Matriarchies, Patriarchies, and Beyond

Mythcreants hosted a panel at this year’s GeekGirlCon in Seattle. Chris, Oren, Rhys, and I discussed gender in spec fic and how you can create matriarchal, patriarchal, or egalitarian societies for your stories.

It was a lively event with many challenging questions from the audience. I’ve put together a summary of our main points for readers who weren’t able to attend. We’ll start it off like we did at the panel, with a quick primer on sex and gender from Rhys.

Sex is what’s between one’s legs or how their chromosomes are paired. While sex is most frequently male or female, an abundance of biological differences result in a third category called “intersex.”

Gender, however, is determined by someone’s presentation and personal identity. Generally it’s the way one perceives themselves on the scale of femininity to masculinity and can be expressed through adherence or non-adherence to gender roles.

For the purposes of this post any use of “male” or “female” will be referring specifically to biological sex and reflect ability to bear children. “Man” and “woman” will be used only for gender identities, mostly based on modern patriarchal definitions and their reversals in hypothetical matriarchies.

What Might a Matriarchy Be Like?

“In a matriarchy, everyone with a womb can spawn their own minions.” – Chris

Real matriarchies are few and far between in our world, which gives writers little to draw on. As a result, spec fic has a lot of poor attempts at matriarchies. Some portray a straw man or “man-hating” feminism, while others reinforce gender stereotypes and more simply fail to actually be the matriarchy they say they are.

Rick and Morty’s “Raising Gazorpazorp” episode falls into the first two traps. They introduce a society where the males are completely separated and forced to live in a desolate wasteland because they’re so violent. Meanwhile in the technologically advanced female side of things, status and political power is achieved primarily through fashion.

The novel Prudence portrays women as if they are empowered. The book suggests that because they use Victorian social conventions to manipulate men, women actually wield the true power. While this might happen occasionally, it’s not true empowerment because in day-to-day life the imbalance of power, prestige, and value still favors men.

To know how a matriarchy might actually look, we first need to understand how patriarchy works in most contexts. It’s much more than just men being in political power. It’s about men, and the roles typically associated with men, being valued above that of women. Some opponents of equal pay laws argue that women only look like they are paid less than men because they go into professions that pay less. But this has it backwards. Those professions typically pay less because they are associated with women.

We see this with the decline of pay and prestige for teachers in the US. For most of the country’s history, teaching was considered a very academic and highly valued profession. Teachers were imparting their knowledge to students and giving them the skills needed to be successful. This view of teaching was almost universally held… when teachers were men. The decline of a teacher’s buying power, the shift from viewing teaching as skilled profession to a caregiver position that’s “in their nature,” these all correlate with the gradual shift from the field being dominated by men to dominated by women.

For a contemporary example, we can look at medicine. Doctors in many parts of the world are highly regarded and generously compensated. But this isn’t universal; in Russia, doctors are some of the lowest paid professionals and regarded about the same as blue collar workers. This, despite the fact that they require the same amount of education as an American doctor. What is the main difference between how this profession is viewed in these two places? In Russia, the majority of doctors are women. According to Carol Schmidt, a nurse practitioner who has spent time in Moscow, “medical practice is stereotyped as a caring vocation ‘naturally suited‘ to women, [which puts it at] a second-class level…”

So if patriarchy devalues women and any labor viewed as “women’s work,” then a matriarchy would flip those perceptions on their head. A true matriarchy would elevate the value of any roles filled primarily by women, and the roles filled by men would be lower paid and lower status. Biology will bias caregiving and motherhood as high-value women’s work in all matriarchies, but all other roles and professions will change with demographics.

Other traits that we could expect to correlate to matriarchies would include:

  • Matrilineal descent, where ancestry and inheritance are defined primarily through the female line. Surnames, property, and prestige are most often inherited through the male lines in patriarchies due to the higher value placed on men. It is reasonable to assume that in matriarchies this correlation would reverse.
  • Matrilocality, a social system that expects married couples to live with or near the wife’s parents. A common practice among horticultural communities that exist within patriarchal structures, it is likely to be expanded to other community types in a culture where the women of a family are more prominent than the men.
  • Visiting marriages, where husband and wife continue living with their own families full time, rather than moving in with each other. This is a subset of matrilocal communities, as the children are raised by their mother and mother’s extended family. Our modern western conception of marriage has its roots in ancient patriarchal systems that viewed wives, and women in general, as property. Remove that history and there is more room for unconventional marriage arrangements to flourish.

A setting that approaches the idea of a matriarchal society in a reasoned and realistic fashion will definitely have differences from the world we live in today. But storytellers need to be careful not to reinforce sexist stereotypes when building it. A world in which there is no history of warfare because women are in charge is not a good faith effort at a matriarchy. It is built on the stereotype that violence and competition are masculine traits, rather than human traits.

What Would an Egalitarian Society Look Like?

“The Culture series, which is basically Star Trek, if everything Star Trek said about itself was true.” – Oren

Due to the biases of the writers and the studios that produced the franchise, Star Trek has fallen short of being truly egalitarian. While typically forward for its time, each iteration still lacked equal representation of the sexes in all levels of command.* This makes Star Trek a good first step towards representing an egalitarian society, but it doesn’t get us all the way there.

The Culture series, on the other hand, does a solid job of creating an egalitarian society. Sex and gender are complete non-issues for this society. In part it is because the technology is so advanced that a person’s sex can be changed back and forth almost at will. One’s sex is no longer seen as an important part of their identity, because it is common and accepted to change it on a regular basis. With sex being a fluid aspect of a person, binary gender identity and gender norms become completely undermined. That gives the series a strong foundation upon which to build a truly egalitarian society.

In Nickelodeon’s Avatar franchise we also see societies that are by and large egalitarian. While individual characters or communities may be sexist (looking at you, Northern Water Tribe), women have more opportunities and representation than is true of the historical societies that they are loosely based on. This is probably in large part due to the fact that bending ignores sex and gender. It’s difficult for a non-bending male to oppress a female bender, after all. Also, when dealing with a long-term war, no society in the setting (except the Northern Water Tribe) is willing to ignore their strongest potential warriors, the benders, just because of their gender. It’s not perfectly egalitarian, but the setting also never claims to be, and the sheer number of female soldiers shown throughout both series is a big leap forward in media.

If we were to have a truly egalitarian society, gender would decrease in importance significantly. Professions would be more or less equal in gender distribution. More striking, there would no longer be professions that are viewed as men’s fields or women’s fields. While having children would still be a burden of the female sex, raising children would not be seen as a woman’s role, but a parent’s role. We see some signs of these values and perspectives starting to work into our culture, but it will be a long while and much work before we are all the way there.

In making a good egalitarian society, you need to be mindful of your cultural biases and willing to reexamine and revise your work. Creating characters and establishing them in your stories before you pick a gender for them is one technique used by writers like Chris. Or you can alternate back and forth between male and female characters as you work to build your supporting cast. Anything that you can do to consciously add diversity and representation into your work is a positive first step.

Reexamining your work as you go is the more important step. At a previous GeekGirlCon, developers from Bioware shared how they worked to ensure greater gender equity in their latest addition to the Dragon Age series. They had taken the route of alternating between male and female NPCs as they created the game, and then after the characters and dialogue were created they ran a statistical analysis. They found that female characters had been assigned less dialogue overall, and that for plot important dialogue, female characters had been given only about a third of the lines. Once this bias was identified, they went back and shuffled character dialogue around to correct it.

Most of us aren’t going to run a statistical analysis on our work, but we should be mindful that bias can always sneak in. Getting new perspectives on your work, reviewing it critically, and being willing to make changes are all essential if you are trying to create a story that is actually as egalitarian as you want it to be.

What Causes a Society to Be More or Less Patriarchal?

“A factor, at least in spec fic, is magic. Because it’s hard to oppress women who can shoot fire out of their hands.” – Oren

Two major factors seem to influence how strongly patriarchal human society is: competition for and control of reproduction. While not the only cultural factors influencing the pervasiveness of patriarchy, throughout history and fiction we see that they strongly correlate with women’s place in society.

