Many societies exist as matriarchies or as societies with matrilinial descent, both in modern day and historically. However, in fiction, the first known fictional matriarchies to be described in any detail were called "gynæcocracy", and was hypothesized by Aristotle and Plutarch
, but Amazons go back even further, to Homer
. They usually vary widely from real-life matriarchies, and can be considered seperate.
The treatment of matriarchies varies from author to author and by time period, but they tend to follow a few major patterns.
- Patriarchy Flip - Identical to patriarchy, but with the genders flipped. Can often include men treated as lower class citizens, depending on the type of patriarchy and time period being imitated.
- Straw Matriarchy - A Dead Horse Trope, this is how early philosophers portrayed matriarchies, as a warning to allowing women in power. Women were shown to be fundamentally incapable of governing or utterly evil and castrating in their power-wielding. Obviously, this is full of Unfortunate Implications and often Author Filibuster.
- Enlightened Matriarchy - A more benevolent or enlightened rule than patriarchy. This can have some Unfortunate Implications when one thinks about it, and in fact can be just as sexist as a Straw Matriarchy. A form of non-sexual Author Appeal for feminist writers, especially second-wave feminists in the 1970s. On its way to being a Dead Horse Trope, at least for the more extreme versions, as well.
- Sexy Matriarchy - A fantasy where the women in power are attractive and often scantily clad, with strong overtones of domination (often of the Romanticized Abuse kind), lesbianism or both. This can be just as offensive as a Straw Matriarchy. A form of Fetish Fuel Author Appeal for certain male writers, and common in BDSM Speculative Fiction.
- Original Matriarchy - Sometimes an author creates an entirely new system of government which is ruled by women, and yet neither the same as any existing patriarchy nor shown to be inherently better or worse (or sexier).
- Matriarchy In Name Only - Where the society is purported to be a matriarchy, but, for all intents and purposes, functions very similarly to a patriarchy.
Note that if the society is ruled by a Queen, the succession of the crown has to be either solely or at least preferentially down the female line — otherwise it's just Heir Club for Men
or (in the case of equal primogeniture) an aversion thereof.
Many, but not all, examples of Lady Land
are also Matriarchies, as are some cases of Bee People
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Examples of a Patriarchy Flip
Anime & Manga
- Ooku, although men are actually treated better than women, because (1) it's also a Lady Land and, y'know, limited sperm, and (2) it's a Lady Land because of a Gendercide virus, so they don't want the guys to go out and catch it and die.
- The future stories in ElfQuest show planet Abode as being run by a human matriarchy, which seems to be a cross between this type and Enlightened - Abode seems to be a pretty decent place to live, but it's implied that the matriarchy is by no means free from corruption.
- Themyscira, the island where Wonder Woman originates, is a matriarchy by default: men are not allowed there. (It is possible that Wonder Woman has the authority to give one permission to come, but that is not official.)
- The The Wheel of Time series packs in quite a few variants on Matriarchy into the various cultures of the world. Altara shows up as a Patriarchy Flip, a man gifts a woman a knife as a proposal of marriage and says that if she is displeased with him she may plunge it into him. This is not hyperbole, barring exceptional circumstances a woman will not be found guilty of murdering her husband even if there is clear proof she killed him.
- The novel Heart of Gold features two variants of humanity, coming with blue skin (blueshi) or golden (gulden). The gulden society is a traditional (very) sexist patriarchy, but the blueshi is a mildly straw matriarchy, with women doing the work and running their end of society. Men are treated well compared to the gulden women, but are expected to give up their careers upon marriage and retire to their wife's family estate.
- In one of Max Frei's Labyrinths of Echo books the protegonist and his colleague found themselves in a hilariously over-the-top Patriarchy Flip. He wonders why his friend didn't catch what's going on despite being a much better detective... and then have to explain what's "Patriarchy" to begin with, because World of the Rod got nothing closely resembling either.
