Wouldn’t a Matriarchal Society Be Great?

A very strange (and kind of scary) person is fantasizing about the matriarchal society:

As a child, you would not have to fight with your sisters or brothers for your father’s or your mother’s attention. Both girls and boys would be equally loved and cherished by their mothers and grandmothers and by their uncles and great-uncles. Both girls and boys would know that they would always have a place in the maternal clan. As a boy or a girl you would never have to “separate from” or “reject” your mother in order to “prove yourself as an individual” or in order to “grow up.” You could grow up without severing the bond with the ones who first loved you and first cared for you.

The good news for Carol P. Christ (seriously, that’s how she signs her crap, just go and look) is that such societies already exist and she can move there tomorrow. I grew up in one, so I should know. This is the family structure in all Russian-speaking countries of the FSU. People are not allowed to grow up or separate from the cannibalizing Mommy. They are supposed to serve her needs for as long as she lives. And long past she dies, too. The strangulating umbilical cord is never severed.

Mothers would be helped in the raising of children by their sisters and brothers, by their mothers and grandmothers, and by their aunts and uncles. A young woman pregnant or with a child would never be cast out, nor would she ever be expected to “make it on her own.”

Oh yes. Totally familiar. Irrespective of her age, any woman who gives birth in these countries has to prepare herself for decades of mortal combat with her mother and grandmother for the right to have any say in how she raises her child. Obviously, the father is often chased away completely or, in the best of cases, allowed to be present on the margins in a totally silent capacity.

A young man would not be responsible for “providing for” his children, as this would be the responsibility of the mother clans. A young man would contribute to his clan and would help his sisters and female cousins to care for their children. These children would look up to him as their male “role model.” Men might work with their mothers and sisters in the fields or undertake building projects or take charge of trading with other clans near and far.

OK, folks, this is so recognizable that it’s getting scary. Soviet Union, here we come. This is exactly how it always was and still is in the FSU. Men believe they owe what they have not to their children but to their cannibalizing Mommies.

Whether you were a girl or a boy, a man or a woman, you would always know that you were loved. You would be taught to be loving and generous and to care for others. You would not be taught to compete with others, to gloat, or to hoard.

Yes, yes, yes. No individuality is allowed, no personal space, no life of one’s own. But as compensation, your adoring Momma and Grandma will always be there to teach you and teach you and teach you some more about how better to care for them.

The bad news is that this family structure is crippling and tragic. But hey, I think Carol P. Christ should still go. It ain’t like she is of much use around here.

25 thoughts on “Wouldn’t a Matriarchal Society Be Great?

  1. It’s very bizarre essentialism. The 19th Century European notion — or should I say, Victorian British — was that women had these wonderful religious, non-aggressive and nurturing qualities, quite different from men. I don’t like being reduced to a notion of essence, from two centuries ago. In any case, I think that men and women only start to express generalizable characteristics when within a particular historical context that brings them out. They’re not walking carriers of those characteristics apart from the context that makes them seem necessary. In short, people are such apes.

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    1. “The 19th Century European notion — or should I say, Victorian British — was that women had these wonderful religious, non-aggressive and nurturing qualities, quite different from men.”

      – It is really fascinating how many “feminists” reproduce the ultra sexist notions of a woman as the Angel in the House. In my research I use many sources and often have to check what it is I’m looking at: a “feminist” article from the XXIst century or Franco era fascist propaganda. They are that indistinguishable.

      “In any case, I think that men and women only start to express generalizable characteristics when within a particular historical context that brings them out. They’re not walking carriers of those characteristics apart from the context that makes them seem necessary.”

      – Exactly!!

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      1. Perhaps it’s felt to be an easy way out, to demand that a certain “essence” become more dominant, but there is not actual thinking involved in this promotion of essences.

        And yes– the “feminism” of today seems to be about nothing other than ideas about male and female essences. Perhaps this is why those of a “choice” or postmodernist bent don’t feel the need to defend other women against political attack. After all, one may lose everything, but according to this view it seems one cannot lose one’s “essence”. Therefore there is no argument to be made and nothing to be defended from destruction?

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        1. Yes, this is political and intellectual immaturity. Why fashion an individual identity of one’s own or work to promote change in society when one can always rely on this imaginary set of immanent characteristics to define one?

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          1. I often find, when I am speaking with Americans, a very anti-intellectual attitude, which is not conscious of being anything other than natural (rather than anti-intellectual).

            People take their perceptions for the whole picture — the largest one it is possible to have. For instance, someone said to me recently, “Why is it that you don’t criticize Australians, too?” — as if they had discovered a bias in me. But the sense of a bias comes from their own intellectual laziness. I said, “If you had read anything I’d written, you would see what it is I criticize.” The inconvenience of actually reading and making an effort can make a difference between understanding or not understanding my point of view. It certainly does not help to treat one’s raw perceptions as reality, although that is what I’m getting used to from many people. They actually really do believe that if they perceive something, then that is all there is to see. If something jumps into their head, that thing that jumps in is the fullest expression of reality itself.