Reproduction is inherently competitive for males. While any person with a womb can reproduce, males must have the (willing or unwilling) participation of a female. As a group, men become expendable when there is tighter competition for reproduction. If your society has X number of females and Y number of males, a loss of males has less impact on the social group’s capacity for reproduction than a loss of females.

Therefore, if there are fewer females within a society, their “value” increases, but only in the sense of a commodity to be owned. We see this in Mad Max: Fury Road and the krogan society of Mass Effect, where females that can bear healthy children are so limited that they become a resource to be protected or stolen. It makes an ugly sort of sense; a community has no future without the ability to have children. But it means that females end up having no control over their own lives, because nothing they do can possibly contribute more to the community than childbirth.

Conversely, at times when women have been a significant majority of the population, they have also had an increase in influence and opportunities available to them. Most people are familiar with how women in WWII America were vital to keeping the war factories running. A shortage of young men forced employers to be less picky about the gender of their labor pool. As a result, women experienced a short period in which they were allowed and even encouraged to pursue life paths that were normally restricted to men. After the war, with men coming home and looking for work, many of these opportunities were suddenly taken away.

A longer period of this phenomenon occurred in medieval Europe, where for several hundred years the population had an unusually high percentage of women. While this trend lasted, Europe saw an increase in women entering skilled professions, and even some key positions in the political and religious institutions of the day. By the 1500s the population was shifting back, and the work available to women became increasingly restricted.

Reproductive control is the second major factor in the influence of patriarchy. In a society without access to birth control technology, unplanned pregnancy can disrupt female lives and make them more dependent on social networks or husbands. In extreme cases, pregnancy can be used as a way for males to exert control over females, making them vulnerable and forcing them to depend on a male for food and shelter.

Gaining access to birth control technology gives women control over their reproductive choices. Controlling when and if they reproduce allows women to do so only when it would not derail their life or career, opening up opportunities they might otherwise not be able to pursue. It also gives a measure of protection from males who might try to use their biology against them.

When writing, reviewing these two factors is a good way to estimate how patriarchal, egalitarian, or matriarchal a society might be. Any demographic factors, cultural views on sex, or religious taboos that lead to increased reproductive competition will weaken women’s control over their lives. The degree to which women can control their own reproductive choices will also have a large impact. Sex positive culture, even distribution of the sexes in the population, and full access to reproductive technology are probably prerequisites to a truly egalitarian society. And to have conditions favorable to a matriarchy, it is likely that a women would need to have not only full reproductive control but also demographics that forced them to compete rather than men.*

Can Patriarchal Settings Discourage Patriarchy in Real Life?

“If the protagonist’s actions are vindicated only at the end, then the story is further normalizing patriarchy.” – Mike

The general thinking of the Mythcreants panel is that patriarchal settings can discourage real life patriarchy if, and only if, they are intentionally written to not reinforce or normalize patriarchal tropes. The characters that challenge patriarchal standards must receive consistent support from both other characters and the plot. If they struggle without any support, then at best the story is saying that only extraordinary people can stand up to patriarchy. If patriarchy is portrayed as normal, or that resisting it is always a great struggle, the fiction is only reinforcing patriarchal narratives.

The best example of a story that effectively challenges patriarchy and toxic masculinity is Mad Max: Fury Road. In Fury, we clearly see that both men and women are negatively impacted by patriarchy. Healthy females are obviously a commodity, but men are as well. The Warboys are Immortan Joe’s cannon fodder; in his mind they are on par with the war rigs, a resource to be owned and used.

If you are using a patriarchal setting, several pitfalls need to be avoided to successfully challenge patriarchal norms. First of all, it’s not enough to just be aware of the dynamics of privilege and patriarchy when they are used in a story. A valid criticism of Ex Machina is that while it is obviously aware of how it uses those tropes, it is simply rehashing them without challenge. As a result, the movie normalizes the harmful dynamics portrayed.

The other problem is that your audience can miss the message if you’re too subtle. Mad Men, for example, had some audiences of its early seasons thinking that it was supposed to glorify 1960s masculinity. While over time it became more clear that the show writers were trying to subvert patriarchal norms all along, many audience members were already thinking that Don Draper was a figure they were supposed to emulate.

To challenge patriarchal norms in a story set in a patriarchal world, the storyteller needs to actively challenge those norms on all fronts and avoid too much subtlety.

How Should Spec Fic Handle Transgender or Gender Queer Persons?

“Well, it could handle it at all, that would be nice.” – Rhys

Spec fic storytellers can start by making an effort to simply include trans folks regularly. Currently anyone that doesn’t identify with the gender they were assigned at birth has little representation in media. We have a few examples of canonically trans characters in Sense8, Steven Universe, and Orphan Black. Beyond these three shows, however, there is a current lack of visible trans characters in spec fic.

This oversight gets worse when you consider how many spec fic societies are supposed to be egalitarian or utopian. Egalitarian societies in particular, with their de-emphasis on the importance of gender, should be open to and supportive of people who identify outside of the narrow binary of our current gender norms. While not all societies represented in spec fic stories would be accepting of identities that challenge patriarchal and gender norms, we should strive, at a minimum, to include more representation in those that would.

As a storyteller you should want to have a wide diversity of life experiences that you are familiar with. That makes it easier to put yourself in the heads of characters, to understand their motivations, and to develop them in meaningful ways. So you should try to meet trans people (there are more than most realize) and get a sense for the diversity of their life experiences. Having characters with a range of perspectives will only make stories richer.

Patriarchy and gender norms are too large of topics to fully cover in a one-hour panel or a single blog post. Entire books and course curricula are devoted to gender issues. But the information provided should be a good starting point for storytellers – in particular, those who want to be more deliberate about how they use gender in their works.


Special thanks to GeekGirlCon for hosting the event and to everyone who attended the panel.

P.S. Our bills are paid by our wonderful patrons. Could you chip in?

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  1. Pedro O.

    Great article. The section about “Can Patriarchal Settings Discourage Patriarchy in Real Life?” represents something that always worries me about some of my games. Take Call of Cthulhu for an example (if you set it at 1920), how should we deal with the prejudices and oppression from that time? Some people choose to ignore and erase it (as if it was possible), not imposing anything different for PCs who are women or non-white. This strategy doesn’t please me.
    But, trying to represent those elements in a critical way can be hard, you can fail and just reinforce the prejudice. I guess it’s possible to get a good result if your game is focusing on them, but if they are just a side theme (or worst, just “flavor”), you may be too shallow. What do you think about that?

    [Sorry for my lousy english]

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      For roleplaying games specifically, I think it’s often best practice to simply ignore the various prejudices that a PC might face, unless that player is specifically interested in them as a story element. There’s way less separation between player (audience) and character in an RPG than their is in a novel or film. Dealing with discrimination can be emotionally draining, and it’s not a good idea to force that on a player just for the race/sex/gender/orientation of their character.

      If the player is interested, then for sure there’s some rich story potential to be had. But the main action of CoC is cosmic horror shattering human minds, and that works fine without bringing up all the terrible prejudices of the time period.

  2. Sara

    I was just wondering, but if in the matriarchal societies feminine professions are more valued and payed more, what about important masculine jobs like construction workers, and engineers, if they aren’t as valued, wouldn’t that negatively affect the society as a whole?

    • Mike Hernandez

      One of the main takeaways from my research is that jobs in a patriarchy are valued more not because they are inherently more masculine or harder to do, but because the majority of practitioners are male. The reverse would be true in a matriarchy.

      Construction work and manual labor aren’t necessarily men’s jobs. It may seem logical for them to be because the greater strength required, but looking across history and cultures, in a number of societies women have done the majority of the work that requires strength and endurance. Many hunting and gathering societies for instance, have the men doing the hunting, and the women doing the gathering. The hunters typically get the respect and glory, but if you look at number of hours committed to obtaining food, the level of physical exertion, and the number of calories contributed, the female gatherers are working longer and harder hours and providing a much greater level of sustenance for the group. It’s a much more important role, even though it is less valued. Similarly today in the US, care workers for children, sick, and elderly, tend to work very long and physically demanding hours, and it is work that is severely needed despite the low pay and value that are granted since it’s viewed as women’s work.