- The entire planet Seggri in the Ursula K. Le Guin short story The Matter of Seggri is this variation. There are about sixteen adult women for every adult man, and the women treat men (who are made to live apart from larger society) variously as intellectually lacking sex objects or "treasures" to be coddled and patronized. Men are seen as more emotional than women and unable to use logic and rational thinking, whereas women are seen as pragmatic and rational.
- Melanie Rawn's Saga of the Exiles series featured this. Right down to female soldiers, which didn't make all that much sense.
- The Castle in Septimus Heap is ruled by a Queen, and there have never been any male rulers.
- In The Plains of Passage, Ayla and Jondalar come across a matriarchal society, which had been taken over by the women fairly recently. It wasn't going well at all because the women didn't have all the skills the men had (although this was a consequence of the chief being crazy and not thinking things through rather than of women being inherently unfit to rule). The chief, Attaroa, was insane, murderous, and sexist, to the point that all the males were slaves kept in a giant pen in the middle of the camp, half-starved, denied medical care, and often worked to death. The population was dwindling because Attaroa didn't let the women have sex with the men, assuming they'd give birth only to girls as a result, and even threatened to execute women who gave birth to boys.
- In Prized, the sequel to Birthmarked by Caragh O'Brien, Sylum is a matriarchy. The reason why is because for some reason, 9 out of every 10 births are male and a large percentage of those men are infertile, so girl babies and women are a prized commodity. The protagonist Gaia comes here and is startled by the differences from her society. The leader of the town is called the "Matrarc" (matriarch). In this society, men do not have the right to vote. The society ends up being sexist to both men and women, because women are forced to have at least 10 kids and single women and presumably lesbians are considered outcasts.
- Cetaganda in Vorkosigan Saga is a matriarchial empire that is a rival of the patriarchial Barrayarans. It is complicated by the fact that it has a patriarchial warrior caste but the matriarchial eugenics caste is above them. Further complicated by the fact that there is an Emperor who wields power outside of the haut women, and has some oversight of the eugenics program as well.
Live Action TV
- In the episode "Angel One" of Star Trek: The Next Generation, there is a society where men have fewer social rights then women. The men are also the fairer sex, smaller, weaker, hairless, wear soft cloths, and use perfume.
- The High Priestesses of Merlin, an all but extinct sect of women who were said to have been pitted against the Ancient Kings in warfare.
- One universe featured in Sliders was "The Weaker Sex," where the typical roles are reversed. Women hold every position of authority with men being assistants and such. Hundreds of years ago women got sick and tired of watching men go off to war and killing each other so they revolted. There's no war anymore, no violent crime. Wade unsurprisingly digs this idea, whereas Arturo gets easily frustrated - so much so he gets coaxed into running for mayor just to make a statement. Quinn, meanwhile, faces a bit of sexual harassment and Rembrandt winds up as "the other man" in a relationship. Overlaps with Enlightened, but the sexism means it still falls into this category.
- The Realm in Exalted is a subtle case of Patriarchy Flip. Governed by the Scarlet Empress, women are preferred in some quarters of the military and governance, but both male and female Dragon-Blooded are expected to fully contribute to the Realm (and its population) to the best of their ability.
- Troia of Final Fantasy IV is a theocracy/mageocracy of sorts ruled by 8 female Epopts. Their military is entirely female.
- Alexandria in Final Fantasy IX is a fairly bog standard monarchy. The leadership of the kingdom is passed down to female heirs instead of male ones, and the army, like that of Troia above, is almost entirely made up of women.
- The male Pluto Knights, led by Steiner, also get a lot of grief from the rest of the female soldiers.
- Radiant Historia has Granorg, ruled by the corrupt and vain Queen Protea. What saves this example from being a straw matriarchy is the rule of her successor, Eruca, who is shown to be compassionate and wise.
- Ōkami has the Draconians, who are ruled by an Empress after the death of their Emperor.
- In Yoake Mae Yori Ruri Iro Na, the Kingdom of Sphere is a fairly standard monarchy, except with the line of succession going down female rather than male lines. The benevolent aspects have less to do with female rule and more to do with the fact that the previous Queen and her heir-apparent are benevolent people in their own right.
