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  1. #1

    Writing a matriarchal society

    I think this is a problem for most writers in general given that there are no living truly matriarchal cultures if ever there were any.Though some evidence seems to suggest the Amazons were real. However, even in this case, their true nature has been obscured by centuries of myth and speculation and slander by their enemies. The only true matriarchies that exist only appear in the animal world at present, but these are not human societies so only a limited amount of information might be gleaned from them about how a matriarchal human/humanoid society might function.

    Perhaps the best known and fully described matriarchy in fiction is that of the Drow in the Forgotten Realms and closely tied role playing game Dungeons and dragons. While it gives us an idea of how one might work, there is a substantial problem. It is largely portrayed as nigh irredeemably evil. Now while I feel that any gender based social control system is inherently evil, things are seldom so cut and dry. For example, in viking society, much inheritance, political power, and military might was controlled by men. However it was considered a grave offense to strike a woman (at least a viking woman) even in jest, women could own property, they could divorce their husbands if necessary, and on occasion joined up with the men in war. Women were also believed to be privy to certain magical powers that men did not have and the only other deity allowed to sit in their chief God's throne according to myth was his wife Frigga. I will not call Viking society a perfect or egalitarian one. I would be a moron selectively ignoring facts if I did. However this illustrates my point when I say such things are not always cut and dry.

    Still there are societies I would call violently misogynistic which could be compared to the Drow based on the level of brutality and cruelty leveled against their fellow human beings in general, though much of their worst tendencies are directed upon women. The catalog of these offenses is so terrible and vast that I feel a certain rage rising up within me just thinking about it. I may be a man, but rage against injustice is something that crosses over gender lines and transcends them all together. The scale of the oppression of women that remains despite over a century of women's rights movements the world over is appalling. Any at all is truly appalling, but when one thinks about how much still remains, it is especially so.

    Men can indeed be cruel, but so can women. From what I have observed, the capability for cruelty in either sex is equal, however the way this cruelty manifests is dependent on a number of cultural factors, what opportunities exist which are effected by cultural factors, and the person in question. Certainly we can say that Caligula was cruel, but we can also say Elizabeth Bathory was cruel. It seems to me that cruelty is dependent on social status and is almost seen as a sort of privilege for those of "higher" status (both Caligula and Bathory were high born people of privilege)! Which it should not be seen as no matter who holds the reigns of power if anyone at all.

    All talk of the world's evils and the horrors of misogyny aside, the patriarchal system seems to stand on a particular institution of patrilineality. To clarify, patrilineality is the social institution by which people trace their lineage down their father's lines which for much of history not only included surnames, but material inheritance, titles, and status. From this we can infer that matrilineality would be a catalyst for a matriarchal society. Though neither always leads to one gender power structure all the time, it is likely that a matriarchal society would also be matrilineal.

    What we also need to remember as I have been saying, is that these things are not cut and dry and exist on a spectrum. This is true of many things in human society from economics,religion, and government. For example, let's say we have a scale of monarchy which ranges from the least strict end with a constitutional government to the strictest form in which the monarch has nigh absolute power. We could also say this for monotheism. Let's say you have Christianity which believes in the strictest sense of the term that there is a singular deity of one gender (though some monotheists only use pronouns as a matter of linguistic convenience) while Hindus believe in a singular Godhead with many forms male and female. This can also be said of gender roles and gender based hierarchies in our world.

    Personally when I write, one thing I hold to strictly is that in any culture there are noble people male and female. People who hold strictly to these structures and those who actively work to undermine them. That humans in general are capable of terrible things not matter what ethnic group, gender identity group, or religion they belong to. Therefore while we she should not be to willing to hold a matriarchal societies in fiction up on pedestals, we should also be careful not to demonize them in their entirety or make them seem inhumanly evil. There is a reason cultural relativism is a driving force in the study of society regardless of how we as individuals may feel about them.

    So my only question is whether there is any additional advice one could use, or anything I forgot to mention as a result of this deities awful headache I've been having for the past few days.

  2. #2
    Life is fantastic, yes? CMTheAuthor's Avatar
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    Well, one key issue would be dealing with pregnancy and childbirth. For example, a large part of effective leadership is the public display of strength, which (no offense intended) is rather hard to do when you're eight months pregnant, (possibly) have a tough time walking around, and may have morning sickness on top of all that. (And that's assuming a relatively healthy pregnancy.)

    Of course, that does open new story options, since taking advantage of that weakness may or may not be common. On the dark side of that spectrum, there would have to be an element of paranoia present in the leadership of matriarchal societies that wouldn't in more patriarchal ones. (Maybe that's how the Forgotten Realms dark elves got so evil, in a vicious cycle of paranoia and scheming.) Or on the lighter side, there could be veneration of pregnant women, to the point where harming one in any way would be a severe (maybe blasphemous) crime. If those values are instilled enough, that could work too.

    And then you have to address issues of who does what kind of work in your society, and so on, but you get the point. Yes, it's a challenge building a society with a different set of rules, but you do have a lot of flexibility too.