      As for professions requiring high levels of education like engineering, most would probably be majority women fields in a matriarchy. But where men are dominant, it would look very similar to mid 20th century computer science. Until the 1980’s most programmers were women, including the entire NASA Apollo program’s computer science team. They received lower pay and no recognition compared to the male engineers they worked alongside, but we wouldn’t have landed on the moon without their incredible work.

      So when work is attributed lower value and lower pay it doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t get done, but it may mean those who have their pick of the work will choose something else. Men and women who are very talented and have a lot to contribute may avoid a profession they could thrive in if it’s undervalued by society.

      To give the short answer to your question: Yes I do think matriarchy would harm society, in a mirror image of how patriarchy harms society.

      • Metaphone

        “but because the majority of practitioners are male. The reverse would be true in a matriarchy.”

        Not an argument, as there’s no proof of that, and jobs such as farm workers (79% men), grounds maintenance workers (94% m), Cleaners of vehicles & equipment (85%), Automotive & watercraft service attendants (85%), dishwashers (78%), parking lot attendants (85%), Baggage porters, bellhops, & concierges (77%), motion picture projectionists (92%), Butchers & other meat, poultry, & fish processing workers (78%), Ambulance drivers & attendants (79%), Parking lot attendants (85%), Taxi drivers (85%), Barbers (79%) and many more are among the lowest paying.

        “Construction work and manual labor aren’t necessarily men’s jobs. It may seem logical for them to be because the greater strength required, but looking across history and cultures, in a number of societies women have done “the majority of the work that requires strength and endurance.”

        For which you will never offer facts nor a reason as to why that would be the case.

        “but if you look at number of hours committed to obtaining food, the level of physical exertion, and the number of calories contributed, the female gatherers are working longer and harder hours and providing a much greater level of sustenance for the group. It’s a much more important role, even though it is less valued.”

        That makes zero sense. If gathering actually provided more food than hunting, then they would all have gathered food, with no one hunting, especially since people constantly died during the hunt. Are you telling me that despite constantly losing people to the hunt, and despite it being less profitable, they still did it just for the heck of it?
        And then you also offer no facts (again) and reason to believe your statement (again). Are you really telling me that going after a mammoth or a sabre tooth tiger for days is *easier* than killing rabbits, gathering mushrooms and berries? Is that actually what you’re suggesting?

        “Similarly today in the US, care workers for children, sick, and elderly, tend to work very long and physically demanding hours, and it is work that is severely needed despite the low pay and value that are granted since it’s viewed as women’s work.”

        Maybe the world isn’t actually black and white and such jobs don’t receive less pay because everyone hates women, but because it’s work that is comparably simple to learn and isn’t profitable.

        “Until the 1980’s most programmers were women,”

        Wrong. 1970s: 11% women, later that decade 25%, and the climax with 37% in 1984. I have no idea where you get your data from, but this is from the Washington Post.

        “including the entire NASA Apollo program’s computer science team.”

        Are you purposely deceiving? I haven’t found a singe article suggesting that, quite the opposite, they all only highlighted several women to show that it wasn’t all men, without ever stating that 100% of them were women, which would also be unlikely given that at most 37% of people with computere science degrees were women. Are you telling me that the misogynistic society of the 19somethings hired exclusively women for such an important project, despite more men being available? You seem to contradict yourself there a little.

        • American Charioteer

          From my wilderness experience it is relatively easy to gather a large amount of low calorie food in the spring and summer once you know what you are looking for, but virtually impossible in the winter (I live in Pennsylvania). Mike Hernandaz may have meant that gathering produced calories for most of the year, but you are right that the dangerous work of hunting large game was critical. Outside of tropics there was no other way to survive the winter.

          As you said, hunting is so dangerous that if it wasn’t necessary it would not have been done. In fact, the dangers of hunting compared to gathering and childrearing may have been great enough to create a drastic gender imbalance, allowing rapid sexual selection in Europe (Frost, P (2008) Sexual selection and human geographic variation. Journal of Social, Evolutionary and Cultural Psychology).

          In saying that most programmers were women, Mike is most likely referring to the people who’s job title was “computer” and who were tasked with performing rote calculations. Most of these people were women, but they were not programmers or engineers. They were paid less for the same reason a lab tech is paid less than a research scientist or an orderly is paid less than a nurse.

        • American Charioteer

          Also, while I am saddened by anthropogenic extinction I can’t help but be proud that humans with stone-age implements routinely hunted wooly mammoths.

          • Metaphone

            Well, the main point was that hunting must have been more profitable and physically more demanding, so I guess we agree.

            Yes, what you say about computing jobs in the 1960s to 80s makes sense.

            Yes, it’s quite the feat to take down a mammoth, especially since they were rarely alone, so you had to seperate one from the group first. Though I also kind of wish we had been less efficient at it, then we might still have the equivalent to elephants, with fur at that. Imagine riding on one of these things. But then again, the changing weather over the last 10k years would probably not have been survivable for them anyways (as the article also mentions, now that I look at it).

        • Cay Reet

          Look up ‘computing’ pre-computer era and you will see that it was a low-paying job at universities and other places with a lot of computing to be done and was done very often by women. And all of NASA’s pre-computer computers were indeed women. One of them was even kept to check the first electric computer results to make sure they were correct.

          Also note your own list of low paying jobs mostly done by men doesn’t require a very specific training in most cases. Which is why they are low-paid. In contrast, look at jobs like nurse, midwife, or elementary teacher, all jobs mostly done by women and paid badly, despite demanding serious training.

          • Metaphone

            “Look up ‘computing’ pre-computer era and you will see that it was a low-paying job at universities and other places with a lot of computing to be done and was done very often by women.”

            Irrelevant, as Mike specifically stated “programmers”, and “entire NASA Apollo program’s computer science team”, which is a completely different thing from what you’re talking about.

            “Also note your own list of low paying jobs mostly done by men doesn’t require a very specific training in most cases.”

            As is the case with nearly all low paying jobs, regardless of gender.

            ” In contrast, look at jobs like nurse, midwife, or elementary teacher, all jobs mostly done by women and paid badly, despite demanding serious training.”

            You are shooting yourself in the foot. Nurses are underpaid, but their job is still a lot easier than that of a Doctor, and nurse midwives make a LOT of money, $107,460 a year, as a google search will tell you, despite being 90.3% FEMALE. So no, this ridiculous narrative that society just hates women which is why anything they touch gets “tainted” and thus underpaid is ludicrous. Elementary teachers receive around $45,000, placing them not nearly close to the jobs I’ve listed above with an average of about $25,000, and considering that elementary teaching is not even close to as challenging as most higher paying jobs due to simple to understand concepts, making the disciplining the only hurdle, as well as the ludicrously short working hours, I don’t see how that’s a good example.

            Bottomline: It’s illegal to pay someone less because of their gender, and the thought that the entire Northern hemisphere participates in it regardless is silly, especially when differences can be entirely explained by different life choices, differences in working hours and taken holidays, and goals when talking to their bosses about their job conditions. In all of these factors, men show to be more work-oriented, while women look for a balanced life. There is no issue with either of that, but you’re turning it into one based on zero factual evidence.

          • Cay Reet

            “Bottomline: It’s illegal to pay someone less because of their gender, and the thought that the entire Northern hemisphere participates in it regardless is silly, especially when differences can be entirely explained by different life choices, differences in working hours and taken holidays, and goals when talking to their bosses about their job conditions. In all of these factors, men show to be more work-oriented, while women look for a balanced life. There is no issue with either of that, but you’re turning it into one based on zero factual evidence.”

            So women in Iceland did strike for nothing years ago and thus made it the first land in the Northern Hemisphere where men and women are paid the same money for the same job for real. Yes, not doing it is technically illegal, but since most companies deny their employees to talk about their salary (per contract, as it were), you will never be able to prove you’re paid less than your male colleague, if you happen to be a woman.

