Book Review: The Position of Woman in Primitive Society, by C. Gasquoine Hartley. What form did the family take in its earliest stage? Did it start as a small group or with the clan or horde? What were the earliest conditions of the sexual relationships? Was promiscuity at one period the rule? Was the foundation of the family based on the authority of the father, or of the mother? The book begins with an exposition of Bachofen’s theory of the matriarchate, Das Mutterrecht, which drew the attention of the world to the fact that a system of kinship through mothers only prevailed among many primitive peoples, much before the rise of kinship through males. It then propounds the idea that a change however is due, as far as humans go, since the principal of motherhood is common to all the spheres of animal life, but man goes beyond this tie in gaining pre-eminence in the process of procreation, and thus becomes conscious of his higher vocation. In fact men and women lived originally in a state of promiscuity, where maternal descent prevailed, but the more religious women brought in ideas of good behavior, or moral sense, and the natural leaning to patriarchy. Then the primeval man lived in small family groups, composed of an adult male, and of his wife, or, if he were powerful, several wives, whom he jealously guarded from the sexual advances of all other males, and thus came the making of patriarchy. But women continued her pivotal role in family. ‘Women invented and exercised in common multifarious household occupations and industries. Curing food, tanning the hides of animals, spinning, weaving, dyeing—all are carried on by women. The domestication of animals is usually in women’s hands.’ Women were the main workforce.
The author mentions of our primitive ancestors as, half-men, half-brutes, lived in small, solitary and hostile family groups, held together by a common subjection to the strongest male, and who was the father and the owner of all the women, and their children. In that undisciplined lot, matriarchy arose to fill the need for some orderliness. The author correctly mentions of an active part being taken by the women, in all the relationships of the family, ‘quite opposed’ to the great majority of learned opinion. Not only that, this has been attributed to the fact that ‘the writers on these questions are men, and there is, I imagine, a certain blindness in their view’. But the author fails to mention the transition of women from ‘the main workforce’ to a rather relaxed life. Or the change from ‘an equal being’, to one who is visible inferior. Had the author investigated further, wouldn’t he have come to the conclusion, that it was due to men volunteering for all tasks involving heavy labor with an aim to escape from sexual performance, women happen to lead an easy life. And as a result of following such an easy life, over generations, women happen to become, visibly of inferior constitution.