conditions may not release in the soul of woman. The modern change is that the will of woman is asserting itself. Women are looking for a satisfactory life, which is to be determined from within themselves, not from without by others. The result is a discontent that may well prove to be the seed or spring of further changes in a society which has yet to find its normal organisation. Yes, women are finding themselves, and men are discovering what women mean.

In the present time we are passing through a difficult period of transition. There are conditions of change that have to be met, the outcome of which it is very difficult to appreciate. A transformation in the thought and conduct of women, for which the term "revolution" is not too strong, is taking place around us; doubtless many experimental phases will be tried before we reach a new position of equilibrium.

This must be. There can be no life without movement.

The expression, "a transition period," is, of course, only relative. We often say: This or that is a sign of the present era; and, nine times out of ten, the thing we believe to be new is in reality as old as the world itself. In one sense the whole of history is a vast transition. No period stands alone; the present is in every age merely the shifting point at which the past and the future meet. All things move onwards. But the movement sometimes takes the form of a cataract, at others of an even and almost imperceptible current. This is really another way of saying that the usually slow and gradual course of change is, at certain stages, interrupted by a more or less prolonged period of revolution. The process of growth, from being gradual and imperceptible, becomes violent and conscious.

There can be little doubt that what is called the "Woman's Movement," with its disintegrating influences on social opinion and practice, is bringing vast and momentous changes in women's attitude towards the universe and towards themselves. A great motive and an enlarging ideal, a quickening of the woman's spirit, a stirring dream of a new order—these are what we have gained. We are carried on, though as yet we know not whither, and there is, of necessity, a little stumbling of our feet as we seek for a way. Hence the fear, always tending to arise in periods of social reconstruction, which is felt by many to-day as women pass out far beyond the established boundaries prescribed for their sex.

Whoever reflects soberly on the past history of women will not be surprised at their present movement towards emancipation. Women are reclaiming a position that is theirs by natural right—a position which once they held. It may be all very well for those who accept the authority and headship of the man as the foundation of the family and of society, to be filled with bewildered fear at what seems to them to be a quite new assertion of rights on the part of the mothers of the race. But has the family at all stages of growth been founded on the authority of the father? Our decision on this question will affect our outlook on the whole question of Woman's Rights and the relationships of the two sexes. There are civilisations, older and, as I believe, wiser than ours that have accepted the predominant position of the mother as the great central fact on which the family has been established.

The view that the family, much as it existed among the Hebrew patriarchs, and as it exists to-day, was primeval and universal is very deeply rooted. This is not surprising. To reverse the gaze of men from themselves is no easy task. The predominance of the male over the female, of the man over the woman and of the father over the mother, has been accepted, almost without question, in a civilisation built up on the recognition of male values and male standards of opinion. Thus the institutions, habits, prejudices, and superstitions of the patriarchal authority rest like an incubus upon us. The women of to-day carry the dead load upon their backs, and literally stagger beneath the accumulating burden of the ages.

The "Woman's Movement" is pressing us forward towards a recasting of the patriarchal view of the relative position and duties of the two sexes. It must be regarded as an extremely great and comprehensive movement affecting the whole of life. From this wider standpoint, the fight for the parliamentary suffrage is but as the vestibule to progress; the possession of the vote being no more than a necessary condition for attaining far larger and more fundamental ends.

It is, however, very necessary to remark that the recognition of this imposes a great responsibility upon women. For one thing the practical difficulties of the present must be faced. It is far from easy to readjust existing conditions to meet the new demands. Present social and economic conditions are to a great extent chaotic. We cannot safely cast aside, in any haste for reform, those laws, customs and opinions which it has been the slow task of our civilisation to establish, not for men only, but for women. We women have to work out many questions far more thoroughly than hitherto we have done. We owe this to our movement and to the world of men. It will serve nothing to pull down, unless we are ready also to build up. Freedom can be granted only to the self-disciplined.

"Thou that does know the Self and the not-Self, expert in every work: endowed with self-restraint and perfect same-sightedness towards every creature free from the sense of I and my—thy power and energy are equal to my own, and thou hast practised the most severe discipline."[1]

* * * * *

[1] The Mahabharata. The Great God thus addresses Shakti, when he asks her to describe the duties of women. I quote from a pamphlet by Dr. Ananda Coomaraswamy: Sati: A Vindication of the Hindu Woman.

This little book is an attempt to establish the position of the mother in the family. It sets out to investigate those early states of society, when, through the widespread prevalence of descent through the mother, the survival of the family clan and, in some cases, the property rights were dependent on women and not on men. I start from the belief that the mother was at one period the dominant partner in the sexual relationships. This does not, however, at all necessarily involve "rule by women." We must be very clear here. What I claim is this. The system by which the family was built up and grouped around the mother conferred special rights on women. The form of marriage favourable to this influence was that by which the husband entered the wife's family and clan, and lived there as a "consort-guest." The wife and mother was director in the home, the owner of the meagre property, the distributor of food, and the controller of the children.[2] Hence arises what is known as mother-right.

[2] McGee: "The Beginning of Marriage," American Anthropologist, Vol. IV, p. 378.

I am prompted to this inquiry by two reasons: in the first place, the origin of the maternal-system and the subsequent association of the mother and the father appear to me to afford evidence of the working of a natural law of the two sexes, which, both for social and other reasons, is of great interest in the present stage of women's history. The establishing of the mother's position is of great importance. If we can prove that women have exercised unquestioned and direct authority in the past history of human societies, we shall be in a position to answer those who to-day wish to set limits to women's activities. Then, in the second place, I am compelled to doubt certain conclusions, both of those who accept mother-right, and also of the greater number who now deny its occurrence. If I am right, and the importance of the maternal family has been unduly neglected and the true explanation of its origin overlooked, I feel that, whatever errors I may fall into, I am justified in undertaking this task. My mistakes will be corrected by others with more knowledge than I can claim; and if my theory of mother-right has any merit, it will be established in more competent hands. The vast majority of investigators on these questions are men. I am driven to believe that sometimes they are mistaken in their interpretation of habits and customs which arose among primitive societies in which the influence of women was marked. In dealing with the family and its origin it has been usual to consider the male side and to pass over the female members. This has led, I am sure, to much error.

The custom of tracing descent through the mother, either practised consciously and completely, or only as a survival, occurs among many primitive peoples in all parts of the world. Whether, however, it existed universally and from all time, or whether only in certain races, among whose institutions it remains or may still be traced, is a much debated question. Not all barbarous tribes are in the stage of mother-right; on the contrary many reckon descent through the father. But even where the latter is the case, vestiges of the former system are frequently to be found. There seems to be a common tendency to discredit a system of relationship, which suggests even as a bare possibility the mother, and not the father, being the head of the family. Yet, I believe I can assign some, at least plausible, reasons for believing that descent through women has been a stage, though not, I think, the first stage, in social growth for all branches of the human family.

There can be little doubt of the importance of kinship and inheritance being reckoned through the mother. If the children belong to her, and if by marriage the husband enters her home, the greater influence, based on the present possession of property, and the future hope of the family rests on the female side. Such conditions must have exercised strong influence on the position of the women members of the primitive clan and the honour in which they were held. It cannot be ignored.

Of course, this does not prevent the hardships of savage life weighing more heavily in many ways upon women than on the stronger men. In primitive societies women have a position quite as full of anomalies as they hold among civilised races. Among some tribes their position is extremely good; among others it is undoubtedly bad, but, speaking generally, it is much better than usually it is held to be.[3] Obviously the causes must be sought in the environment and in social organisation. The differences in the status and power of women, often occurring in tribes at the same level of progress, would seem to be dependent largely on economic conditions. The subject is full of difficulties. Not only is the position of women thus variable, but our knowledge of the matter is very defective. It is seldom, indeed, that the question has been considered of sufficient importance to receive accurate attention.[4] Not infrequently conflicting accounts are given by different authorities, and even by the same writer.

[3] Westermarck, "The Position of Women in Early Civilisations," Sociological Papers, 1904.

[4] For instance, Maine (Early Law and Custom), in speaking of tribes who still trace their descent from a single ancestress, says, "The outlines" (i. e. of the maternal family) "may still be marked out, if it be worth any one's while to trace it."

I wish it to be understood that mother-right does not necessarily imply mother-rule. This system may even be combined with the patriarchal authority of the male. The unfortunate use of the term Matriarchate has led to much confusion. My own knowledge and study of primitive customs and ancient civilisations have made it plain to me that there has been a constant rise and fall of male and female dominance, but, I believe, that, on the whole, the superiority of women has been more frequent and more successful than that of men.

It is this that I shall attempt to prove.

