Feminist Sundays: Gerda Lerner

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Feminist Sundays is a weekly meme created at Books and Reviews. The aim is simply to have a place and a time to talk about feminism and women’s issues. This is a place of tolerance, creativity, discussion, criticism and praise. Remember to keep in mind that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, although healthy discussion is encouraged.

After reviewing Gerda Lerner’s The Creation of Patriachy for school, I knew I needed to devote my next Feminist Sunday to this amazing woman.

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  • Name: Gerda Lerner (neé Gerda Hedwig Kronstein)
  • Dates and place: Born in Vienna in 1920. She moved to the United States when she as 19 with an arranged marriage to escape Europe.
  • Historical period: 20th century, influenced by Nazism and WWII.
  • Biography: Her wealthy parents provided Gerda and her sisters with an unusual upbringing in Vienna. Her parents both entertained their respective lovers in the building where the family lived while keeping the marriage intact. Her mother, Ilona, was a vegetarian and an advocate for sexual freedom, a fact that provided Gerna with a modern and liberal view on life. As Nazism progressed and Vienna entered into a civil war, she joined the Communist Party, an alliance she would maintain for the rest of her life. Once in the United States she divorced and moved to Hollywood where she met communist playwright Carl Lerner with whom she would remain married until his death. After being black-listed by senator McCarthy, the Lerners moved to New York where, at 38, Gerda enrolled in Columbia. In 6 years she had earned a PhD and started founding feminist and gender programs all over the country. Sarah Lawrence still has a M.A. Lerner founded. She devoted her life to the study of women’s history with an emphasis on African-Americans and the patriarchy. Her most famous work is The Creation of Patriarchy (1986).
  • The Creation of Patriarchy (1986). It was published in 1986 after many years of work and study when Lerner decided to study Hebrew to better understand and read the original texts. She explores women’s subjection to the patriarchy from the Neolithic with a special emphasis on Mesopotamia and the Old Testament. But, Lerner’s best quality is how easy and didactic she makes such complex and relevant historical periods.
  • Remarkable quotes from The Creation of Patriarchy:

“At any given moment in history, each “class” is constituted of two distinct classes – men and women.”

“For women, class is mediated through their sexual ties to a man.”

“The family not merely mirrors the order in the state and educates its children to follow it, it also created and constantly reinforces that order”

“The system of patriarchy can function only with the cooperation of women. This cooperation is secured by a variety of means: gender indoctrination; educational deprivation; the denial to women of knowledge of their history; the dividing of women, one form the other, by defining “respectability” and “deviance” according to women’s sexual activities; by restraints and outright; coercion; by discrimination in access to economic resources and political power; and by awarding class privileges to conforming women.”

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