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  2. Misogynists ascribe a set of qualities to women and use it to denigrate them. People like Carol P. Christ ascribe the same set of qualities to women and use it to lionize them. But attempting to liberate women by praising a bunch of patriarchal stereotypes is ultimately doomed to failure.

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      1. You’re making feminism sound like communism or libertarianism – an ideology wholly removed from human reality whose aderents nevertheless see and unending need for it.

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      2. “I was describing feminism as a means to an end”

        What end? The original goals of the womens’ movement have all been about as achieved as is possible or feasible. What passes for feminism these day seems largely a bunch of sad sacks who are determined that no one’s feelings ever be hurt again.

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  3. “What passes for feminism these day seems largely a bunch of sad sacks who are determined that no one’s feelings ever be hurt again.”

    Yep, that’s the burning issue tackled by feminists in the U.S. and abroad these days. Hurt feelings. I’m so glad you’re paying close attention and have taken the time to share that insightful bit of cultural analysis with us.

    American feminism has problems the way it is today (much of it discussed and debated by individual feminists themselves), but if you think that feminists are primarily concerned about “hurt feelings,” you’re quite frankly oblivious. Perhaps you can afford to be, or think you can.

    As for the great goals attained so far, and they have been great, it’s also important to hang onto them, not sit around complacently and lose ground again.

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    1. I’ve tried it. Sometimes it led to less stress, other times I overlooked things I shouldn’t have and got my ass kicked. Live and learn…

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  4. “Carol P. Christ (seriously, that’s how she signs her crap, just go and look)”

    Ahh, just as a general note – that’s actually her name … it’s not like she’s self-styling as the descendant of Christ or whatever, that’s just … her actual name …

    In response to Clarissa and earlier commenters, I think this particular blog post of hers is really taken out of context with all of her other work, because arguing “woman” and its associations are greater than “man” is really NOT what she believes (although her title in that article is pretty misleading). In fact, since she studies a lot of process theology, she argues that it is impossible to have a rigid and essentialist definition of gender; however, we would have a better society if we valued things traditionally considered “feminine”, like nurturing and caring (and men are equally capable of these things). And also such a society, as Carol Christ imagines it, would not have a “cannibalizing Mommy”, because domination and hierarchy would not exist.

    Not to deny that you had a bad experience living in a matriarchy yourself, but you paint Carol Christ as some kind of insane nutter when I don’t think she is (admittedly, I am a fan of her works).

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    1. “Not to deny that you had a bad experience living in a matriarchy yourself”

      – I did not live in a matriarchy. What I describe is a full-scale patriarchal society. The problem here is that people misunderstand the concept of “the name of the father” that informs patriarchal structures. They forget that the power in such structures lies with the head of the family or clan, completely irrespective of that person’s actual gender.

      “And also such a society, as Carol Christ imagines it, would not have a “cannibalizing Mommy”, because domination and hierarchy would not exist.”

      – Yet she described cannibalizing mothers in every paragraph of her post.

      “however, we would have a better society if we valued things traditionally considered “feminine”, like nurturing and caring ”

      – I disagree. I find such a position limiting to individual development and freedom of action.

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  5. There is no “one definitive” form of matriarchal society. In that sense, Christ is oversimplifying the vast landscape of examples of matriarchies. Of course, Heide Göttner-Abendroth, whom she quotes, has a bit of a polemic style in all her writings and other authors have done a better job at describing existing matriarchies. G-A is more of an eco-feminist philosopher than an ethnographer (and, to be fair, she doesn’t claim to be an ethnographer).

    Nevertheless, I also don’t think you’re doing her justice. I don’t think she wants to live under an overbearing mother who wants to rule every aspect of her life and I don’t think it would necessarily be the outcome of the society she envisions, either. You can’t compare the “ever-present mother” in a (as you say yourself) full-scale patriarchal society to the head of a matriclan, even in a matriarchy in which the whole clan lives in one house (which is not always the case). Physical proximity doesn’t have to equal domination. A lot of psychological and sociological factors have to work together for a family to become suffocating.

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    1. ” I don’t think she wants to live under an overbearing mother who wants to rule every aspect of her life and I don’t think it would necessarily be the outcome of the society she envisions, either”

      – She says herself that there will be no separation from the mother. Separation from one’s parents is what the entire process of growing up from the time one is born is about. Lack of such separation leads to literal infantilization where the grown child is still an infant whose every emotional need should be tended to by the devouring mother. Just read her text. Every other sentence is about adult children not having to be responsible or having an individuality as long as the Mommy is there.