The theory of mother-right has been subjected to so much criticism that a re-examination of the position is very necessary. To show its prevalence, to establish some leading points in its history, to make out its connection with the patriarchal family, and to trace the transition by which one system passed into the other, appear to me to be matters primarily important. The limited compass of this little book will prevent my substantiating my own views as I should wish, with a full and systematic survey of all authentic accounts of the peoples among whom mother-descent may be studied. I have considered, however, that I could summarise the position in a comprehensive picture, that will, I hope, suggest a point of view that seems to me to have been very generally neglected.

It is necessary to enter into such an inquiry with caution; the difficulties before me are very great. Nothing would be easier than from the mass of material available to pile up facts in furnishing a picture of the high status of women among many tribes under the favourable influence of mother-descent, that would unnerve any upholders of the patriarchal view of the subordination of women. It is just possible, on the other hand, to interpret these facts from a fixed point of thought of the father's authority as the one support of the family, and then to argue that, in spite of the mother's control over her children and over property, she still remained the inferior partner. I wish to do neither. It is my purpose to examine the evidence, and so to discover to what extent the system of tracing descent through the female side conferred any special claim for consideration upon women. I shall try to avoid mistakes. I put forward my own opinions with great diffidence. It is so easy, as I realise full well, to interpret facts by the bias of one's own wishes. I know that the habits and customs of primitive peoples that I have studied closely are probably few in comparison with those I have missed; yet to me they appear of such importance in the light they throw on the whole question of the relationships of the two sexes, that it seems well to bring them forward.

Since my attention, now many years ago, was first directed to this question, I have felt that a clear and concise account of the mother-age was indispensable for women. Such an account, with a criticism of the patriarchal theory, is here offered. Throughout I have attempted to clear up and bring into uniformity the two opposing theories of the origin of the human family. I have tried to gather the facts, very numerous and falling into several classes, by which the theory of the mother-age could be supported. And first it was necessary to clear out of the way a body of opinion, the prevalence of which has opposed an obstacle to the acceptance of the rights of mothers in the family relationship. The whole question turns upon which you start with; the man—the woman, or the woman—the man.

Here it should be explained that this little book is an expansion of the historical section which treats of "the Mother-age civilisation" in my former book, The Truth About Woman. I wish to take this opportunity of expressing my gratitude for the generous interest and sympathy with which my work has been received. Such kindness is very imperfectly repaid by an author's thanks; it is certainly the best incentive to further work.

This little volume was suggested to me by a review in one of the Suffrage papers. The writer, after speaking of the interest to women of the mother-age and the difficulty there was in gaining information on the subject, said that "a small and cheaper book on the matriarchate would be useful to women in all countries." I was grateful for this suggestion. I at once felt that I wanted to write such a book. For one thing, this particular section on the mother-age in The Truth About Woman, and my belief in the favourable influence of mother-descent on the status of women, has been much questioned. I have been told that I "had quite deliberately gone back to our uncivilised ancestors to 'fish up' the precedent of the matriarchate;" that I "had allowed my prejudices to dictate my choice of material, and had thus brought forward examples explanatory of my own opinions;" that I "had fastened eagerly on these, without inquiring too carefully about other facts having a contrary tendency." I was reminded of what I well knew, that the matriarchate and promiscuity with which it is usually connected were not universally accepted by anthropologists; the tendency to-day being to discredit both as being among the early phases of society. It was suggested that I "had unprofitably spent my time on the historical section of my book, and had built up my theory on a curiously uncertain foundation;" that I "had relied too much on the certain working of mother-right, and had been by no means clear in showing how, from such a position of power, women had sunk into subservience to patriarchal rule." In fact, it has seemed to be the opinion of my critics that I had allowed what I "would have liked to have happened to affect my account of what did happen in the infancy of man's social life."

Now, I want to say quite frankly, that I feel much of this criticism is just. The inquiry on the mother-age civilisation was only one small section of my book on Woman. I realise that very much was hurried over. There is on this subject of the origin of the family a literature so extensive, and such a variety of opinions, that the work of the student is far from easy. The whole question is too extensive to allow anything like adequate treatment within the space of a brief, and necessarily insufficient, summary. My earlier investigation may well be objected to as not being in certain points supported by sufficient proofs. I know this. It is not easy to condense the marriage customs and social habits of many different peoples into a few dozen pages. Of course, I selected my examples. But this I may say; I chose those which had brought me to accept mother-right. I was driven to this belief by my own study and reading long before the time of writing my book. What I really tried to do was to present to others the facts that had convinced me. But my stacks of unused notes, collected for my own pleasure during many years of work, are witness to how much I had to leave out.

I know that many objections that have been raised to the theory of mother-right were left unanswered. I dismissed much too lightly the patriarchal theory of the origin of the family, which during late years has gained such advocacy. I failed to carry my inquiry far enough back. I accepted with too little caution an early period of promiscuous sexual relationships. I did not make clear the stages in the advance of the family to the clan and the tribe; nor examine with sufficient care the later transition period in which mother-right gave place to father-right.

I have been sent back to examine again my own position. And to do this, it was necessary first to take up the question from the position of those whose views are in opposition to my own. I have made a much more extensive study of those authorities who, rejecting mother-right, accept a modification of the patriarchal theory as the origin of the family. This has led to some considerable recasting of my views. Not at all, however, to a change in my belief in mother-right, which, indeed, has now been strengthened, and, as I trust, built up on surer foundations.

By a fortunate chance, I was advised to read Mr. Andrew Lang's Social Origins,[5] which work includes Mr. Atkinson's Primal Law. I am greatly indebted to the assistance I have gained from these writers. It is, perhaps, curious that a very careful study of the patriarchal family as it is presented by Mr. Atkinson and Mr. Lang, has brought me to a conclusion fundamentally at variance from what might have been expected. I have gained invaluable support for my own belief in mother-right, and have found fresh proofs from the method of difference. I have cleared up many points that previously puzzled me. I am able now to accept the patriarchal theory, without at all shaking my faith in a subsequent period of mother-descent and mother-power.

[5] This book was mentioned to me in a letter from Mr. H. G. Wells.

The discussion on this question is now half a century old. Yet in spite of the opposition of many investigators, and the support of others, the main problems are still unsettled. What form did the family take in its earliest stage? Did it start as a small group or with the clan or horde? What were the earliest conditions of the sexual relationships? Was promiscuity at one period the rule? Was the foundation of the family based on the authority of the father, or of the mother? If on that of the father, how is mother-kin and mother-right to be explained? These are among the questions that must be answered. Not till this is done, can we establish any theory of mother-descent, or estimate its effect on the status of women.

The whole subject is a very wide and complicated one. If I differ on several important points from learned authorities, whose knowledge and research far exceed my own, I do so only after great hesitation, and because I must. The facts they have collected from their personal knowledge of primitive peoples (facts which I have gratefully used) often suggest quite opposite conclusions to my thoughts than to theirs—the view-point is different, that is all. They were seeking for one thing; I for another: they were men; I am a woman. It would be foolishness for me to attempt any special pleadings for my own opinions. How far I shall succeed, or fail, to make clear to others a period of mother-right that is certain to me, I do not know. I offer my little book with all humility, and yet without any apology. We may read and learn and gather knowledge from many sources; but the opinions of others we cannot take on credit; we must re-think them out for ourselves, and make them our own.



Fifty-three years ago in his great work, Das Mutterrecht,[6] the Swiss writer, Bachofen, drew the attention of the world to the fact that a system of kinship through mothers only prevailed among many primitive peoples, while survivals of the custom could be widely, if but faintly, traced among civilised races. Drawing his evidence from the actual statements of old writers, but more from legends and the mythologies of antiquity, he came to the conclusion that a system of descent through women had, in all cases, preceded the rise of kinship through males. Almost at the same time Dr. J. F. McLennan,[7] ignorant of the work of Bachofen, came to the same opinion. This led to a reconsideration of the patriarchal theory; and for a time it was widely held that in the early stages of society a matriarchate prevailed, in which women held the supreme power. Further support came from Morgan, with his knowledge of the maternal family among American aborigines, and he was followed by Professor Tylor, McGee, and many other investigators.

[6] Das Mutterrecht was published in Stuttgart in 1861.

[7] Primitive Marriage, published 1865. Studies in Ancient History, which includes a reprint of Primitive Marriage; 1st ed. 1876, 2nd ed. 1886. The Patriarchal Theory, a criticism of this theory is based on the papers of Mr. McLennan and edited by his brother.

Obviously this gynaecocratic view, which placed woman in a new relation to man, was unlikely to be permanently accepted. Thus a reaction to the earlier theory of the patriarchal family has set in, especially in recent years. Many writers, while acknowledging the existence of mother descent, deny that such a system carries with it, except in a few exceptional cases, mother-rights of special advantage to women; even when these seem to be present they believe such rights to be more apparent than real.

