A matriarchy is a social unit governed by a woman or group of women. It isn't certain that a true matriarchal society has ever existed, so matriarchy is usually treated as an imaginative concept. But there are societies in which relatedness through women rather than men is stressed, and elements of matriarchy may be stronger in certain societies than they are in most of the Western world. And most of us can point to families in which a woman has become the dominant figure, or grande dame, or matriarch.
Matriarchies may also be confused with matrilineal, matrilocal, and matrifocal societies. While there are those who may consider any non-patriarchal system to be matriarchal, most academics exclude those systems from matriarchies as strictly defined.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), matriarchy is a "form of social organization in which the mother or oldest female is the head of the family, and descent and relationship are reckoned through the female line; government or rule by a woman or women." A popular definition, according to James Peoples and Garrick Bailey, is "female dominance". Within the academic discipline of cultural anthropology, according to the OED, matriarchy is a "culture or community in which such a system prevails" or a "family, society, organization, etc., dominated by a woman or women" without reference to laws that require women to dominate. In general anthropology, according to William A. Haviland, matriarchy is "rule by women". A matriarchy is a society in which females, especially mothers, have the central roles of political leadership, moral authority, and control of property, but does not include a society that occasionally is led by a female for nonmatriarchal reasons or an occupation in which females generally predominate without reference to matriarchy, such as prostitution or women's auxiliaries of organizations run by men. According to Lawrence A. Kuzner in 1997, A. R. Radcliffe-Brown argued in 1924 that the definitions of matriarchy and patriarchy had "logical and empirical failings (...) [and] were too vague to be scientifically useful".
Most academics exclude egalitarian nonpatriarchal systems from matriarchies more strictly defined. According to Heide Göttner-Abendroth, a reluctance to accept the existence of matriarchies might be based on a specific culturally biased notion of how to define matriarchy: because in a patriarchy men rule over women, a matriarchy has frequently been conceptualized as women ruling over men, while she believed that matriarchies are egalitarian.
The word matriarchy, for a society politically led by females, especially mothers, who also control property, is often interpreted to mean the genderal opposite of patriarchy, but it is not an opposite. According to Peoples and Bailey, the view of anthropologist Peggy Reeves Sanday is that matriarchies are not a mirror or inverted form of patriarchies but rather that a matriarchy "emphasizes maternal meanings where 'maternal symbols are linked to social practices influencing the lives of both sexes and where women play a central role in these practices'". Journalist Margot Adler wrote, "literally, ... ["matriarchy"] means government by mothers, or more broadly, government and power in the hands of women." Barbara Love and Elizabeth Shanklin wrote, "by 'matriarchy,' we mean a non-alienated society: a society in which women, those who produce the next generation, define motherhood, determine the conditions of motherhood, and determine the environment in which the next generation is reared." According to Cynthia Eller, "'matriarchy' can be thought of ... as a shorthand description for any society in which women's power is equal or superior to men's and in which the culture centers around values and life events described as 'feminine.'" Eller wrote that the idea of matriarchy mainly rests on two pillars, romanticism and modern social criticism. The notion of matriarchy was meant to describe something like a utopia placed in the past in order to legitimate contemporary social criticism. With respect to a prehistoric matriarchal Golden Age, according to Barbara Epstein, "matriarchy ... means a social system organized around matriliny and goddess worship in which women have positions of power." According to Adler, in the Marxist tradition, it usually refers to a pre-class society "where women and men share equally in production and power."
According to Adler, "a number of feminists note that few definitions of the word [matriarchy], despite its literal meaning, include any concept of power, and they suggest that centuries of oppression have made it impossible for women to conceive of themselves with such power."
When we hear the word "matriarchy", we are conditioned to a number of responses: that matriarchy refers to the past and that matriarchies have never existed; that matriarchy is a hopeless fantasy of female domination, of mothers dominating children, of women being cruel to men. Conditioning us negatively to matriarchy is, of course, in the interests of patriarchs. We are made to feel that patriarchy is natural; we are less likely to question it, and less likely to direct our energies to ending it.
The Matriarchal Studies school led by Göttner-Abendroth calls for an even more inclusive redefinition of the term: Göttner-Abendroth defines Modern Matriarchal Studies as the "investigation and presentation of non-patriarchal societies", effectively defining matriarchy as non-patriarchy. She has also defined matriarchy as characterized by the sharing of power equally between the two genders. According to Diane LeBow, "matriarchal societies are often described as ... egalitarian ...", although anthropologist Ruby Rohrlich has written of "the centrality of women in an egalitarian society."[a]
Matriarchy is also the public formation in which the woman occupies the ruling position in a family. Some, including Daniel Moynihan, claimed that there is a matriarchy among Black families in the United States,[b] because a quarter of them were headed by single women; thus, families composing a substantial minority of a substantial minority could be enough for the latter to constitute a matriarchy within a larger non-matriarchal society with non-matriarchal political dynamics.
Terms with similar etymology are also used in various social sciences and humanities to describe matriarchal or matriological aspects of social, cultural and political processes. Adjective matriological is derived from the noun matriology that comes from Latin word māter (mother) and Greek word λογος (logos, teaching about). The term matriology was used in theology and history of religion as a designation for the study of particular motherly aspects of various female deities. The term was subsequently borrowed by other social sciences and humanities and its meaning was widened in order to describe and define particular female-dominated and female-centered aspects of cultural and social life. The male alternative for matriology is patriology, with patriarchy being the male alternative to matriarchy[pages needed].
A matriarchy is also sometimes called a gynarchy, a gynocracy, a gynecocracy, or a gynocentric society, although these terms do not definitionally emphasize motherhood. Cultural anthropologist Jules de Leeuwe argued that some societies were "mainly gynecocratic" (others being "mainly androcratic").[c]
Some matriarchies have been described by historian Helen Diner as "a strong gynocracy" and "women monopolizing government" and she described matriarchal Amazons as "an extreme, feminist wing"[e] of humanity and that North African women "ruled the country politically" before being overthrown by forms of patriarchy and, according to Adler, Diner "envision[ed] a dominance matriarchy".
Some people who sought evidence for the existence of a matriarchy often mixed matriarchy with anthropological terms and concepts describing specific arrangements in the field of family relationships and the organization of family life, such as matrilineality and matrilocality. These terms refer to intergenerational relationships (as matriarchy may), but do not distinguish between males and females insofar as they apply to specific arrangements for sons as well as daughters from the perspective of their relatives on their mother's side. Accordingly, these concepts do not represent matriarchy as 'power of women over men' but instead familial dynamics.
Anthropologists have begun to use the term matrifocality. There is some debate concerning the terminological delineation between matrifocality and matriarchy. Matrifocal societies are those in which women, especially mothers, occupy a central position. Anthropologist R. T. Smith refers to matrifocality as the kinship structure of a social system whereby the mothers assume structural prominence. The term does not necessarily imply domination by women or mothers. In addition, some authors depart from the premise of a mother-child dyad as the core of a human group where the grandmother was the central ancestor with her children and grandchildren clustered around her in an extended family.
Matristic: Feminist scholars and archeologists such as Marija Gimbutas, Gerda Lerner, and Riane Eisler label their notion of a "woman-centered" society surrounding Mother Goddess worship during prehistory (in Paleolithic and Neolithic Europe) and in ancient civilizations by using the term matristic rather than matriarchal. Marija Gimbutas states that she uses "the term matristic simply to avoid the term matriarchy with the understanding that it incorporates matriliny." 041b061a72