  3. #3
    Palinodic Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    Well, the problem is that there's a lot of debate about what a "true" matriarchy consists of and whether our own social biases have gotten in the way of understanding past cultures. The Iroquois, for instance, are basically a matriarchal culture. But the insistence in later years in the anthropological field -- fiercely debated -- that a matriarchy must be the exact flip side of a patriarchy -- with women dominating, ruling all major political and social positions, being the soldiers, holding all the property, etc. -- lets you rule pretty much everybody out, since women led societies tend to be more egalitarian in concept in history and not obsessed in defining everything in terms of femaleness. Matrilinear societies, where lineage is traced through the mothers -- which is much easier to do -- are more common in our history, and matrifocal societies where the women run households and the social community and the men are more peripheral are frequent in lots of tribal and island cultures, as well as in early European and Asian cultures. Women fighters, judges, queens and other leaders, traders, scientists, artists, etc. have all existed in most cultures and played influential roles, but that participation tends to get minimized in a lot of historical coverage, except perhaps for some of the queens.

    So there really isn't an impediment to using matriarchal or matrifocal cultures and they often pop up in fantasy stories, although they may not be the central focus. Some of them are Amazonian myth cultures, always a favorite because of the battle-oriented nature of many fantasy and SF stories, but others are not. Sometimes the matriarchal societies are very oppressive in nature with men put in the female role -- flip books where the characters are symbolic representations of socially insisted gender roles, and so the women may not be well rounded because the purpose is not to explore their humanity but to hold up a mirror to darker aspects of males in our current society. Sometimes that may work and sometimes maybe not. The SF writers of the 1960's and 70's obviously liked to play with gender role issues and it is part of a general body of literature that contains books like The Gate to Women's Country by Sherri Tepper, A Woman of the Iron People by Eleanor Aranson, Suzy McKee Charnas' Holdfast Chronicles series, Angela Carter's Heroes and Villains, and more recent entries like Elizabeth Bear's Carnival, Sharon Shinn's Heart of Gold and Wen Spencer's A Brother's Price. These tend to be books where role reversals and cultures heavily dependent on static gender roles are the central focus.

    In general fantasy fiction, though, matriarchal societies are often used in a more matrifocal way and for political contrast. Marion Zimmer Bradley used matriarchy frequently in many of her works, like Darkover. Mercedes Lackey used it in her Herald Mage series. L.E. Modesitt Jr used it in the Corean Chronicles series. Guy Gavriel Kay brought it up in A Song for Arbonne. Melanie Rawn builds a magical matriarchal society in her Exiles series, starting with Ruins of Ambrai. Anne Bishop developed matriarchies in her Tir Alain trilogy and Black Jewels series. Trudi Canavan developed a religious based one in her Priestess of the White series. Matrilinear monarchies are extremely popular in fantasy, even if it's not a fully matriarchal society by a strict patriarchy standard (although it's worth noting that finding a strict patriarchy is not that easy either.) In Lynn Flewelling's The Bone Doll's Twin (The Tamir Triad,) for instance, there is a nation ruled by warrior queens who then have had the throne usurped by a man. N.K. Jemisin's The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms has a very complex and not unoppressive matriarchal, matrilinear society in it. In Wheel of Time, Robert Jordan has, among others in that series, Elayne's kingdom be matrilinear queens, etc. -- but there are both male and female nobles. So again, we come back to notions of matriarchy.

    It is also worth noting that the gaming world -- and the Forgotten Realms novels are the long time tie-in books to help market the games -- is on a different orientation separate from written fiction. Games are visual and the Amazon sex kitten motif allows for having content of characters of both sexes wearing little clothing and a S&M edge that can get as racy as the game's target audience allows for. So the femme fatale idea is very much part of gaming and you are likely to have whole societies of evil, depraved, scantily dressed females in some games. That's a visual tradition in gaming, along with boob armor, etc., and I don't actually mind it, as long as women are progressing in power roles in general in games. Gaming is only a forty year old industry that has undergone rapid change and increasing complexity and nearly half the gaming audience is now women. So the existence of the Drow, started forty years ago, doesn't really worry me. At this point, the D&D universe is pretty wide and has been largely eclipsed by other games.

    Given that the size of the fantasy author pool now numbers in the thousands and thousands (not even counting self-pubs,) and that a huge chunk of those authors are women, as well as male authors raised in a very different generation West and East than those who started D&D, and we're likely to see a lot more matriarchies in the future of all types, from deeply oppressive with male slaves to ancient senatorial with females instead of males. But we're also likely to have a lot more democracies which are neither matriarchal or patriarchal in terms of power holding and indeed, we are seeing that. Even in contemporary fantasy, where the society is usually our current Earth, we're seeing magical creatures who have interesting social organizations. I prefer the democracies to the matriarchies, although all of them can be interesting to play with.