In bringing forward any theory of mother-right, it thus becomes necessary to show the causes that have led to this reversal in opinion. To do this, the first step will be to examine, with considerable detail, the evidence for the matriarchal theory as it is given by its two great supporters. Now, an interesting point arises, if we compare the view of Bachofen with that held by McLennan. No two ways could well be further apart than those by which these two men arrived at the same conclusion. Both accept an early period of promiscuous sexual relationships. But Bachofen found the explanation of mother-descent in the supremacy of women, and believed a matriarchate to have been established by them in a moral revolt against such hetairism. Mr. McLennan, on the other hand, regarded the custom as due to uncertainty of paternity—the children were called after the mother because the father was unknown.

Let us concentrate our attention on the Das Mutterrecht of Bachofen, whose work as the great champion of matriarchy claims our most careful consideration. And it is necessary to say at once that there can be no doubt his view of women's supremacy is greatly exaggerated. Such a rule of women, at the very early stage of society when mother-kin is supposed to have arisen, is not proved, and does not seem probable. Even if it existed, it could not have originated in the way and for the reasons that are credited by the Swiss writer. I wish to emphasise this point. Much of the discredit that has fallen on the matriarchate has arisen, I am certain, through the impossibility of accepting Bachofen's mythical account of its origin. This great supporter of women was a dreamer, rather than a calm and impartial investigator. Founding his main theory on assumptions, he asks us to accept these as historical facts. Much of his work and his belief in women must be regarded as the rhapsodies of a poet. And yet, it is the poet who finds the truth. The poetic spirit is, in one sense, the most practical of all. Bachofen saw the fact of mother-power, though not why it was the fact, and he enfolded his arguments in a garment of pure fiction.

To disengage from his learned book, Das Mutterrecht,[8] his theory of the origin of the Matriarchate is no easy task. There is, for one thing, such bewildering contradiction and confusion in the material used. Then the interpretation of the mythical tales, so freely intermingled everywhere, is often strained—prompted by a poetic imagination which snatches at every kind of allegory. Often the views expressed are inconsistent with each other, the arguments and proofs are disconnected, while many of the details are hopelessly obscure and confused. Yet it seems to me possible to recognise the idea which brings into unity the mass of his work—the spirit, as it were, that breathes into it its life. It may be found in the clear appreciation of the superstitious and mystical element in primitive man, and their close interweaving with the sexual life. As I understand Herr Bachofen, the sex-act was the means which first opened up ways to great heights, but also to great depths.

[8] Prof. Giraud-Teulon's La Mere chez certains Peuples de l'Antiquite is founded on the introduction to Das Mutterrecht. This little book of fascinating reading is the best and easiest way of studying Bachofen's theory.

Bachofen strongly insists on the religious element in all early human thought. He believes that the development of the primitive community only advanced by means of religious ideas.

"Religion," he says, "is the only efficient lever of all civilisation. Each elevation and depression of human life has its origin in a movement which begins in this supreme department."[9]

[9] Das Mutterrecht, Intro., p. xiii.

The authority for this belief is sought in religious myths.

"Mythical tradition appears to be the faithful interpretation of the progress of the law of life, at a time when the foundations of the historical development of the ancient world were laid; it reveals the original mode of thought, and we may accept this direct revelation as true from our complete confidence in this source of history."[10]

[10] Das Mutterrecht, Intro., p. vii.

This mystical religious element, which is the essential part of Das Mutterrecht, is closely connected by Bachofen with the power of women. As it is his belief that, even at this early period, the religious impulse was more developed among women than men, he bases on this unproved hypothesis his theory of women's supremacy. "Wherever gynaecocracy meets us," he says, "the mystery of religion is bound up with it, and lends to motherhood an incorporation in some divinity."[11]

[11] Ibid., Intro., p. xv.

Doubtless this theory of a higher feminine spirituality is a pleasing one for women—but is it true? The insuperable difficulty to its acceptance arises, in the first place, from the fact that we can know nothing at all of the spiritual condition of the human beings among whom mother-kin was held first to have been practised. But we must go further than this in our doubt. Can we accept for any period a spiritual superiority in the character of woman over man? To me, at least, it is clear that a knowledge of the two sexes among all races both primitive and civilised—yes, and among ourselves, is sufficient to discredit such a supposition.

Bachofen would have us believe that[12] the mother-right of the ancient world, was due to a revolt of women against the degraded condition of promiscuity, which previously had been universal among mankind, a condition in which men had a community of wives, and openly lived together like gregarious animals.

[12] Das Mutterrecht, Intro., p. xxiv. and p. 10.

"Women, by their nature nobler and more spiritual than men, became disgusted with this lawless hetairism, and, under the influence of a powerful religious impulse, combined in a revolt (the first Amazonian movement) to put an end to promiscuity and established marriage."

Over and over again Bachofen affirms this spiritual quality in women.

"The woman's religious attitude, in particular, the tendency of her mind towards the supernatural and the divine, influenced the man and robbed him of the position which nature disposed him to take in virtue of his physical superiority. In this way women's position was transformed by religious considerations, until they became in civil life what religion had caused them to be."[13] And again: "We cannot fail to see that of the two forms of gynaecocracy in question—religious and civil—the former was the basis of the latter. Ideas connected with worship came first, and the civil forms of life were then the result and expression."[14]

[13] Ibid., Intro., p. xiv.

[14] Ibid., Intro., p. xv.

We may note in passing, the greater affectability of woman's nature, which would seem always to have had a tendency to expression in religio-erotic manifestations. But to build up a theory of matriarchy on this foundation is strangely wide of the facts. Bachofen adduces the spirituality of women as the cause of their power. But on what grounds can such a claim be supported?

It is on the evidence of licentious customs of all kinds and on polyandry, that he bases his belief in a period of promiscuity. He regards this early condition of hetairism as a law of nature, and believes that after its infraction by the introduction of individual marriage, expiation was required to be made to the Earth Goddess, Demeter, in temporary prostitution. Hence he explains the widespread custom of religious prostitution. This fanciful idea may be taken to represent Bachofen's method of interpretation. There is an intermediate stage between hetairism and marriage, such as the group-marriage, held by him to have been practised among barbarous peoples. "Each man has a wife, but they are all permitted to have intercourse with the wives of others."[15]

[15] Das Mutterrecht, p. 18.

Great stress is laid on the acquisition by women of the benefits of a marriage law. In the families founded upon individual marriage, which grew up after the Amazonian revolt, the women, and not the men, held the first place. Bachofen does not tell us whether they assigned this place to themselves, or had it conceded to them. Women were the heads of the families, the children were named after the mother, and not the father, and all the relations to which rights of succession attached were traced through women only. All property was held by women. Moreover, from this headship, women assigned to themselves, or had conceded to them, the social and political power as well as the domestic supremacy.[16]

[16] I have taken much of this passage from Mr. McLennan's criticism of Bachofen's theory, Studies in Ancient History, pp. 319-325.

The authority for this remarkable theory is sought, with great ingenuity and patience, in the fragmentary accounts of barbarous people, and in an exhaustive study of heroic stories and religious myths. Bachofen argues powerfully for the acceptance of these myths.

"Every age unconsciously obeys, even in its poetry, the laws of its individual life. A patriarchal age could not, therefore, have invented the matriarchate, and the myths which describe the latter may be regarded as trustworthy witnesses of its historical existence. It may be taken for granted that the myths did not refer to special persons and occurrences, but only tell us of the social customs and ideas which prevailed, or were endeavouring to prevail, in several communities."[17]

[17] Das Mutterrecht, Intro., pp. vii.-viii.

This is true. It is the interpretation given to many of these myths that one is compelled to question. Bachofen's way of applying mythical tales has no scientific method; for one thing, abstract ideas are added to primitive legends which could only arise from the thought of civilised peoples. For instance, he accepts, without any doubt, the existence of the Amazons; and believes that the myths which refer to them record "a revolt for the elevation of the feminine sex, and through them of mankind." It is on such insecure foundations he builds up his matriarchal theory.

There is, however, an aspect of truth in Bachofen's position, which becomes plain on a closer examination. To prove this, I must quote a passage from Das Mutterrecht, as representing, or at least suggesting, the opinions of those who have argued most strongly against his theory. When recapitulating the facts and arguments in favour of accepting the supremacy of women, he makes this suggestive statement—

"The first state in all cases was that of hetairism. The rule is based upon the right of procreation: since there is no individual fatherhood, all have only one father—the tyrant whose sons and daughters they all are, and to whom all the property belongs. From this condition in which the man rules by means of his rude sexual needs, we rise to that of gynaecocracy, in which there is the dawn of marriage, of which the strict observance is at first observed by the woman, not by the man. Weary of always ministering to the lusts of man, the woman raises herself by the recognition of her motherhood. Just as a child is first disciplined by its mother, so are people by their women. It is only the wife who can control the man's essentially unbridled desires, and lead him into the paths of well-doing.... While man went abroad on distant forays, the woman stayed at home, and was undisputed mistress of the household. She took arms against her foe, and was gradually transformed into an Amazon."[18]

[18] Das Mutterrecht, pp. 18-19.

