Gloria Steinem’s ‘Imported Patriarchy’ Theory
Gloria Steinem, venerated feminist, recently claimed on NPR that domestic abuse, patriarchy, and other such perceived and so-called ‘Western ills’ were imported to the Americas after European colonization, substantiating this claim with the generalization that Native Americans exhibited matrilineal societies.
She knowingly, in my strict opinion, used this term in conflation with matriarchy, purposefully leading a misinformed audience to believe that Native Americans were more egalitarian than European societies. This is, of course, demonstrably not the case – especially when speaking generally of the tribes of North America.
I won’t be citing any sources in this article for the simple fact that it is all so readily available with even the most cursory google search. In the same way that European societies are and were diverse, so were Native Americans’. Making a monolith of this vast and multifaceted group of people, even if in a perceived positive tone, is about as racist as Jim Crow.
This is a typical example of how fundamentalist feminists like Steinem reframe history and reality in order to justify their world view and ideologies. In truth, Steinem probably suffers from a crippling case of white guilt and thus pays undue homage to cultures she only cursorily knows about – not unlike every fundamentalist feminist I have ever met and heard speak.
But even if her claim about Native American tribes were true, we know from history and writers like Nigerian Chinua Achebe that pre-colonial African cultures like the Igbo exhibited patriarchy on levels that made France of the day appear radically egalitarian. Without any European influence, the Igbo practiced polygamy, sanctioned beating their wives, bought women with crops like cattle, and clearly preferred sons over daughters. The often implied notion that Europe invented this horrid ‘woman-as-chattel’ behavior is demonstrably false and was and remains a generally human trait.
Fascinating, is it not, how quick western feminists are to point out the faults of Western societies and how quick they are to infantilize everyone else’s to the point of voiding any and all of their accountability.
Let’s play a game shall we? Let’s use the same litmus test feminists use to determine if a society is patriarchal. If we look at Native American leaders, what gender are they by and large? Who are the so called big players? We’ll start by naming a few celebrated leaders like Red Cloud, Geronimo, Sitting Bull, Tecumseh, and Crazy Horse. None of them are female. In fact, the only female Native Americans known to the American populace are Pocahontas and Sacajawea, neither of whom were leaders and both of whom are only famous by incident.
My bottom line here is that the vast majority of Native American chiefs and leaders, especially prior to World War II, were male. Just like the vast majority of warriors in these societies. We can acknowledge that gender was defined differently in these societies without jumping to the erroneous conclusion that it didn’t matter in them.
It is easy to pick through Native American history and prop up a female leader here and there or highlight some of the few female warriors that occasionally appeared and make it seem routine, just as I could name Anne, Jane Grey, Mary and Elizabeth I, Victoria, and the current Elizabeth II, making old merry England appear to be one of the single most female friendly nations ever to exist. After all, they had all those regnant queens right?
I am not stating that Native American peoples were all the same (that would be Steinem), nor am I stating that they were all gender fascists. Many tribes actually exhibited rather relaxed gender roles relative to Europeans of the day while others, like the Sioux, were known to be highly gender divided. The point is that these cultures were as numerous as they were varied and they exhibited many different ways of being. Europe did not ‘import’ patriarchy or male-on-female violence, it existed among these societies long before white folk ever made an appearance, just as it had everywhere else.
Like Steinem, I don’t know much about the indigenous cultures of America, but I do know they were far from perfect and had about as many social failings as any other group on the planet because they were human beings, and no human society has ever succeeded in creating a world free of violence and devoid of gender roles, except Norway.
Matrilineal, by the way, only refers to how one traces ancestry or inheritance. It is not actually an indicator of egalitarianism or patriachy’s absence. Jewish lineage is typically determined matrilineally but that scarcely makes Jewish societies matriarchal, see Israel and its government for more on that.
Lastly, feminists and other guilt-ridden westerners often desperately attempt to apologize for the genocide of indigenous cultures by propping up the murdered peoples as superior, instead of acknowledging them for the imperfect society that they actually were. This is demeaning to that group. It turns them into children unaccountable for their wrongdoing and imperfections. It also disregards the way in which they contributed to humanity’s long history of violence and hatred.