Oldest depiction of female form shows that modern archaeologists are pornsick misogynists

Thursday, May 14th, 2009 · 90 Comments »
Stuttgart figurine

Female figurine from the Hohle Fels cave near Stuttgart, about 35,000 years old. Interpreted as a pornographic pin-up.

“The Earliest Pornography” says Science Now, describing the 35,000 year old ivory figurine that’s been dug up in a cave near Stuttgart. The tiny statuette is of a female with exaggerated breasts and vulva. According to Paul Mellars, one of the archaeologist twits who commented on the find for Nature, this makes the figurine “pornographic.” Nature is even titling its article, “Prehistoric Pin Up.”

It’s the Venus of Willendorf double standard all over again. Ancient figures of naked pregnant women are interpreted by smirking male archaeologists as pornography, while equally sexualized images of men are assumed to depict gods or shamans. Or even hunters or warriors. Funny, huh?

Consider: phallic images from the Paleolithic are at least 28,000 years old. Neolithic cultures all over the world seemed to have a thing for sculptures with enormous erect phalluses. Ancient civilizations were awash in images of male genitalia, from the Indian lingam to the Egyptian benben to the Greek herm. The Romans even painted phalluses on their doors and wore phallic charms around their necks.

Ithyphallic figure from Lascaux, about 17,000 years old. Interpreted as a shaman.

Ithyphallic figure from Lascaux, about 17,000 years old. Interpreted as a shaman.

But nobody ever interprets this ancient phallic imagery as pornography. Instead, it’s understood to indicate reverence for male sexual potency. No one, for example, has ever suggested that the Lascaux cave dude was a pin-up; he’s assumed to be a shaman. The ithyphallic figurines from the Neolithic — and there are many — are interpreted as gods. And everyone knows that the phalluses of ancient India and Egypt and Greece and Rome represented awesome divine powers of fertility and protection.

Yet an ancient figurine of a nude woman — a life-giving woman, with her vulva ready to bring forth a new human being, and her milk-filled breasts ready to nourish that being — is interpreted as pornography. Just something for a man to whack off to.

It’s not as if there’s no other context in which to interpret the figure. After all, the European Paleolithic is chock full of pregnant-looking female statuettes that are quite similar to this one. By the time we get to the Neolithic, the naked pregnant female is enthroned with lions at her feet, and it’s clear that people are worshipping some kind of female god.

Hohle Fels phallus, about 28,000 years old

Hohle Fels phallus, about 28,000 years old. Interpreted as a symbolic object and ...flint knapper. Yes.

Yet in the Science Now article, the archaeologist who found the figurine is talking about pornographic pin-ups: “I showed it to a male colleague, and his response was, ‘Nothing’s changed in 40,000 years.’” That sentence needs to be bronzed and hung up on a plaque somewhere, because you couldn’t ask for a better demonstration of the classic fallacy of reading the present into the past. The archaeologist assumes the artist who created the figurine was male; why? He assumes the motive was lust; why? Because that’s all he knows. To his mind, the image of a naked woman with big breasts and exposed vulva can only mean one thing: porn! Porn made by men, for men! And so he assumes, without questioning his assumptions, that the image must have meant the same thing 35,000 years ago. No other mental categories for “naked woman” are available to him. His mind is a closed box.

This has been the central flaw of anthropology for as long there’s been anthropology. And even before: the English invaders of North America thought the Iroquois chiefs had concubines who accompanied them everywhere, because they had no other mental categories to account for well-dressed, important-looking women sitting in a council house. It’s the same fallacy that bedevils archaeologists who dig up male skeletons with fancy beads and conclude that the society was male dominant (because powerful people wear jewelry!), and at another site dig up female skeletons with fancy beads and conclude that this society, too, was male dominant (because women have to dress up as sex objects and trophy wives!). Male dominance is all they can imagine. And so no matter what they dig up, they interpret it to fit their mental model.

It’s the fallacy that also drives evolutionary psychology, the central premise of which is that human beings in the African Pleistocene had exactly the same values, beliefs, prejudices, power struggles, goals, and needs as the middle-class white professors and students in a graduate psychology lab in modern-day Santa Barbara, California. And that these same factors are universal and unchanged and true for all time.

That’s not science; it’s circular, self-serving propaganda. This little figurine from Hohle Fels, for example, is going to be used as “proof” that pornography is ancient and natural. I guarantee it. Having been interpreted by pornsick male archaeologists as pornography because that’s all they know, the statuette will now be trotted out by every ev psycho and male supremacist on the planet as “proof” that pornography is eternal, that male dominance is how it’s supposed to be, and that feminists are crazy so shut the fuck up. Look for it in Steven Pinker’s next book.


P.S. My own completely speculative guess on the figurine is that it might be connected to childbirth rituals. Notice the engraved marks and slashes; that’s a motif that continues for thousands of years on these little female figurines. No one knows what they mean, but they meant something. They’re not just random cut marks. Someone put a great deal of work into this sculpture. Given that childbirth was incredibly risky for Paleolithic women, they must have prayed their hearts out for help and protection in that time. I can imagine an elder female shaman or artist carving this potent little figure, and propping it up somewhere as a focus for those prayers.

On the other hand, it is possible that it has nothing to do with childbearing or sexual behavior at all. The breasts and vulva may simply indicate who the figure is: the female god. Think of how Christ is always depicted with a beard, which is a male sexual characteristic, even though Christ isn’t about male sexuality. The beard is just a marker. Or, given the figurine’s exaggerated breasts, it may have something to do with sustenance: milk, food, nourishment.

The notion that some dude carved this thing to whack off to — when he was surrounded by women who probably weren’t wearing much in the way of clothes anyway — is laughable.

90 Responses to “Oldest depiction of female form shows that modern archaeologists are pornsick misogynists”

  1. samanthasmom says:

    An underlying paradigm for studying the physical sciences is the Principle of Uniformitarianism – the way natural processes operate now is the way that they have always operated. IOW, what we can observe now is the same as what we would have observed millions of years ago. Although I don’t disagree with this when it comes to the laws of physics or a study of geological processes, too many scientists make the leap that uniformitarianism applies to human nature and our interactions with each other and the rest of the universe. I think this comes partly from our insistence that the “scientific method” as defined by males is the only way to study science, which really wreaks havoc with our understanding of anthropology.

