Re: Patriarchy: Re: What Matriarchy?

Anthony West (aawest@CritPath.Org)
Sun, 28 Jul 1996 20:55:22 GMT

The terms "(p/m)atriarchy" have been around so long that
it's impossible to end an argument by citing what they
"mean." They mean anything they've been used to mean,
since 1632 and 1885 respectively (OED).

The terms "(p/m)atrilineality" and "(p/m)atrilocality" are
more anthropology-specific. They are more precise and more
testable. All four conditions exist in various societies.
No combination of -lineality and -locality, however, adds
up to -archy.

What most people understand today by "patriarchy" does
exist in many societies. It's a tendency, enforced by
ideology, for men to subordinate women in corporate and
private decisions.

The reverse condition, "matriarchy," in which females
systematically subordinate males, is not found in any
society and there is no sign it ever was. The real
alternative to (relative) patriarchy is (relative)
sexual egalitarianism.

It's not unreasonable to suspect something
intrinsically male about "-archy." Male strength and
aggressiveness are genetically shaped; male thinking
styles and social skills may also be. Apparently,
given certain economies and ideologies, these
propensities may emerge as a patriarchy. 17th-c. England
and 20th-c. Saudi Arabia are extreme examples. Note:
17th-c. England was a patriarchy despite the fact that
two of its reigning monarchs were women. Not important.

Women, as a class, never generate a matriarchy. Perhaps
this is because women, as a class, never seek mates with
less power than them. This might be an individual's
choice but it's never a society's choice.

So matriarchy is not an anthropological possibility,
either now or in the past. If you seek Amazons in the
dirt, you'll be disappointed. But it does exist in small
groups. Your family may be a matriarchy; your workplace
may be a matriarchy; your coven may be a matriarchy;
your dungeon may be a matriarchy.

-Tony West AB anthro, U Chicago
Ei Tecpatl Ocelotl HP MotherChant, Phila.