The italics in the passage are mine, for they bear directly on what I shall afterwards have to prove: (1) that mother-right was not the first stage in the history of the human family; (2) that its existence is not inconsistent with the patriarchal theory. Bachofen here suggests a pre-matriarchal period in which the elementary family-group was founded on and held together by a common subjection to the oldest and strongest male. This is the primordial patriarchal family.

Then come the questions: Can we accept mother-right? Are there any reasonable causes to explain the rise of female dominance? Westermarck, in criticising the matriarchal theory, has said: "The inference that 'kinship through females only' has everywhere preceded the rise of 'kinship through males,' would be warranted only on condition that the cause, or the causes, to which the maternal system is owing, could be proved to have operated universally in the past life of mankind."[19] Now, this is what I believe I am able to do. Hence it has been necessary first to clear the way of the old errors. Bachofen's interpretation is too fanciful to find acceptance. Will any one hold it as true that the change came because women willed it? Surely it is a pure dream of the imagination to credit women, at this supposed early stage of society, with rising up to establish marriage, in a revolt of purity against sexual licence, and moreover effecting the change by force of arms! Bachofen would seem to have been touched with the Puritan spirit. I am convinced also that he understood very little of the nature of woman. Conventional morality has always acted on the side of the man, not the woman. The clue is, indeed, given in the woman's closer connection with the home, and in the idea that "she raises herself by the recognition of her motherhood." But the facts are capable of an entirely different interpretation. It will be my aim to give a quite simple, and even commonplace, explanation of the rise of mother-descent and mother-right in place of the spiritual hypothesis of Bachofen.

[19] The History of Human Marriage, p. 105.

It will be well, however, to examine further Bachofen's own theory. It is his opinion that the first Amazonian revolt and period of women's rule was followed by a second movement—

"Woman took arms against her foe [i. e. man], and was gradually transformed into an Amazon. As a rival to the man the Amazon became hostile to him, and began to withdraw from marriage and from motherhood. This set limits to the rule of women, and provoked the punishment of heaven and men."[20]

[20] Das Mutterrecht, p. 85.

There is a splendid imaginative appeal in this remarkable passage. Again the italics are mine. It is, of course, impossible to accept this statement, as Bachofen does, as an historical account of what happened through the agency of women at the time of which he is treating. Yet, we can find a suggestion of truth that is eternal. Is there not here a kind of prophetic foretelling of every struggle towards readjustment in the relationships of the two sexes, through all the periods of civilisation, from the beginning until now? You will see what I mean. The essential fact for woman—and also for man—is the sense of community with the race. Neither sex can keep a position apart from parenthood. Just in so far as the mother and the father attain to consciousness and responsibility in their relations to the race do they reach development and power. Bachofen, as a poet, understood this; to me, at least, it is the something real that underlies all the delusion of his work. But I diverge a little in making these comments.

Again the origin of the change from the first period of matriarchy is sought by Bachofen in religion.

"Each stage of development was marked by its peculiar religious ideas, produced by the dissatisfaction with which the dominating idea of the previous stage was regarded; a dissatisfaction which led to a disappearance of this condition." "What was gained by religion, fostering the cause of women, by assigning a mystical and almost divine character to motherhood was now lost through the same cause. The loss came in the Greek era. Dionysus started the idea of the divinity of fatherhood; holding the father to be the child's true parent, and the mother merely the nurse." In this way, we are asked to believe, the rights of men arose, the father came to be the chief parent, the head of the mother and the owner of the children, and, therefore, the parent through whom kinship was traced. We learn that, at first, "women opposed this new gospel of fatherhood, and fresh Amazonian risings were the common feature of their opposition." But the resistance was fruitless. "Jason put an end to the rule of the Amazons in Lemnos. Dionysus and Bellerophon strove together passionately, yet without gaining a decisive victory, until Apollo, with calm superiority, finally became the conqueror, and the father gained the power that before had belonged to the mother."[21]

[21] Das Mutterrecht, pp. 73, 85. Compare also McLennan, Studies, p. 322, and Starcke, The Primitive Family in its Origin and Development.

But before this took place, Bachofen relates yet another movement, which for a time restored the early matriarchate. The women, at first opposing, presently became converts to the Dionysusian gospel, and were afterwards its warmest supporters. Motherhood became degraded. Bacchanalian excesses followed, which led to a return to the ancient hetairism. Bachofen believes that this formed a fresh basis for a second gynaecocracy. He compares the Amazonian period of these later days with that in which marriage was first introduced, and finds that "the deep religious impulse being absent, it was destined to fail, and give place to the spiritual Apollonic conception of fatherhood."[22]

[22] Ibid., p. 85.

In Bachofen's opinion this triumph of fatherhood was the final salvation. This is what he says—

"It was the assertion of fatherhood which delivered the mind from natural appearances, and when this was successfully achieved, human existence was raised above the laws of natural life. The principal of motherhood is common to all the spheres of animal life, but man goes beyond this tie in gaining pre-eminence in the process of procreation, and thus becomes conscious of his higher vocation. In the paternal and spiritual principle he breaks through the bonds of tellurism, and looks upwards to the higher regions of the cosmos. Victorious fatherhood thus becomes as distinctly connected with the heavenly light as prolific motherhood is with the teeming earth."[23]

[23] Das Mutterrecht, Intro., p. xxvii.

Here, Bachofen, as is his custom, turns to point an analogy with the process of nature.

"All the stages of sexual life from Aphrodistic hetairism to the Apollonistic purity of fatherhood, have their corresponding type in the stages of natural life, from the wild vegetation of the morass, the prototype of conjugal motherhood, to the harmonic law of the Uranian world, to the heavenly light which, as the flamma non urens, corresponds to the eternal youth of fatherhood. The connection is so completely in accordance with law, that the form taken by the sexual relation in any period may be inferred from the predominance of one or other of these universal ideas in the worship of a people."[24]

[24] Ibid., Intro., p. xxix.

Such, in outline, is Bachofen's famous matriarchal theory. The passages I have quoted, with the comments I have ventured to give, make plain the poetic exaggeration of his view, and sufficiently prove why his theory no longer gains any considerable support. To build up a dream-picture of mother-rule on such foundations was, of necessity, to let it perish in the dust of scepticism. But is the downthrow complete? I believe not. A new structure has to be built up on a new and surer foundation, and it may yet appear that the prophetic vision of the dreamer enabled Bachofen to see much that has escaped the sight of those who have criticised and rejected his assumption that power was once in the hands of women.

One great source of confusion has arisen through the acceptance by the supporters of the matriarchate of the view that men and women lived originally in a state of promiscuity. This is the opinion of Bachofen, of McLennan, of Morgan, and also of many other authorities, who have believed maternal descent to be dependent on the uncertainty of fatherhood. It will be remembered that Mr. McLennan brought forward his theory almost simultaneously with that of Bachofen. The basis of his view is a belief in an ancient communism in women. He holds that the earliest form of human societies was the group or horde, and not the family. He affirms that these groups can have had no idea of kinship, and that the men would hold their women, like their other goods, in common, which is, of course, equal to a general promiscuity. There he agrees with Bachofen's belief in unbridled hetairism, but a very different explanation is given of the change which led to regulation, and the establishment of the maternal family.

According to Mr. McLennan, the primitive group or horde, though originally without explicit consciousness of relationships, were yet held together by a feeling of kin. Such feeling would become conscious first between the mother and her children, and, in this way, mother-kin must have been realised at a very early period. Mr. McLennan then shows the stages by which the savage would gradually, by reflection, reach a knowledge of the other relationships through the mother, sister and brother relationships, mother's brother and mother's sister, and all the degrees of mother-kin, at a time before the father's relation to his children had been established. The children, though belonging at first to the group, would remain attached to the mothers, and the blood-tie established between them would, as promiscuity gave place to more regulated sexual relationships, become developed into a system. All inheritance would pass through women only, and, in this way, mother-right would tend to be more or less strongly developed. The mother would live alone with her children, the only permanent male members of the family being the sons, who would be subordinate to her. The husband would visit the wife, as is the custom under polyandry, which form of the sexual relationship Mr. McLennan believes was developed from promiscuity—a first step towards individual marriage. Even after the next step was taken, and the husband came to live with his wife, his position was that of a visitor in her home, where she would have the protection of her own kindred. She would still be the owner of her children, who would bear her name, and not the father's; and the inheritance of all property would still be in the female line.[25]

[25] Studies in Ancient History, pp. 83, et seq.

