Writing a matriarchal society

Discussion in 'Writing' started by Riothamus, Sep 19, 2012.

  1. A. Lynn

    A. Lynn Was: "Virangelus"

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    On rare occasion, I'll link one of these threads to my professors at NMSU, and they usually gush over the fact that they wish they could get their students to be so passionate as you all are.

    I think I may link this one to my Mythology professor. I thinks he'll get a kick out of the fact that I'm still referencing the book she assigned, rather than selling it back first chance I got.

    Speaking of pagan traditions, I really need to buy some books about women in the Druid/Celtic culture... though I'm specifically curious about women amongst the Druids. I'll post up any good finds in here.
     
  2. Andrew Leon Hudson

    Andrew Leon Hudson sf-icionado / horror-ator

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    I read Melvyn Bragg's novel Credo about fifteen years ago. No idea now whether it was good or just literary, but (my failing memory suggests) it tells the somewhat epic story of a Celtic woman in the 1200s, religious revelations, plagues and conflicts, that sort of thing.
     
    Last edited: Sep 27, 2012
  3. Riothamus

    Riothamus Registered User

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    This would be a bad thread for that as the Celts were not a matriarchy. Celtic women did however, have a fair amount of power. Celtic men were not intimidated or bothered by the presence of warrior women, and they often did go into battle together. A woman could divorce her husband if she saw it as necessary. A woman could lead a tribe as well. I remember something about women having some form of religious position open to them, but I can't remember what it was as their duties seem less documented than the male druids. Women could also own property. All indications seem to suggest that Celtic women were pretty equal to men.
     
  4. KatG

    KatG Effulgent Staff Member

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    And I never said otherwise. :) But when we're talking about a social and political system in terms of matriarchy, patriarchy and egalitarian/democratic, then it's the people at the top who run the society that you are looking at first, whether it's a small tribe or an empire. And at the top, in patriarchal systems, women are still breeding factories or lesser legally and socially and the top men are legally the human beings who rule. And that belief becomes the core belief of the society. In the lower classes, say for instance ancient Greece or China, a man could still legally kill his wife. He could own property, she couldn't. He couldn't vote and make laws, but he could do pretty much anything he wants with the women, including selling his daughters into slavery. In contrast, the women are then much more limited in what they are able legally and socially to do. They may be able to do some things, even powerful things, although it was usually only under certain conditions. They might even be able to be a queen in a patriarchal system -- although the goal, as it was with Elizabeth 1 in Britain, etc., was usually to have the queen marry and produce babies, taking the country one way or another depending on who her husband is. But the basic intellectual, physical, emotional, etc. superiority of men is ingrained in the culture of a patriarchy, even a gentle one like we still have now in most parts of the West, even a culture that says women are great, by gum. Women and their rights are not fully protected under the law and where some rights are protected, there is much debate as to whether they should still be (and how men feel about that.) And men occupy the positions of power in far higher proportion to their percentage of the population. In past patriarchies and some current ones, they occupy all the positions of power.

    And so because men can become powerful and occupy those positions, in ancient China, particularly at the Confucius stage, male babies of certain populations were a threat, male soldiers of the defeated enemy were a threat (and killing them also told your own soldiers not to rebel.) But female babies were killed because they were unwanted. (Although they might also get slaughtered in battle.) They were killed by their families because they were not desired in cultures the world over, not felt worth the effort to raise as opposed to boy babies. It's a genocide, it's just not as dramatic and fast. And it's a profoundly different view of worth based on gender. Modern China is a mish mash of fast changes. But China is still very much a patriarchy, and it's been clear that their one kid policy unintentionally meant a lot of girl killing went on before, and unfortunately possibly after birth, at least for a period of time. It's something they are working very hard to change: http://www.pbs.org/kqed/chinainside/women/population.html

    I'm pretty happy with it as it means I have a much better chance of being an equal human being under the law. :)

    I don't really think that's the case, the evolving. I think it's more of a matter of people always striving to be accepted as equal human beings with full protection of the law of that status, and the society and rulers blocking that, reserving equal status only for some groups (i.e. ruling men,) and slowly starting to change that when circumstances and activism push against the prevailing view. I would not term that as an evolution because it validates the ruling body as having the superior right to evolve while everybody else in lower, lesser human status sits around and waits for them to decide that hey, maybe slavery is not a good thing to do. But I do think human populations do always strive for true egalitarianism and the world is in balance more equal than it was even fifty years ago. But that does not seem able to come without a great deal of unnecessary pain and death to it. The world has become less violent, but equality is a harder sell because it requires sharing being legal humans in the society.