      “Physical proximity doesn’t have to equal domination. A lot of psychological and sociological factors have to work together for a family to become suffocating.”

      – You are right. The weakened, dismissed father and the resulting sexual frustration of the mother are other factors that contribute to this. The denial of private property and personal choices to the children (see the last quote) is yet another factor.

      “G-A is more of an eco-feminist philosopher ”

      – Eco-feminism is a brand of woman-hating sexism prettified with complicated vocabulary.

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      1. Damn, I was really tired when I wrote this and I confused Heide Göttner-Abendroth with someone else. GA is actually a very accomplished ethnographer. I’ll respond to your points later, just wanted to add this now so no one feels confused who reads my comment above.

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      2. “She says herself that there will be no separation from the mother. Separation from one’s parents is what the entire process of growing up from the time one is born is about. Lack of such separation leads to literal infantilization where the grown child is still an infant whose every emotional need should be tended to by the devouring mother. Just read her text. Every other sentence is about adult children not having to be responsible or having an individuality as long as the Mommy is there.”

        – Not *having* to have individuality is not the same as not being *able* to have it. People thrive in different circumstances, maybe she prefers a strong social net to being as developed an individual as possible.

        “You are right. The weakened, dismissed father and the resulting sexual frustration of the mother are other factors that contribute to this. The denial of private property and personal choices to the children (see the last quote) is yet another factor.”

        – I don’t know where you get the idea of a sexually frustrated mother from. Compulsury life-long “chastity” and “marital fidelity” is a patriarchal concept. Also, concerning the father, this again varies from culture to culture, but in some cases the father does have a strong relationship to his children (he just in some cases doesn’t live with them), in other cases the maternal uncles are the strongest male influences on a child, so a man would take care of his sister’s children. The concept of fatherhood is stronger in some societies and weaker in others. And I could just as well see someone from certain matriarchal societies criticise the “weakened, dismissed uncle” when observing contemporary western culture.

        And if you agree with me that physical proximity doesn’t equal domination, then the statement about the necessity of separation would need to be qualified further. Since it’s then not physical separation you are talking about, do you mean emotional separation? But surely that is a continuum, there’s no clear-cut “either you are an emotional infant or you never even think of your parents”.

        “Eco-feminism is a brand of woman-hating sexism prettified with complicated vocabulary.”

        – That’s mainly because being grouped in with “nature” is seen as one of the worst possible insults in our culture.

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        1. “That’s mainly because being grouped in with “nature” is seen as one of the worst possible insults in our culture.”

          – I’m from a different culture, so this has nothing to do with me. Women have been “grouped in with nature” for as long as sexism has existed in every patriarchal society. Historically, this was one of the main vehicles of dominating women.

          ” I don’t know where you get the idea of a sexually frustrated mother from.”

          – If the man is dismissed and chased away, who will the woman have sex with? Her own mother? Other men? Would you have any relations with a man if you knew for a fact that he would throw you out and take away the baby you might chance to have with him? I’d much rather just not have any sex at all and to be treated this way.

          “And I could just as well see someone from certain matriarchal societies criticise the “weakened, dismissed uncle” when observing contemporary western culture.”

          – I’m trying to have a serious conversation here.

          “And if you agree with me that physical proximity doesn’t equal domination, then the statement about the necessity of separation would need to be qualified further. Since it’s then not physical separation you are talking about, do you mean emotional separation?”

          – Both a growing physical space and a growing emotional distance are crucial for the development of a healthy child. This process is supposed to start in infancy.

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      3. I am also trying to have a serious discussion, but that would probably be easier if you knew a bit about matriarchies. I tried to find a good introduction that’s available online – there isn’t much decent English language material, but this text is okay:

        http://www.gift-economy.com/athanor/athanor_005.html

        The relevant part begins after the sentence: “I want to begin with some notes concerning my use of the term “matriarchy.””, and from there to the end of the text.
        The description of matriarchal marriage is surprisingly monolithic here, though, since it assumes sexual exclusiveness and treats arranged (or semi-arranged) marriages as the norm. The Mosuo are the most famous example of a matriarchy that has neither of these concepts. Still, the text is useful and I would recommend it.

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        1. My post was responding to a specific text by a specific author. An author who knows nothing whatsoever about matriarchies and confuses a very specific and wide-spread form of patriarchy with a matriarchy. I freely admit that there are crowds of people who do understand matriarchies. This Christ creature, however, is not one of them. She is simply a fool.

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        2. My post was responding to a specific text by a specific author. An author who knows nothing whatsoever about matriarchies and confuses a very specific and wide-spread form of patriarchy with a matriarchy. I freely admit that there are crowds of people who do understand matriarchies. This Christ creature, however, is not one of them. She is simply a fool.

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