  4. #4
    Was: "Virangelus" A. Lynn's Avatar
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    If I recall, at some point the cultures of the Mediterranean were hypothesized to be Matriarchal. Minoan culture comes to mind (which should not be confused with King Minos), and they existed in a time when the reproductive system of woman was very misunderstood, and thus held sacred. This is also part of the reason why we have so little info on such cultures, they were far off before record keeping.

    Then, the patriarchal Mycenae came and took over the area by force (which was also assisted by the fact that they place was thought to be under geological uproar at the time).

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minoan_...ation#Overview

    Try Googling "the Great Goddess" and see what you come up with. When I get home, I'll try to remember to bust open my mythology textbook, as it has an entire section that speaks to historical gender roles.

  5. #5
    Ah the Minoans... If only we could more readily translate their writing. I desire to know so much more of them, but alas, the secrets to translating their language seem to have been lost to history. Known now only to the divine. They were always a favorite of mine, perhaps in part because they were one of the only truly matriarchal societies we know to have existed. The mystery that surrounds them has never ceased to fascinate me.

    I also heard of a period where Japan was ruled by queens who occupied their time with various forms of divination, sorcery, and political affairs. This was supposedly a result of a bloody civil war between a king's sons, so they sought to avoid this in future by putting women in the ruling position. This as history usually goes, did not last. I am not too much of a Japanese history buff so I'm afraid I cannot say much more on the matter.

    Also, I know you said that you don't necessarily mind the whole sexy amazon thing, and I don't think you were saying this, but I don't think that will ever disappear. As long as there are horny men and dominatrices, it will probably always exist. Sex is also something affected and influenced by culture and I think that we do a disservice to fiction or fictional cultures when we do not discuss it, no matter what form it might take, and the sort of "fetish fuel" society though not the most likely scenario is not impossible.

    Also Kat, in terms of all those series/novels you had mentioned, which ones would you recommend to someone who favors the sort of attention to culture shown in ASOIAF, the Work of Scott Bakker, The Dune Series, and Scott Bakker's work?

  6. #6
    Palinodic Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    I'm all for warrior women, and in written fiction, they aren't necessarily fetish. But the games have traditionally had that, it's part of the culture and I don't think necessarily a bad part. But when your main example is a gaming example, not a written fiction one, what I'm saying is that there is a wider spread of matriarchal culture going on. The Drow are, near as I can tell, a sort of homage to the old Amazonian cultures in early science fiction like Buck Rogers and John Carter. (Possibly crossed with the Macbeth witches. )

    I haven't read all the series I've mentioned, so I can't tell you who has the most detailed cultures. Darkover and the Herald Mage series are of course major series in the field from prolific authors who developed a lot of cultures of those universes over the course of doing the books. The Rawn and Modesitt series are supposed to have interesting matriarchal cultures. Trudi Canavan is a pretty good writer, but I haven't read that particular one of hers. Bishop's series I don't think are super matriarchal, more queen prophecy, but they're dark fantasy and so might have a fair amount of atmospheric culture. Of others, Jemisin has very detailed culture, but the main culture of Kingdoms is an equal men and women one, the matriarchal one is smaller. Guy Gavriel Kay is a clear influence on Bakker, so that one might be interesting. There are a lot of fantasy novels that have used matriarchies and goddess cultures of various stripes, these are just some I'm aware of.

  7. #7
    >:|Angry Beaver|:< Fung Koo's Avatar
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    Perhaps we have to start by better defining patriarchy. It's kind of a bogeyman -- more people think of the myth than the reality. Many lump all sorts of differently patriarchal systems together and label them all as horrible, but many were certainly better than others. What do we actually mean by patriarchy?

    And how much do we let the evolutionary/biological argument play in that definition? Are some patriarchies excusable?

    I think those sort of questions can go a long way to figuring out where a matriarchy might start.

  8. #8
    Life is fantastic, yes? CMTheAuthor's Avatar
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    Well, let's go back to the origins of such systems, for starters. Most of my knowledge on the subject (and in this post) comes from Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond, which is a good book on how human societies grew, developed, and succeeded (or failed). Definitely good reading.

    Patriarchy pretty much extended from early agricultural societies. Early farming involved a back-breaking ton of work, a lot more labor than the hunter-gatherers that preceded them had to deal with. So obviously, the necessary goal was to maximize labor (both quantity and quality).

    Men by nature (no offense, again) have more muscle mass (on average) than women. Coupled with the basic fact that women had to have children frequently (to increase the number of available hands, since the death rate back then was high), they would be incapacitated a good portion of the time, and without regular exercise they wouldn't be much help even when they could. So, it fell to men to do the work. (It also helped that the less mobile lifestyle and ability to store food helped them feed the extra mouths and care for infants.)

    Now, like most labor practices, this one developed an ingrained social component to go with it, since early humans weren't exactly learned enough to teach their children "we divide labor up between genders because of pure necessities blah blah". So at some point, the explanation was developed that men and women had separate tasks that each was better suited to, and this outlasted the need for large amounts of labor. So, patriarchal systems endured, even to today.

    So if patriarchy rose from such conditions, it seems to me going about avoiding or mitigating those circumstances would be critical for a matriarchy.