We have here what appears to be a much more reasonable explanation of mother-kin and mother-right than that of Bachofen. Yet many have argued powerfully against it. Westermarck especially, has shown that belief in an early stage of promiscuous relationship is altogether untenable.[26] It is needless here to enter into proof of this.[27] What matters now is that with the giving up of promiscuity the whole structure of McLennan's theory falls to pieces. He takes it for granted that at one period paternity was unrecognised; but this is very far from being true. The idea of the father's relationship to the child is certainly known among the peoples who trace descent through the mother; the system is found frequently where strict monogamy is practised. Again, Mr. McLennan connects polyandry with mother-descent, regarding the custom of plurality of husbands as a development from promiscuity. Here, too, he has been proved to be in error. Whatever the causes of the origin of polyandry, it has no direct connection with mother-kin, although it is sometimes practised by peoples who observe that system.

[26] History of Human Marriage, pp. 51-133. It is on this question that my own opinion has been changed, compare The Truth about Woman, p. 120.

[27] See next chapter on the Patriarchal Theory.

For myself, I incline to the opinion that the system by which inheritance passes through the mother needs no explanation. It was necessarily (and, as I believe, is still) the natural method of tracing descent. Moreover, it was adopted as a matter of course by primitive peoples among whom property considerations had not arisen. Afterwards what had started as a habit was retained as a system. The reasons for naming children after the mother did not rest on relationship, the earliest question was not one of kinship, but of association. Those were counted as related to one another who dwelt together.[28] The children lived with the mother, and therefore, as a matter of course, were called after her, and not the father, who did not live in the same home.

[28] Starcke, The Primitive Family in its Origin and Development, pp. 36, 37.

All these questions will be understood better as we proceed with our inquiry. The important thing to fix in our minds is that mother-kin and mother-right (contrary to the opinion of McLennan and others) may very well have arisen quite independently of dubious fatherhood. It thus becomes evident that the maternal system offers no evidence for the hypothesis of promiscuity; we shall find, in point of fact, that it arose out of the regulation of the sexual relations, and had no connection with licence. It is necessary to understand this clearly.

Bachofen is much nearer to what is likely to have happened in the first stage of the family than Mr. McLennan, though he also mistakenly connects the maternal system with unregulated hetairism. Still he suggests (though it would seem quite unconsciously) the patriarchal hypothesis, which founds the family first on the brute-force of the male. Mother-right has been discredited chiefly, as far as I have been able to find, because it is impossible to accept, at this early period, sexual conditions of the friendly ownership of women, entirely opposed to what was the probable nature of brute man. At this stage the eldest male in the family would be the ruler, and he would claim sexual rights over all the women in the group. Bachofen postulates a revolt of women to establish marriage. We have seen that such a supposition, in the form in which he puts it, is without any credible foundation. Yet, it is part of my theory that there was a revolt of women, or rather a combination of the mothers of the group, which led to a change in the direction of sexual regulation and order. But the causes of such revolt, and the way in which it was accomplished, were, in my opinion, entirely different from those which Bachofen supposes. The arguments in support of my view will be given in the next two chapters.



The foundation of the Patriarchal theory is the jealous sexual nature of the male. This is important; indeed profoundly significant. The strongest argument against promiscuity is to be gained from what we know of this factor of jealousy in the sexual relationships.

"The season of love is the season of battle," says Darwin. Such was the law passed on to man from millions of his ancestral lovers. The action of this law[29] may be observed at its fiercest intensity among man's pre-human ancestors. Courtship without combat is rare among all male quadrupeds, and special offensive and defensive weapons for use in these love-fights are found; for this is the sex-tragedy of the natural world, the love-tale red-written in blood.

[29] The reader is referred to The Truth about Woman, pp. 87-114. In the courtships and perfect love marriages of many birds we find jealous combats replaced by the peaceful charming of the female by the male.

This factor of sexual jealousy—the conflict of the male for possession of the female—has not been held in sufficient account by those who regard promiscuity as being the earliest stage in the sexual relationships. That jealousy is still a powerful agent even in the most civilised races is a fact on which it is unnecessary to dwell. This being so, and since the action of jealousy is so strong in the animal kingdom, it cannot be supposed to have been dormant among primitive men. Rather, in the infancy of his history this passion must have acted with very great intensity. Thus it becomes impossible to accept any theory of the community of women in the earliest stage of the family. For inevitably such peaceful association would be broken up by jealous battles among the males, in which the strongest member would kill or drive away his rivals.

Great stress is laid, by the supporters of promiscuity, on the danger that such conflicts must have been to the growing community. It is, therefore, held that in order to prevent this check on their development, it was necessary for the male members not to give way to jealousy, but to be content with promiscuous ownership of women. But this is surely to credit savage man with a control of the driving jealous instinct that he could not then have had? What we do not find in the sexual conduct of men, as they now are, cannot be credited as existing in the infancy of social life. We fall into many mistakes in judging these questions of sex; we under-estimate the strength of love-passion—the uncounted ancestral forces dating back to the remote beginnings of life. Doubtless conflicts over the possession of women were frequent from the beginning of man's history. But these disputes would not lead to promiscuous intercourse, only to a change in the tyrant male, who ruled over the women in the group.

Another fact against a belief in promiscuity is that the lowest savages known to us are not promiscuous, in so far as there is no proved case of the sexual relations being absolutely unregulated. They all recognise sets of women with whom certain sets of men can have no marital relations. Again these savages are very far removed from the state of man's first emergence from the brute, as is proved by their combination into large and friendly tribes. Such peaceful aggregation could only have arisen at a much later period, and after the males had learnt by some means to control their brute appetites and jealousy of rivals in that movement towards companionship, which, first resting in the sexual needs, broadens out into the social instincts.

For these reasons, then, we conclude that the theory of a friendly union having existed among males in the primitive group is the very reverse of the truth. This question has now been sufficiently proved. I am thus brought into agreement with Dr. Westermarck, Mr. Crawley, and Mr. Lang, in his examination of Mr. Atkinson's Primal Law, as well as with other writers, all of whom have shown that promiscuity cannot be accepted as a stage in the early life of the human family.

I have now to show how far this rejection of promiscuity affects our position with regard to mother-descent and mother-right. It is clearly of vital importance to any theory that its foundations are secure. One foundation—that of promiscuity, on which Bachofen and McLennan, the two upholders of matriarchy, base their hypothesis—has been overthrown. It thus becomes necessary to approach the question from an altogether different position. Mother-right must be explained without any reference to unregulated sexual conduct. I am thus turned back to examine the opposing theory to matriarchy, which founds the family on the patriarchal authority of the father. Nor is this all. What we must expect a true theory to do is to show conditions that are applicable not only to special cases, but in their main features to mankind in general. I have to prove that such conditions arose in the primitive patriarchal family as it advanced towards social aggregation, that would not only make possible, but, as I believe, would necessitate the power of the mothers asserting its force in the group-family. Only when this is done can I hope that a new belief in mother-right may find acceptance.

The patriarchal theory stated in its simplest form is this: Primeval man lived in small family groups, composed of an adult male, and of his wife, or, if he were powerful, several wives, whom he jealously guarded from the sexual advances of all other males. In such a group the father is the chief or patriarch as long as he lives, and the family is held together by their common subjection to him. As for the children, the daughters as soon as they grow up are added to his wives, while the sons are driven out from the home at the time they reach an age to be dangerous as sexual rivals to their father. The important thing to note is that in each group there would be only one adult polygamous male, with many women of different ages and young children. I shall return to this later. Such is the marked difference in the position of the two sexes—the solitary jealously unsocial father and the united mothers. I can but wonder how its significance has escaped the attention of the many inquirers, who have sought the truth in this matter. Probably the explanation is to be found in this: they have been interested mainly in one side of the family—the male side; I am interested in the other side—in the women members of the group. The position of women has seemed of primary importance to very few. Bachofen is almost alone in placing this question first, and his mystical far-fetched hypothesis has failed to find acceptance.

Let me now, in order to make the position clearer, continue a rough grouping of the supposed conditions in this primordial family, with all its members in subjection to the common father. It may be argued that we can know nothing at all about the family and the position of the two sexes at this brute period. This is true. The conditions are, of course, conjectural, and any suggested conclusions to be drawn from them must be still more so. Yet some hypothesis must be risked as a starting-point for any theory that attempts to go so far back in the stream of time.

We may suppose, then, that mankind aboriginally lived in small families in much the same way as the great monkeys: we see the same conditions, for instance, among the families of gorillas, where the group never becomes large. The male leader will not endure the rivalry of the young males, and as soon as they grow up a contest takes place, and the strongest and eldest male, by killing or driving out the others, maintains his position as the tyrant head of the family.[30]

[30] Darwin, Descent of Man. Wallace, The Malay Archipelago, and Brehm, Thierleben.