  2. Mary Sunshine says:


    Yeah, that’s what I thought would happen when I saw that figure.

  3. gayle says:

    Science may be objective, but scientists, especially science journalist types, surely are not.

    Even the gang over at Huffpost refused to buy into this early pornography stupidity.

  4. emconnell says:

    oh holy crap. they really think that? “educated” people?? is there no hope? that’s why breastfeeding is such a hot topic in the u.s. breast are pornographic–not to be accepted & embraced as natural, but to be hidden & only used for men’s pleasure.
    i have the venus of willendorf tattooed on my arm. i have always found strength in her & had many years of struggle to get pregnant. i was always shocked & disturbed when someone would notice her & snicker–or look away quickly!
    what kinda weird-ass puritan/penthouse society do we live in?

  5. angienc says:

    Slightly o/t — but I think this lady must be kin to the woman who wrote that stupid “Why I didn’t want a girl” article.


  6. Kiuku says:

    Yea they found a figurine, a thin female form, which is clearly the maiden form of the goddess, whereas that is the pregnant life giving form of the goddess, with the etch markings, which I assume is a calendar of sorts seasonal, cyclical, and they concluded that women were all thin and wore short skirts to prance around the men with while they men worked over hot irons. No kidding.

  7. Kiuku says:

    The groove that they interpretted to be a “short skirt” by the way are clearly weapon or ceremonial staff holder grooves. They found the item alone because the weapon or staff was made out of disintegratable material like wood.

  8. Kiuku says:

    and of course if they are wearing a short skirt it is to prance around the men in, who are working, and not, for instance, mobility.

  9. ElleR says:

    I had never seen the theory put forward that these large-breasted venuses are “prehistoric porn.” A new low in “scientific reasoning.” Generally, these venuses are often written off as mere fertility goddesses. I would offer that they represent the feminine principle as the source of all life, not just individual life: they are symbols of the Great Mother. Our ancestors were not quite as messed up about sex as we are.

  10. Level Best says:

    Men don’t want to admit how essentially useless they are and how this enormous dirty secret was well-known up until the Bronze age or so. This pornocentric interpretation of the statuette makes me want to chuck copies of Gimbuta’s books at this so-called archaeologist’s head (hard-bound copies).

  11. Lori says:

    I once made a smirking remark about Freud’s penis envy theory to a very well educated male friend, who retorted that he thought that Freud was probably right about that but PC regulations prevented that being acknowledged. I started laughing and asked why little girls would jealous of that mess – which is how it looked to me when my little brother was born – boys had on their front side. He responded that it seemed perfectly natural to him that girls would want what boys have. It just never occurs to men, as a gender, to stop outside their own experience and understand that there are other eyes with which to see the world.

    I think women need to start saying prayers everyday expressing gratitude that they weren’t born male.

  12. murphy says:

    Puritan Penthouse. nice.

    the NYT does a marginally better job in its report:


  13. Northwest rain says:

    AND this is why I got out of academia — male chauvinistic jerks dominate.

    When I read this and looked at the photo a couple of days ago I had the same reaction to the MCPig’s remark.

    Lately I’ve been studying Prehistoric Rock Art of the Americas — the male parts are clearly shown — yep they were really studly types way way back. The pictures chipped on rocks are found (unless molested by the invader Europeans) with humongous parts.

    The Moche culture — predating the Incas in South America had a highly developed ceramic representation of rules/leaders or very important males at various stages of these lives. (“Moche Portraits from Ancient Peru”, by Christopher B. Donnan). I reread this book last night — the final portraits/ceramic cup is of the male person just before he is sacrificed — he is naked and shown with a HUGE penis. No where in this book did this male author tell his readers that this was PORN or showing a male porn start of ancient times.

    DOUBLE STANDARDS — or just plain stupid chauvinistic males???

  14. Spiritof76 says:

    In my late 50′s I visited the Smithsonian in DC– As I was standing looking through the glass at an exhibit of these carved female figures, thinking about them, I was suddenly stunned, because I realized that they were me.

    Earth mother, goddess , fertility figure, they were me.

  15. Violet says:

    I reread this book last night — the final portraits/ceramic cup is of the male person just before he is sacrificed — he is naked and shown with a HUGE penis. No where in this book did this male author tell his readers that this was PORN or showing a male porn start of ancient times.

    Northwest rain, I was going to include a bunch of images like that in the post, but I had to go to bed and didn’t have time to screw (ahem) with it.

    But maybe I’ll do a post with images of ithyphallic male figures from all over the world: Giant Dicks of Mexico, Peru, Iberia, Egypt, India… none of which has EVER been interpreted as pornography.

  16. Adrienne in CA says:

    Another not-accidental escalation of the war between the sexes theme in American media. Note the more balanced commentary by the BBC. Note also that Dr. Conard cautions against presuming a pornographic context, or even that it was created for men versus women.


  17. slythwolf says:

    There is nothing I can say that you haven’t said in the post.

    Except, I’ve always found it kind of weird that we aaaaalways interpret large breasts as a sign of breastfeeding, sometimes as a metaphor for nourishment and all the things you said, or sometimes (in the case of the ev-psychos) as a sign of fertility (as if women with big tits don’t still have them after menopause). Because some women have large breasts, and some women have small breasts, and there’s no correlation between breast size and how much milk they can produce. So it’s always seemed really weird to me.

  18. Violet says:

    slythwolf, the thing is, I’ve never seen women with breasts like that in a hunter-gatherer tribe. Women’s breasts just don’t look like that, except when a woman is pregnant or breast-feeding and the breasts are plumped up and enlarged. I tend to think of hunter-gatherers as being pretty lean.

    Edited to add: but that of course could be another instance of reading the present into the past. Maybe there were largeish women in the upper Paleolithic, perhaps well-fed elders or something.

  19. Violet says:

    Note also that Dr. Conard cautions against presuming a pornographic context, or even that it was created for men versus women.

    That’s astonishing. Did he give completely different interviews to the British versus American press?

  20. Dead Girl says:

    If the discoverer and ignorant colleague want to use uniformitarianism to equate the figurine to ca. 21st Century Pr0n… then alternately, it could just be a statuette of a BBW that the sculptor created to either ridicule, or idealize. But, perhaps, it is actually just a somewhat realistic depiction of a woman in the tribe???