  9. #9
    Palinodic Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    Well that doesn't quite work because in early agricultural societies, women did most of the field work. In hunter/gatherer tribes, men ranged farther and hunted the bigger game because they weren't taking care of the youngest kids. They would also gather plants and roots as they found them. Women set snares, hunted small game and looked for plants and roots, and again, since they stayed in the childcare group, did a lot of the food prep.

    As groups became more settled and agricultural, women did most of the planting, plowing and harvesting of crops. Men continued to hunt and fish collaboratively, raid other groups, handled livestock and did do a lot of the building and specialized trades. That's where we get a lot of the matrifocal societies, where women ran the communities, raised the children roughly communally while men were more peripheral, lived in men's lodges or were absent for long periods of time.

    What may have had more gender role effect is religion, If you reserved the shaman role for men or the dominant shaman roles, and if you had a male run pantheon, often based on war, in the growing societies, then you tended to have the philosophy that women's job was food (including growing the crops,) and childrearing, whereas men decided who they'd go to war with. Men did not control all the merchant trade, but men's ability to travel wide range more easily did mean that men dominated trade and the larger ships as trade expanded. Men were thus able also to trade women as property for goods and lands and this was declared what god or gods wanted under numerous religions. In the medieval serf economy, women and men both worked in the fields, the mines, the early workshops. Higher class women served as judges, teachers, etc. but the laws developed more and more around reserving leadership roles for men. Christianity in the west and Confucianism and similar practices in the East were firmly set on women having property status. But women have always done the major work in the fields up until getting into the Industrial age when plows and machinery played a greater part. Even then, with sharecroppers and so on, women were working in the fields. My grandmother had to give up a shot at college during the Great Depression to pick cotton. So while women get talked about a lot as physically weaker, the jobs they've been required to perform in cultures throughout history have been back-breaking labor, same as men. But it is certainly true that the vulnerability of women being pregnant and having small children did allow them often to be shut out of power roles, or at least officially shut out.

    So that's one of the reasons you'll see goddess matriarchal societies in fantasy fiction or SF -- the idea of a female-centered religion then has priestesses in the major political roles as well. What we do know is a lot of early societies had an earth mother goddess/sky god consort-son set up that was seasonally based in myth (a lot of Jesus-like spring ressurections of the sky god consort/sons). Often the sky god was the war god, though there were female war goddesses too in various cultures and death ones, etc. And gradually, the sky god became more prominent and instead led the pantheon in cultures that grew very big. The historical theory of Japan having matrifocal, matriarchal societies, for instance, involves more patriarchal religion and culture invading with armies from China and thus subsuming the matriarchal systems. But the data on it is limited either way.

    So war, religion and trade had a bigger impact on cultural gender roles than agriculture, but biological differences had an influence on those too. There's a lot we don't know about those early cultures, however. What we do know is again that women do back-breaking labor -- tasks are very seldom rigid regarding gender, especially on the manual end.

  10. #10
    This also reminds me, we know about how unfairly patriarchal societies treat women they perceive to be promiscuous, but how would a matriarchal society treat male promiscuity? I assume it would be frowned upon, especially if the male in question is married. I also assume he would not get off free.

  11. #11
    >:|Angry Beaver|:< Fung Koo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by CMTheAuthor View Post
    Patriarchy pretty much extended from early agricultural societies. Early farming involved a back-breaking ton of work, a lot more labor than the hunter-gatherers that preceded them had to deal with. So obviously, the necessary goal was to maximize labor (both quantity and quality).

    Men by nature (no offense, again) have more muscle mass (on average) than women. Coupled with the basic fact that women had to have children frequently (to increase the number of available hands, since the death rate back then was high), they would be incapacitated a good portion of the time, and without regular exercise they wouldn't be much help even when they could. So, it fell to men to do the work. (It also helped that the less mobile lifestyle and ability to store food helped them feed the extra mouths and care for infants.)
    Kat's points, according to what I've read, are more accurate here. It's a popular notion that physical strength meant that men did the field work and therefore patriarchy came into existence, but in fact the opposite is more true for early agrarian societies. Men as the manual labour force didn't become common until much later, and even then only for fairly brief periods of time. Patriarchies seem to be fairly rare, actually. We're basically talking about an 8000 year period of history here since the invention of farming, and it's really only in isolated pockets of that history, and largely in the last 2-3000 years (where the historical record improves), where men became the dominant labour force and correspondingly the dominant controllers of society.

    I do think the issue of child bearing has some relevance, but that relevance is directly tied to food scarcity. Survivability of a people is a function of child mortality and development, and child mortality and development are direct functions the health of the population -- especially the women -- and the health of the population is a direct result of access to food. So long as women were a labour force in food acquisition and production, they governed their own health and reproduction rates, and this is turn relates to a lower child mortality rate. In less healthy societies, child mortality goes up and female labouring goes down accordingly, and in the vacuum the males come to dominate in the labour force, though not necessarily in religion/governance.