    And that's again something that can be explored in fiction. You could have a society that became or stayed equal without the pain and death thing, or one that did it with and is now dealing with an uneasy peace on it, not just with gender obviously, but with race, religion, etc. A matriarchy is an unequal society in which women are disproportionately in the positions of power and the society is set up to favor them on average and to view them as superior or more capable, more deserving of rights under the law, etc., in various ways.

    Since most of us are not 19, we just have more ammunition. :)
     
    Last edited: Sep 28, 2012
  5. Riothamus

    Riothamus Registered User

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    I've been wondering what stereotypes about men could used to put them in that position though. As I said, a perceived tendency for impulsive is one that is quite possible and one I plan on using. I've already got a good portion of the traditional legal system/pre-sedentary government that led to this. Of course this is also very likely culturally dependent as stereotypes of all forms very from group to group. Another that I can think of might claim that men are more selfish since they don't seem quite as concerned with relationships of most any kind. My reasoning on this could be flawed since I'm not entirely certain how much of that is social learning and how much of that is innate.

    Also I look forward to everything Kat says even if I don't entirely agree with it all the time. As far as I can see she is the authority on women's issues and studies on these forums.
     
    Last edited: Sep 28, 2012
  6. KatG

    KatG Effulgent Staff Member

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    1) I think you meant "possible" instead of "impossible" if I'm reading it right.

    2) Oh, let's not call me the women expert, please, thanks. This is all history that we learn about, and as such, it is fodder for stories.
     
  7. Riothamus

    Riothamus Registered User

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    1. Yes.Thanks for pointing out my error.

    2.Sorry.
     
  8. KatG

    KatG Effulgent Staff Member

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  9. Riothamus

    Riothamus Registered User

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    Well, at the risk of being accused of being a marxist, it ultimately is about some form of economics in the end and war often serves an economic purpose. Primarily the seizing of natural resources and defending territory.This is also seen in other primates.Certain types of baboon fight a lot and they are matriarchal (not every species,I know of at least one that seems to be very patriarchal and is just as violent). Hyenas most definitely would be a warlike matriarchy if anthropomorphized. Any way, war as costly as it is, is in some ways under certain circumstances a matter of economics and survival' Whether it's over territory and the potential resources they hold, trading rights, or something else, war is a very violent economic exchange.

    Also good article.It sounded like a confirmation of what most people who know quite a bit about such issues already know.It was a little depressing, but also a little uplifting as well.
     
    Last edited: Oct 1, 2012
  10. Fung Koo

    Fung Koo >:|Angry Beaver|: <

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    Holy man, I feel a rant coming on. Resist! Resist! :eek:

    Employment equity should not -- OK, cannot -- be based on exact male-female parity, with equal numbers of men and women in all professions, and everyone making the same money. It's ludicrous to use that as the measuring stick.

    Lion society is an interesting one, too.
     
    Last edited: Oct 1, 2012
  11. KatG

    KatG Effulgent Staff Member

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    You're missing the point of the numbers, FK, as well as that parity isn't the actual measuring stick of the article, but that's a discussion for elsewhere. The important thing in the article for this conversation is social structures built around deliberately maintaining inequalities of opportunities, which is why I offered the link.


    Animal set-ups definitely can be useful material for social structures. The Empire in Black & Gold series by Adam Tchaikovsky might be a useful thing to look at there.
     
  12. Fung Koo

    Fung Koo >:|Angry Beaver|: <

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    Yes, it's a whole other discussion. I think the idea of certain professions being dominated by genders due to the complex issues present in a society can be valuable. Not all of them are/will be deliberate, though.
     