    Thank you for posting the shaman(?) from the Lascaux… I had never come across that one until today!

  21. Adrienne in CA says:

    That’s astonishing. Did he give completely different interviews to the British versus American press?

    Typical spin. I can’t find anything objectionable coming from Conard himself. The US media quotes another archaeologist, Paul Mellars of the University of Cambridge, who had nothing to do with the discovery. Leave it to American Journalism to seek out the biggest a-hole and immortalize his thoughts.


  22. sister of ye says:

    Great post, Violet. Sums up all my frustrations both with traditional anthropology I’ve read and many of the pop-anthro specials you can unfortunately too often see on Discovery and History Channels.

    You didn’t state right out one (major?) reason why ancient phalluses can’t be seen as porn – since it’s assumed that all art or anything else worthwhile has always been created by men, a porn phallus would be, like, gay.

  23. orlando says:

    And men, of course, are the rational, objective sex.

  24. Sandra S. says:


    How prevalent was it for women to live to menopause back then? Given that life expectancy was drastically reduced, breasts of any size would be considered a sign of fertility, in that they would be a sign of A) having hit puberty, and B) being sufficiently well nourished to have a significant body-fat content, both necessary for fertility. Women who were aging out of their child-bearing years would be so rare that they wouldn’t make much of a dent in the strength of the correlation.

  25. Anna Belle says:

    Well, damn, that was delicious to read. I might have to share this with my class as a way to demonstrate a focused essay with perfect paragraphs, and a damn fine example of a literature review. Stealth propaganda, too. Always a good idea… Would you mind?

  26. yttik says:

    Great post, violet. Thank you, it was just what I needed to read tonight.

    I listened to this man who had been in Indian boarding schools, back when kids where simply snatched out of their tribes and sent for mandatory re-education. He talked about the damage done by being forced to separate from his mother and what it meant. Mother wasn’t just a mom, she was the first role model people had of the feminine and from her came the connection to mother earth. From there comes religion and spirituality, so when he was deprived of the feminine and thrown into this completely male dominated culture, what he lost was so much more then just his mother. He lost his connection to the Earth, to his spirituality, to his culture, and his whole identity was lost. That positive connection to the feminine side of things is absolutely vital for the health of a culture.

  27. Violet says:

    Anna Belle, thank you, and you are welcome to share the post with anyone. (Though I gotta say, the writing is pants, as my weirdo Brit friends say. It’s the ideas that matter.)

  28. Kiuku says:

    Level Best, yes. There has been an enormous cover up project by men to hide the secret of their uselessness. First it was to create war. Then, when even women would be better at war than them, they undertook the project of just keeping women out of everything so as not to take any chances. Then we have the modern day result of “men invented everything” and the “men’s sphere” (Baumeister) when really it’s just the 1. creation of war 2. keeping of women out of everything and 3. erasing women in history where applies

  29. Felix says:

    “It’s the fallacy that also drives evolutionary psychology”

    Great, piece, very good points made about archeology and the general masculine scientific perspective. What a shame that you had to make an entirely unsubstantiated comment about evolutionery psychology, one of the more rigorous, testable (and tested) branches of psychology, without giving any support, references or links.

  30. Anna Belle says:

    Oh, I know it’s the ideas that matter, but my students actually pay more attention to the ideas when I share effective writing with them. Believe me, they will gain both a new understanding of how to stay on topic and how to think of porn outside the patriarchy’s box.

    My current class is nearly all women (2 men) and they have already demonstrated their feminist values to me, though they don’t yet know they have them. A few months under my gentle guidance, and I’ll have these folks using accurate language to describe the oppression they are experiencing, but don’t yet have language for articulating.

  31. quixote says:

    The other interesting thing about the tunnel vision sexist mindset is the inability to imagine a world where there’s not much need to jack off. Pornography is like prisoners of war dreaming about food. It’s only important if you can’t get the real thing. What evidence do they have that Stone Age people had the same pathetic sex lives as modern day media types?

    So these guys not only can’t see past a sexist mindset, they’re also showing they have no concept what it’s costing them in terms of normal relationships.

  32. Sharon says:

    Violet, I am pleased to see you extend your reach into this area. I am doing a PhD in mythological studies, and typically find that anthropologists and archaelogists approach their science with a decidedly anti-feminine bent. Some mythologists try to correct this by inserting the mythology around a figurine into the argument, but often get drowned out.
    Interestingly enough, one of our most controversial leaders, Marija Gimbutas, was on a dig in Southern Europe where these types of figurines were discovered. She and JJ Bachofen, writing 100 years earlier, postulated that what these statues represent is actually an ancient matriarchal society, whose demise occurred around 20,000 years ago or so. Some figurines were preserved, like the one you show, but many were smashed. Their theory was that with the rise of patriarchal organization, feminine images of deities were smashed to squelch matriarchy once and for all. Insert the new monotheistic male god (Yaweh, Jehovah, God, Allah) and the transformation is complete. Now the stories about the feminine are of Original Sin, and thus the repression of women begins in earnest, lest we ever return to matriarchy (shudder).

    Patriarchy could be a beautiful system, but viewed over a long spectrum of time, it’s clearly in decline, and has gone very negative.
    History is written by the victors, yes? So male archaelogists and a misogynistic press freely interpret a statue with their particular slant, that women’s bodies are pornographic, and that this statue couldn’t possibly have been a feminine deity worshipped by ancient peoples.

    No, it must have been pre-historic porn.

  33. LanceThruster says:

    The figurine from the Hohle Fels cave looks more like a genetically modified Foster Farms chicken.

    Not much to get excited about unless you’re really into chickens (not that there’s anything wrong with that ;-)

  34. Violet says:

    What a shame that you had to make an entirely unsubstantiated comment about evolutionery psychology, one of the more rigorous, testable (and tested) branches of psychology, without giving any support, references or links.

    Now that is hilarious. Unless we possibly have a difference in nomenclature here. By evolutionary psychology, I am referring to the codswallop of Cosmides and Tooby and their populizers (e.g., Steven Pinker). Rigorous? Testable? Hardly. Freudianism looks like physics compared to ev psych. Hell, the blood type diet looks like physics compared to ev psych.

