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Women in Antiquity: CLAS 330/HUM 330/WS 330 (3 units)
Presession, Summer 1995: Monday, May 15 - Saturday, June 3
9:00 -11:50 AM MTWTHF ML 312
Instructor: Marilyn B. Skinner (

Lecture 1: Patriarchy


  1. Why study ancient women? Past illuminates contemporary problems of race, class and gender.
  2. Two perspectives:
    1. Continuity of fundamental gender roles
    2. Difference in social construction of roles
  3. Realities vs. representations
  4. Groups of women for which we have evidence


  1. Sex vs. gender (first distinguished by Plato)
  2. Sex/gender system: scheme of social relations in which resources are allotted differently according to sex, with justification based on gender
  3. Public/domestic dichotomy:
    1. women associated with domestic, men with public, sphere
    2. domestic sphere undervalued in public (male) discourse

Patriarchy (in this course, a technical, value-free term)

  1. Definition: institutionalized male dominance over female kin and children, with the general extension of male dominance over all women in the society
  2. Nature or culture: If patriarchy is a "natural" phenomenon, then it's ineradicable. If it is a social response to environmental conditions, it can change as environmental conditions change.
  3. "Creation of Patriarchy" (Lerner): a social construction originating in the West approximately 3000 B.C.
  4. CENTRAL ISSUE: for species survival, female reproduction must be maximized
    1. high infant mortality rate (60% in first year)
    2. need for children as caretakers in old age
    3. women choose occupations compatible with child care
    4. biological expendibility of males
  5. Process of social development:
    1. Hunter-gatherer societies - women have strong voice because they contribute subsistence levels of food. Prevailing form of social organization in Europe before 7000 BC.
    2. Agricultural communities - land ownership, families as agricultural resource
      1. women have symbolic power because of association between female fertility and crops
      2. plow agriculture creates need for extra children beyond perpetuation of the species
      3. land inheritance strengthens family, weakens position of women because of need to control their sexuality
      4. family, as unit of society, put under power of father as its representative before the community
    3. Development of archaic state
      1. creation of food surpluses: class division
      2. poorer males forced to work for food, marriage
      3. commodification of women's sexuality--model for slavery
  6. Advantages of a patriarchal social system:
    1. maximizes infant survival
    2. maximizes demographic balance of men and women
    3. forces young males to be socially productive
    4. increases social stability
  7. Patriarchy succeeded because it is the most efficient form of social organization for an agriculture-based economy.