Life in the prehistoric era, as Marilyn French tells it, was apparently much like that in a modern Scout camp. Early humans fished and frolicked, lived off the land and sat around communal fires at night talking, singing and indulging in sexual banter. Life was generally not hard, she says, and peace reigned between the sexes and between humans and nature. This idyllic era, a source of some nostalgia for the author, fell victim to the most decisive and perfidious event in history: the rise of patriarchy.

Perhaps gathering in cultic groups "rather like women meeting in consciousness-raising groups of the...

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