  13. Zo0tie

    Zo0tie New Member

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    I realize this post is rather late in this thread but matriarchal fictional societies have always fascinated me so I wish to submit my 2 cents. It seems that fictional matriarchies suffer from people trying to cram their own hopes and fears into them to the point that they become unrecognizable as matriarchy. From the frequent violent discussions that erupt when matriarchy is discussed it is obvious that it pushes a lot of buttons in people. Something is happening to these people on a primal level that is both depressing and intriguing. If that primal power can be harnessed and directed it can serve as the basis for a powerful story. However you have to think out of the box to get there. 'Matriarchy is EVIL' is an amazingly common trope. Just do a google search and you'll see web pages of men screaming in horror at the horrible matriarchies that are coming to take their manhood, freedom, guns, children, jobs away! And once you get past that you see the other trope declaring that matriarchy is really about human dignity and equality and peace and freedom for everybody. So which one is true? Both? Neither? I choose to go back to the original definition of the word Matriarchy before the feminists, the male supremacists, the misogynists and the misandrists chopped and crushed it to fit their own Procrustian ideological beds. Matriarchy, simply stated is Rule by Mothers. Not women. Not lesbians. Not dominatrixes. Not sadistic Tyrant Warrior Queens. Just mothers. Once we wrap our minds around this concept we can go to step 2 which is to find the necessary conflict to make a story within a Matriarchal setting interesting. That's the real challenge you see for as we all know mothers dislike conflict and want us to play nice with each other.
     
    Last edited: Nov 29, 2012
  14. KatG

    KatG Effulgent Staff Member

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    Well that's a nice thought, but the meaning of the word really isn't rule by mothers. The word matriarchy came from the word matriarch, which developed in the 1600's to mean a venerated older woman in a society or the female head of a family line. The latter technically are mothers, but the former just have to be female and respected in the community. In the 1800's, the word matriarchy developed, primarily in relation to the word patriarchy. It was used in the burgeoning new science of anthropology to refer to tribal social systems where the line of descent was traced through the mother, not the father. Obviously, this system of descent has social and some political impacts. However, it did not convey political, ruling power on a gender or the mother role. For instance, Judaism traces descent through the mother, and a venerable older Jewish woman in a community may get called a matriarch, but that doesn't mean at all that the women ruled over the men politically or even necessarily culturally in earlier Jewish societies.

    Also in the 1800's, matriarchy again in relation to the term patriarchy developed an additional meaning. It could mean a society/social system that was run politically by women, with women dominant in power and central in the focus of the society. It was considered in the 1800's to be an early form of human development in the far past. Because of this, anthropology has in later years tended to use matriarchal, matrifocal and other words to refer to social systems such as tracing descent through the mother, reserving matriarchy primarily but not exclusively as a political system in which women, inherently by their gender, rule and are central in the society. These women do not have to be mothers in a matriarchy. Religious orders of women who may be celibate, for instance, may be referred to as matriarchies.

    In the case of the OP, the word was very specifically being used to mean a society in which women, inherently by their gender, rule politically, and are favored in power while men are barred and discriminated from top power positions. Such a society is not necessarily violently tyrannical, but it isn't necessarily pleasant either. Any society in which one group inherently by their nature is given power and those outside the group are discriminated against in civil rights and barred from power is going to be an uneven society which does not utilize all its resources in order to maintain an inherited elite. That the elite being maintained are female (who again don't necessarily have to be mothers,) does not automatically convey superiority or effectiveness. As a mother, I can say that mothers have no particular wisdom. A set of skills maybe in child-rearing which may or may not give insight. And not all mothers have the desire to have their children or those in their charge be nice to each other. The social system in cultures varies widely. A social system in which women rule and male children are expected to kill an enemy at 13 to achieve manhood and make Mom proud is entirely possible and may have existed.

