The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory

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The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory
The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory.jpg
Author Cynthia Eller
Subject Matriarchy
Publisher Beacon Press
Publication date
Pages 276 pp.
ISBN ISBN 978-0-8070-6792-5
OCLC 42798148

The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory: Why An Invented Past Will Not Give Women a Future is a book by Cynthia Eller that seeks to deconstruct the theory of a prehistoric matriarchy. This hypothesis, she says, developed in 19th century scholarship and was taken up by 1970s second wave feminism following Marija Gimbutas. Eller, a professor of Women's Studies and Religious Studies at Montclair State University, argues in the book that this theory is mistaken and its continued defence is harmful to the feminist agenda.


Eller sets out to refute what she describes as feminist matriarchalism as an "ennobling lie".[1]

She argues that the feminist archaeology of Marija Gimbutas had a large part in constructing a late twentieth-century feminist myth of matriarchal prehistory. She questions whether Gimbutas's archaeological findings adequately support the claim that these societies were matriarchal or matrifocal. She says that we know of no cultures in which paternity is ignored and that the sacred status of goddesses does not automatically increase female social status. Eller concludes that inventing prehistoric ages in which women and men lived in harmony and equality "is a burden that feminists need not, and should not bear." In her view, the "matriarchal myth" tarnishes the feminist movement by leaving it open to accusations of "vacuousness and irrelevance that we cannot afford to court."


Eller's book has been criticised for mis-characterising the theories of Gimbutas and other key anthropologists, labelling them as "matriarchalist" despite most of these scholars rejecting ideas of matriarchy (female rulership) in favour of matrifocal or matrilineal societies.

Eller is criticised for downplaying opposing evidence,[2] constructing strawman arguments, analysing several scholars' work only through secondary sources, providing scant evidence for her own position that male dominance has until recently been virtually universal, and adopting an openly derisive tone towards feminist spirituality.[3]

According to Marler (2003), although Eller's 1993 book Living in the Lap of the Goddess was "hailed by leading spiritual feminists as an illuminating study of the feminist spirituality movement in America", her 2000 book "seeks to eviscerate this same movement".


  • The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory: Why An Invented Past Will Not Give Women a Future, Beacon Press (2000), ISBN 978-0-8070-6792-5.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ quoting Kwame Anthony Appiah, "The real political question ... as old as political philosophy ... [is] when we should endorse the ennobling lie."
  2. ^ Griffin (2000)
  3. ^ Marler (2003); Dashu (2000)
  • Marler, Joan. The Myth of Universal Patriarchy: A Critical Response to Cynthia Eller’s Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory. Feminist Theology, Vol. 14, No. 2, 163-187 (2006) (2003 version)
  • Griffin, Wendy (2000) "Slipping Off the Sacred Lap" in The Pomegranate no. 13, Summer 2000, pp. 43–52.

External links[edit]