    But the historical records suggest that this tends to be temporary -- there is a relatively brief period where the food distribution is either low, or inequitable, and the people that suffer most are actually not the women so much as the children. As women are the producers of the children, they suffer in the social hierarchy by proxy.

    Quote Originally Posted by KatG View Post
    What may have had more gender role effect is religion, If you reserved the shaman role for men or the dominant shaman roles, and if you had a male run pantheon, often based on war, in the growing societies, then you tended to have the philosophy that women's job was food (including growing the crops,) and childrearing, whereas men decided who they'd go to war with.
    If we question the rise of such beliefs phenomenologically, then I think there's a question here -- why would you reserve the role for a man vs a woman? Phenomenologically speaking, this would be an effect of something more basic, rather than a cause unto itself. Men wouldn't decide to be the shamans, women wouldn't decide the men should be shamans -- it would just end up that way and over time and become normative.

    So, I'm not sure I agree that the effect of agriculture isn't as relevant here. I think if we consider religion and government as phenomena of more basic issues, such as the collection and distribution of food, then we get a more salient answer.

    Agriculture of itself didn't produce sex-based social control, as you point out. Rather, problems with agriculture -- its unreliability -- would create situations that created an imbalance in labour division by sex. Nomadic hunter/gatherer societies just move, but agrarian societies do not. As CM points out, child rearing is an issue, but like I'm saying, I think mortality rates are probably the basic issue under the child rearing question.

    If we accept that there was not necessarily a sex-based role system in either hunter/gatherer or early agrarian societies, then I think we are accepting that mostly for ideal situations where food acquisition/collection/distribution was sufficient to support the two biological classes of humans -- those two classes being the adult, who is capable of collecting the food that he/she needs to survive, and the child, who is not capable of collecting the food and is instead dependent on the adults.

    We know that child mortality is significantly affected by the availability of food. And we know that where mortality of children is high, women tend to be more sequestered from society and limited to a child production role.

    In nomadic societies, the population would move on or die when the food became scarce, so an equitable system could be sustained. But that hunter-phase included the notion of territory, where the food was sourced. The whole culture passed that territory on through family, which was not necessarily either a matrilinear or patrilinear arrangement. In agrarian societies, territory became the concept of land ownership, and was still the food production region. As nomadic families sustained themselves through familial lines generally, the notion of inheritance of territory came with that. Land ownership passed through family.

    The curious part is that over time, this resulted in a ruling class of land owners who did not necessarily work or protect their own fields. Roles in the society became specialized, but the ruling class sustained the territorial oversight role.

    At the economic level of food acquisition, we have a new twist in the system -- we now have a class of adults who, in the food system, occupy the same space as children. They are capable of getting their own food, but don't. If we assume that there is a kind of balancing scale here, that a population of a certain size has a mortality rate that is a function of the territory it occupies and can produce form to supports its members, then this emerging class of non-producing adults can be understood to come literally into conflict with infants and children for the resources they need to survive. Both groups are dependent on the adult biological class to survive.

    If we write social values on top of this arrangement, where non-producing adults can win because they're adults and capable of defending themselves from other adults, whereas children are not, then I think maybe we can see religion and government emerge from an issue arising from food production (thus emerges subjugation). I'm not sure we can categorize religion or trade as causes, but rather effects of a change in the allocation of food.

    The effect of this system is on the survivability of children, and therefore directly affects the function of women at the biological level, creating a situation where food acquisition becomes dominated and controlled by males. The extremity of this patriarchal arrangement gets worse during times when food is scarce, but functions more by force of nature than force of will. I would suggest this kind of patriarchy is different from the one we think of as heinous.

    So I'm sort of hypothesizing here that perhaps true hardcore evil patriarchy arises when the food returns after a period of scarcity. The normative function for survivability, as a force of nature, gets written onto the social fabric of the society. When the food returns, mortality rates improve, and the biological function becomes less of an issue -- women are no longer needed to be sequestered, and move toward greater involvement in the control of society (like they had before the scarcity). As a result, to maintain the normative system, we see periods of the worst sorts of ideological patriarchy (as opposed to the functional patriarchy I'm describing above).

    If this hypothesis holds are water, I think we might see matriarchies arise in times when food scarcity is at its lowest - when there is an abundance of easy access to healthy foods, child mortality is at its lowest and child health and development are at their highest. Men, as a question of sex and food acquisition, become increasingly less important to the survival of the species -- at best being equally as important as women, but probably less important since you only need the man every so often.

    Today's society has men in control right now, but I think this is still the hangover. Food scarcity is basically a non issue is western civilization. Child mortality is likewise a virtual non issue. An average woman can get pregnant two times in her entire life and produce to healthy babies that survive into adulthood. Men in this system are basically irrelevant -- we don't need very many of them. And society in general is currently embroiled in a conversation about the feminization of society. It's probably got some legitimacy -- we are probably headed toward a kind of functional matriarchy-like society. At the very least, gender roles based on sex are becoming increasingly irrelevant.