  35. Violet says:

    Sharon, I’m familiar with Gimbutas’s work. I think the figurines definitely indicate some kind of female divinity. However, it is a stretch to conclude that there was a prehistoric matriarchy. Not that archaeologists aren’t well-known for stretches like that: male archaeologists invented an entire mythos of Man the Hunter based on nothing but the fantasies extracted from their nether regions. None of those male archaeologists have ever been ostracized or punished professionally for this, while Gimbutas, who similarly speculated on a female mythic past, became a professional outcast.

    But I digress. The point is, there simply isn’t enough information to propose any kind of -archy for the deep past. And in fact, small bands of hunter-gatherers don’t seem to really have much in the way of -archies anyway. They tend to be loose and relatively egalitarian.

    Based on all the strands of evidence currently available, including ethnography and archaeology, I think it most likely that Paleolithic bands were roughly gender-equal in their social dynamics. I suspect women were the leaders in technology, such as weaving and pottery, ran the all-important work of midwifery, and decided when it was time to move camp (because the local flora was getting thin). I suspect there were important female shamans or elders in each band, and that humans revered some kind of maternal god or lifegiver. But I also think that men were like men in all known hunter-gatherer tribes — meaning that they were in no way subordinate to women, and probably spent a lot of time hunting and feeling important and throwing their weight around (while relying on women to provide the main vegetable sustenance.)

    That’s just my guess.

    Edited to add: with that penultimate sentence, I do not wish to perpetuate the stereotype of males doing all the hunting with spears while women only gather plants. Ethnography shows us that most hunting is net hunting, and it’s a group effort by everyone in the band (men, women, and kids). Very little game is actually brought down by men out there with their spears (or rather arrows today). Nonetheless, men manage to spend a lot of time thinking about, planning for, and resting up for those very few game animals they manage to bring down. Meanwhile, women reliably gather the plant food, hunt small game, etc., to feed themselves and their children every day without fail.

    This doesn’t sound nice to say, but with many modern foraging tribes, it’s difficult to avoid the impression that men are economic parasites.

  36. yttik says:

    “What a shame that you had to make an entirely unsubstantiated comment about evolutionery psychology….”

    Bahahaha! Oh dear, that was one of the best laughs I’ve had all day.

  37. Adrienne in CA says:

    I find your focus on evidence and balanced speculation on hunter-gatherer gender roles refreshing. So often, women try to offset the insanely male-centric worldview by offering hyper-matriarchal counter claims that are just as extreme (even though I certainly defend their right to do so).

    As long as we’re imagining a human social system that might confer evolutionary benefit on our species, I prefer the partnership model you’ve outlined — perhaps without the part about men being socioeconomic parasites. After all, even in non-agrarian tribes, there must sometimes be something heavy that needs lifting, and guys do come in handy for that.


  38. Branjor says:

    ***After all, even in non-agrarian tribes, there must sometimes be something heavy that needs lifting, and guys do come in handy for that.***

    There’s evidence that men didn’t used to be stronger than women. Greater male strength is an evolutionary development. There’s nothing about being male per se that makes them any stronger than females. So, ancient women probably didn’t need them for heavy lifting either.

  39. SYD says:

    When observing these prehistoric “figurines” of both female and male form…. if one wants to assume they are “pornographic” … the ridiculous implication is that men “get off” better via their imaginations (ie. looking at a female form.) While women have easier orgasms if the stimulus is a “tool” that is divorced from context.

    Modern science would suggest that nothing could be further from the truth. Studies of human sexuality show that the opposite is actually true.

    If archeologists were working within a matrio-centric framework we’d finally get the truth… that God was once a woman and therefore, not allowed to be represented by anything less than wholeness. (Feet and head not required for creation.)

    OR, at the very least, that a Goddess amulet of the sort shown here was carried as a fertility charm. (Women still do this sort of thing and there is ample evidence of it, the world over.)

    I give up on “science.” Really I do. These man centered interpretations are patently idiotic. I simply can’t abide that such “scientists” have any grasp on the truth whatsoever.

  40. SYD says:

    More thoughts on the liars in the field of Archeology:


  41. Kiuku says:

    Yes I agree Branjor. Since Patriarchy was established, men have been selecting women for their smallness or weakness and even frailty, while size and health in men has been prized in Patriarchy. Of course, women have also been doing a lot of manual labor and it is a most recent convention of keeping women away from manual labor. Still, men are still only a moderate amount stronger on average in upper body strength (women’s upper body strength 75% of mens), and distance running is near equal, while women excel past men in swimming and aiming. I think that, in the past, men probably were not that much stronger than women, on a whole, nor even faster, because the evidence shows that women learn faster than men, genetically. The physical learning curve for women appears to leap whereas the physical learning curve for men is slow and steady. For instance, if women take up the practice of sprinting, their generations will show marked improvement in performance whereas men’s show just a steady growth. Eventually women become better than men…in anything they do, because of the XX .

    Anyway, men place their importance in what they can do that women can’t, and that has become strength. This reflects in their so-called technology, which is strength/force based, and they cannot see it any other way. this is a problem when trying to understand how the pyramids etc were built because men cannot think outside of the strength/force model of “technology”. You have to think outside that model if you want to create anything of true technological significance.

  42. FLAConnie says:


    Because of the facts you stated, I have always used the phrase “gatherer-hunter” societies. Not only did the gathering provide the primary and most reliable source of sustenance, but it’s relegated to “woman’s work.” As feminists, I feel it’s up to us to recognize and celebrate that fact. We have traditionally been the providers and the life givers.

    I don’t know if early “societies” were matriarchal, but I find it a comforting thought. I do, however, harbor a personal theory that I’ve never seen put forth anywhere. I attribute the downfall (whether it’s the so-called evils unleashed from Pandora’s Box or eating the apple from the Tree of Knowledge, which I see as different takes on the same myth – BLAME THE WOMAN) to women informing men of their part in conception. Think about this: women bleed but don’t die. Women bring forth a fully formed human life from their bodies. Both could be nothing more than mystical and powerful to early human men. Once men understood their “input” to the power of making life, a woman’s menstrual blood becomes THE CURSE, and women are unclean. The very engine that makes propagation of a species possible is dirty, not to spoken of, something bad as opposed to something worthy of celebrating.