This may be taken as a picture of the human brute-family. It is clear that the relation of the father to the other group members was not one of kinship, but of power. "Every female in my crowd is my property," says—or feels—Mr. Atkinson's patriarchal anthropoid, "and the patriarch gives expression to his sentiment with teeth and claws, if he has not yet learned to double up his fist with a stone in it. These were early days."[31]

[31] Social Origins and Primal Law, pp. 4, 21. Westermarck, pp. 13, 42. Primal Law, pp. 209-212.

We may conclude that there would be many of these groups, each with a male head, his wives and adult daughters, and children of both sexes. It is probable that they lived a nomadic life, finding a temporary home in a cave, rock, or tree-shelter, in some place where the supply of food was plentiful. The area of their wanderings would be fixed by the existence of other groups; for such groups would almost certainly be mutually hostile to each other, watchfully resenting any intrusion on their own feeding ground. A further, and more powerful, cause of hostility would arise from the sexual antagonism of the males. Around each group would be the band of exiled sons, haunting their former hearth-homes, and forming a constant element of danger to the solitary paternal tyrant. This I take to be important as we shall presently see. For, the most urgent necessity of these young men, after the need for food, must have been to obtain wives. This could be done only by capturing women from one or other of the groups. The difficulties attending such captures must have been great. It is, therefore, probable the young men at first kept together, sharing their wives in polyandrous union. But this condition would not continue, the group thus formed would inevitably break up at the adult stage under the influence of jealousy; the captured wives would be fought for and carried off by the strongest males to form fresh groups.

In this matter I have given the opinion of Mr. Atkinson and Mr. Lang. They hold that no permanent peaceful union could have been maintained among the groups of young men and their captive wives. Mr. Atkinson gives the reason—

"Their unity could only endure as long as the youthfulness of the members necessitated union for protection, and their immaturity prevented the full play of sexual passion." And again: "The necessary Primal Law which alone could determine peace within a family circle by recognising a distinction between female and male (the indispensable antecedent to a definition of marital rights) could never have arisen in such a body. It follows if such a law was ever evoked, it must have been from within the only other assembly in existence, viz. that headed by the solitary polygamous patriarch."[32]

[32] Social Origins and Primal Law, p. 230. Mr. Atkinson writes this to show that there can be no connection between these groups of young males and the polyandrous marriages of Mr. McLennan's theory. The first italics in the passage are his own; the second are mine. Why I wish to emphasise this point will soon be seen. I have already mentioned how I was recommended to read Social Origins to convince me of my mistake in accepting the mother-age. It has done just the opposite, and has given me the clue to many difficulties that I was before unable to clear up. This is why I am following this book rather than other authorities in my examination of the patriarchal theory. I take this opportunity of recording my debt to the authors, and of expressing my thanks to Mr. Wells, who recommended me to read the book.

Whether Mr. Atkinson is right I shall not attempt to say; the point is one on which I hesitate a decided opinion; but as this view affords support to my own theory I shall accept it.

Now, to consider the bearing of this on our present inquiry. So far I have followed very closely the family group gathered around the patriarchal tyrant, under the conditions given by Mr. Atkinson and Mr. Lang, in Social Origins and Primal Law. It will not, I think, have escaped the notice of the reader that very little has been said about the women and their children. There is no hint at all that the women must have lived a life of their own, different in its conditions from that of the men. The female members, it would seem, have been taken for granted and not considered, except in so far as their presence is necessary to excite the jealous sexual combats of the males. This seems to be very instructive. The idea of the subjection of all females to the solitary male has been accepted without question. But the group consisted of many women and only one adult man. Yet in spite of this, the man is held to be the essential member; all the family obey him. His wife (or wives) and his daughters, though necessary to his pleasure as also to continue the group, are regarded as otherwise unimportant, in fact, mere property possessions to him. Now, I am very sure the rights these group-women must have held have been greatly underrated, and the neglect to recognise this has led, I think, to many mistakes. I am willing to accept the authority of the polygamous patriarch—within limits. But it seems probable, as I shall shortly indicate, that a predominant influence in the domestic life is to be ascribed to the women, and, therefore, "the movement towards peace within the group circle" must be looked for as a result from the feminine side of the family, rather than from the male side. There is still another point: I maintain that precisely through the concentration of the male ruler on the sexual subjection of his females, conditions must have arisen, affecting the conduct and character of the women: conditions, moreover, that would bring them inevitably more and more into a position of power.

It remains for me to suggest what I believe these conditions to have been. Meanwhile let us keep one fact steadily before our minds. The fierce sexual jealousy of the males had by some means to be controlled. It is evident that the way towards social progress could be found only by the peaceful aggregation of these solitary hostile groups; and this could not be done without breaking down the rule that strength and seniority in the male conferred upon him marital right over all the females. In other words, the tyrant patriarch had in some way to learn to tolerate the presence of other adult males on friendly terms within his own group. We have to find how this first, but momentous, step in social progress was taken.

Let us concentrate now our attention on the domestic life of the women. And first we must examine more carefully the exact conditions that we may suppose to have existed in these hostile groups. The father is the tyrant of the band—an egoist. Any protection he affords the family is in his own interests, he is chief much more than father. His sons he drives away as soon as they are old enough to give him any trouble; his daughters he adds to his harem. We may conceive that the domination of his sexual jealousy must have chiefly occupied his time and his attention. It is probable that he was fed by his women; at least it seems certain that he cannot have provided food for them and for all the children of the group. Sex must have been uninterruptedly interesting to him. In the first place he had to capture his wife, or wives, then he had to fight for the right of sole possession. Afterwards he had to guard his women, especially his daughters, from being carried off, in their turn, by younger males, his deadly rivals, who, exiled by sexual jealousy from his own and the other similar hearth-homes, would come, with each returning year, more and more to be feared. An ever-recurring and growing terror would dog each step of the solitary paternal despot, and necessitate an unceasing watchfulness against danger, and even an anticipation of death. For when old age, or sickness decreased his power of holding his own, then the tables would be turned, and the younger men, so hardly oppressed, would raise their hands against him in parricidal strife.

You will see what all this strife suggests—the unstable and adventitious relation of the man to the social hearth-group. Such conditions of antagonism of each male against every other male must favour the assumption that no advance in peace—on which alone all future progress depended—could have come from the patriarchs. Jealousy forced them into unsocial conduct.

But advance by peace to progress was by some means to be made. I believe that the way was opened up by women.

I hasten to add, however, in case I am mistaken here, that I am very far from wishing to set up any claim of superiority for savage woman over savage man. The momentous change was not, indeed, the result of any higher spiritual quality in the female, nor was it a religious movement, as is the beautiful dream of Bachofen. I do not think we can credit "a movement" as having taken place at all, rather the change arose gradually, inevitably, and quite simply. To postulate a conscious movement towards progress organised by women is surely absurd. Human nature does not start on any new line of conduct voluntarily, rather it is forced into it in connection with the conditions of life. Just as savage man was driven into unsocial conduct, so, as I shall try to show, savage woman was led by the same conditions acting in an opposite direction, into social conduct.

My own thought was drawn first to this conclusion by noting the behaviour of a band of female turkeys with their young. It was a year ago. I was staying in a Sussex village, and near by my home was the meadow of a farm in which families of young turkeys were being reared. Here I often sat; and one day it chanced that I was reading Social Origins and Primal Law. I had reached the chapter on "Man in the Brutal Stage," in which Mr. Atkinson gives the supposed facts of brute man, and the action of his jealousy in the family group. I was very much impressed; my reason told me that what the author stated so well was probably right. Such sexually jealous conduct on the part of savage man was likely to be true; it was much easier to accept this than the state of promiscuous intercourse, with its friendly communism in women, in which I had hitherto believed. I really was very much disturbed. For I was still unshaken in my belief in mother-right. How were the two theories to be reconciled?

Often it is a small thing that points to the way for which one is seeking. All at once my little boy, who had been playing in the field, called out, "Oh, look at the Gobble-gobble,"—the name by which he called the male-turkey. The cock, his great tail spread, his throat swelling, was swaggering across the field, making an immense amount of noisy disturbance. A group of females and young birds, many of them almost full grown, were near to where we were sitting; they had been rooting about in the ground getting their food. Their fear at the approach of the strutting male was manifest. All the band gathered together, with the young in the centre, led and flanked by the mothers. As the male continued to advance upon them they retreated further and further, and finally took harbour in a barn. Here the swaggerer tried to follow them, but the rear females turned and faced him and drove him off.

I had found the clue that I was seeking. All I had been reading now had a clear meaning for me. In my delight, I laughed aloud. I saw the egoism of the solitary male; I knew the meaning of the females' retreat; they were guarding the young from the feared attacks of the father. I realised how the male's unsocial conduct towards his offspring had forced the females to unite with one another. The cock's strength, the gorgeous display of sex-charms, were powerless before this peaceful combination. He was alone, a tyrant—the destroyer of the family. But I saw, too, that his polygamous jealousy served as a means to the end of advance in progress. It was the male's non-social conduct that had forced social conduct upon the females. And I understood that the patriarchal tyrant was just the one thing I had been looking for. My belief in mother-power had gained a new and, as I felt then in the first delight of that discovery, and as I still feel, a much surer, because a simpler and more natural foundation.

