A survey of the matriarchal myth and its origins.
First Chapter: 'The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory'
By NATALIE ANGIER
THE MYTH OF MATRIARCHAL PREHISTORY Why an Invented Past Won't Give Women a Future.By Cynthia Eller.276 pp. Boston:Beacon Press. $26.
I 've lately become a convert to the utility of the Santa Claus myth. It's not that I think the story adds much magic to my 4-year-old daughter's life, but by giving her a powerful incentive to behave it adds magic to my own. You better watch out, little girl, or it's coal, socks and underwear for you!
By all accounts from archaeology and anthropology, the possibility that there has ever been a true matriarchy, a society in which women effectively ruled, is about as likely as the chance that an obese fellow in red pajamas can deliver presents to some two billion children in the course of one night.
Yet despite considerable evidence that contradicts the story of a prelapsarian gynecocracy, and a glaring lack of evidence to support it, many people, according to Cynthia Eller, continue to subscribe to it. As Eller lays out in the fascinating if often depressing ''Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory,'' a sizable corps of feminists is convinced that male dominance is a relatively recent phenomenon and that before patriarchy grasped the globe in its bloody talons, women were respected members of their tribes, equal if not above men in status and influence, revered for their capacity to give birth and nourish the young and for their innate connectedness -- to one another, to the earth, to the men they suffered with fond affection.