The misconception of the matriarchy

Future of Society

There is a common misconception that a matriarchy is simply the reversal of a patriarchy. This widespread misunderstanding blurs our hopeful vision of an alternative reality, one that is free from a suffocating form of oppression, a toxic infatuation with the ego and a relentless pursuit of power.

As a system, a patriarchy characterises an unequal distribution of power between men and women, leading to men exercising disproportionate power over women and ultimately oppressing them. In contrast, the aim of a matriarchal society is not to exercise power over or oppress men, but rather to “follow maternal values, nurturing the natural, social and cultural life based on mutual respect,” (Heide Goettner-Abendroth). The role of the matriarch is to put motherly instincts at the centre of society, to meet everyone's needs–man or woman–while passing down valuable social, natural and intellectual knowledge through the generations.

A patriarchy thrives on possessing power over others. A matriarchy thrives on experiencing power from within.

If you examine any matrilineal or matriarchal human society, be it the Mosuo in China or the Minangkabau in West Sumatra, they are, without exception, gender-egalitarian societies. The concepts of caste, class or hierarchy that are so deeply woven into the fabric of our society are also largely foreign to the matriarchal society. Instead, the natural differences between genders and generations are accepted, embraced and honoured, bathed in regenerative rays of mutual respect, dependence and dignity.

I’m reading Glennon Doyle’s untamed at the moment, a glorious, full-frontal deconstruction and eventual abandonment of one woman’s lifelong conditioning. In it, she talks about the “Knowing”, a warm, glowing feeling that emerges in a meditative state, when one is finally able to drown out the interminable chatter and judgement of society and tune into one’s deepest intuition. The ability to sink into this state is the mark of a true matriarch: someone who “values instinct as much as intellect, receptivity as much as assertiveness, collaboration as much as individualism and empathy as much as objectivity,” (Catherine Edsell).

The way that matriarchal and matrilineal societies thrive across the world–and in the animal kingdom (we salute you great elephantine matriarchs)–shows us that an alternative reality is possible. We must remember that men suffer under the patriarchy too, often forced into restrictive prescriptions of masculinity, an extension of their childhood conditioning to stifle all emotional expression. The true power of the matriarchy lies in its need-oriented ability to place the collective values and interests of both genders at the heart of business, politics and society at large. The matriarch's intuitive approach to building for the community versus the individual speaks to the profound potential of a more holistic approach to tackling some of the most complex problems we face today, an approach characterised by cooperation, equity and community.

March 5, 2024