    IMHO, screw Freud. He had it backwards. Patriarchy, and its warriors of misogyny, rape, battering women, arose out of and lives still in vagina envy.

  43. femina says:

    This little feminine sculpture has my imagination spinning. Could it be an afterbirth celebration of life as the breasts are enlarged, the vulva is stretched, and those little perfect horizontal “slice” lines on her chest are the layers of stretched-out skin of pregnancy?

    From my study of art history, only this image is unearthed; therefore, there probably aren’t any female phases, like the moon, of woman, pregnant woman, and woman after-birth.

  44. Keri says:

    Well, Japan evolved into patriarchy rather late- Something Japanese feminists love and can and do use in their push for equality. And, unlike in the west, feminism has been on the upswing in power since the 1980′s and shows no signs of decline- attempts at backlash have been rebuffed by rank and file women pretty strongly. You see even some shonen manga (comics targeted at 10-16 year old boys) reflecting a basic understanding of feminism as a positive thing. None more so than the most popular one (in both Japan and the US)- Naruto.

    But to the matter at hand, outside of what become the patriarchal aristocracy, much of Japanese society remained the relative peaceful “prehistoric” matrifocal until well into the historical period- until the Neo Confucian Shogunate of the Muromachi period- took control in the 1330′s.

    They imposed the patriarchal attitudes about women onto the whole culture from top to bottom. It wasn’t a peaceful time either, two rival emperors dueling for power for the first sixty years of the period, Daimyo (roughly regional lords) running their fiefdoms as independent kingdoms, eventually it broke down into what modern Japanese literally call their 100 year war, where Daimyo battled each other for power. This setting tended to reinforce patriarchal mindsets. The encounters with patriarchal Renaissance period western powers starting in the late mid 1500′s did nothing to change that.

    It wasn’t until western influence, including a segment of first wave feminism started filtering into Japanese culture during the 1880′s that things began to change for the better, but with lots of periods of backlash, reflecting patriarchal attitudes in the rest of the industrialized world- the West. There was a bit of a proto Second Wave of Japanese feminism that began during the US occupation and lasted until around the mid 1950′s (when Japan had recovered enough that the western post WWII cultural patriarchal backlash began to filter it’s influence into Japan, a strong anticommunist backlash happened for the same reasons. It didn’t help that there had been a segment of young Japanese communists on university campuses that had turned to violent protests, even as far as a public murder in front of hundreds of people.)

    Another second wave of feminism emerged at the same time it did in the west, the later 1960′s. It lasted until the later 1970′s- Yoko Ono even wrote a song for them in 1974. “Josei Joi Banzai” But they only made some tiny inroads, and didn’t get much widespread cultural acceptance. But a few of that movement became shoujo mangaka (girl’s comics artists) and created an influence on Japanese girls- women now in their 40′s. There was also Yoko Ono who also was a feminist influence on Japanese girls (and boys too) Yoko’s equal partnership relationship with John Lennon had a profound effect on the picture of what marriage could be especially for Japanese girls (but guys too, the effect was less, but it was there too.)

    Then Takako Doi burst onto the Japanese political scene in the late 1970′s. A socialist and a feminist. She’s kind of the Hillary Clinton of Japan, but a single woman. And yes the media trashed her for years calling her a lesbian and a the equivalent of the B word (they never stooped to the equivalent of the C word though)

    She became leader of the Japanese socialist party and made it into a powerhouse, she would eventually become Speaker of the House in the mid 1990′s. She strengthened feminist laws already on the books, and passed a law allowing Japanese women to file sex harassment and discrimination cases- which they promptly did.

    I don’t recall Gimbutas stating early cultures were matriarchal, but matrifocal. Considering the absolute proof Japanese culture was matrifocal- as were a number of Native American tribes as well (and some evidence that ancient European tribes as well) I think it’s better stated that the earliest humans were matrifocal, some maintained that status longer than others.

    Matriarchal (like in Japan, actually) seems to be a transition point to Patriarchal. The first known leader of the Japanese people was an Empress Pimiko or Himiko. (From Chinese historical records of the country of Japan) She was a “Shaman” Empress. When she died a male relative tried to succeed her but no one accepted him, the country was at war until Pimiko or Himiko’s granddaughter became Empress two years later.

    Even after Chinese patriarchal attitudes had profoundly influenced the Japanese aristocracy in the Heian period (797-1181) and the Kamakura period (1185-1333) women were still the native Japanese spiritual power (Shinto)- they were the oracles. Female members of the royal family were major shrine High Priestesses. (at the time male priests still held subordinate roles in Shinto- women were still seen as more spiritually connected with nature than men, and this was not viewed as a negative, but as a positive. Again, this changed during the Muromachi period, with the import of the very misogynist 14th century Neo Confucianism from China.)

  45. Sis says:

    We weren’t doing much gathering on the Canadian Shield or Arctic Archipelego. We are true hunter societies, and northern peoples were almost equal in size, pre-European; both under 5 foot.

  46. Cinie says:

    Sometimes a dildo’s just a dildo.
    It’s all erotica/porn.
    What supporting evidence suggests that ancient peoples were more motivated by spirituality than sexuality? Seems to me, if they, male or female, were worshiping anything, it was far more likely to be sex than some attempt to actualize the concept of godliness.

  47. liz says:

    From a forensic psychology listserve:

    “The article cites an anthropologist who describes this and similar sculptures early examples of ‘figurative art’. This led me to wonder about the difference between porn and art, and to speculate as to whether the porn of today (or even the lewd scribbles that teenage boys make in their math notebooks) might someday, like wine aging casks, be transformed into ‘art’ and hung in museums.” [Ph.D., male forensic psychologist, May 13, 2009]

    “Stone carvings, huh?  Hence the phrase ‘Get your rocks off’.” [Ph.D., ABPP, male forensic psychologist, May 13, 2009]

  48. Spark: Oldest Human Artifact | Mind on Fire says:

    [...] Goddess? or Whore? [...]

  49. Violet says:

    It’s all erotica/porn.

    Gosh, you sound like one of those pornsick men.

    What supporting evidence suggests that ancient peoples were more motivated by spirituality than sexuality?

    False dichotomy. The ancients weren’t Baptist preachers. The notion that “spirituality” is something completely separate from flesh-and-blood life would not have made much sense to people who were praying for fertility or abundance or protection in childbirth, or who equated fertility and potency with awesome divine powers.