            Yes, in the long run, the personal choice of a woman to have children and society’s choice to make it much easier for her to stay at home than for her husband change the possible salary. The fact that she has to do the housework, instead of putting in two more hours of overtime. The fact that she has to take days off when the children are sick or some repairs need to be made (and someone has to let in and supervise the craftsmen). Because she wants to do all that … no, wait, because society says it’s her job in the relationship to do all that. Because nothing is more horrible for our society than a woman who says ‘fuck children, I’m having myself one of those careers instead.’ A woman who doesn’t want children has to be sick, as everyone will start telling you from the day you turn 30 and are without children until you reach menopause, if you don’t get a change of heart. And that society I referred to is the same everywhere in the Northern Hemisphere.

            In a matriarchy, that same ’emotional labour’ of housework and keeping everything managed would, quite likely, fall to the husband. So he’d be more likely to hand in his notice when they have a child (which he could raise just as well). He’d probably be taking days off when the kindergarten teachers strike or when the plumber is coming to take care of the sink. He’d be home earlier, because the kids come home and because the laundry needs doing. Because chromosomes say nothing about plumbers and careers and dirty laundry, only about who carries out and who fathers the child. And no, not even mother’s milk is an argument, because a lot of children don’t get any from the breast for various reasons (some women don’t produce enough, have to take meds, or simply don’t want to breastfeed, among other reasons).

            But even at the beginning of their careers, men and women are paid differently. That is why every year in March, several organisations celebrate the day on which women have earned the same as their male colleagues did on the 31st December.

          • Cay Reet

            Yes, that’s also why women in Iceland went on strike to force equal pay for equal work. Or why several organisations hold a celebration in March, when women have made as much as their male colleagues did on the 31st of December the year before. Having a right on paper and having it in real life are two pairs of shoes, as they say where I live.

            And when it comes to choices: who chooses? The woman herself or society which expects her to stay home with the kids? To work less, so she can do the housework? To take days off when the kids are sick or something in and around the house needs doing (by a professional she has to let in and keep an eye on)? It’s not about work-life-balance for most women. It’s about ‘you’re sick if you don’t want children’ and ‘of course my girlfriend/wife will stay at home, once we have children.’

            In a matriarchy, all that emotional labour of keeping household and family running could just as well fall to the husband, not to the wife. He would hand in his notice, he would take time off to raise the children, he would leave on time, instead of doing overtime, ‘because the kids will be home soon.’ Because biology only decides who carries out the child and who donates the sperm. It doesn’t say anything about careers or dirty laundry.

          • Cay Reet

            Double post, it seemed the first time that the site and eaten my answer.

  3. Tyrel

    Great article, the only thing I had a problem with is when you used the Ricky and Morty episode as an example of a stereotypical matriarchy. The reason that is include in that episode is because they are making fun of the concept which is originally portrayed in the 70s Sean Conry film “Zardoz”. So the shows creators aren’t trying to push that stereotype they are making fun of it.

    • Space Queen cherry puff

      Yeah, i saw that episode! I thought it was funny as heck! I liked how they made fun of it

  4. Michael

    Quick note: the author of Prudence doesn’t claim her version of Victorian England to be a matriarchy.

  5. Tiberia

    “Well, it could handle it at all, that would be nice.” – Rhys

    This may be one of the best summaries of the problem of Transgender folk in the media, there just aren’t many. Blessedly its far better now than before.

    Growing Up I recall seeing “Flawless”. short summary for those that don’t know; A cop is injured and during recovery takes singing lessons from a trans-woman neighbor to help recover his voice. It’s one of Schumacher’s better films.
    The Film was suggested to me by my pastor, and I’m glad he did. It was not a great film by any measure, but seeing a transgender person portrayed in a positive sympathetic light, even if just in that one single movie, helped me get through things. Its a great example of how even mediocre stories can have a great effect on others, and why having representation for under represented groups is so important.

    As for why there is a lack itself, I think that is a problem that the trans and gender queer community itself has to play a large part in solving.
    I can’t speak for all Trans people of course, but I can for myself. When I make characters for roleplay and stories I don’t make them transgender. a large part of it is I want to roleplay a woman, not someone haunted by their own genitals. Same for characters in stories, as when I write its often in the form of one person roleplay. Consciously I know an rpg would be a great setting to explore my feelings of dismorphia, but for my own enjoyment I’d just rather play a cis-woman (and be one for that matter). In addition in most settings a trans character has an out; Magic or technology. So most of the drama and conflict is too easily solved.
    But this article reminded me that just dealing with it at all is valuable, and I should. I’ve toyed with the idea of trans characters in shadowrun and Mage ascension before but never played them. So I decided to make one of my recurring and favorite characters Trans, because its important to deal with the subject instead of ignoring it all the time. If any other trans or gender queer people read this, I would suggest playing a trans or queer character as well, it may help you communicate your feelings to your friends better than you could before, and help deal with the subject, even if just little

    ok this comment is long and rambling enough as is.

  6. Cay Reet

    Another point about matrilineal as opposed to patrilineal societies. The Romans summed it up easily enough: The mother is always certain, the father always uncertain. This simple principle (that a woman knows every child she gives birth to is of her bloodline, but the man can never be completely sure – unless they’re the first or last two people on earth), leads to quite some stuff, if you think about it. Such as:

    The value of female virginity. Marrying a virgin is a way to more or less guarantee that the children are really the husband’s, because nobody has been with the wife before. This leads to the celebration of female virginity as something important (as visible in the white wedding dress signifying innocence and virginity or the by-now gone custom of searching the sheets for ‘first blood’ after the wedding night). Male virginity isn’t that important (or even a matter of jokes, because a man who hasn’t had sex already isn’t ‘manly’ in some idiots’ eyes).

    Keeping women at home as much as possible. The less time a woman spends outside her home, the less chances she theoretically has to sleep with another man. And if she has to hide herself outside (stricter dress codes are still a thing today and were even more of a thing of the past), chances are few men will be interested in her.

    Demonizing female sexuality. Women who demand to be in control of their sexuality (and reproductive organs) can do horrible thing to patrilineal societies. If they refuse to just sleep with one man, then how is any man going to know which child is his? What if they refuse to have children?

    Different value of sons and daughters (up to the point where female infants are killed off). In a patrilineal society, every man wants an heir, someone to continue the bloodline. The daughter’s children will belong to her husband’s bloodline, so she’s worth less. If society puts pressure on families not to grow over a certain size (like China did with its ‘one child’ policy, now no longer in effect), fathers will do their best to make sure that at least one child is a boy. If there are too many daughters, they may be killed to ‘make space’ for sons.

    Matrilineal societies would, most likely, not have those (the last, perhaps, but with switched values). A woman can, indeed, be sure every child she gives birth to is hers. If it’s not (implanted fertilized egg from another woman, for example), she usually knows that. It’s unlikely a matrilineal society would put a lot of emphasis on virginity (because it doesn’t matter whether a man has been with other women before). It’s unlikely they’d keep the men locked away (see virginity for the reason). Female sexuality would be considered completely normal and of course a woman would decide when and where and with whom to have her children. That would make quite some social changes, even without going into the ‘who will lead society’ or ‘who will be paid better’ direction.

    • Geronimo

      Good point, that the certainty (or uncertainty) of a parent impacts society. We could discuss this further using my email

      “Yes, not doing it is technically illegal, but since most companies deny their employees to talk about their salary (per contract, as it were), you will never be able to prove you’re paid less than your male colleague, if you happen to be a woman.”

      So the striking women didn’t actually know whether they were getting paid less for equal work, equal hours, equal experience and equal workplace?

      Also, of course the burden of proof is up to you.

      “The fact that she has to do the housework, instead of putting in two more hours of overtime. The fact that she has to take days off when the children are sick or some repairs need to be made (and someone has to let in and supervise the craftsmen).”