    So then a follow on question -- is patriarchy a function of sex or gender? And would matriarchy be a function of sex or gender?

  12. #12
    Speaks fluent Bawehrf zachariah's Avatar
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    Interesting thoughts there, Fung! Thanks for that. On a tangent, for research purposes I frequented a lot of survivalist/prepper sites - which naturally discuss resource shortages and the like. The creators and contributors, at least to the online-visible part of the community, appears overwhelmingly male.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Fung Koo View Post
    Patriarchies seem to be fairly rare, actually. We're basically talking about an 8000 year period of history here since the invention of farming, and it's really only in isolated pockets of that history, and largely in the last 2-3000 years (where the historical record improves), where men became the dominant labour force and correspondingly the dominant controllers of society.
    This is most certainly the Catch-22 of history, because not all cultures kept great records. For example, we're still not completely certain of the role of women in the Druidic societies. The truth is that there is much more history that has been lost, than that which has been uncovered.

    Quote Originally Posted by Fung Koo View Post
    I'm not sure I agree that the effect of agriculture isn't as relevant here. I think if we consider religion and government as phenomena of more basic issues, such as the collection and distribution of food, then we get a more salient answer.
    Resources absolutely affect how women/men function, but not always. How would you explain the affect on the Mediterranean? It is a temperate climate, not necessarily resource poor, and once dominated by Matriarchal society, and then subjugated by a decidedly Patriarchal one, which remained intact for many ages (the Mycenae, the Greeks, the Romans, etc). Women were not necessarily considered property, but they were still considered under the rule of their husbands and anybody who refused to become a wife was exiled, or became a "Bride of Hades," (sentenced to death, in other words).

    Quote Originally Posted by Fung Koo View Post
    Agriculture of itself didn't produce sex-based social control, as you point out. Rather, problems with agriculture -- its unreliability -- would create situations that created an imbalance in labour division by sex. Nomadic hunter/gatherer societies just move, but agrarian societies do not.
    This is true of the Native Americans, and perhaps that's because of the fact that they had a resource rich land where water flowed, and food grew on its own. What about the nomadic cultures that still exist in the Middle East? Do you feel they will be in a permanent state of flux due to how resource poor it is? (I'm not considering modern resources such as oil, I'm considering resources necessary for survival, such as water).

    Quote Originally Posted by Fung Koo View Post
    In nomadic societies, the population would move on or die when the food became scarce, so an equitable system could be sustained. But that hunter-phase included the notion of territory, where the food was sourced. The whole culture passed that territory on through family, which was not necessarily either a matrilinear or patrilinear arrangement.
    Not necessarily true...Whether you take the Bible at its word for spiritual value or not, it is still an interesting History book and the Old Testament clearly defines that the land was passed on to the first-born son. Women, on the other hand, were given out for marriage and often only after the suitor worked his tail off in the father-in-laws homestead. Jacob/Israel had to work several months under Laban to earn the hand of Rebekah, and even then Laban passed off his eldest daughter Leah to Jacob first. When both Laban's daughters were wed off to Jacob, finally then Jacob left with his new wives. I see no inheritance for them.

    Quote Originally Posted by Fung Koo View Post
    So then a follow on question -- is patriarchy a function of sex or gender? And would matriarchy be a function of sex or gender?

    My Personal Theory
    I think there is a good chance that Patriarchal societies are born out of a function of gender, and primarily hormones.

    Testosterone is a chemical of aggression, fast reflexes, and competitivness. While women have a mix of estrogen, which subdues testosterone, men have much more testosterone than women do. As such, men are creatures that have aggressive streaks (and yes, there is always an exception to the rule). For example, why do many more young men feel the need to race their cars against one another? I hardly ever see women lining up at the stoplights, revving their engines at one another, even if said women have wonderful sports car. I've seen young men, on the other hand, revv their engines at one another even if they are driving a jalopy

    While women, DO compete against one another, it is not necessarily in such a physical manner. On the other hand, I've met some men who turn EVERYTHING into a contest.

    Men, sound off! Have you ever had a contest with your best bro to see who could eat a steak faster? Who could throw a ball faster? Any of that? J.D. and Turk from Scrubs exist! I've met them! And I suspect that back in our earlier ages, before there were guns to even the playing field, men just dominated because it's in their nature to overcome something. This is of course, as Fung Koo said, dependent on surroundings. If you're too busy with survivability, you may be less apt to wanting to fight, unless it becomes necessary to win back resources.

    If you still don't feel this is really a great answer, then consider this; during certain stages of a woman's monthly reproductive cycle, the estrogen falls away quite rapidly leaving only the testosterone in place. Suddenly the female gets very agitated, is ready to fight over things that would otherwise not bother her. She becomes such a force to reckon with, even men back down (okay, I'm just being dramatic, but I suspect there is a reason why certain religions regarded the menstraul period as demonic influence ). Studies have also shown that during this time, women are able to find their cars in the parking lot faster, and actually have faster reflexes during this time. Women who have undergone sex changes via hormonal therapy experience these results permanently.