    As for the evidence that human beings typically invent deities and invoke magic and create votive images as a focus for their concerns: see the entire history of human civilization.

  50. Cinie says:

    Isn’t your argument a bit speculative? Don’t you have to assign imagined meanings to unknowable events, concepts, and then-contemporary perceptions? What, in history, “proves” that superstition, religious or otherwise, ruled primitive thought? Aren’t you choosing to accept the part of male archaeological theory you like, and reject that which you disagree with? How do you know what the ancients were praying for? How do you know they were praying at all? Though I’m no scholar, everything I’ve read on the subject seems to involve a good bit of interpretive imagination, and a reluctance to challenge those conclusions.
    It’s not hard to imagine that the sexuality would be a greater motivation than the spirituality, especially if you’re “praying for fertility.”


  51. orlando says:

    Cinie seems to be having a circular moment, so let’s try to work with that and go over it again: spirituality=sexuality=spirituality=sexuality

  52. Keri says:

    Where, you ask, Cinie, How about observations of “primitive” cultures by so called more “advanced” cultures. Ala the Chinese observations of the early Japanese, early European settlers observations of eastern woodland Native American tribes that had had little to no interactions with Europeans before. Guess what? In those cultures women weren’t pornofied. Women were seen as spiritually powerful with this amazing ability to bled once a month and not become weak, much less die, and this other amazing ability to nurture and bring forth new lives.

    Why is it so hard for you to accept what conclusions Gimbutas’ work does, when there is even written evidence that other cultures like that existed?

    Pornofication of women comes in with patriarchy. Women become objects controlled by and belonging to men.

    We’ll know when women and men are truly equal when the pornofication of women ends.

  53. Good Girls Never « Cinie’s World says:

    [...] reading the latest post at Stray Yellar Dog, which links to a Reclusive Leftist post by Dr. Violet Socks about (I think) the bullshit delusions inflicted upon society as a result [...]

  54. Kiuku says:

    How do we know that religion was a part of life if even what part it played? We know it was a big part of life because of evidence of metaphoric thinking. Burial is a big factor in determining significance and meaning beyond the literal when studying any group of people. Then you have art.

    For instance, I really don’t think there were any animal headed people walking around nor is this probable evidence for beastophilia.

  55. Kiuku says:

    what I think makes for an interesting study is finding out just where exactly Patriarchy took over and took our human course of enlightenment and technology downhill; one of destroying and rebuilding and crude force technology that is only now beginning to show improvement.

    I think there is great evidence that the worship of our ancestors was Feminine: Goddess worship. This probably didn’t indicate a matriarchy but rather more egalitarian. The oldest records of religion was in ancient Sumeria when women, priestesses invented Cuneiform. The religion at that time had a Goddess and a God of equal importance. What is really interesting is that the oldest surviving written tablet, first human poe/hymn surviving, dedicated to a God is actually dedicated to a Goddess and written by a woman. The tablet actually says that this was the first tablet of its kind, and that none other came before it.

  56. tinfoil hattie says:

    I’ll go you one better, Cinie, and ask: Why do you think those ancients that may or may not have been praying even had a concept called “sexuality”? Isn’t it possible that sex would have just been all in a day’s work, so to speak? Only pornsick cultures separate sexuality from everything else.

    There are theories that men did have vagina envy; that in fact, they did not make the connection between copulation and pregnancy. They just knew that women “bring forth a fully formed human being,” as FLAConnie stated, above.

    A book by Rosalind Miles, Who Cooked the Last Supper? is a book I’m currently enjoying on this subject.

    Except she describes a scenario wherein men “figure out” the connection between copulation and pregnancy by watching animals.

    My guess? Women knew damn well what causes babies – and chose not to enlighten the men.

  57. yttik says:

    One reason I believe ancient people’s were probably not “worshipping” sex in a modern porn culture way, is because they simply didn’t have the time. There was food to gather, heat to find, diseases to deal with. The obsession with sex that we see today is probably possible because we’re so comfortable and have a lot of time on our hands.

  58. Open immigration for Andrew Sullivan « The Apostate says:

    [...] much, much more likely to be a fertility figurine that women used to mark their cycles off on. Reclusive Leftist has a brilliant take-down of archeologists who can reduce this 40,000 year old artifact to [...]

  59. madamab says:

    Cinie – have you read The Chalice and the Blade? There is archaelogical evidence to suggest the existence of matriarchal societies in which the Goddess was worshiped, and men were partners in that worship.

    I also would like to mention that the concept of the earth as Mother, and that type of fertility, would seem relevant when discussing this topic. The statue could very well represent Mother Earth giving birth to the bounty that agrarian societies needed for survival. The fact that she is headless seems to suggest that no one woman is being represented, but rather the concept of woman.

    Just food for thought.

  60. Violet says:

    It’s not hard to imagine that the sexuality would be a greater motivation than the spirituality, especially if you’re “praying for fertility.”

    You really are having trouble with this, aren’t you? Please re-read my comment #49 and orlando’s comment #51.

    Isn’t your argument a bit speculative? Don’t you have to assign imagined meanings to unknowable events, concepts, and then-contemporary perceptions?

    Of course. All interpretation of non-literate culture is speculative. The key is to try to do a good job of speculating. (Note this is true of many branches of science.)

    What, in history, “proves” that superstition, religious or otherwise, ruled primitive thought?

    Nothing “proves” it. It’s speculation based on all available evidence. See the entire history of human civilization (I think I already suggested that to you), with special attention to the Bronze Age, when the countless votive figures suddenly get labels and we can know that they represented deities. See the ethnographic reports from all known hunter-gatherer societies. Amulets, charms, and idols are ubiquitous in the human record.

    Aren’t you choosing to accept the part of male archaeological theory you like, and reject that which you disagree with?

    Not all archaeologists are male, much less pornsick males. Archaeology is a field of study, not a body of dogma by certain men. Many anthropologists today are feminists, and feminist gender studies have contributed a great deal to contemporary archaeology — not that the old guard of men is listening very well, which is why the field is still so sexist. But eventually they’ll all die out.

    Cinie, are you a creationist? I have to ask, because you sound exactly like one. Your comments amount to basically, “I know absolutely nothing about this field but what you’re saying doesn’t agree with what I think, so prove to me I’m wrong.”

