I don’t see a lot of matriarchies in fiction and that saddens me. It also saddens me when people say there is a matriarchy BECAUSE. Hence, this post.
Free/easy to access birth control. Number freaking one, guys. If women have reproductive freedom, they aren’t tied down for years at a time caring for their children, who really can’t be left alone until they’re eight or nine. That’s eight or nine years stuck in one place. Unwanted pregnancies also tie girls to abusive or unloving relationships. Easy access to birth control would alter society’s view on virginity and promiscuity as well. No one will know how much sex you’ve had if you can control the most negative side effect.
Different emphasis on childcare. Women are equated with motherhood and all that entails, especially childcare. Women are necessary to feed the baby until it’s weaned, but they are not necessary to teach their child to walk, talk, or play baseball. If, for example, cultural norms stated children had to be raised by their grandparents or by a group instead of by individuals, then women are free to do other things. Like run the government. And mothers aren’t even necessary for feeding the baby, because there are wet nurses and (if your society is sufficiently advanced) formula.
Matrilineal inheritance. Western culture’s basic unit is the married couple and their children. Families are patrilineal – the married woman takes her husband’s surname and their children also take his surname. This has led to problems. Men want to know their inheritance is going to their biological children, which discourages female promiscuity and glorifies virginity. What if your culture was matrilineal? Women pass property to their children and they will always know which ones are theirs, making the father irrelevant or at least less important. If he suspects the child isn’t theirs, there might not be much he can do, since all the goods go to the kid solely because it’s hers. Matrilineal inheritance would also allow male promiscuity because any woman he would potentially impregnate needs not enter his family. Matrilineal inheritance might also result in the woman being seen as the center or focus of the family (the paterfamilias, as it were), as it is through her that inheritance runs.
Family structure. As I just stated, the basic unit is the married couple and children. As a woman, you’re either married or a spinster. If society were communal, then perhaps single women would not be as strange. There’s always something to do in a group other than churn out children, like doing something that will earn the group money. Also, if the marriage is not as important as the community, then members would theoretically have more freedom to terminate it, allowing women – and men – to leave abusive or unfulfilling relationships.
Religious justification. It always helps to have some spiritual backup. If you can justify female superiority in a few early religions, then you have the basis for a powerful belief in the natural role of women as leaders in the era your story is set in. You should probably draft a few mythical/legendary women/goddesses who rule the heavens, dispense justice, or do whatever role you’ve prescribed women in your society. You should also make a few tales detailing what happened when men tried to take over – or what happens when men take the lead. Think of a reverse Pandora’s Box or reverse Eve eating the apple.
One last note. Matriarchy does not equal utopia. There will be plenty of societal problems you need to address. I postulated a communal system could result in a matriarchy. Divorce might not be a big deal, but leaving the community would be. A matrilineal system in a matriarchy could result in rampant sexual activity in both sexes, which would in turn pass STDs to children. It may also involve the devaluation of men, since titles come from women. The MRAs of today might actually have a point in your matriarchy. Do not assume a world ruled by women will be utopic. Women are just as violent, just as power-hungry, just as greedy, and just as inclined to prejudice as men, especially if they’ve been told from birth that they deserve it. Also, all these topics (excepting perhaps religious justification) have led to egalitarian rather than matriarchal societies in our world. Doesn’t mean that it will in yours. Have fun with this!
Separating marriage from child rearing: The Mosuo of China.
By Jonathan Harrison, PhD
In the Yunnan and Sichuan provinces of China lives a small ethnic group called the Mosuo. Among the Mosuo, romantic and family life are separated into different spheres by design. Children are usually raised in the home of their maternal grandmother with the help of their mother. She may maintain a long-term, monogamous romantic relationship with the father but, unlike in the West, this is considered separate from her role as a mother.
The role of the biological father is discretionary. There is no word in their language, in fact, for husband or father. A father is allowed, but not required to provide financial support and he is usually permitted to visit the mother and their child(ren) only at night. They call it “Axia” or “Walking Marriage.” The children’s primary male role models are usually their uncles, who remain under the authority of the children’s grandmother as they live under her roof.
From the Mosuo point of view, separating marriage from the raising of children ensures that the vagaries of romance do not disrupt the happiness and health of the child and its mother. Nor can the father wield power over the mother by threatening to withdraw from the marriage. Meanwhile, because the family of origin is never eclipsed by a procreative family, the Mosuo system reduces the likelihood that elders will be abandoned by their families when they need support in old age.
Divorce is a non-issue…there are no questions over child custody (the child belongs to the mother’s family), splitting of property (property is never shared), etc. If a parent dies, there is still a large extended family to provide care.
This way of organizing families is an excellent refutation of the hegemonic view that children need the biological father to live under their roof (and by implication, to be their patriarch). You can learn more about the Mosuo in the documentaries The Women’s Kingdom and The Mosuo Sisters.
Dr. Jonathan Harrison earned a PhD in Sociology from the University of Leicester, UK. His research interests include the Holocaust, comparative religion, racism, and the history of African Americans in Florida. He teaches at Florida Gulf Coast University and Hodges University.
I’ve been stewing over the whole ‘Vuvalini left the male children behind’ thing for about a week and…well…I have a lot to say about it. Particularly the assumption that the culture of the Many Mothers was just as sexist and awful as the hell-pit that Joe created.
The thing is, I’m in the tail end of finishing my masters in cultural Anthropology (with a background in sociology and social anthropology) and I have a particular fascination with gender roles and how they change both over space (different places have different ideas about gender) and time (ditto for historical periods) and the thing is…there has never - as far as we know - been anything that we would call a ‘matriarchy’.
