Episode 6: The Creation of Feminist Consciousness, by Gerda Lerner

The Creation of Feminist Consciousness

The Book

This volume is a densely researched, accessible and engrossing conclusion to Lerner’s two-volume study Women in History. In The Creation of the Patriarchy (1986), she traced the slippery progress of women in ancient Near Eastern societies into a subordinate position but the Sisyphean journey back is no less painful. Analyzing European, American and African American history, Lerner begins with the ways in which women sought “self-authorization”: as mystics, speaking with the voice of God; as mothers, educators and nurturers of future generations, or as creators. Lerner then moves on to show how self-authorization combined with education and female networks helped foster feminist consciousness. This is no linear tale, however. As Lerner notes, men’s contributions became the common heritage while “women’s creations sank soundlessly into the sea, leaving barely a ripple, and succeeding generations of women were left to cover the same ground others had already covered before them.” Lerner, Robinson-Edwards professor of history emerita at the University of Wisconsin, helped pioneer the study of women and history and remains preeminent in the field.

-Publisher’s Weekly

The Author

Lerner again, because she compiled an insanely exhaustive record of women writers from early Christianity through the mid 19th Century. Gerda Lerner was the single most influential figure in the development of women’s and gender history since the 1960s.  Over 50 years, a field that encompassed a handful of brave and potentially marginal historians became one with thousands; and expanded from Lerner’s development of an MA program at Sarah Lawrence College to the presence of women’s-history faculty in the great majority of US colleges and universities.

“Men develop ideas and systems of explanation by absorbing past knowledge and critiquing and superseding it. Women, ignorant of their own history [do] not know what women before them had thought and taught. So generation after generation, they [struggle] for insights others had already had before them, [resulting in] the constant inventing of the wheel.”

Gerda Lerner

Our Guest

Janette Canare

Janette Canare was born and raised in Virginia, but has lived in California since moving to Silicon Valley for a tech start up in the early 90s. Her parents immigrated from the Philippines, moving to Norfolk in the mid-1960s, where her dad was in the Navy. These days, she is currently working towards a Master’s degree in Liberal Arts at Stanford University. She enjoys being outdoors—whether hiking, gardening, or for photography. She also loves art, theatre, and travelling.

Amy’s Takewaways

The biggest takeaway from this one was the realization that because women don’t ever learn their history, they are doomed to struggle alone, not knowing that their suffering is due to their subordination in a caste system that oppresses them, and that many many women before them had felt the same way! This sounded exactly like my own experience – my personal journals are full of feelings that I read, sometimes almost word-for-word, in this book, from women hundreds and hundreds of years ago. They felt the same things and felt alone, just like I did. I cried many times as I read this book, feeling communion with those women and wishing I could go back in time and hug them. And I wish I could go back in time and hug me, and give myself a copy of this book. My reading partner for this one is the fabulous, deep-thinking Janette Canare. Janette and I took a bunch of classes together in the MLA program at Stanford, and whenever she would talk I would find myself vigorously nodding or picking my jaw up off the floor from an insight (which she always shared so unassumingly). Plus she crocheted a model of the COVID-19 virus for our class on viruses last year!! She is so awesome.

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