Society

What Is A Matriarchy?

Matriarchy is a social system in which women have the biggest power in society.

Matriarchy is a social system in which women have the biggest power in society. The power can be political, social, moral, and judicial. In the 19th century, scholars believed that matriarchy existed as a social system during the prehistoric age. That belief lasted well into the 20th century, often mentioning primitive matriarchal societies.

Despite all that, there is no definitive proof of a completely matriarchal society existing, now or in the past. Certain scientists believe that they existed, while others do not. There are, however, many cultures where one sex is bestowed power and privilege over the other, so the word matriarchy is still used to describe them. The opposite of matriarchy is patriarchy.

Examples Of Matriarchy

There are several examples of cultures we can consider to be living in a loose version of matriarchy. For example, the Mosuo women in China trace their lineage through women, and the property in a family is handed down women as well. Mosuo women also don’t live with their partners and never marry. Another example is the BriBri tribe in Costa Rica, where women are revered, and even hand down land to their children, while men have a less important role. 

A Mosuo woman.
A Mosuo woman.

The Umoja tribe in Kenya bans men from entry to their land. In this tribe, women who experienced sexual violence are gathered and give shelter to one another. In Indonesia, there is a culture called the Minangkabau; women there are also the leaders of domestic life. The Khasi culture in India is comprised of 1 million people; women are the only ones that can take care of children, and men can’t even take part in essential family meetings.

Another fascinating culture we could consider matriarchal are the Akan people of Ghana, where women decide the majority of important things in everyday life, such as politics and inheritance. It must be noted that none of these examples show matriarchy in its pure, ideal state. 

Matriarchy In Mythology

There is a large number of mythologies dealing with societies we could describe as matriarchal. Early Greek myths also featured matriarchy in some forms, where Zeus did not have a son but a daughter that became his successor. It was Athena that was birthed by Zeus himself. Celtic myths often featured women at the top of societies, holding farm more critical roles than men. 

A multitude of writers created works about the Amazon society, which could be considered the most popular fictional matriarchal society. In Amazon societies, women were the only leaders, warriors, and hunters. A large number of historical texts report about the Amazons. They did, however, consider the society to be real, but there is no scientific evidence to support that claim. The Amazon society is still often portrayed in various media such as movies and comic books.

The Amazon society is still often portrayed in various media such as movies and comic books.
The Amazon society is often portrayed in various media such as movies and comic books.

Matriarchy In Feminism

Since there is no proof of a completely matriarchal society ever existing, the use of the term matriarchy has fallen off significantly in anthropology. However, it is still used to a certain degree in feminism. Starting with the first wave of feminism, some feminists expressed the need for a society run by women. In feminism, matriarchy is often not used as the polar opposite of patriarchy. 

While patriarchy mostly means dominance over others, many feminists have a more harmonious definition of matriarchy. They argue that matriarchy is not about domination but the power coming from within an individual, and should be about living in balance with nature. They often criticize fictional work where matriarchy is depicted as just women dominating men. They see matriarchy as something more valuable and egalitarian. According to them, matriarchy is a society where everyone is equal.

About the Author

Antonia is a sociologist and an anglicist by education, but a writer and a behavior enthusiast by inclination. If she's not writing, editing or reading, you can usually find her snuggling with her huge dog or being obsessed with a new true-crime podcast. She also has a (questionably) healthy appreciation for avocados and Seinfeld.

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