Gender Essentialism in Matriarchalist Utopian Fantasies:

Are popular novels vehicles of sacred stories, or only sacred propaganda?

Christine Hoff Kraemer, Boston University

New Religious Movements Group

American Academy of Religion Annual Meeting, Philadelphia, 20 Nov 2005


Cynthia Ellerís book The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory: Why an Invented Past Will Not Give Women a Future indicted matriarchal narratives not primarily for their historical inaccuracy, but for what Eller saw as a destructive tendency toward gender essentialism. This gender essentialism, in her view, renders the myth useless even simply as a sacred story. In contrast, this presentation will argue that popular utopian fantasy novels that draw on the myth of matriarchal prehistory play with this narrative in a much more organic, flexible, and liberating fashion than Eller suggests. Some actively work to create imagined societies with fluid gender roles, while others contain embedded critiques of the matriarchal myth even as they spread it to a wider audience. I will close by considering the importance of the popular novel in spreading the Goddess movementís ideas, as well as contextualizing the connection between literature and neopaganism historically.