      Spare me. You are not convincing anyone. None of that is worse than working your brains nine hours a day for a job that you HATE:

      https: // www.
      forbes. com/sites/carminegallo/2011/11/11/your-emotionally-disconnected-employees/

      Especially not when looking at Dutch women, who rank among the happiest in the world, and only 10% of them is working full-time:

      http :// www. slate. com/articles/double_x/doublex/2010/11/going_dutch.html

      “Because she wants to do all that … no, wait, because society says it’s her job in the relationship to do all that.”

      The insinuation that women are mere puppets acting at society’s whim is denigrating and silly. If they let society dictate their private lives against what they actually want, then how about that, they deserve it.

      Or you know what, maybe they aren’t all being brainwashed into liking different things from men, and it’s just them acting on their own accord, as humans capable of decision-making:

      http :// www. pnas. org/content/112/40/12354.full

      But let’s not forget to mention that female happiness has declined over the past 35 years both relative to men and absolutely:

      http :// www. nber. org/papers/w14969

      Do you have an explanation as to why that could be happening? Maybe the patriarchy is more deeply rooted than we thought, and even when women now completely take on men’s roles, they seem to long for something that they’ve done for tens of thousands of years: Being feminine women doing feminine things, because you know, taking on men’s roles doesn’t actually make your life any better or more valuable. But that’s crazy talk.

      “In a matriarchy, that same ’emotional labour’ of housework and keeping everything managed would, quite likely, fall to the husband.”

      “Because nothing is more horrible for our society than a woman who says ‘fuck children, I’m having myself one of those careers instead.’ A woman who doesn’t want children has to be sick, as everyone will start telling you from the day you turn 30 and are without children until you reach menopause, if you don’t get a change of heart.”

      And when you continue with it, your husband will die seven years earlier than you, and for the last s e v e n y e a r s of your life you will be completely alone, with no one taking care of you and no one to show you any love, while all your friends have their children and grandchildren. You’ll be one of the many depressed “progressive” old women that die with the thought in their head that they left NOTHING behind. It will be hysterical when this childless generation has gotten too old to have children.

      “In a matriarchy, that same ’emotional labour’ of housework and keeping everything managed would, quite likely, fall to the husband. So he’d be more likely to hand in his notice when they have a child (which he could raise just as well).”

      Which would lead to emotionally stunted children because breastfeeding has long been shown to have an effect on the young, shapeable psyche:

      https :// www. npeu. ox. ac. uk/research/breastfeeding-child-development-186

      “Because chromosomes say nothing about plumbers and careers and dirty laundry, only about who carries out and who fathers the child.”

      Well, chromosomes say very little apart from whether it’s a boy or girl, but the brain differences that develop out of that DO.
      Does the male weaver bird need to be told to build a nest, or is it in his nature to naturally want to build a nest to attract a mate? When it comes to apes, we do know according to statistics that the males automatically gravitated toward more technical toys as opposed to puppets, whereas the females showed no such preference:

      https :// www. ncbi. nlm. nih. gov/pmc/articles/PMC2583786/

      Weird coincidence that.
      Sure, I’m positive you could attack this study on numerous things such as sample size, but maybe you should just take a step back and look at what you’re doing:

      You’re arguing that there would be no biological incentive towards a certain productive behavior, while such behavior can be observed all across the animal world, and the survival of a species is unlikely if such incentives (such as aversion of pain) don’t exist. There’s no reason why men and women would be simply interchangable when biologically they are not.
      The thought that there are no gender-specific drives towards different behaviors is unscientific, unsubstantiated and if true, would cause the entire animal world to collapse. The worker bees wouldn’t work, the male lion wouldn’t mark a territory, and so forth. If all of that is merely taught by older generations of animals, then animals would be quite a lot smarter than they are. No, it has to be in their nature.

      “But even at the beginning of their careers, men and women are paid differently. That is why every year in March, several organisations celebrate the day on which women have earned the same as their male colleagues did on the 31st December.”

      Celebrations aren’t proof of anything, or I could simply cite Christmas to prove the existence of God. And still the burden of proof is up to YOU.

      • Metaphone

        Alright. I was hoping we could continue this, especially since I believe I’ve made irrefutable points, but if you’re not interested, I’m not going to pressure you any further.

        • Cay Reet

          I made my points, too, and I’m a little weary of people who a) think they need to discuss things over email instead of in a post, and b) post under two different names.

          • Metaphone

            And I have responded to these points in my comment above. To a) and b) I’ve already given my explanation that I thought I was being censored, because my comments would simply not show up, despite waiting for days, so I don’t see why you’re bringing this up again, especially since I’ve apologized. If you’re not interested in the honest conclusion of this debate, that’s your decision, and I’m not going to bother you anymore. But thank you for responding at all, I hadn’t noticed it till now because I wasn’t expecting it.

          • Oren Ashkenazi

            Editor’s note: Cay Reet has made it clear they don’t wish to continue this debate, and so it is closed. I’m not going to delete anything but I will be watching to make sure their wishes are respected.

  7. Jody

    Matriarchies have never existed. Matrilineal societies have without going into unnecessary sidetracks and semantics let me explain. Out of the recognition of a few temporal minuscule outliers who have been historically enslaved and/or conquered, I will concede and use the term quasi-matriarchies to describe such sub-cultures.

    Matriarchies (where women are the chiefs and generals) have never existed. Why? Simple. Men are faster and stronger than women, period. Therefore, it is not only for argument’s sake but historically true that men were the warriors.

    How could men who protect their societies from other societies or there women and kids from in-group violence concede to let women make the final dictations in the most important aspects of their culture’s future?
    Religion, superstition and mysticism? Yes.

    But imagine the violence of pre-antiquity that cultures were exposed to, imagine the women and young men seeing the men of their society bravely and viciously defending THEM from sure death RIGHT BEFORE THEIR EYES! It would be quite a sight to revere, imparting the truth that DEMANDS respect for those men, those warriors. The ultimate trump card, simple. physical. dominance. The superstitions and female mystics WOULD never hold more weight to such obvious truths.

    Our prefrontal lobes have been developed for many thousands of years for us wise apes.

    • Cay Reet

      Off the top of my head, I can think of a Nubian Empire at the time of the Egyptian Pharaos where Queens ruled, so there definitely were women in ruling positions, even in warring societies.

      In addition, you assume that society was always about war, which is highly unlikely before humans settled down (read: before the invention of agriculture). The small clans of humans which moved around, following their prey and the changing areas where gathering was good would have had little need for war.

      Assuming that only the warrior can rule is also cutting things short, since a lot of kingdoms and empires have expanded while ruled by women (Hatsheptsut in Egypt, Katherine the Great in Russia, Queen Victoria in England, Queen Elisabeth I. in England, and more). The warrior as a such is important on the battlefield (but for a long time, battles were mainly fought by ‘part-time’ warriors – militia made from the peasants who normally cared for the fields, with only a handful of ‘professionals’ to lead them), but ruling includes much more than just that. And since, roughly, the middle of the middle ages, kings were not in the front lines of the battle, but behind the lines or even back home while a trusted general led the troops. Because generals are much easier to replace than a ruler and do not depend on one line of succession.

      The idea of the ‘rule of the strongest’ probably didn’t work for humans for a long time – ever since we started using our brain more and made tools. Knowledge is important – knowledge about how the herds of prey move throughout the years, knowledge about where to find safe areas to put up camp, knowledge about when to start sowing the seeds, knowledge about when the river will rise (important for the Egyptians, who could only farm, because the Nile regularly covered the fields in mud), knowledge about how to make the best tools.

      There have always been people high up the hierarchy who were not physically powerful, but knew things. And in many cultures (especially the very early ones which didn’t leave written information), it’s not unlikely there were also a lot of women among them. Those mystics you mention, more often than not, were the ones who could read nature and knew what was going to happen, they just wrapped it up in mysticism to make sure their jobs were not in danger. And they were very often calling the shots behind the curtains, because there’s many times when a kingdom is not at war (wars in the past for a long time were made up of one battle which decided all), but there’s always need of ruling the kingdom in a way people will survive and, if possible, thrive. A job done through knowledge and not through brute strength.

