It was a great experience to read this book concurrent with taking a few online history classes, one on the ancient Greeks and one on history of the world from 1300 onward. History’s chronic overlooking of the ladies with valuable contributions becomes evident when you remind yourself to look for it.
Miles’ puts forth an interpretation of global history that includes voices from the invisible half of the population, women. Her preface invites other people to write women’s history because we simply need more of it, and reasons that if the book is too unfair to men she must be excused because conditions have been too heavily weighted in men’s favor previously. She begins with the earliest societies, where women were revered for their magical ability to bring life into the world, along with capacity to support the tribe through food gathering, providing 80% of their sustenance. In the beginning, God was a woman, worshipped for her rages and lifegiving power. Numerous examples of the Great Mother Goddess are given as examples of the prominence and prevalence of the female God. Her argument for how this inverted to male God goes along the lines of: Great Goddess was sexually insatiable, therefore craved the phallus, which in turn lead to worship of the male. “Once promoted from minor bit player to leading man in the primal drama, the penis proved hungry for the smell of greasepaint, the roar of the crowd..” But women’s control of nature continued for another 10,000 years, until we shifted from sympathetic horticulture to dominating and taming the land via agriculture. Religion as God the father sprang into being and the goddess was dead.
Miles uncovers threads of women’s stories throughout history by scouring official records and various sources, and manages to insert women into the historical record where they were previously missing. Detailing the tragedy of the last millennia, she wraps up on a more positive note, with progress made in the 20th century. She leaves us with a reminder that
…there is much to do, amounting in fact to a remaking of modern society. All democratic experiments, all revolutions, all demands for equality have so far, in every instance, stopped short of sexual equality. Every society has in its prestige structures a series of subtle, interacting codes of dominance which always, everywhere, finally rank men higher than women.