The Myth of Matriarchy

Who is the most powerful person in the world? Think about this before you answer. In 2011, Sheryl Sandberg, a former Google Exec, was named Forbes Magazine’s fifth most powerful woman in the world (after No. 1 German Chancellor Angela Merkel, No. 2 Hillary Clinton, No. 3 President of Brazil Dilma Rousseff and No. 4 CEO of PepsiCo Indira Nooyi). -NPR

For women success is defined not by how well you do what you do, or how happy it makes you, but by whether you are doing something that someone else has deemed important.


My friend always tells me he thinks the world would be a better place if women ran it. If women defined positions of power rather than just occupying a few of the ones that currently exist, the paradigm would be different. The problem is, women who chose to be women aren’t considered to be successful. When women become “successful” it doesn’t mean that they are simply good at something, it means that they are good at a man’s job. They have, in most cases, given up being a woman.

NPR says: (Sandberg’s) book — Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead— is something of a feminist call to arms. In it, Sandberg, a 43-year-old former Google executive with two Harvard degrees, is calling on other women, as she puts it, to “lean in” and embrace success. 


We can look at one case study of a contemporary matriarchal,  or as some might argue matrilineal, society to see how a society where women have power is really organized and functions:

One society we might look at is the Mosuo of China. To begin with rape is almost unheard of in this culture and sex is in no way taboo. Sex is practiced freely, is usually initiated by the woman and, although women can change partners as often as they would like, they rarely do.  The result of the Mosuo system is an extremely stable family structure. There are no divorces, child custody (the child belongs to the mother’s family), splitting of property (property is never shared) etc. The large extended family provides care to the child if a parent dies.

Mothers are responsible with the family, but they also decide the inheritances and pass the family name. None can interpose a woman’s authority and even less a man.

Among the Mosuo, since neither male nor female children will ever leave home, there is no particular preference for one gender over the other. The focus instead tends to be on maintaining some degree of gender balance within a household, even by adoption or “children change”.

Not all society where women have equality are the same, but in most of them sex is revered, children are well cared for, homosexuality is a non-issue, there is much less social stratification, much less poverty, and they are more peaceful on average.

In the majority of modern cultures we have next to zero examples of what a society where women are actually equal might look like. We can only conceive of a society where women act like men. Our favorite myth is of the Amazon’s – women warriors – and this is the model that men use when they put that stupid line in their personal adds that they are looking for an “independent” woman. In a truly equal society, we would see women and men who are adept at healing, comfort, tenderness, sensitivity, and protection as successful as those who are adept at leading, labor and fighting. In fact, we may even think of the very idea of “independence” as ridiculous, because matriarchies emphasize unity and community instead.

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In patriarchal societies we have demonized unity (we use that dirty little word – socialism) and even labeled “co-dependence” as a mental illness. In matriarchal societies it is much more likely that those two ideas wouldn’t even exist and that dynamic would be framed instead as interconnection and self-determination. And I would further argue that in places where women had real power there would not be a need to define political power as a matriarchies. In almost all examples that are defined as a “matriarchy” gender roles and responsibilities are considered equally valid. What we mean when we say Matriarch is really a lack of patriarchy and repression. The myth of Matriarchy is that it is a social structure in which women rule. The true is that if women were given a choice to rule they would probably chose to share power instead.

The most important thing I think this Sandberg said, and an idea which I had just tried to impress upon my own brother the other night is that:  “Success for me is that if my son chooses to be a stay-at-home parent, he is cheered on for that decision.” 

Today I am going to recommend a book for you to read that I don’t like. I would not describe Ayn Rand as objectionist, feminist, an original thinker, or even a very good writer. I find her a poster child for the modern concept of the “independent” woman who is nothing other than a man with tits and who depends on the opinions of other’s to define what is valuable for them.

But I invite you to decide for yourself:


I hope you all had a wonderful International Woman’s Day on Friday. Mine went largely unnoticed, I was too busy being a successful  woman.


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