      • Oren Ashkenazi

        Editor’s note: I have removed a comment for blatant sexism about women’s ability to reason and use logic. That sort of thing is not allowed.

  8. Dvärghundspossen

    Regarding the Culture series… I read Excession after I found it in a second hand bookstore and lots of people had already told me I should give Iain M Banks a chance since I like Alistair Reynolds. But it was SO SEXIST I could hardly finish it. I tried to read some other Culture book after that, but although it was way better, it was still bad. So I seriously don’t understand how you hold up the Culture as being less sexist than Star Trek?

    Excession first of all features a species called the Affront, in which all the high class males delight in rape and abuse of low class people, women and animals. The author does say that humans in general have a problem with the Affront, but it’s SO OBVIOUS that Banks thinks living in this society would be super cool, and the hero, whom we’re supposed to root for, chooses to join their society in the end.

    The hero’s old girlfriend is completely hysterical. She freaks out and tries to murder him when she finds him “cheating” on her, even though they’ve never explicitly said they would be monogamous and poly is the norm in their society. Still, her behaviour, though completely hysterical, is sort of portrayed as normal female behaviour.

    Although we are told people switch sex all the time, the hero only ever did it once, and he’s very much portrayed as traditionally rugged and masculine. His other love interest comes across as a super hot bimbo (even though the narration claims she’s intelligent), and she’s never had a sex change either. Clearly Banks doesn’t really LIKE the idea of people switching sex and being fluid in their genders, even though he established that’s what the Culture is like, since he makes exeptions of his main characters.

    I think Consider Phlebas was the other one I tried, which was less bad, but still had some super hot girl weirdly thinking about how shapely her legs are when we read the story from her PoV and shit like that.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      I haven’t read Excession so I can’t comment on it directly, but that certainly sounds pretty bad. The Culture books I have read are Consider Phlebas, Player of Games, and Use of Weapons. While they all have their problems, both technical and social justice-wise, the Culture itself as presented in the setting does a far better job realizing the post scarcity techno-utopia than Star Trek does, or likely can given the constraints of TV.

      In those books, we see that the Culture does in fact practice gender and racial equality. While it’s unfortunately true that the main character in all three books is a dude (not a white dude though), the people we see in background positions are a mostly even mix of genders. Meanwhile, Star Trek always claims total egalitarianism, but the vast majority of Starfleet officers we see, especially in positions of authority, are still white dudes. Starfleet also still operates under a modern-style system of authority, while the Culture is far more anarchist.

      As for gender fluidity, again that’s something we mostly see in the background since as you’ve summarized, Banks wasn’t prepared to actually have his macho heroes do it. But it is clearly present and stigma-free. Star Trek has two main portrayals of gender fluidity: Dax, who is good but also stressed as weird and alien, and Quark in the episode Profit and Lace, which is as transphobic as you could possibly get.

      So it isn’t that the Culture is without flaws, but from a worldbuilding perspective I think it has a lot to offer.

      • Dvärghundspossen

        Yeah, although a big Star Trek fan, I can definitely agree that the show doesn’t live up to the ideals it supposedly follows. And I see your point about the Culture.

        Still, Excession, it’s seriously the most misogynist book I’ve read in my entire life. The Affront is such a pro rape culture that they give out medals to men for raping a lot of women! They’ve genetically engineered their women so that they suffer even more from being raped than they otherwise would have, out of pure sadism! And the hero’s BFF is an affront man who’s got all this medals for raping so much… And the hero is presented as being extra open-minded for not being judgemental about this. And as I said, he joins Affront society in the end.

        I realize as I’m typing this that it sounds like I’m making shit up, surely this can’t be an actual novel, because it sounds like such an over-the-top parody of misogyny. Well, I’m really sad to say that I’m NOT making shit up and the novel really includes all this. And yet Banks is this celebrated sci-fi author.

        But yeah I take your point about the Culture as a whole.

        • Oren Ashkenazi

          Don’t worry, I believe you on how bat Excession is. I’ve read some really bad stuff by a number of esteemed authors so my threshold of disbelief is pretty high.

        • tenketsu

          Excession is my least favorite Culture book, but you missed the point entirely. The Culture itself is Bank’s fantasy utopia–The Affront are called that by the Culture because they view their very existence as an affront. The Affront are like… anti-utilitarians, choosing whatever causes the most suffering for the greatest number. They’re cartoonishly evil. They’re also vastly less powerful than the Culture–that’s the interesting question in the book, how do you deal with their existence, knowing you could squash them like a bug?

          You also misidentified the “hero” of the book–none of the human-esque characters are the heroes. The heroes are the Culture ships. They do literally everything important in the story, and if the humans weren’t there, not one iota of the plot would change. Banks likes to trick his audience and I’m reasonably certain the humans were only included to play with your preconceptions that the heroes had to be humans. Furthermore, every single human character in Excession is an awful person. Pretty sure that’s not coincidence.

          • Dvärghundspossen

            This might be an “agree to disagree” issue, but… yeah, I GOT that they’re supposed to be cartoonishly evil. The name “Affront” isn’t particularly subtle. And yeah, if I remember it correctly, Banks even explicitly writes at some point “what’s the Culture supposed to do with such an offensive society that goes against everything they believe in?” or something along those lines.

            But STILL, at the end of the day, Affront society is presented as pretty COOL with all its horrors, and the dude who eventually joins them is presented as open-minded and cool and pretty much a hero. I’ll stick to that, even if you disagree.

            Also, I don’t think it’s a random coincidence that the Affront aren’t just evil, they’re evil in a very particular way: They oppress the same groups as we do, only they take it to ridiculous and sadistic extremes. They’re not evil in some completely weird and alien way. And then Banks goes on to revel in that oppression and sadism in the text – oppression he wasn’t a target of himself.

            So yeah. I stick to my judgment.

  9. Richard Bloom

    I’m currently working (well, started some days ago) on a story with a male protagonist in a matriarchal setting. Is it a good idea to show him suffering from misandry to add tension? Is it okay if matriarchy stereotypes men to be “unemotional” and/or “too aggressive”?

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      As a rule, we don’t recommend emphasizing how badly a matriarchy treats men, as that’s super easy to overplay and end up creating a Straw Matriarchy. Some stories use such discrimination to good effect, but in most cases we recommend simply showing a society where women hold the majority of the power without making a big deal of how bad men have it.

      • Richard Blossom

        What’s so bad about showing misandry? I thought it could make more tension. Like, in “A Brother’s Price”, the author is clear about men’s position in society (they are being treated like property, passed from mothers and sisters to their wives, also they are at huge risk of sexual abuse), but I don’t find any problem with it because there’s a lot of positive female characters.

        • Cay Reet

          Because that’s taking the story very close to a persecution flip story. See five good reasons not to write one:

          • Richard Blossom

            I think that it’s worth clarifying what is “persecution flip”, because in a patriarchal society, any fictional depictions of matriarchy may count as persecution flip. Stereotyping both groups? If there’s a lot of positive female characters that do not agree with a matriarchal societal order, and matriarchal stereotypes about men are shown as mere stereotypes (and not truth), and are debunked during the story, what else should be considered? How can it “present human rights as zero-sum”, if characters merely object to misandry and do not go to such extremes as “actually, women should stay in the kitchen, not run a society”? How to avoid alienating women?
            Also, I’ve never planned it to “teach men about sexism”. It’s simply to add more conflict, add more tension.

          • Cay Reet

            If you basically just flip the pronouns, you will be most likely to produce a persecution flip story. If you put more thought into it and make it a point of your story, it’s different. If, however, you’re not part of the underprivileged group you try to flip, there’s always the danger that it will go wrong. You’ll need a lot of research and a (in this case female) beta reader or two.

            If you use the treatment of men (which is the equivalent to the treatment of women in a very patriarchal society) to show that neither side is homogenous or agrees with what is done to the other side (or just accepts that it happens in case of the underprivileged group), you can use such a society. The danger, however, always is overdoing it. Making the matriarchs nothing more or less than paper cutouts of female patriarchs will probably not help your point. There are different reasons why people decided to oppress others, from genuine belief of being ‘better’ in some way right down to simply getting money out of it (through slave labour or forced labour, for instance). If you show that there are different reasons why the women in control oppress and mistreat men and different reasons why men accept it (from believing in the system to simply having given up rebellion), you can surely work it.