  61. Adrienne in CA says:

    Many anthropologists today are feminists, and feminist gender studies have contributed a great deal to contemporary archaeology — not that the old guard of men is listening very well, which is why the field is still so sexist. But eventually they’ll all die out.

    Oh, if only that were true. Seems a generation of good ol’ boy misogynists is being replaced by a frat boy culture even more contemptuous of all things female, backed up by a generation of women equally contemptuous of themselves.

    Even as I try to focus on the big picture, it’s dispiriting.


  62. madamab says:

    Speaking of creationism, “the missing link” may have been found…and it’s a girl!


  63. Briar says:

    Bravo. And things are worse than they used to be. Interpreting the figurine as a deity would have been perfectly routine thirty or forty years ago. Now a widely read scientific journal prints that assinine frat boy comment as if there were nothing controversial in the intepretation or vulgar in the notion.

  64. Sis says:

    That’s the most disgusting thing about this: that in an important, respected science journal, they can indulge in open women-hating (all but doing high-fives over their shared pastime–jerking off over women’s degradation) and feel quite comfortable doing so. What’s next, circle jerks in the NEJM and Lancet?

  65. julia says:

    I’m surprised no one has mentioned Riane Eisler’s groundbreaking works (The Chalice and the Blade, Sacred Pleasure), Merlin Stone (When God was a Woman), or Susan Griffin’s Sexism and Science. Eisler’s work is so important; most people know of it but haven’t read it – if you’re a feminist please read it! It’s our story.

    It is very challenging trying to “prove” that there was life before patriarchy when you live in a patriarchal world like ours. First, most of the ‘evidence’ has been destroyed. Second, the methods to research and money to finance it are made and alloted by men. Third, even brilliant women like Gimbutas had a very hard time getting work published. So that makes me think of all the women in all the fields who tried and didn’t/couldn’t make it.

    What I know is this: we carry the information in our bodies. We bleed with the moon, we bleed in harmony; when women do ritual togther, if they are clear with each other and the intention is good, they can raise the roof off a building.

    And heal the sick, and stop the Death Machine.

  66. Violet says:

    Just for the record, for a good, up-to-date survey of the archaeology, I recommend The Invisible Sex by J.M. Adovasio, Olga Soffer, and Jake Page.

    For a highly readable review of the current literature, I suggest the latest edition of Gender in Archaeology by Sarah Milledge Nelson.

    Riane Eisler’s work is inspiring and thought-provoking, but it’s not quite archaeology. It’s excellent, though, for turning upside down the preconception that all of pre-history was male-dominated. Also, Gimbutas’s work on the Neolithic is very suggestive, but shouldn’t be over-interpreted.

  67. Sis says:

    I feel like an anthropology professor just gave me the syllabus. I was very “into” anthropology when I returned to school as a mature student. Alas, I’d been a woman too long, reading and learning what I chose, and those male professors with their surety about everything–women, other races and cultures– turned me off. I gave up. Yelled something, walked out. In those days, you couldn’t go to an anthropology, archeology or linguistics class without some woman or native (woman too, usually) cursing, pitching a book across the room and leaving. I retreated to English, where Virginia Woolf, Toni Morrison and Gabriele Roy could not be denied by some fat, entitled, tenured prig.

  68. FLAConnie says:

    Julia – you mentioned Sexism & Science by Susan Griffin. I’ve read nearly everything she’s written and I’ve never heard of this book. When was it written and where can I find it? Stone’s book is a must read, as is Mary Condren’s The Serpent and the Goddess.

    Absolutely fascinating discussion and such amazing information from so many of you. I’m loving it!

  69. tinfoil hattie says:

    Julia, if you’re in the US or UK, google “Red Tent Temple Movement.” It’s awesome.

    For that matter, any woman who wants to get together with other women once a month in a beautifully relaxed atmosphere: look into Red Tent Temple. I can’t explain how healing it is. You just go as you are, and be … a woman, among other women. Cry, laugh, meditate, create art, write, read, nap, drink tea, eat soup, get or give a massage – it’s so essentially nourishing. And it’s open to all women. And if there’s not one near you, maybe you can start one!

    I had no idea how much I was starving for it until I started going.

  70. Dead Girl says:

    FWIW ~ I thought I should throw this out there… I know pornsick women. What porn do they lust for? Mostly women on women, particularly that for sale by the richest woman in Porn, Jenna Jamison. And I am not talking about just a casual interest, or hobby, but a full-time obsession…

    That being said, having been around poorly educated, low income people, there is a prevalence for superstition alongside their religion. If I was to make a guess, where the only difference between guesswork in Anthropology, and hypothesis, is 6+ years of college… superstition preceded religion, but was superceded by sex, obviously.

    I am just happy I was not around way back then, where I would be at the mercy of some overbearing superstitious cave men and their penii.

    Oh, wait… I still am at the mercy of some overbearing superstitious cave men and their penii.

  71. donna darko says:


    The stunning Women and Nature by Griffin, one of my favorite books. Chalice and the Blade and Sacred Pleasure are up there too.

  72. tinfoil hattie says:

    Sis, why is “fat” a bad thing? Just curious.

  73. Quote of the Day, Archaeology Edition « Anti-Porn Feminists says:

    [...] From Violet Socks [...]

  74. Sis says:

    I’m going to answer your question TH, even though it’s disingenuous and baiting.

    Fat, in a hunter/gatherer culture, signifies a parasite, a drain on the society’s energy and resources. An unhealthy imbalance. It is not to be desired, tolerated or pandered to. You will not see fat people in a pre-European hunter/gatherer culture.

  75. FLAConnie says:

    Thanks, Donna. Women & Nature was the first Griffin book I read and I was hooked. Chorus of Stones is amazing. After reading it, I bought several copies and gave them to friends. I’ll check out the other books you mentioned.

  76. samanthasmom says:

    You are basing your “You will not see fat people in a pre-European hunter/gatherer culture” on speculation not facts. Since only the body’s hard parts are fossilized, we don’t know for sure what the surrounding flesh looked like. We do know that these people immortalized the female figure as being ample. Either some women were full-figured or it was an ideal to be sought. If it was not to be desired, then these figurines that pop up repeatedly must have been the weekly giveaway at the prehistoric version of LA Weight Loss.

