Human males did not always dominate human societies. In a fascinating book, Women after All, anthropologist Melvin Konner points out that for most of the history of homosapiens, males and females lived in groups that offered women more equality than modern societies. Aside from the obvious reproductive power of women, in early hunter-gatherer societies, women gathered most of the food, sometimes as much as 70 percent of the calories, compared to male hunters. Mothers and extended members of the group were responsible not only for child care, but for raising a child in the community, for medical care, cooking, making clothes, utensils – and doing everything else a community needs. It indeed does take a village to raise a child, not a mom isolated at home alone in a nuclear-family setting8. Changes in larger human civilizations came when human cultures settled, and then fought to protect the property they claimed. Preindustrial cultures required male brawn for managing large animals and plowing vast fields.
As civilizations grew, male aggression and brawn were now requirements for warfare, and as males begin to dominate the world outside the home, they moved to dominate women inside it. Social stratification bred inequality among people, subjugation of slaves, of women, and brutal violence between tribes and nations. Females became possessions for lust, for controlled breeding to assure male lineage, to forge political alliances, and as war prizes9. But half of any population cannot be rendered powerless, especially the half who are solely responsible for the regeneration of the species.
Literature is mostly composed in male-dominated societies, but we still find powerful female figures, goddess and mortal. Female archetypes such as Artemis, Demeter, Aphrodite, and Athena play powerful roles in works from classical Greece, which feeds into Western culture. In the Celtic society that dominated England before the arrival of the Romans, women did hold power both in religion and society. And figures from the bible, including Eve and Mary, would work their way into literature in the melting pot that was England after the Roman Empire. These are not powerless women – they are goddesses.