    So given this, I think women or men are equally capable of being dominant, but men go for it more, depending on the region and what societal values are in place.

  14. #14
    >:|Angry Beaver|:< Fung Koo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by virangelus View Post
    Resources absolutely affect how women/men function, but not always. How would you explain the affect on the Mediterranean? It is a temperate climate, not necessarily resource poor, and once dominated by Matriarchal society, and then subjugated by a decidedly Patriarchal one, which remained intact for many ages (the Mycenae, the Greeks, the Romans, etc). Women were not necessarily considered property, but they were still considered under the rule of their husbands and anybody who refused to become a wife was exiled, or became a "Bride of Hades," (sentenced to death, in other words).
    The Mediterranean is really where I'm envisioning this social progression in agrarian societies toward patriarchy taking place. Farming most likely originated somewhere near the Black Sea in what is now East and Central Turkey, about 10,000 to 8,000 years ago. This entire region is also where today's most dominant patriarchal religions share their history and still find their home. So the question I'm pondering is how we got from before the rise of those patriarchies, to the patriarchies, to now.

    The archaeological museums in these parts (I live in Istanbul) have easily the most amazing collections in the world, and they depict highly evolved societies with an array of roles for both sexes, including both sexes in the various governments that appear to be represented. There have been incredible changes.

    Climatologically speaking, when agriculture began, sea levels were significantly lower -- the oldest farming sites are discovered in underwater excavations surrounding the Black Sea coast. At the time, the Bosphorous was merely an inlet, and many of the islands in the Aegean had land connecting them. Noah's Flood is theorized by some to have been the breaking of the ice wall in North America that formed the Great Lakes at the end of the Ice Age, which connected the Black Sea to the Mediterranean, turning it from fresh to salt water, and all but eliminating early farming communities.

    The result was devastating. Whether the sudden sea level rise was the ice dam or not, and whether it was Noah's flood or not, doesn't really matter. But the levels did rise, very quickly, and most of the farms did get submerged, and a whole lot of people died. The entire climate of the region changed -- central Anatolia was a vast and verdant plain, and most of the Middle East was significantly richer in vegetation than it is today. The Nile rose, and the Egyptian Nile delta expanded, and early pre-Egyptians, the other end of the cradle of civilization, were likewise devastated and had to rebuild. Life after this would have been very difficult, and re-establishing agrarian society would have been a tremendous challenge, taking place over some thousand years or more.

    The rest of the Mediterranean didn't get farming until later. And as you point out, it's a land with plenty of food just laying around. Hunter/gatherer society lasted much longer -- and in fact continued with the nomadic barbarian tribes that continued to thrive even toward the end of the Roman Empire in the current era, when farming was widespread in Europe. Farming was more of a choice than a necessity -- hunting and gathering could still work, at least until the states shored up and enforced agrarian society.

    This is true of the Native Americans, and perhaps that's because of the fact that they had a resource rich land where water flowed, and food grew on its own.
    Strange -- the evidence suggests that Native Americans were cultivating their own crops long before Europeans arrived. (In Turkey, there is a strong belief that the Native Americans are descendents of Turks and Anatolians who left after the flood, and took farming with them. Don't know what proof they have, but it's a fairly popular idea!) They are perhaps better described as seasonally migratory, semi-nomadic/semi-agrarian -- they had northern and southern cultivating lands that they moved between, which were also rich for hunting. They're an example of how a lower population density in a food-abundant place can produce a very different culture.

    What about the nomadic cultures that still exist in the Middle East? Do you feel they will be in a permanent state of flux due to how resource poor it is? (I'm not considering modern resources such as oil, I'm considering resources necessary for survival, such as water).
    It's a pretty big misconception that the Middle East is a barren waste. It looks very brown and dead on TV, yes, but when all that land is in bloom, it's a paradise. They're nomadic because they move from resource-abundant location to resource-abundant location, not because they're uncivilized or stuck in flux. They have excellent food preservation methods, deep traditions, and survival skills ideally suited to their environment. And before western religion came, they had much different cultures and values (which actually persist very strongly in many areas). I don't know a lot about them, but I would wager that their beliefs were probably more equitable toward women then than they are today in many cases. And today, they have the added pressure of modern society encroaching both geographically and culturally, which is drawing their population away to the cities and disrupting their status quo.

    Not necessarily true...Whether you take the Bible at its word for spiritual value or not, it is still an interesting History book and the Old Testament clearly defines that the land was passed on to the first-born son.
    Considered as a history book, we have to remember that it defines the history and culture of a geographical region less than a quarter of the size of the USA (and even then, most of it is within an area more like an eighth the size of the USA -- most of which is between the modern areas of middle and northern Egypt, Syria, and Jordan, with bits of it going as far north as southern Iran). There is a tendency to forget this rather significant limitation in scope. The history of New York is entirely different than the history of, say, Texas -- and if modern American politics are in part a byproduct/effect of that history, then the whole Red State/Blue State notion, and the corresponding values where it comes to the family, should indicate that the importance of geographical range on the history of peoples and the resulting cultures is fairly significant.