Having now defined my position, and having related how such conviction came to me, let me proceed to examine the causes that would lead to the assertion of women's power, in the aboriginal family group. From what has been said, the following conditions acting on the women, may, it is submitted, be fairly deduced.

1. In the group, which comprised the mothers, the adult daughters, and the young of both sexes, the women would live on terms of association as friendly hearth-mates.

2. The strongest factor in this association would arise from the dependence of the children upon their mothers; a dependence that was of much longer duration than among the animals, on account of the pre-eminent helplessness of the human child, which entailed a more prolonged infancy.

3. The women and their children would form the group, to which the father was attached by his sexual needs, but remained always a member apart—a kind of jealous fighting specialisation.

4. The temporary hearth-home would be the shelter of the women; and it was under this shelter that children were born and the group accumulated its members. Whether cave, or hollow tree, or some frail shelter, the home must have belonged to the women.

5. And this state would necessarily attach the mothers to the home, much more closely than the father, whose desire lay in the opposite direction of disrupting the home. Moreover this attachment always would be present and acting on the female children, who, unless captured, would remain with the mothers, while it could never arise in the case of the sons, whose fate was to be driven from the home. Such conditions must, as time went on, have profoundly modified the women's outlook, bending their desires to a steady, settled life, conditions under which alone the germ of social organisation could develop.

6. Again, the daily search for the daily food must have been undertaken chiefly by the women. For it is impossible that one man, however skilful a hunter, could have fed all the female members and children of the group. We may conceive that his attention and his time must have been occupied largely in fighting his rivals; while much of his strength, as sole progenitor, must have been expended in sex. It is therefore probable that frequently the patriarch was dependent on the food activities of his women.

7. The mothers, their inventive faculties quickened by the stress of child-bearing and child-rearing, would learn to convert to their own uses the most available portion of their environment. It would be under the attention of the women that plants were first utilised for food. Seeds would be beaten out, roots and tubers dug for, and nuts and fruits gathered in their season and stored for use. Birds would have to be snared, shell-fish and fish would be caught; while, at a later period, animals would be tamed for service. Primitive domestic vessels to hold and to carry water, baskets to store the food supplies would have to be made. Clothes for protection against the cold would come to be fashioned. All the faculties of the women, in exercises that would lead to the development of every part of their bodies, would be called into play by the work of satisfying the physical needs of the group.

8. This interest and providence for the family would certainly have its effect on the development of the women. The formation of character is largely a matter of attention, and the attention of the mothers being fixed on the supply of the necessary food, doubtless often difficult to obtain, their energies would be driven into productive activities, much more than in the case of the father, whose attention was fixed upon himself.

9. In all these numerous activities the women of each group would work together. And through this co-operation must have resulted the assertion of the women's power, as the directors and organisers of industrial occupations. As the group slowly advanced in progress, such power increasing would raise the women's position; the mothers would establish themselves permanently as of essential value in the family, not only as the givers of life, but as the chief providers of the food essential to the preservation of the life of its members.

10. And a further result would follow in the treatment by the male of this new order. The women by obtaining and preparing food would gain an economic value. Wives would become to the patriarch a source of riches, indispensable to him, not only on account of his sex needs, but on account of the more persistent need of food. Thus the more women he possessed the greater would be his own comfort, and the physical prosperity of the group. The women would become of ever greater importance, and the economic power that they thus acquired would more and more favourably influence their position.

11. There is one other matter in this connection. The greater number of women in the group the stronger would become their power of combination. I attach great importance to this. Working together for the welfare of all, the social motive would grow stronger in women, so that necessarily they would come to consider the collective interests of the group. Can it be credited that such conditions could have acted upon the patriarch, whose conduct would still be inspired by individual appetite and selfish inclinations? I maintain such a view to be impossible.

12. Another advantage, I think, would arise for women out of the male's jealous tyranny in the sexual relationship. Such an idea may appear strange, if we think only of the subjection of the females to the brute-appetite of the patriarch. Yet there is another side. The women must have gained freedom by being less occupied with sex passions, and also from being less jealously interested in the man than he was in them. It may be urged that the women would be jealous of each other. I do not think this could have been. Jealousy has its roots in the consciousness of possession, and is only aroused through fear of loss. This could not have acted with any great power among the women in the patriarchal group. Their interest of possession in sex must have been less acute in consciousness than the interest of the male. Doubtless the woman would be attracted by the male's courageous action in fighting his rivals for possession of her, but when the rival was the woman's son such attraction would come into strong conflict with the deeper maternal instinct.

13. From the standpoint of physical strength, the patriarch was the master, the tyrant ruler of the group, who, doubtless, often was brutal enough. But the women, leading an independent life to some extent, and with their mental ingenuity developed by the conditions of their life, would learn, I believe, to outwit their master by passive united resistance. They would come to utilise their sex charms as an accessory of success. Thus the unceasing sexual preoccupation of the male, with the emotional dependence it entailed on the females, must, I would suggest, have given women an immense advantage. If I am right here, the patriarch would be in the power of his women, much more surely than they would be in his power.

14. Again, an antagonism must have arisen between the despot father and his women, in particular with his daughters, forced to submit to his brute-passions. I confess I find grave difficulty in reconciling the view that the group-daughters would willingly become the wives of their father. I cannot conceive them without some power to exercise that choice in love, which is the right of the female throughout nature. There is great insistence by Mr. Atkinson, and all who have written on the subject, on the sexual passions of the males, while the desires of the women are not considered at all. Apparently they are held to have had none! This affords yet another instance of the strange concentration on the male side of the family. It is taken for granted, for instance, that in every case the young men, when driven from their home, had to capture their wives from other groups. I would suggest that often the capture was aided by the woman herself; she may even have escaped from the hearth-home in her desire to find a partner, preferring the rule of a young tyrant to an old one, who moreover was her father. I believe, too, that the wives and mothers must frequently have asserted their will in rebellion. I picture, indeed, these savage women ever striving for more privileges, and step by step advancing through peaceful combination to power.

15. I desire also to maintain that all I have here suggested finds support from what is known of the position of women among primitive peoples; and I may add also, from the character of women to-day.

Now I have summarised briefly what seem to me the probable conditions of the women's daily life in these earliest groups. I have attempted to show how the sexual jealousy, which acted for the destruction of the mutually hostile male members, would necessitate for the women conditions in many ways favourable; conditions of union in which lay the beginnings of peace and order. What we have to fix in our thoughts is the significant fact of the sociability of the women's lives in contrast with the solitude of the jealous sire, watchfully resenting the intrusion of all other males. Such conditions cannot have failed to domesticate the women, and urged them forward to the work that was still to be done in domesticating man. During the development of the family, we may expect that the patriarch will seek to hold his rights, and that the women will exert their influence more and more in breaking these down; and this is precisely what we do find, as I presently shall show.

One point further. It may, of course, be urged that all I am affirming for women in this far back beginning is but a process of ingenious guessing. Such criticism is just. But I am speaking of conditions at a time when conjecture is necessary. I venture to say that my suggestions are in accord with what is likely to have happened. Moreover, many difficulties will be made clearer if these guesses are accepted. I believe that here in the earliest patriarchal stage we have already the germs of the maternal family. All the chances for success in power rested with the united mothers, rather than with the solitary father. Assuredly the jealous patriarchs paid a heavy price for their sexual domination.



The essential question, now, is how these small hostile groups were brought by association to expand into larger groups. In what way was the sexual monopoly of the male ruler first curbed, and afterwards broken down, for only by this being done could peace be gained? However advantageous the habits of the patriarch may have been for himself, they were directly opposed to progress. Jealousy depends on the failure to recognise the rights of others. This sexual egoism, by which one man through his strength and seniority held marital rights over all the females of his group, had to be struck at its roots. In other words, the solitary despot had to learn to tolerate the association of other adult males.

How was this happy change to be brought about? Social qualities are surely developed in the character by union with one's fellow beings. From what has been stated, it seems certain that it was in the interests of the women to consolidate the family, and by means of association to establish their own power. Jealousy is an absolutely non-social quality. Regarding its influence, it is certainly absurd to believe any voluntary association to have been possible among the males of the hostile patriarchal groups; to credit this is to give the lie to the entire theory. We are driven, therefore, to seek for the beginnings of social conduct among the women. I have suggested the conditions forcing them into combination with one another against the tyranny of the patriarch. I have now to show how these causes, continually acting, brought the women step by step into a position of authority and power. There is, however, no suggestion of a spiritual revolt on the part of women. I do not wish to set up any claim for, because I do not believe in, the superiority of one sex over the other sex. Character is determined by the conditions of living. If, as I conceive, progress came through savage women, rather than through savage men, it was because the conditions were really more favourable to them, and drove them on in the right path. However strange it may appear, their sexual subjection to the fierce jealousy of the patriarch acted as a means to an end in advancing peace.