  77. yttik says:

    “Fat, in a hunter/gatherer culture, signifies a parasite, a drain on the society’s energy and resources.”

    Perhaps Sis, but in some cultures it represented good health, being well fed, wealth. In some places today it still is. I have a friend from Okinawa who greets me by looking me up and down and saying, ooh, you’re looking so fat! She threw me for a loop a few times. There was a lot of starvation during the war, disease, parasites, so telling somebody they look plump is a compliment, a comment on their good health. But it is embarrassing when she does it to grocery clerks and the guy at the hardware store, LOL. In our culture today putting on some reserves is viewed as a bad thing.

  78. julia says:

    Thanks, Tinfoil Hattie; I’ve heard of the Red Tent but never took the groups seriously. I’ve been looking for a coven (or something like it ) to jopin for ages; they’re hard to get into, but when I’ve done ritual and Spiral Dance with the right women the results have been amazing.

    I fouond Sexism and Science at a used bookstore for a dollar and then promptly left it a woman’s house in New Mexico. I was visiting her and re-reading Dworkin’s ‘Intercourse’ and she saw mw and said, ‘I’m not political. I just don’t want anyone to do anything to me that I don’t want them to’ and I had to explain to her what the Feminst Movement had done so that could happen
    (to some extent).

    How has our country become so a-political? What’s wrong with anger?! We need it now more than ever – Collective Anger!

    In the 1980′s, women told Mary Daly she was too extreme, and she responded “It’s high time to be extreme. I am wading knee deep in women’s blood!”
    What about now – in 2009?

    That is why it bothers me that people do not find the work that is published on pre-patriarchy important or believable. It seems to me that this is basing one’s belief on patriarchal thinking and their way of proving. I saw the documentary on Gimbutas’ life last summer and it left me flying!

    Eisler is not an archeologist, she’s a social historian.

  79. Anna Belle says:

    Vi, my class LOVED this essay! You should have seen the heads bobbing up and down as we read this out loud in class. Those who weren’t agreeing all the way through said they had something to think about afterward, that they had never thought of science in this way, or pornography for that matter. It was awesome!

    I am also taking vocabulary words from it (this is a fundamentals English class).

    You rock, so thanks. It was awesome connecting so many minds that would have never seen this to the fact that misogyny exists, and it exists everywhere.

  80. Anna Belle says:

    Modded. For what , I do not know…

  81. Violet says:

    Modded. For what , I do not know…

    Me either. I’ve basically got a HAL situation with the filters here. I’m lucky they don’t eject me through the emergency air lock.

  82. Sis says:

    Samanthasmomm they were not worshiping obesity; but fecundity. The depiction is artistic license. Moreover, if a woman was that obese and pregnant, that fat would be a risk to the fetus (and the mother).

    I have lived in hunter/gatherer societies. I never saw but three or four fat people my whole life well into adulthood, and that not until I went “outside” as we call out of the Arctic and near Arctic. No one is fat. Pre-European in the northern and Arctic hunter societies can be said for purposes of our discussion to be 1950-1970 in remote Inuit communities where one had to fly in or kayak in. No-one was fat. It’s a cultural taboo; considered dangerous for society, the person a liability, inconsiderate and greedy, it is shunned and scorned.

    It’s still wrong. Now we just make up crap to justify it.

  83. Dead Girl says:

    About FAT ladies, in prehistoric artifacts… my sister turned me on years ago, to some information about a Southern California desert dwelling native tribe, with high rates of obesity. A study was done, and it was found that with food in constant supply now, the feast or famine metabolism of this tribe, was still in storage mode. Thus the obesity rate of about 98%…

    fat storage on the body during prehistoric times of danger, with feast and famine cycles, would have made energy storage a plus, and not a minus. A fat person can live off of their stores like any other animal, during times of little food. These individuals would be more likely to survive prolonged famine and drought, whereas a lean person would expire in no time at all.

  84. samanthasmom says:

    Sis, Your argument is the equivalent of the men saying that this figurine is ancient pornography. Men today create images of women that are pornographic. Ergo, this figurine is pornographic. Today hunter gatherer societies north of the Arctic circle are fat-hating. Therefore, all prehistoric hunter-gatherer societies shunned and scorned fat people. The argument doesn’t work for them, and it doesn’t work for you. The point is that we just don’t know.

  85. gxm17 says:

    This post brought to mind an instance many many years ago when a male friend of mine insisted that the reason women have breasts is because men like them. Unfortunately, this guy was serious. Why would it not occur to a man that the reason women have breasts is to feed their babies? Human infants can’t hold up their oversized heads so it’s easier to bring the breast to them, not the other way round. That large head is also the reason we have a wider pelvis. Duh! It’s funny that even with that oh-so-big brain human males can be so narrow-minded, especially when it comes to women.

  86. Sis says:

    Northern peoples aren’t fat hating. They eat animal protein and fat, almost exclusively.

  87. Keri says:

    Thanks samanthasmom and gmx17 I’ve heard 20 something women that think porn is liberating and liking it makes them “feminists” say the same ridiculous thing about breasts. These same women are actually virulently repulsed by the idea of ever breast feeding a baby! I wonder what pornsick creep created this “theory”.

  88. atablarasa says:

    gmx17, that’s the whole of The Naked Ape. Given that every high school male read it in the 60′s, it’s not surprising to run into that idea.

    And given that The Naked Ape was a break-through in looking at people as part of nature, at least in the U.S., the repression about sexuality was very, very deep indeed before then.

    My dad used to be verbally and physically abusive with my sister and I. I hope that I’ve done better by my kids. But looking back, his father whipped his children before they went out in order to remind them to be good. Improving by steps, in other words. It applies to our society as well.

  89. Jonathan says:

    The only articles I’ve ever had the chance to read lately were in support of the pornography theory. I was very disappointed by them, but found them believable. Until the last sentence of your article.

    Thank you. That makes way more sense now. I much prefer your more practical version, too.

  90. Marcus Aurelius says:

    I find it incredible that supposedly educated anthropologists can be so blinded by their preconceptions. Some of the depictions, female and male, may well have been pornography. To consistently assume all of one gender were spurious entertainment and all of the other were important depictions is ludicrous.