Re: What Matriarchy?

Mary Beth Williams (
20 Jul 1996 02:22:21 GMT

In <> writes:
>>>Matriarchy has been defined as any social system which utilizes
matrilineal decent.
>>I am not an anthropologist, but I am a Jew and therefore know that
this is not correct.
>My arguments were (1) that both definitions are in common use, so
>arguing the validity of any one over the other seems pointless, (2)
>arguing matriarchy (matrilineal) vs patriarchy (patriarchate) or
>matriarchy (matriarchate) vs patriarchy (patrilineal) is basically
>arguing apples and oranges, (3) that the common use of matriarchy in
>social studies appears to be in reference to matriarchates, and, (4)
>that matriarchy is not commonly used in anthropology (more through
>of matriarchates in human cultures than by convention).
>To support argument one:
>Merriam Webster€s Collegiate Dictionary
>Matriarchy - (1) a family, group, or state governed by a matriarch;
>a system of social organization in which decent or inheritance are
>traced through the female line.
>The American Heritage Dictionary
>Matriarchy - (1) a social system in which decent is traced through the
>mother€s side of the family; (2) a matriarchate.

Once again, what is in the dictionary and how it is used in
anthropology are two different kettles of fish. Matriarchy and
patriarchy are descriptions of *power*, i.e., is power *engendered* in
a society? (and in many non-industrial societies it is/was not so the
point is moot.) *Lineality*, as in matrilineal, is more about social
structure than *power*. My own people are *matrilineal*, and I gain my
social *identity* from my mother's people. Much of the *outward*
political power, though, resides within the male sphere. This is not
at all unusual in Native American society, and in many groups the
maternal uncles have more *say* in the social upbringing of a child
than the father.

An equally important anthropological construct is
*matri/patrilocality*, or *with whom does the married couple reside*.
It is often, but not always, tied to *lineality*.

MB Williams
Dept. of Anthro., UMass-Amherst