The strongest force of union between the women would grow out of the consciousness of an ever-threatening and common danger. Not only had the young to be fed and cared for during infancy and childhood, but, as they grew in years, they had to be guarded from the father, whose relation to his offspring was that of an enemy. It has been seen how the sons were banished at puberty from the family group to maintain the patriarch's marital rights. Doubtless the strength of maternal love gained in intensity through the many failures in conflicts, that must have taken place with the tyrant fathers. Would not this community of suffering tend to force the women to unite with one another, at each renewed banishment of their sons? May they not, after the banishment, have assisted their sons in the capture of their wives? I think it must be allowed that this is possible. And there is another point to notice. The exiled sons and their captured wives would each have a mother in the groups they had left. May it not be conceived that, as time brought progress in intelligence, some friendly communication might have been established between group and group, in defiance of the jealous guardianship of the patriarchs? Thus, through the danger, ever to be feared in every family, there might open up a way by sympathy to a possible future union.

It is part of my supposition that every movement towards friendship must have arisen among the women. This is no fanciful idea of my own. Mr. Atkinson, one of the strongest supporters of the patriarchal theory, agrees with this view, though he does not seem to see its origin, and does not follow up its deep suggestion. By him the movement in advance is narrowed to a single issue of peace between the father and his sons, but this great step is credited to the influence of the mothers. I must quote the passages that refer to this—[33]

[33] Primal Law, pp. 231-232.

"At the renewed banishment of each of her male progeny by the jealous patriarch, the mother's feelings and instincts would be increasingly lacerated and outraged. Her agonised efforts to retain at least her last and youngest would be even stronger than with her first born. It is exceedingly important to observe that her chances of success in this case would be much greater. When this last and dearest son approached adolescence, it is not difficult to perceive that the patriarch must have reached an age when the fire of desire may have become somewhat dull, whilst, again, his harem, from the presence of numerous adult daughters, would be increased to an extent that might have overtaxed his once more active powers. Given some such rather exceptional situation, where a happy opportunity in superlative mother love wrestled with a for once satiated paternal appetite in desire, we may here discern a possible key of the sociological problem which occupies us, and which consisted in a conjunction within one group of two adult males."

In the next paragraph the author presents the situation which in this way might have arisen—

"We must conceive that, in the march of the centuries, on some fateful day, the bloody tragedy in the last act of the familiar drama was avoided, and the edict of exile or death left unpronounced. Pure maternal love triumphed over the demons of lust and jealousy. A mother succeeded in keeping by her side a male child, and thus, by a strange coincidence, that father and son, who, amongst all mammals, had been the most deadly enemies, were now the first to join hands. So portentous an alliance might well bring the world to their feet. The family would now present for the first time, the until then unknown spectacle of the inclusion within a domestic circle, and amidst its component females, of an adolescent male youth. It must, however, be admitted that such an event, at such an epoch, demanded imperatively very exceptional qualities, both physiological and psychological, in the primitive agents. The new happy ending to that old-world drama which had run so long through blood and tears, was an innovation requiring very unusually gifted actors. How many failures had doubtless taken place in its rehearsal during the centuries, with less able or happy interpreters!"

Mr. Atkinson supposes that success in the new experiment "was rendered possible by the rise of new powers in nascent man." Here I do not follow him. "The germ of altruism," which he sees as "already having risen to make its force felt" was, indeed, as he says "an important factor." But is it credible that this altruism existed in the father? I can conceive him being won over through his own emotional dependence on some specially pleasing woman; he may well have had favourites among his wives. I cannot accept "altruism" as a reason for his conduct, under conditions acting in an exact opposite way in fostering and increasing egoism. Much more probable is the supposition that he "must have reached the age when the fire of desire had become somewhat dulled."

I must also take exception to a further statement of Mr. Atkinson, "that with such prolonged infancy there had been opportunity for the development of paternal philoprogenitiveness." And again: "It is evident that such long-continued presence of sons could but result in a certain mutual sympathy, however inevitable the eventual exile." It is unnecessary for me to labour this question. I may, however, point out, that the identical conditions of the family among the anthropoid apes (on whom Mr. Atkinson bases his patriarchy) do not afford any proof of paternal altruism. The polygamous jealous father never enters into friendly union with the other males. He is strong and sexually beautiful, but he is never social in his domestic conduct. He is the tyrant in the family, and the young are guarded from his attacks by the mothers. With the mothers there is protection and safety, with the father ownership. The whole argument of the patriarchal theory is based on the fact of the jealous conduct of the male. Driven to live in solitary enmity, the patriarch could not voluntarily tolerate the presence of a rival, if he was to maintain his position as ruler. It is impossible to get away from this. Mr. Atkinson comes very near to this essential truth, when he suggests (though he does not fully acknowledge) that the first step in social development came through the mother's love for her child; but at once he turns aside from this, drawn, I think unconsciously, to the common opinion of the complete subjection of the females to the male, an opinion always making it difficult to accept the initiative in reform as coming from the woman.

The exclusive and persisting idea of Mr. Atkinson's theory is to establish the action of what he calls "the primal law." Only by limiting and defining the marital rights of the males over the females could advancement be gained. Until this was done these small hostile groups could not become larger, and expand into the clan or tribe.

I must follow this question a little although it leads us aside from the immediate subject of my own inquiry. The first step in progress has been taken; by the triumph of maternal love, an adult male son is now included in the group. We must conceive that this victory, having once been gained by one mother, would be repeated by other mothers. Afterwards, as time went on, the advantage in strength gained to the group by this increase in their male members, would tend to encourage the custom. One may reasonably assume that it became established as a habit in each group that once had taken the first step. Father and sons, for so long enemies, now enter on a truce.

It must not, however, be concluded that sexual peace followed this new order. It is part of Mr. Atkinson's theory that the patriarch's sexual jealousy would not be broken down by his tolerance of the presence of his sons. Peace could be maintained only so long as the intruders respected his marital rights. Under this condition, all the group women, as they all belonged to the patriarch, would be taboo to the young men; otherwise there would be a fight, and the offending son would be driven into exile. Doubtless this frequently happened, but the advantages gained by union would tend to prevent the danger. Some means of preserving sexual peace within the group certainly would come to be established. "For the first time," as Mr. Atkinson points out, "we encounter the factor which is to be the leading power in future metamorphosis, i. e. an explicit distinction between female and female as such."

Through this bar placed on the female members within the family circle, the sons, who remained in peace, would be forced to continue the practice of capturing their wives, and would bring in women to live with them from other groups. It is assumed that these captures were in all cases hostile. I have given my reasons for disagreeing with this view. I hold that the young women may have been glad to have been taken by the young men, and most probably assisted them, in a surely not unnatural desire to escape from their tyrant fathers. I really cannot credit such continued sexual subjection on the part of the group-daughters, an opinion which arises, I am certain, from the curious misconception of the passivity of the human female in love.

I do not wish to conceal that my conjecture of an active part having been taken by the women, both in their captures and also in all the relationships of the family, is opposed to the great majority of learned opinion. The reason for this already has been suggested. Almost invariably the writers on these questions are men, and there is, I imagine, a certain blindness in their view. I am convinced that from the earliest beginnings of the human family women have exercised a much stronger and more direct influence than is usually believed. All the movements towards regulation and progress, so ingeniously worked out by Mr. Atkinson, are easier to credit if we accept the initiative as having come from the group-mothers. I have an inward conviction of an unchanging law between the two sexes, and though I cannot here attempt to give any proof, it seems to me, we can always trace the absorption by the male of female ideas. The man accepts what the woman brings forward, and then assumes the control, believing he is the originator of her ideas. Take this case of capture: If, as I suggest, the young women assisted or even took the initiative in their own captures, they would very plainly not be willing to allow sexual relationships with another hoary patriarch. I would urge that here again it was by the action of the young women, rather than the young men, that the new order was established. But this is a small matter. If I am right, the communal living and common danger among the women would powerfully bind them together in union, and sever them from the male rulers. Once this is granted, it follows that social consciousness in the women must have been stronger than in the solitary males. Then there can be no possible doubt of the part taken by women in the slow advancement of the group by regulation to social peace. Moreover, I believe, that confirmation of what is here claimed for women will be found (as will appear in the later part of my inquiry) in many social habits among existing primitive peoples, who still live under the favourable conditions of the maternal family; habits that suggest a long evolutionary process, and that can be explained only if they have arisen in a very remote beginning. But enough on this subject has now been said.

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