From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
"Primitive society, like many savage societies of our own time, was probably strictly matriarchal. The mother was the head of the family. ...What masculine authority there was resided in the mother's brother. He was the man of the family, and to him the children yielded respect and obedience. Their father, at best, was simply a pleasant friend who fed them and played with them; at worst, he was an indecent loafer who sponged on the mother." --Treatise on the Gods (1930) by H. L. Mencken, p. 84.
"An enormous array of individuals turned out to have spent some time—or a lot of time—with matriarchal myth. There were names I knew: J. J. Bachofen, Friedrich Engels, E. B. Tylor, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Matilda Joslyn Gage, Erich Fromm, Wilhelm Reich, Robert Graves. And there were names I had to learn: Julius Lippert, Lothar Dargun, August Bebel, Alfred Balmier, Uberto Pestalozza, lu. I. Semenov." --The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory (2000) by Cynthia Eller
Matriarchy is a social system in which females (most notably in mammals) hold the primary power positions in roles of political leadership, moral authority, social privilege and control of property at the specific exclusion of males — at least to a large degree.
While those definitions apply in general English, definitions specific to the disciplines of anthropology and feminism differ in some respects. Most anthropologists hold that there are no known anthropological societies that are unambiguously matriarchal, but some authors believe exceptions may exist or may have.
Matriarchies may also be confused with matrilineal, matrilocal, and matrifocal societies. A few people consider any non-patriarchal system to be matriarchal, thus including genderally equalitarian systems (Peggy Reeves Sanday favors redefining and reintroducing the word matriarchy, especially in reference to contemporary matrilineal societies such as the Minangkabau), but most academics exclude them from matriarchies strictly defined.
In 19th-century Western scholarship, the hypothesis of matriarchy representing an early, mainly prehistoric, stage of human development gained popularity. Possibilities of so-called primitive societies were cited and the hypothesis survived into the 20th century, including in the context of second-wave feminism. This hypothesis was criticized by some authors such as Cynthia Eller in The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory and remains as a largely unsolved question to this day. Some older myths describe matriarchies.
Several modern feminists have advocated for matriarchy now or in the future and it has appeared in feminist literature. In several theologies, matriarchy has been portrayed as negative.
In popular contemporary fiction
Mary Renault's historical novels about Greek mythology and history such as The King Must Die combine motifs of political conflict between goddess and god worshippers with The Golden Bough's academic hypothesis about dying and reviving gods. The patriarchal conquest of matriarchy motif is found in dozens of fantasy novels, from Marion Zimmer Bradley's historical revisions of Arthurian romance and the Trojan War to works such as Guy Gavriel Kay's A Song for Arbonne. Gender roles and the conflict of patriarch vs. matriarchy is a major theme in the Wheel of Time books by Robert Jordan.
The remake version (not the original) of The Wicker Man, starring Nicolas Cage, takes place within a fictional matriarchy in the state of Washington. The society, Summersisle, is modeled after a biological precedent, honeybee culture and behavior.
Twentieth century uses
Austrian writer Bertha Diener, also known by her American pseudonym, Helen Diner, wrote Mothers and Amazons (1930) which was the first work to focus on women's cultural history. She is regarded as a classic of feminist matriarchal study. Her hypothesis is that in the past all human cultures were matriarchal and had distinct advantages, then, at some point, most shifted to patriarchal and degenerated.
The controversy was reinforced further by the publication of The White Goddess by Robert Graves (1948). He also published a comprehensive translation of Ancient Greek mythology, The Greek Myths, that included many cross cultural comparisons and explications. He asserted that the remaining fragments of the earliest vestiges of Greek mythology led him to believe that the classical Greek mythology dating from 500 B.C. and later showed signs of having been rewritten after a profound change in the religion of Greek civilization that occurred within its very early historical times, or because of misinterpretations after knowledge of the original religious concepts was lost.
From the 1950s, Marija Gimbutas developed a theory of an Old European culture in neolithic Europe which had matriarchal traits, and was replaced by the patriarchal system of the Proto-Indo-Europeans with the spread of Indo-European languages beginning in the Bronze Age.
During the 1970s these academic ideas were taken up by popular writers of second-wave feminism and, expanded with the speculations of Margaret Murray on witchcraft, by the Goddess movement, feminist Wicca, as well as work by Elizabeth Gould Davis, Riane Eisler, and Merlin Stone. The concept of a matriarchal golden age in the Neolithic has been denounced as feminist wishful thinking in The Inevitability of Patriarchy, Why Men Rule, more recently by Philip G. Davis Goddess Unmasked, 1998, and Cynthia Eller, professor at Montclair State University The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory, 2000. According to Eller, Gimbutas had a large part in constructing a myth of historical matriarchy by examining Eastern Europe cultures that she asserts, by and large, never really bore any resemblance in character to the alleged universal matriarchal suggested by Gimbutas and Graves. She asserts that in "actually documented primitive societies" of recent (historical) times, paternity is never ignored and that the sacred status of goddesses does not automatically increase female social status, and believes that this affirms that utopian matriarchy is simply an inversion of antifeminism. The feminist scenarios of Neolithic matriarchy have been called into question and are not emphasized in third-wave feminism.
The original evidence recognized by Gimbutas, however, of Neolithic cultures being more egalitarian than the latter Bronze Age Indo-European and Semitic patriarchies remains valid. Notably, Gimbutas has not described these societies as "matriarchal", preferring the term "woman-centered" or "matristic".
Del Giorgio in The Oldest Europeans (2006) insists on a matrifocal, matrilocal, matrilineal, Paleolithic society. Kurt Derungs is an author advocating an "anthropology of landscape" based on alleged matriarchal traces in toponymy and folklore.
Feminist authors adhering to the Modern Matriarchal Studies school of thought consider any non-patriarchic form of society as falling within their field, including all examples of matrilineality, matrilocality, and avunculism, regardless of discussions on the extent of "matrifocality".
- Gynecocracy (novel) (1893) - anonymous
- Matriarchal religion
- Gender role
- Goddess movement
- Feminist anthropology
- History of feminism
- Amazon feminism
- Mother Goddess
- Black matriarchy
- Venus figurines
- The First Sex
- When God Was a Woman
- The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory
- The Hebrew Goddess
- Domestic violence
- Sexual violence