Re: What Matriarchy? (was Drugs etc.)

Mary Beth Williams (
23 Jul 1996 12:22:37 GMT

In <4t1682$> (sgf)

:::deleting a lot of good stuff::::

>I didn't say "greater production," I said "more valued production."
>>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.
>May I suggest the article "Society and Sex Roles" by Ernestine Friedl?

>Community leadership revolves around the control of the most valuable
>resource. When this resource is protection from enemies, then power
>correlates with offense and defense. When this resource is food, it
>correlates with whoever supplies the most valued food. Among
>hunter-gatherers in temperate climates who are not in conflict with
>groups, women gather about 60-80% of the food consumed. Men bring in
>20-40%. In these societies, power is shared relatively equally. Note
>the use of the word "relative". Men *tend* to have a little more
>than women, but not much. They have this little bit of power because
>meat, which they bring in, is a scarce resource.
>Among the Inuit, on the other hand -- another culture which
>has had little conflict with other groups -- men dominate in all
>Why? Because the diet is 95% meat, which is supplied by the male
>hunters. Women, instead, process the meat and other products derived
>from animals instead of producing it.

(At the 3rd Boone Conference on Gender, there was at least one paper
which disputed this, but I don't have the citation at this time... I'll
try to pull it out of the abstracts.)

>Among the Iroquois, women raised food, controlled its distribution and
>helped choose male political leaders. Men dealt with politics and
>diplomatic matters. Men, technically, were the leaders of the
>but the women had so much power they were effectively equal.

This is true in most horticultural societies where women are
responsible for planting/harvesting activities. In the American
Bottom/Lower Illinois River Valley region, we even see shifts in
*locality* (changing from patrilocal to matrilocal) and mortuary ritual
as the groups move into the agricultural Mississippian period. What's
interesting here, as well as with eastern Woodland groups such as the
Haudenosaunee (Iroquois), is that at the same time we see increases in
female *power*, inter-group warfare is also on the increase. Among the
Haudenosaunee, men had to seek women's permission before going to war,
as the women held the key to all provisions (even meat, as men turn
over game upon returning to camp.) Among some coastal New England
groups, where female-gathered marine resources such as shellfish were
highly valued, there is a question as to whether inter-group violence
is actually *engendered*, i.e, within the male *sphere*, as there are a
number of *massacre* sites of women and children (*poachers*?) near
important territorial shellbeds. After Contact, when trade and
relations with Europeans disrupt existing social structures, resistance
among women appears in material culture (see Handsman's work on pottery
styles among the Susquehannock, Goodby's among the Narragansett and my
own among the Pequot/Mohegan/Shinnecock.)

There is a
>large difference between societies in which women cannot question
>given by men and societied in which women are consulted and heeded
>And note I said *generally* above. Anthropology is full of
>because cultures vary so widely that almost no statement can be said
>finality. In *general*, production confers power. It is not the
>*amount* of production that determines who, in the end, is most
>it is the *value* of what is brought in. Hunter-gatherer women bring
>over 50% of the total food, yet men have slightly more power because
>is valued more highly than vegetable matter.

I'm not sure if this is actually true, or if its our present, somewhat
biased interpretation... For years, anthropologists argued that
shellfish, because it was lower in calories than deer or buffalo, was
*less valued* as a food source, and hence, because women collected it,
they had less power. A number of anthropologists, including Cheryl
Claassen and myself, are now arguing against this interpretation. The
same is now happening with vegetable matterial, as more
anthropologists/archaeologists re-evaluate the importance of
gathered/horticultural products within subsistence/power strategies.


MB Williams
Dept. of Anthro., UMass-Amherst

In cultures located in
>areas where extensive conflict and competition is occurring between
>for resources, indeed the gender responsible for protection and
>will probably be more powerful.
> <*>
>"Assiduous and frequent questioning is indeed the first key to wisdom
>by doubting we come to inquiry; through inquiring we perceive the
> --Peter Abelard (..........I claim this .sig for Queen