Re: What Matriarchy? (was Drugs etc.)

sgf (
20 Jul 1996 19:17:23 GMT

In article <>,
Ashley Branchfeather <> wrote:
>In article <4sjjte$>, (Al
>Billings) wrote:
>>Lisa L Guffy ( wrote:

>>: The point behind the matriarchal society is the MOTHERHOOD is revered
>>: and mothers are looked to for guidance. As for the weapons, I
>>: don't think weapons automatically means that you are top dog.

(for discussion of "matriarchal" see below)

As for weapons automatically meaning the possessor is powerful: absolutely
not. You have to know more about the society before you can say that.
If the society was warlike, then weapons probably connote status, but if
it wasn't, then they might simply be possessions of the individual
buried with them, or that person might have been a craftsman buried with
examples of his or her work.

>> 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.)

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.
This does not mean a society in which the king is male but has a trusted
female advisor. This also does not mean a society in which a male and a
female share power equally. "Matrifocal" means a social organization in
which the key decision maker in each household is female. This is not
the same as matriarchy, which requires the key decision maker for the
*society* to be female.

There are a large number of matrifocal societies (the Navajo being one I
can think of off the top of my head), but so far no evidence of a true
matriarchy. There are individual instances of female monarchs (i.e.,
Cleopatra, Elizabeth I & II), but that pattern is never sustained and a
female ruler is seen in those societies as something out of the
ordinary. This does not mean that true matriarchy never existed, just
that we have not yet found evidence of it. There *do*, however, exist a
number of relatively egalitarian societies. The Mbuti, !Kung and to an
extent the Ashanti of Africa are a few (I think the Ashanti are along the
lines of separate-but-equal in which a male ruler is in charge of "male"
pursuits and a female ruler is in charge of "female" pursuits. Correct me
if I misremember). In North America, the Iroquois, while having titular
male rulers, highly esteemed women, who had close-to-equal power in the
society. 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.

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).

(We assume no responsibility for people who redefine anthropological terms
to fit their own needs.)

-- <*>
"Assiduous and frequent questioning is indeed the first key to wisdom ...for
by doubting we come to inquiry; through inquiring we perceive the truth..."
--Peter Abelard (..........I claim this .sig for Queen Elizabeth)