    It's entirely probable that the early traditions of the post-flood, early-agrarian societies depicted in the bible arranged themselves in a patriarchal manner, and that the bible accurately captures that history. However, other evidence, non-biblical, of then-contemporary societies indicate that there were an array of cultures surrounding the geographical world represented in the bible. Biblical contemporary societies on the other sides of the mountain ranges and other natural barriers that border the biblical geographical zone, i.e. India, Mongolia, Serbia, mainland Europe, Scandanavia, and the rest of Africa, all had distinctly different cultures, absolutely unlike the culture described in the bible.

    The fact that Judaic religion swept across Europe and throughout the Middle East resulted in a wiping out and supplanting of the existing cultures. Many Goddess stories today arise from European paganism (a terrible term if there ever was one), which was decidedly more matriarchal. The bible wins only because the Jews, the following Christians, and the following Muslim cultures wiped just about everyone else's cultures, and their histories, out. We can't carry the assumption that biblical patriarchy was the norm for anywhere but the postage stamp of geography where it originated.

    So given this, I think women or men are equally capable of being dominant, but men go for it more, depending on the region and what societal values are in place.
    So, if religion permits, one sex goes for it or the other. This puts the religion in place before the people who follow it. I'm going at it from the opposite direction, suggesting the religion follows the people under it, whose values are shaped by the living conditions in which they find themselves.

    But then we get into a religious debate, and I think we ought to avoid that

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    Hunter/gatherer societies and nomadic societies are not necessarily egalitarian. Roles were often divided by gender, with the men doing most of the hunting and women doing most of the gathering. In many nomadic societies, even matrilinear ones, women ended up considered property, passed with livestock from family to husband. The early Hebrews were nomadic and their system is matrilinear, but also unquestionably patriarchal.

    Again, I think it has more to do with child-rearing than child mortality (although child mortality correlating with gender roles is an interesting science question to collect data on.) Children were dependent on their mothers for survival for at least the first five years of life (no baby formula.) And child-rearing for almost all societies tends to be communal among women for assistance. So women simply couldn't range as far away unless the society altogether was a mobile one. (Plus, they often died in childbirth.) They couldn't engage as much in war, except for defense, (women often ran castle defense, especially as the husbands could be often away, for instance.) They could not engage as much in far-ranging trade, although they did do some. And it was far-ranging trade and far-ranging war that built the bigger societies and eventually fueled the rise of the West over more isolated and xenophobic Eastern societies once we got to the Renaissance era when western ships extended trade and military control of European kingdoms over large sweeps of territory. Cultures that could raid resources, goods and tech through war and trade tended to prosper and industrialize quicker. And societies that ranged widely in trade and war tended to tolerate ethnic blending -- they could bring mates back from other kin groups -- and that made the societies bigger, stronger and again gave more access to trade. The more isolationist a society became, like China for awhile, in contrast, the less tech it tended to develop. But doing the long-range trade and war meant that the men took the prominent role and religion was a handy tool for reinforcing that role as divinely appointed. Trade fueled education as it got more complicated, and if you controlled trade, you controlled education (and tech) and who had access to it. As societies industrialized, more and more men had access to education. Women had more access to education too over the years because of industrialization -- but it was controlled and blocked by men.

    So a matriarchy would actually involve communal parenting that included men equally and assistance for women who were nursing children in the first three years of life. It would have women having full access to education, women involved in military decisions (and not just as queens or top nobles,) and women heavily involved in trade. Kind of like what we're working towards now. But to be a matriarchy, as opposed to a more equalitarian culture, there would have to be a philosophical belief, religious or otherwise, that women are better suited for and have better judgement at major leadership roles in politics, war and trade and so dominate in those areas. For instance, in Jordan's Wheel of Time, the Sea Folk are traders and the women are in charge of the ships and the trade and run the decisions -- and that's considered the way it should be for them, even though the men are perfectly able-bodied.

    In fantasy fiction, magic often is the major shaping component -- the women have magic of great benefit and power to the society and so the women are put into the leadership roles because of that. (Magic can also be the shaping factor in reverse of that.) In science fiction, it tends to be a biological set-up or circumstances -- an alien race has different biological factors that led to a cultural matriarchy or the men all died off, or women isolated themselves, or there was a ship crash, etc.

    The less gender roles are rigid in a society -- the less particular tasks are designated best done by one sex over the other -- the more egalitarian that society becomes. Men can be very good at child-rearing. Women can be very good at tactical ops. There are physical limits on an "average" basis, but they don't hold consistent for all individuals -- many women are stronger and bigger physically than many men. And so setting rigid gender roles on the basis of the average wastes resources, but can let one group reserve and hold on to power in an area. When that area is blocking access to education (and this goes on a class basis as well,) the society struggles, even if some individuals get access and have money and more freedom. The more of your people you train and from an early age, the better your society will do. But we're not always writing about functional societies in SFFH.

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