Re: What Matriarchy? (was Drugs etc.)
Sat, 20 Jul 1996 14:22:39 -0700

sgf wrote:

>>> You are incorrect. Strictly speaking, the point behind a matriarchal
>>>society is that the women rule. That is the meaning of the word.

>>Are you sure? 'matri-' means mother, not woman, and my dictionary
>>(Chambers) has 'government by a mother or by mothers'.

> Dictionaries can be wrong. My dictionary is really wrong in this: it
> mixes up "matriarchal" and "matrilineal." (and has not a moention of
> mothers at all.) (matrilineal: descent and inheritance traced through the
> female line.)

Your dictionary is not wrong. Dictionaries only identify the general
usage of a word. Matriarchy (matrilineal) fits this bill. Also, in this
usage of the word, mothers are implied in the concept of matrilineal

> The accepted anthropological definition of the term "matriarchy" means a
> society in which the ultimate (i.e., the ruler's) power is held by women.

Accepted anthropological definition? As far as I can tell, this word was
only in use in anthropology in the 19th century, and even here no
general definition is agreed upon and these same discussions of
matrilineal vs matriarchate dominate. This usage of the term is common
in studying social organization in some animals, but as far as I can
tell it is no longer used in anthropology. I could be wrong, so if you
have any modern anthropological works on the concept of matriarchial
societies I'd appreciate a reference or two.

> It seems to run, in general (there are always exceptions) that
> in societies where men and women produce equal amounts of subsistence
> (food, clothing, shelter), then they hold equal power. In societies
> where one gender (and *so far* it has always been men - might change with
> more evidence)) brings in subsistence that is more valued than the
> subsistence the other gender brings in, that gender is given more power.

I would have to disagree that greater production equals greater power.
Actually, this whole power thing seems off. If a specific gender
develops solidarity around a productive activity, then they generally
have control over that activity to some extent. Community leadership
does not usually fall under the realm of productivity though. But
rather, falls into the concepts of offense and defense. Solidarity in
this area has always seemed to be exclusively male.

> In general, we need to be careful about assuming from scanty evidence that a
> society is matriarchal (or assuming that a society is *anything*). Think
> about it: a future archaeologist digs up modern-day London. S/he finds
> coins with the head of Elizabeth II, buildings with cornerstones marked
> with the name of Elizabeth II, and her gravesite. All too easy to
> assume that modern-day England is matriarchal, when it's recognized that
> it is an aberration, and the royal line will flip back to the males when
> males are available (i.e. the princes Charles and Harry).