      • Roger

        Isn’t that a double standard?

        I think you are sub-consciously speaking from a male-centric position. The position that assumes women are obviously more kind, gentle, helpless than men are and thus objects rather than subjects of politics. Thus the image of a matriarchy as a less “ruthlessly efficient” vehicle of imposing one’s will upon others and enforcing one’s policies than a patriarchy.

        I’d say that is wrong on several levels, not the least of which is that this is not how societies operate in “Real Life”.

        People who are in a more advantageous position tend to use that advantage to throw their weight around (as well as to propagate the existing system of power). If we look at individuals around us, there does not appear to be a difference between men and women in this regard (although there are studies suggesting women are on average more unwilling to take risks then men).

        Thus if individual women are as likely to take advantage of their position as men are, then why should we expect a women-led society be less self-glorifying, less sexist or less self-interested than a male-led society?

        I think that way we would be back with the “weak, gentle woman” stereotype all over again.

        • Cay Reet

          No, it’s simply not making a persecution flip story, which will in the end not serve its purpose, because those who should pay attention will just turn away and say ‘that’s not what I do, so it’s not about me, but those other people, they are awful for doing that to people like me.’

          Yes, it is possible that a matriachy will rule men just as strictly as several patriarchies in human history have ruled women. Yes, it is possible that in those societies, men will be oppressed or even enslaved, they will have no rights and will be kept mainly for hard labour or their work in the bedroom, procreating at a high rate (since the actual involvement with each pregnancy is shorter for a man). But what would be the point? Some men already thing they are secretly ruled by women and they’ll just say ‘that’s basically what those women want.’ Other men are treating women well on the whole and don’t realize there’s something like institutionalized sexism and they will say ‘it’s horrible that happens to people like us who are always nice to women.’ It’s a classic lose-lose situation and there’s better ways to go. Men can still be restricted in their rights in a matriarchy and be kept from all important roles, but just flipping the whole system usually leads to trouble.

      • Amaryllis

        “a society where women hold the majority of the power without making a big deal of how bad men have it.”

        Then it wouldn’t be matriarchy.

  10. Roger

    The problem with Matriacrchy is that we have no known historical examples of matriarchic states above the family-kinshp group. So there’s nothing to compare and use as a realistic template.

    I think a vital element of good writing is to present realistic characters and believable psychological situations, even if the book is about Elves and dragons.
    In this case, I agree with David Lerner ( ) where he says that minority rule (as say our make-believe matriarchy) “should not be significantly worse than many real-life governments”. Which is I think the closest we can get to “realism” in this context. Since women are not inherently better or worse than men, then their government wouldn’t be different than the one we have now.

    When we are dealing with privilege and marginalization we need to remember that privilige is always based on power. In this case, power means the efficiency and competence necessary to impose one’s will on others and propagate the social system that solidifies it.

    In short: priviliged groups stay priviliged because they are efficient, have the necessary resources and are competent enough to remain so.

    Thus if we really need to have a matriarchy in our story, then we should present the women in power as having the same efficiency and competence to impose their will on others (at least as ruthlessly as modern real life societies). Otherwise we will not only be back at the “weak gentle women” stereotype, but we will also be stuck with an utopia-government that will not allow the readers to suspend disbelief.

    So my final advice is: Don’t include a matriarchy. And if you do include it, make it as realistic and tough as existign real life social systems.

    Cay Reet: “But what would be the point?”
    I believe the same purpose that fantasy and science fiction and in a broader sense, the same purpose that all fiction books have.
    To quote Beth Webb: “Taking one step away from reality to that ‘safe’ place of pretend, prepares us to look the world’s harsh realities in the face.”

    Cay Reet: “those who should pay attention will just turn away and say ‘that’s not what I do, so it’s not about me, but those other people, they are awful for doing that to people like me’”

    – How is that different from writing a realistic portrayal of say 21st century office life? People always read about the negative characters and then say ” so it’s not about me”.
    In the end, speculative fiction is just words. To change the way people think and behave, you will need action (hard action, backed by legislation and law enforcement), not words alone. Its good that we as authors remind ourselves of that, least we become too self-aggrandizing.

    • Cay Reet

      There are small examples of matriarchies and matriarchal structures in small social groups which still exist today. We also know little about early cultures, so there could have been matriarchies among those.

      There are theories that the rise of patriarchies came with agriculture and, attached to that, the need to protect and acquire good land for farming (which leads to war becoming a thing – hunter/gatherer societies rarely need to go to war). That at that point, the fighter (who is usually male) became more important and men took control of societies. Yet there’s also societies where the split between ‘men’s work’ and ‘women’s work’ is not the split between ‘important work’ and ‘unimportant work.’ In such societies, for instance, trading can be women’s work. There’s also quite some societies where work is not divided between ‘men’s work’ and ‘women’s work,’ but everyone in a group does what they do best. The only gender-specific ‘work’ in those societies is procreation.

      If we presume that there is a matriarchal structure, there’s always the question of how it came about. Have women in that society proven the better warriors and thus taken the top spot? Is war considered ‘dirty business’ for which only men are fit and which is looked down upon (that is unlikely, because war brings in new lands and other loot, if you’re successful)? However, is it really necessarily a ‘one gender controls the other?’ It’s interesting enough that a scary number of 21st century men seem unable to imagine equality between men and women and instead end up with the horrible image of women treating men as men have treated women for a long time.

      But if you want a matriarchy, it demands knowing where it came from and if it is feasible this way. What technology do women have to keep on top of the game? How is the world around them rigged in their favour? Patriarchies are easier to imagine, because in most cases, men can simply physically overpower women (on the average, not in every case).

      • Lizard with Hat

        I would suspect that I comes down to how a society treat reproduction, because for females it is more work than for man.
        Also I think that I would have something to do with reliable birth control – getting a women pregnant was in early times a valid (if despicable) course of action to put a woman in her place.

        I think that women would prefer other types of weapons over man but there are several options – less strength based weapons – but i think that still leaves us with the spear as the main weapon and i would guess crossbows over regular bows.
        Maybe the armor would be differently decorated – maybe a reason how the “boobplate” could make sense (i still doubt that “boobplates” would be worn like a metal-bra)

        Also the availability of magic is important because it completely alters the power dynamic.
        I would expect that a matriarchies would put value on traits stereotypical associated with women. Nature, communication – but that might be my own cultural bias here.

        • Cay Reet

          All good points.

          I doubt the boobplate would exist, because it makes no sense physically. But, of course, a chest plate would be different in shape, if it were to be worn by women. Quite some projectile weapons would be favoured by women, I guess. The crossbow is harder to ready, but easier to fire, however there’s no reason why a woman shouldn’t use a hunting or a composite bow (longbows may be a tad more challenging). In modern archery, women do fine with bows. The idea that Amazons had to sacrifice one breast to be able to use a bow is more of a “hur, hur, women can’t be archers and look feminine” thing. Nobody draws a bow in a way where a regular breast (and women with physical training are likely to have a relatively small breast) would be in the way.

          Another thing which could favour women would be a different male/female ratio. Instead of humanity’s 50-50 ratio, something like 30-70 would be possible, since it needs less men to propagate at a similar rate (the number of fetile women determines the maximum rate of propagation much more strongly).

          • Bubbles

            About the gender ratio – there is in fact a very good reason why humans (and most animal species) have about 50-50 gender ratios – Fisher’s principle. You can search it up and read about it – an explanation here would be pretty long. There are species that break this ratio (such as parasitic wasps) but special circumstances are needed. Perhaps in certain scenarios, those circumstances could apply to humans too – especially if magic is involved- but it definitely requires some thought.