Keep in mind when I say 'matriarchy’ I mean a culture that devalues men and masculinity and props up a variety of social systems and attitudes used to control men’s autonomy and sexuality - think inverted patriarchy.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that there hasn’t been cultures and cultural practices that explicitly value women - particularly when it comes to reproduction and tracing one’s lineage. There are numerous examples of cultures that practice matrilineal descent (you trace your ancestry solely through your mother’s line) and matrilocal marriage (husband moves in with the wife and her family). Avuncular descent can also be mentioned here as well (this is where your main male caregiver is not your father but your mother’s brother). Matrilineal inheritance isn’t uncommon and, heck, there are even examples of cultural norms where married men outright avoid their mother-in-laws to show respect.
Note: I love reading ethnographies about that last one.
And seriously, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Some of the earliest forms of human worship are believed to be earth goddess-oriented. I remember reading a mad max meta where someone thought that the idea of the Vuvalini worshipping a Mother Earth goddess was taking things too far, but seriously? It makes all the sense in the world to me. Especially given their practice of matrilineal descent (“I am the daughter of Mary JoBassa”) and the adoptive motherhood-ish practice of 'initiate mothers’ (Oh God I have so many embarrassingly detailed headcannons about initiate mothers).
Not to mention the Keeper of Seeds and her (personal?) practice of trying and failing over and over to bring back the green. To me, it’s not such a big leap for there to be earth-centred spiritual connotations behind that labour. Yes I know I’m reaching here, but I don’t think I’m reaching too far.
(Hell, even if I’m wrong you KNOW the Dag gonna bring some spiritual heft to her new role).
But does their woman-centred society mean that they were a matriarchy? Them leaving their male children behind would certainly suggest this…but really? That would be the most astounding thing. Because that kind devaluing of masculinity to the point ABANDONING male children has no real basis. Collectively women haven’t done to men what men - collectively - have done to women.
We don’t know why this is. We just don’t. I personally don’t believe it’s because of any inherent sex-based difference: women can be just as vicious and blood thirsty as men. But the fact remains that a matriarchy (at least one that mirrors patriarchy) hasn’t existed. It just hasn’t.
The Amazon myth that I believe is the inspiration behind the Vuvalini is just that: a myth. Using the Amazons to justify the construction of the inverted-patriarchy of the Vuvalini is like saying that dinosaurs MUST hate cities around the pacific because LOOK at what these OTHER giant lizards did when they ran amok!!!!! Seriously, godzillla and the kaiju are just about as real as the Amazons.
Just because a culture has numerous practices that outright benefit (and hell, celebrate) women doesn’t mean that it devalues or hates men and masculinity. That’s not the way it’s panned out.
Now, I don’t really know if George Miller and co. really made the Vuvalini a vicious matriarchy - that’s still kinda murky to me - but if they did I would really be interested in how that kind of society came about. And I’m not saying that to be snarky, I would really like to know. Did the presence of technologies like industrial farm equipment, rifles, and motorcycles change the dynamic somehow? I know that’s a bit technologically determinist, but it’s really the only thing that I can think of.
(And no, I don’t think that living in relatively close proximity to Joe and his ilk would be enough to push the female Vuvalini over the edge. The vast majority of matrilineal and matrilocal societies don’t live in isolation. They routinely interact with patriarchical patrilineal (descent traced through the father) and patrilocal (wife lives with husbands family) cultures. And yes, sometimes those interactions have been violent. But even then, no male dominating matriarchy developed. )
Until such an explanation is plopped in front of me I’m just gonna assume that the 'abandonment of male children’ is a bit more nuanced than what has been suggested. I’m all for recognizing that women are capable of violence (“killed everyone I ever met out here”) and of examining the toll that violence takes not only on the victim (probably mostly men), but also on the perpetrators and bystanders (probably mostly women). I love the Vuvalini, oh I love them so much, but they DID have to do some serious murdering in order to keep their culture going - even before the Green Place went sour (those honey pot traps were not new re: “I remember something like that”).
I want to explore that. I want to explore that post-apocalyptic matrilineal farming and motorcycle riding (personal headcannon- they used the bikes to patrol their territory) society populated by sharpshooters who think that 'Furiosa’ and “the Valkyrie” are perfectly normal names (HELL YEAH THEY ARE).
Because that’s plausible to me! But man-hating to the point of gender based child abandonment…isn’t? Both anthropologically and based on their behaviour in the movie. Heck. they just gave Nux and Max bikes after Furiosa vouched for them. Like no big, have our stuff. Yeah, they were suspicious, but after what you’ve seen of Joe and the war boys (ESPECIALLY after that new deleted scene was released HOLY SHIT WHAT THE F-) can you blame them?
Whenever sexist MRA douchebros start citing sketchy evopsych logic as a reason why women are fundamentally different to men and cultural/social gender roles are a fixed, binary necessity “because it’s just how nature works” I want to laugh and laugh and laugh, because actual nature is not even remotely in the business of supporting their misogynistic bullshit, and it’s beautiful.
Basically, gender and sexuality are fascinatingly diverse whichever way you look at them, and once you throw in the fact that humans are clearly capable of consciously altering our own cultures, the idea that we’re predeterministically slaved to a single sexist system is rendered even more absurd than ever.
Being drunk does not make you incapable of consent. If you drink and drive you are responsible for your actions so why when you drink and then consent to sex are you not responsible for your actions. Even if the man you have sex with is sober, which he most likely wouldn’t be, it still isn’t taking advantage of someone. If you cannot deal with your actions while drunk then don’t drink. American law currently makes a man a rapist if he has sex with a women who consents while drunk. This is wrong. Regret does not equal rape.