Deceptions of a 'Gender Equal Society':

                                      June, 1993
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             Deceptions of a 'Gender Equal Society':

               Eleanor Leacock's Depiction of the
                 17th-Century Montagnais-Naskapi

                       by Robert Sheaffer

The  late Eleanor Leacock was an anthropologist and feminist  who
published claims of societies that were supposedly "Egalitarian,"
in  regard  both to wealth, and to sex. Her  writings  display  a
strong  Marxist bent. She wrote a long and admiring  introduction
for her new edition of Engels' _The Origin of the Family, Private
Property,  and the State_, which was published  by  International
House  Publishers  (New York, 1972), the publishing  arm  of  the
Communist Party of the USA.

Leacock's essay "Women In Egalitarian Societies" was published as
chapter  one  of _Becoming Visible_, a textbook  used  in  Womens
History classes (Bridenthal and Koonz, eds). One of her principal
examples of a supposedly nonpatriarchal society (i.e., one  where
leadership  does  not  rest  primarily with  the  male)  was  the
Montagnais-Naskapi Native Americans of the Labrador peninsula  of
Canada.  Now,  the Montagnais-Naskapi of today (on whom  she  had
done  field work) are clearly patriarchal, so she cites the  17th
century accounts of Jesuit missionaries to make a claim that this
society  was once gender-equal, but was subsequently  "completely
transformed"  by  their  contact with  Western  colonial  powers.
Leacock  also  cites the supposedly nonpatriarchal  17th  century
Montagnais-Naskapi  as one of the principal proofs in  her  book,
_Myths of Male Dominance_.

Leacock gives the following quotes from Father Paul Le Jeune, one
of  the first Jesuit missionaries to enter that  region,  without
providing any context for it:

     Some  observers  said of Montagnais-Naskapi women,  as  they
     said of other Native American women, that they were  virtual
     slaves.  Their hard work and lack of ritualized  formalities
     surrounding  them  contrasted  sharply with  the  ideals  of
     courtesy  for  women  in the French  and  British  bourgeois
     family  and  were taken as evidence of  low  social  status.
     Those  who  knew the Indians well reported  otherwise.  "The
     women  have great power here," Le Jeune wrote, and  exhorted
     the  men to assert themselves. "I told him then that he  was
     the  master,  and  that in France women do  not  rule  their
     husbands." (_Becoming Visible_, page 22).

However, an examination of the reference Leacock cites shows that
the meaning of this incident is entirely different from what  she
suggests. Le Jeune had asked an Indian man whether he has a  son,
and  whether  he  would  give him that son to  take  away  to  be
educated as a Christian.

     He  replied that he would be very glad to give us  his  son,
     but  that  his wife did not wish to do so.  The  women  have
     great  power here. A man may promise you something, and,  if
     he  does not keep his promise, he thinks he is  sufficiently
     excused  when he tells you that his wife did not wish to  do
     it.  I  told him then that he was the master,  and  that  in
     France   women   do  not  rule  their   husbands.   (_Jesuit
     Relations_, Vol. 5 p. 181).

Note that the incident, when read in its context, does not in any
way  support  what Leacock would have us believe. The  Jesuit  is
asking  this  Indian  to allow him to take his son  away  for  an
extended period of time, to which the father quite understandably
objects.  Seeking an excuse, the man replies that his  wife  will
not permit it. Le Jeune's remark that "the women have great power
here"  is seen to be wry irony, not actual description.  When  an
Indian man needed an excuse for breaking a promise, the  favorite
excuse  was that his wife would disapprove. Thus the  "power"  of
women  to which Le Jeune refers was not actual authority  in  the
family,  but  rather the "power" to excuse a  man  from  previous
commitments. Note also that Le Jeune did *not* "exhort the men to
assert themselves," as Leacock claims; rather, he urged this  one
man to be assertive, by way of countering his proffered excuse.

This  incident  aside, does the account of Le Jeune  support  the
claim of a gender-equal society that Leacock makes? Here are some
other  statements by Le Jeune from the same work. They  are  such
blatant counter examples to Leacock's claim of  'gender-equality'
that she obviously needed to pretend that they do not exist:

Le Jeune, 1634 (_Jesuit Relations_, Vol. 7, p. 89):

     I  observed in this place that the young women did  not  eat
     from  the same dish as  their husbands. I asked the  reason,
     and the Renegade told me that the young unmarried women, and
     the  women  who  had  no  children,  took  no  part  in  the
     management  of  affairs,  and were  treated  like  children.
     Thence  it came that his own wife said to me one day,  "Tell
     my  husband  to give me plenty to eat, but do not  tell  him
     that I asked you to do so."

Le Jeune, 1634 (_Jesuit Relations_, Vol. 6, p. 217-219):

     the  Savages prefer the meat of the Bear to all other  kinds
     of  food; it seems to me that the young Beaver is in no  way
     inferior to it, but the Bear has more fat, and therefore the
     Savages like it better. Second, the Bear being brought,  all
     the marriageable girls and young married women who have  not
     had  children, as well as those of the Cabin where the  Bear
     is  to be eaten, and of the neighboring cabins, go  outside,
     and  do not return as long as there remains a piece of  this
     animal, which they do not taste. It snowed, and the  weather
     was  very  severe. It was almost night when  this  Bear  was
     brought  to our Cabin; immediately the women and girls  went
     out and sought shelter  elsewhere, the best they could find.
     They  do  this not without much suffering; for they  do  not
     always  have  bark at hand with which to make  their  house,
     which  in  such cases they cover with branches  of  the  Fir

     In  the third place, the dogs must be sent away,  lest  they
     lick the blood, or eat the bones, or even the offal of  this
     beast, so greatly is it prized. The latter are buried  under
     the fireplace, and the former are thrown into the fire.  The
     preceding   are  observations  which  I  made   during   the
     performance  of this superstition. Two banquets are made  of
     this  Bear, as it is cooked in two kettles, although all  at
     the  same time. The men and older women are invited  to  the
     first  feast,  and, when it is finished, the women  go  out;
     then the other kettle is taken down, and of this an  eat-all
     feast is made for the men only. This is done on the  evening
     of the capture; the next day toward nightfall, or the second
     day,  I  do not exactly remember, the Bear having  been  all
     eaten, the young women and girls return.