            It should be noted that another example of biased ratios is in the birds called jacanas. This is apparently related to how males, not females, do most of the parental care and how females mate with many males. I’m not totally sure whether females are actually “dominant,” or whether this has any relevance to humans whatsoever, but it is interesting when thinking about matriarchy. Contrary to what you said, this means that the less common gender may sometimes be more powerful.

            About how a matriarchy could form: it’s pretty interesting that you mention this argument about agriculture causing patriarchy. I mentioned a similar argument in another article (not as my own, but as something someone else mentioned) for why previous societies were patriarchal, not matriarchal or egalitarian, and you criticized it. I actually do suspect that reproduction – which hinders women much more than it hinders men, at least before birth control – might have something to do with the prevalence of patriarchy. (And as I mentioned with birds above, egg-laying provides an opportunity for females to be less hindered by reproduction).

            I’ve noticed that mentions in comment replies seem to somehow notify people more than a top-level comment does for some reason. For example, I made a comment in 205 – Oppressed Mages about something that, IIRC, Oren did not seem to consider, but there was absolutely no response from anybody.

          • Cay Reet

            I think it more has to do with only the five last comments being listed – a comment might slip through and not be seen and thus not be commented on.

            I mentioned a theory (not mine) about how agriculture and the need to protect one’s land (or gain more) might have pushed men to the forefront and thus have caused a shift to patriarchy. If I argued against that, it might have been from another position, I can’t remember it right now. I’m not fully happy with the theory myself, but since we have little information on humans before agriculture (hunter/gatherers rarely left any kind of written traces), we don’t know whether they had a clear ruling gender at all (there are some theories that they did not, because groups weren’t big enough for it to make sense) and some old objects, like those ‘Venuses’ (depicting, as was found out recently, pregnant women from the point of view of the woman, looking down, not so much of a man looking at the woman), may even suggest matriachal tendencies. Yet, we’ll never know for sure.

            Mammal reproduction might indeed be a reason why men take a more active role in societies without reliable birth control – women are occupied with having offspring (although one could argue that political work, for instance, wouldn’t be troubled too much by that). Not only are men not hindered so much by being pregnant, they are also more ‘expendable’ for the survival of the species as a such, as long as they left their genes with two or more women before they die … or another man picks up the slack.

            You will also find that ratio broken by bees, ants, and other hive-living animals, where there’s only one (or few) reproducing females, a few males to impregnate them, and a lot of infertile, often female workers and soldiers which do the rest. Since they all come from the same gene pool, it doesn’t matter much whether all of them reproduce or not.

            I think I heard about the birds you mention and I think the females of that species are also aggressive, fighting each other for territories and the males in them (essentially doing what males in other species do). Of course, seahorses do it even more in depth, with the male actually getting ‘pregnant’ and carrying the offspring to term.

            Then there’s hyenas as a species where the females are actually stronger than the males (so if you base a fantasy species off them, you could easily justify a matriarchy still based on rule of the stronger).

            In addition, it’s often overlooked that in a lot of animal species, the female decides whom to mate with. For instance, it’s not always the tomcat who wins a fight who gets to mate with the cat. Sometimes she prefers the loser. Among birds, there’s many species where males have to go through a lot of work to impress a female so she will mate with him. That puts the female in power, as it were, because she decides who gets the right to reproduce (and, as with praying mantises or some spiders, sometimes be eaten during or after mating).

      • Roger

        Which “small examples of matriarchies and matriarchal structures in small social groups” did you specificaly have in mind? Can you share names? I’d be glad to read about these that functions in real life.

        I am not sure agriculture was the element that made patriarchy work on a large scale. After all, the non-agricultural hunters (say Bambuti pygmies, San of Kalahari, Pirahã of Amazonia or all the Australian aborigines I’m aware of) are strictly patriarchal and mostly patrilocal as well.
        I don’t recall any pastoralist society that would be matriarchal. The only one with matriarchal features that comes to mind are the Touareg, a traditional saharan slave-owning nomadic culture.

        ” hunter/gatherer societies rarely need to go to war” – The San don’t. But the Pirahã or the Yanomami of the Amazon certainly do, the Yanomami are one of the groups with the highest “war casuality per capita” ever described. Same goes for Australian first nations – agriculture wasn’t practiced before europeans arrived, but warfare was and is present in both myth and hero stories of Australia.
        Warfare seems to be an innate part of human culture and people in all eras needed to work hard to prevent it from becoming a chronic issue. But I digress…

        Cay Reet: “If we presume that there is a matriarchal structure, there’s always the question of how it came about.”

        – Now that is a great question, certainly makes it harder to create a universum with human matriarchy. In militarized societies (Ancient Rome for example) men are important, but also expendable. You can lose 25% of your male manpower and still make up the losses within a generation. Lose 25% of your female manpower and your society will be crippled for a very long time. Which is why most societies are eager to send men to war (or to dangerous workspaces), but not women. Even if these same societies don’t give women the right to vote etc. It is a bizarre combination of cold logic and irrationality.

        But if we use fantasy species or aliens it should be easier. Alien species can have larger and tougher females than males (we have animals on earth that have such dimorphism – most arachnids and many insects).
        Perhaps we can even turn the paradigm entirely? Have a very small group of men and women be the elites in a society, ruling over a vast majority of “ungendered” persons? (To some extent this is what we have with social insects such as Termites). Unsexed drones are by their very nature the “expendables” of a Termite hive.

        If we want to explore privilige and power in a “safe fantasy way”, without getting mired in RL gender conflict, then perhaps such a universum with “underpriviliged sexless drones” and “priviliged sexed men&women” is the way to go?

        Cay Reet: “It’s interesting enough that a scary number of 21st century men seem unable to imagine equality between men and women and instead end up with the horrible image of women treating men as men have treated women for a long time.”

        People like to impose their will on others, if being granted such an opportunity. I thus strongly agree with you that preventing such extremes is best done through the pursuit of equality. But this requires legislation as well as a hard-data approach.

        People often pour hate on the modern corporate culture, often rightfully so, it certainly has its share of problems most notably greed and depersonalisation.
        But frankly speaking, from all the various social spheres I’ve been a part of throughout my life, the “huge international corporations” were the most egalitarian gender-wise. I think this was because these corporation firmy pursue a by-the-numbers evaluation for employees. The “best salesman” is the one that brings in the most income (regardless of his/her sex), the best manager is the one that pushes one’s team the hardest and gets the best results.
        I think if we would pursue such a by-the-numbers formula for society as a whole, we would get far more gender equaltiy. Women would certainly dominate certain spheres, such as psychotherapy or recruitment (on the otehr hand, I guess speculative physics etc would still be male dominated).

  11. Amaryllis

    “Reproduction is inherently competitive for males.”

    It’s just an ideologized narrative. By the same way, you could argue that men have inherently more sexual freedom due to lack of risk of pregnancy, which could cause danger of spreading STI, which would justify the need to control men’s sexuality. Basically, that’s what happens in society described in “A Brother’s Price”.

  12. Marianovel

    matrilineal societies have the same type of gender discrimination (only in reverse) that we have seen in the history of patriarchies? What you think

    • Cay Reet

      Matrilineal simply means that the female line counts. That’s not discriminating a gender in particular. All sons of a mother are of her bloodline as much as her daughters. The only difference is that the sons’ children will be of their wife’s bloodline.

      A big difference is best summarized by a Roman proverb: the mother is always certain, the father always uncertain. A woman knows that all children she has are hers, she doesn’t have to control her husband the whole time to avoid raising someone else’s kids.

      • Timothy Mallory

        Just a (very late) aside. One factor with the change from matriarchial societies relates to locality. Once you have a situation of reliable conflict, matrilocality is problematic. You want to have a bunch of young men around to fight and do all the dying stuff. But your family’s sons are moving off to live in their wife’s clan’s community. And all married men in your community are all from various other clans originally. So they don’t have bonds of blood to reinforce camaraderie.

        One adaptation to this is avunculocality, which maintains matrilineality but gathers all the men of that matrilineage together.

        Still, its reproductive control and violence mitigation/equality that seem like the necessary factors in maintaining a matriarchal society. Magic/High tech are viable explanations for both.

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