Matriarchy, a myth?

Prepared by: Xhois Qarri, Beat Sexism Italy

Shanklin and Love wrote that “when we hear the word ‘matriarchy’, we are conditioned to a number of responses: that matriarchy refers to the past and that matriarchies have never existed; that matriarchy is a hopeless fantasy of female domination, of mothers dominating children, of women being cruel to men. Conditioning us negatively to matriarchy is, of course, in the interests of patriarchs. We are made to feel that patriarchy is natural; we are less likely to question it, and less likely to direct our energies to end it.”

The truth is that matriarchy is actually a myth. It’s a hypothetical system in which women hold the power, they’re on top of the society, one’s lineage is traced through maternal ancestry and family properties are inherited through the female line. Matriarchy is often confused with matrilineal, matrilocal and matrifocal societies, in which the name is passed through the female line, where the couple lives with the wife’s parents and where mothers head families and fathers have a less important role in the home. However, that is not what matriarchy is. Females must have absolute authority over the family group to be called so. For many people this point of view is absurd.

The mentioned communities are not totally matriarchal. Except for the Mosuo society which is the closest to matriarchy, no other tribe, community or whatsoever can be defined as one. The concept is very confusing for a lot of people. This because the way we live today, is influenced by a worldview based on male principles. This foundation is maintained by structural and mental violence. It is the ideology of universal male dominance and universal patriarchy.

Most of those who talk about matriarchy confuse it with the 3 other definitions mentioned before. I think that’s quite normal. What I find funny, is confusing the Sworn Virgins in Albania as a matriarchal community. In an article by Christian Koch, were mentioned the remote mountain villages of northern Albania, in which teenage daughters take a vow of chastity before spending the rest of her life living as a man. They are mostly forced into the role and so escape the arranged marriages that are quite common for other Albanian women. They take jobs such as shepherds or truck drivers. The contradict and ignorance/confidence in calling this community, where women have to live as men not to be treated like animals, a matriarchy, is amazing.

Heidi Goettner-Abendroth, founder of the International Academy HAIGA for Modern Matriarchal Studies states that; “The aim is not to have power over others and over nature, but to follow maternal values based on mutual respect. It is not a system where women lord over men.” Heidi also deemed that matriarchal societies are the closest to egalitarian society or equalitarianism. It doctrines that all humans are equal in fundamental worth or social status. She also mentions that today, only patterns of matriarchy exist.

*THESE COMMUNITIES EXERT MATRIARCHIAL PATTERNS BUT ARE NOT 100% MATRIARCHAL

  1. MINANGKABAU

Living in West Sumatra, Indonesia, they consist of 4 million people. They’re the largest matrilineal society today. This community believes that the mother is the most important person in society. Women rule the domestic kingdom, while men take political and spiritual leadership roles. Both genders feel the separation of powers. As a tradition is that – while being married – women acquire their own sleeping quarters and the husbands should leave early in the morning to have breakfast at his mother’s home. At age 10, boys leave the house to study practical and religious skills at men’s quarters. The clan chief is always male, but women select him and can remove him from the office if they deem him inappropriate for the chief’s duties.

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  1. AKAN

A majority in Ghana where the social organization is built around the matriclan. One’s identity, inheritance, wealth and politics are determined. Their founders are female, but men have always held leadership positions within the society. Even so, their roles are passed down matrilineally. Often, the man is expected not only to support his own family but those of his female relatives.

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  1. BRIBRI

A small indigenous group of just 13,000 people, they live in the Limon province of Costa Rica, Talamanca canton. They are organized into clans and each clan is determined by women. They’re the only ones that can inherit lands. Women are the only ones also that are allowed to prep the cacao which is used in sacred Bribri rituals.

  1. GARO

They are an indigenous Tibeto-Burman ethnic group from the Indian subcontinent. They are a matrilineal society where men govern society and manage the property. Because of complicated issues regarding marriage and relationships, is considered as a closed system to matriarchy. Quite often, the youngest daughter’s marriage is arranged for her. For non-inheriting daughters, the process is more complex. As a tradition, the groom-to-be is expected to run away from a proposal of marriage, which requires the bride-to-be’s family to “capture” him and return him to the bride’s village. This goes on until the bride gives up, or the groom accepts her proposal. The husband lives in his wife’s house. If it doesn’t work out, the marriage can be dissolved without social stigma, as marriage is not a binding contract.

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  1. NAGOVISI

They live in South Bougainville, an island west of New Guinea. This society is divided into two matrilineal moieties (subgroup) and then divided into matriclans. Women are involved in leadership and ceremonies. Marriage is not institutionalized in this community. If a couple is seen together, sleeps together, for all intents and purposes they are considered married.

  1. MOSUO

Living near the border of Tibet, in the Yunnan and Sichuan provinces. The Chinese government classifies them as part of another minority – the Naxi – but have no correlation in culture or language. In the Mosuo tribe lineage is traced through females and so do properties. Women handle business and men handle politics. Children take their mother’s name and are raised in their household. They are brought up by their mothers and fathers have little role in their upbringing. Mosuo women enjoy a sexual freedom unheard of in China and other parts of the world. When she comes of age, she is given her own private “flower chamber” in which she can welcome her male consorts – as many as she chooses over her lifetime. The girls are the ones who stride up confidently to men, to introduce themselves and buy a round of drinks, as usual. Every cultural norm is reversed in this community.

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The unanswered question about this society is; How did this community come to have females at its head? How did women secure this power and why aren’t there more cultures like this one? Their founding story is a myth and legend, and as a result is impossible to know. They hold many secrets and the tragedy is that their days are already numbered. Large numbers of Mosuo work today in tourism, and have been repeated efforts to draw them into the same patriarchal traditions as the rest of China. Outsiders are trying to use their traditions to push women to intro prostitution. Their society not only comes closer to matriarchy but also to egalitarianism. They are an anomaly in a country in which women are seen as objects of ridicule. When the Mosuo community is wiped out, the world will have lost not only another isolated tribe but probably a tribe which could be the only modern society still existing nowadays.

In mainstream society, men commit more crimes than women. Jennifer Schwartz of Washington State University’s Department of Sociology told that in gender-egalitarian societies, there is much less crime by both women and men. And even then, women participate even less in crime. In matriarchal societies, people face much less stigma regarding sex and marriage. Men and women can take as many sexual partners as they please and bearing people with different people are accepted. Domestic abuse in an epidemic in mainstream society. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are indications that domestic violence is close to absent in matrilineal societies.

Even if there are exactly zero societies that are run completely by women, researches about these societies with matriarchy patterns show absolutely that matrilineal or matrilocal societies are the closest to gender equity societies and that even if women have the upper hand they don’t deny men an education and pay them less than women for doing their job. Women’s status is equal to or greater than men’s in these societies and they are characterized by fewer conflicts and greater social harmony. I cannot stress enough the downsides and disadvantages that patriarchy has on today’s society.

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