    The issue really comes down to two types of political systems -- one in which there is an inherent elite who rules, which can be based on anything from gender to land ownership to ritual apprenticeship; and one in which no one has an inherent right to rule, all adults are considered to hold equal stakes in the society and governing is done by a body of representatives appointed by those adult citizens. The second is a very recent concept, but has come up partially in various forms over the centuries in mishmashes and may have been more common in early societies. The first one has been the more common one. Mishmashes of the two are mainly what we have now in what we call democratic societies, with the needle inching toward the latter.

    A matriarchy might be a mishmash society with some democratic elements of equality, but the maintenance of an inherited elite based on gender and possibly some other factors such as religious faith, wealth and family descent, etc. But that basic inequality must stay in place for the elite to rule, which means that the society will institutionalize various forms of repression, discrimination, punishment, wealth hording, etc. to maintain that inequality. So a matriarchal society cannot be, by its very definition, a society about playing nice with each other as the female elite already don't play nice to maintain their inherently defined power.

    A matrifocal society, in which women and values associated with women are central to the society and how it operates but power is evenly split between both genders without inheritance rights, sounds more like what you are talking about. But the OP was specifically looking at the idea of a matriarchy, in which women are given an inherent and maintained right to rule and control the society simply for being women, a society in which there are rulers.
     
  15. kongming

    kongming www.voxnewman.com

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    There's at least one first nations tribe in Canada whose form of government derives from the eldest women. The advice of these elders is seemingly taken and implemented. I can't remember where I first heard about them, but I think it was a Toronto Star article about the Caledonia dispute and they were doing a story of cultural practices throughout various tribes.
     
  16. Fung Koo

    Fung Koo >:|Angry Beaver|: <

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    Err... Maternal and Paternal are the root words. Both imply parenthood. And optional childlessness, as a feature of society that involves a choice, is basically brand spanking new. From 1960 to 1972, the availability of contraceptive birth control changed the entire way we could imagine society -- the sexual revolution was about more than doin' it.

    "Matriarchy" meaning "female and respected in the community" is a modern redefinition. Every person, male or female, if childless was simply a potential parent waiting to happen. Even the division of sex relative to gender is brand new, and maternity (the root word even of mom) is a decidedly female gender role defined by sex.

    We have to be careful with anachronistic definitions. Matriarch/matriarchy and patriarch/patriarchy, when first established as a functional descriptive sociological terms, and how they are still normally used today, included reproduction and their corresponding familial roles.

    I agree that the way we are able to use the term today opens up possibilities, and certainly in fiction if not reality, but by and large we mean Rule by Mothers or Rule by Fathers. Rule by People Without Children Irrespective of Sex or Gender -- aka Rule by Singles -- is a fairly fascinating idea. The so-called "Singles Rights" movement that is starting to emerge in Western societies is absolutely fracked up, IMO, and says a lot about how screwy our values have become.
     
  17. KatG

    KatG Effulgent Staff Member

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    Well again, let's not get into a who's values are better discussion, please, to the extent that we can manage it. The key word in there is "rule," and what the OP was looking at was constructing societies where there is an elite that holds power based on inherent status, in this particular case, being identified female, motherhood and marriage contracts not necessarily required. And that the society is then built on that notion of inherent status based on those identified as female.
     
  18. Fung Koo

    Fung Koo >:|Angry Beaver|: <

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    I didn't say the values were better -- I just said that they've changed.

    ...which may be additive to the question of how to "do" matriarchy -- pre-birth-control and post-birth-control matriarchies would be decidedly different things. Matriarchy itself might even exist as a method of creating birth control in a society without it. Who knows?
     
  19. KatG

    KatG Effulgent Staff Member

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    Good point. As we earlier discussed, pregnancy issues become a factor.

    Cultural values based on the principles of saintly motherhood have been done in SFF. Then there are egalitarian societies with varying levels, depending on the power structure. The evidence that a matriarchy run by women would be less violent than those run by men is fairly sketchy outside of fictional utopias. The OP might be interested in the chemical control aspect. That's workable either as science fiction or as a form of fantastical element.
     
  20. Gumboot

    Gumboot lorcutus.tolere

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    This is wrong. The root word of "paternal" is "pater" while the root word of "patriarch" is "patria". They have totally different meanings. Specifically, "pater" means father while "patria" means family, clan or home.