Thus: Father Le Jeune reports that these Indians prized bear meat
so  greatly that when a bear was killed, the women and  the  dogs
were sent outside to stand in the snow while the men held an all-
night  feast.  Does  this sound like  a  "gender-equal  society"?
Professor Leacock somehow failed to mention this counter-evidence
as she wrote of her vanished feminist Utopia.

Le Jeune, 1637 (_Jesuit Relations_, Vol. 11, p. 215)

     Some Savages had arrived from Tadoussac on their way to war;
     Father de Quen and I visited them in their cabin, and, after
     some conversation, they told us that we should go to see the
     preparations  for a great feast which were being made  in  a
     place  that  they named to us. But they advised  us  not  to
     remain  there  long, "Because," said they, "as it is  a  war
     feast, the women will serve there entirely naked."

Attempting to demonstrate the supposed lack of feminine  delicacy
of the Montagnais-Naskapi women before they developed a  "feeling
of  constraint  when  whites were  around,"  Leacock  quotes  the
following description of them from Father Le Jeune:

     "They   have  neither  gentleness  nor  courtesy  in   their
     utterance," he wrote, "and a Frenchman could not assume  the
     accent, the tone, and the sharpness of their voices  without
     becoming angry, which they do not." (_Becoming Visible_,  p.

It  is  *extremely*  revealing  to see  the  two  sentences  that
immediately precede this quote, sentences that Leacock  obviously
needed to conceal from her feminist readers:

     I have never heard the women complain because they were  not
     invited to the feasts, because the men ate the good  pieces,
     or because they had to work continually - going in search of
     wood  for the fire, making the Houses, dressing  the  skins,
     and  busying themselves in other very laborious  work.  Each
     one  does  her  own little  tasks,  gently  and  peacefully,
     without  any disputes. It is true, however, that  they  have
     neither  gentleness nor courtesy in their utterance,  and  a
     Frenchman  could  not assume the accent, the tone,  and  the
     sharpness of their voices without becoming angry, which they
     do not (Le Jeune, _Jesuit Relations_, Vol. 6 p. 235).

When  Leacock,  in claiming this society  to  be  nonpatriarchal,
omits  the  sentences she does while  quoting  those  immediately
following, I cannot imagine that this deception was  unintention-

It is now clear beyond any possibility of doubt that the supposed
'gender-equal society of the Montagnais-Naskapi', which is  cited
in  feminist circles as one of the best evidences of  a  supposed
"nonpatriarchal society", has absolutely no basis in fact. It was
the  deliberate deception of a Marxist feminist, created  out  of
selective  quotation  and  misrepresentation,  yet   uncritically
accepted  by  her  feminist readers. The fact  remains  that  all
present and past human societies are patriarchal, in spite of the
many  feminist  lies and half-truths invented  to  obscure  this.
Indeed,  the  ease with which academic feminists will  resort  to
deception  to  bolster  claims such as this  one  about  vanished
"nonpatriarchal  societies" is perhaps the best reason  to  doubt
their claim that future societies will be nonpatriarchal.

Camille  Paglia  wrote that "Our best women  students  are  being
force-fed an appalling diet of cant, drivel, and malarkey"  (_Sex
and American Culture_, p. 243). We can thank Eleanor Leacock  for
nicely illustrating Paglia's point.


Bridenthal,   Renate  and  Koonz,  Claudia:  _Becoming   Visible_
(Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1977)

Paglia,  Camille:  _Sex, Art, and American  Culture_  (New  York:
Vintage Books, 1992).

Thwaites, Reuben Gold (editor): _The Jesuit Relations and  Allied
Documents_ (New York: Pageant Book Co., 1959).

                        Related Sources:

Goldberg,  Steven: _The Inevitability of Patriarchy_  (New  York:
William   Morrow  &  Co.,  1973;  revised  edition,  Open   Court
Publishers, 1993 (in preparation)).

Goldberg,  Steven:  "Response to Leacock and  Livingstone":  _The
American Anthropologist_, Volume 77, Number 1 (March, 1975).

Leacock,  Eleanor  (ed.):  _The Origins of  the  Family,  Private
Property,   and  the  State_  by  Friedrich  Engels  (New   York:
International House Publishers, 1972).

Leacock,  Eleanor: _Myths of Male Dominance_ (New  York:  Monthly
Review Press, 1981).

        Robert Sheaffer - Scepticus Maximus -

Past Chairman, The Bay Area Skeptics - for whom I speak only when authorized!

         "Marxism and feminism are one and that one is Marxism"
                      - Heidi Hartmann and Amy Bridges,
            quoted by Catharine MacKinnon above the first chapter
             of her "Toward a Feminist Theory of the State"