The Creation of Feminist Consciousness

The Creation of Feminist Consciousness : From the Middle Ages to Eighteen-seventy

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A pioneer in women's studies and long-term activist for women's issues, and a past president of the Organization of American Historians, Gerda Lerner is one of the founders and foremost scholars of Women's History. The Creation of Patriarchy, the first book in her two-volume magnum opus Women and History (1986) received wide review attention and much acclaim, winning the prestigious Joan Kelly Prize of the American Historical Association for the best work on Women's History that year. Ms hailed the book for providing "a grand historical framework that was impossible even to imagine before the enlightenment about women's place in the world provided by her earlier work and that of other feminist scholars." New Directions for Women said it "may well be the most important work in feminist theory to appear in our generation." Patriarchy traced the development of the ideas, symbols, and metaphors by which men institutionalized their domination of women. Now, in The Creation of Feminist Consciousness, the eagerly awaited concluding volume of Women and History, Lerner documents the twelve-hundred-year struggle of women to free their minds from patriarchal thought, to create Women's History, and to achieve a feminist consciousness. Lerner argues that the millenia-old educational disadvantaging of women and their marginalization in the intellectual life of Western civilization retarded women's ability to comprehend their condition and to define their needs as a group. She shows the devastating impact on women's psychology of notions of their innate mental inferiority, reinforced generation after generation by the teachings of family, church, and state. Through examining over a thousand years of feminist biblical criticism, Lerner illustrates her most important insight--the discontinuity of women's history. The generation to generation transmission of knowledge on which the building of civilization rests did not work for women. Because they did not know their history, each generation of women used their energies and talents reinventing ideas that other women had already defined--this greatly delayed the development of women's consciousness of themselves as members of a group. In a series of fascinating portraits of individual women who resisted patriarchal indoctrination, Lerner discusses women mystics such as Hildegard of Bingen, Julian of Norwich and later Protestant mystics, and brings to life the many women of great literary talent, from Christine de Pisan to Louise Labe to Emily Dickinson, who simply bypassed patriarchal thought and created alternate worlds for themselves. In its emphasis on the force of ideas, the struggle of women for inclusion in the concept of the Divine, the repeated attempts by women to form supportive networks, and its analysis of the preconditions for the formation of political theories of liberation, this brilliant work charts new ground for historical studies, the history of ideas, and feminist theory.show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 408 pages
  • 154.94 x 228.6 x 27.94mm | 566.99g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 0195066049
  • 9780195066043

About Gerda Lerner

About the Author: Gerda Lerner is Robinson-Edwards Professor of History, Emerita, at the University of Wisconsin--Madison, and the author of 8 books in women's history.show more

Review Text

In an excellent follow-up to The Creation of Patriarchy (1986) - a study of how men institutionalized their domination of women - NOW cofounder Lerner (History/Univ. of Wisconsin at Madison) follows women's struggle to create a history of their own - from the first written record in the seventh century to the start of the feminist movement. Lerner's sweeping and erudite chronicle primarily traces women who were aware of belonging to a socially defined, unnaturally subordinate and deprived group, and who expressed their consciousness and their opposition mostly in their writing. After a brief history of women's educational "disadvantaging," the author describes women's various attempts to "authorize" themselves through mysticism, heretical religious practices, alternative modes of thought, and motherhood. She laments the talent lost by the repression of women, illustrated by the wasteful and repetitive nature of women's Biblical criticism - which, deprived of a written tradition, each generation had to start anew. It was through creativity, Lerner says, that some women by-passed the patriarchal institutions - a thesis illustrated with copious examples, including that of Emily Dickinson, whose reputed homosexuality the author discusses in detail. Lerner finds in the German Romantic movement the conditions for an emerging women's consciousness and the subsequent struggle for their own history. Detailing the victimization of women - their lack of support, education, leisure, and power, and their displacement by the Church from equal formal participation in the divine - Lerner nonetheless makes a strong case for their success based on tenacity, survival skills, and strong empirical sense - which she herself displays. The thesis is debatable, but the evidence here is fascinating and perhaps unique. Moreover, Lerner doesn't simply lament the silence endured by women - from the obscure wives of medieval French troubadours to Mexican peasants, German nuns, and English mystics - but gives these nearly forgotten souls a voice. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

Review quote

"An essential document of the centuries of struggle that lie beneath the assumptions of cultural and political entitlement American women take for granted today."--San Francisco Chronicle"Powerful...exemplary in several senses of the word"--Katherine Gill, The New York Times Book Review."Gerda Lerner's prodigious efforts at putting raw history on the table ensure that her discoveries won't suffer from the obscurity that plagued pre-modern 'feminist' research. Her 'big-picture' revision of how we see the past should remain one of the enduring achievements by a contemporary American historian."--The Philadelphia Inquirer"In this wise, wonderful book, Gerda Lerner follows in the footsteps of her scholarly foremothers, but with a poignant difference. The thinking women before her, denied an intellectual tradition for twelve hundred years, thought and wrote in isolation. Looking back in righteous and rightful indignation, Lerner remedies the very tragedy she analyses. Everyone who thinks about women's thinking should read this book, discover our heritage, and contemplate its interruptions."--Nell Irvin Painter, Edwards Professor of American History, Princeton University"Splendid....This sharp, incisive book concludes the work Lerner so well began in The Creation of Patriarchy. Together they make up a vital contribution to women's studies."--Booklist"Lerner documents the 1,200-year struggle of women to free their minds from patriarchal though, create women's history, and achieve a feminist consciousness."--Feminist Bookstore News"Impressive."--The Milwaukee Journal"Based on wide-ranging research....Lively and provocative."--Library Journal"Sweeping and erudite....The evidence here is perhaps unique."--Kirkus Reviews"Densely researched, accessible and engrossing conclusion to Lerner's two-volume study Women in History....Lerner helped pioneer the study of women and history and remains preeminent in the field."--Publishers Weeklyshow more

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115 ratings
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5 43% (49)
4 32% (37)
3 19% (22)
2 5% (6)
1 1% (1)
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