- In Luminous Arc 2, Carnava has been ruled for a line of Queens for so long the manual points out the title "kingdom" has actually become misleading. The current Queen, Sophia, is portrayed as a Reasonable Authority Figure even when she works against the player party and has them imprisoned - The Mole was feeding her bad information. When cards and laid on the table, she apologizes and immediately starts supporting their cause again.
- Atlantis in Atlantis The Lost Tales is ruled by a Queen, the main god in their religion is a woman and women are shown to be more respected. Until the evil consort takes over, when women are made into second-class citizens.
- The hyena tribe in Digger is mostly a Patriarchy Flip, though with a few original elements as well. Males can hold important posts, but it is shown to be far from the norm: there is only one male, Owl-Caller, on the Elder council, and he is extremely deferential to Boneclaw, whereas the female elders argue with her as near-equals. Justified, since this is how Real Life spotted hyenas operate, with the highest ranked adult male below all females and juveniles in female's care.
- Nilenira in The Movolreilen Saga. Men are pretty much considered to be human forklifts and plows, except when used for breeding.
- Spectral Shadows has this in Serial 11, where females are pretty much the dominant gender in the Patriarchy Flip fashion. How severe the flip is varies from town to town.
- Spotted hyenas. The females are bigger and more aggressive than the males, and rule over them. Though it's not a complete flip, as the females still take care of the young without any help from the father.
- Surprisingly, most social mammals have matriarchies of some sort, with female governing the herds and males usually either being completly removed aside from the mating season (elephants, cetaceans), or being present and not being particularly socially relevant, even when forming harems (horses, for example; it's a matriarch that leads the herd, not the stallion). The only genuinely patriarchal animals are lions and apes.
Examples of a Straw Matriarchy
- In Blackveil by Kristen Britain, there is an in-universe example in the form of the play The Mad Queen Oddacious, who was a crazed despot eventually dethroned and killed by her people. Historians are unsure if she was an actual historical figure. The protagonist muses that the play was probably created to warn of the evils of women being allowed power, especially since it gained in popularity during the rule of Queen Isen.
Myth, Legend, and Religion
- The earliest tales of the Amazons from Greek Mythology, as a warning against female rule.
- The society in the The Two Ronnies serial The Worm Who Turned starts out as a Patriarchy Flip (complete with men wearing dresses), becomes a particularly egregious Straw Matriarchy (apparently, expecting men to cook is against the natural order of things) and naturally, this being The Two Ronnies, includes a dash of Sexy Matriarchy (the Secret Police consists entirely of attractive women in tight uniforms with bare legs, for no clearly explained reason).
Examples of an Enlightened Matriarchy
Manga and Anime
- The Moon Kingdom in Sailor Moon, until it was destroyed by outside forces, and Crystal Tokyo in the future, both ruled by women, both regarded as utopias by the citizens.
- The First Sex, by Elizabeth Gould Davis speculated that early human society was made up of matriarchies. They were characterized by pacifism and democracy, which was later overthrown by a far more barbaric patriarchy.
- Merlin Stone posited a similar theory of prehistoric cultures in When God Was a Woman, in which all prehistoric societies were utopic matriarchies later destroyed by patriarchal Indo-Europeans.
- In The Wheel of Time Andor qualifies an example of an Enlightened Matriarchy. The throne is always held by a queen, but aside from that the rights of Andorans do not vary by gender.
- In the Heralds of Valdemar series by Mercedes Lackey, in Karse, the "Son of the Sun", the leader of their theocracy, is a woman this time around, by direct divine intervention. This would normally just be a gender flip, but she is also reversing the excesses, pogroms, and corruption of the previously patriarchal theocracy. She singlehandedly changed Karse from being one of the major antagonists and "evil" forces in the novels to one of the good guys.
- The Oz books tend to run with the "enlightened" version. Ozma, Dorothy, Glinda, and the North Witch are very capable leaders, and the female rulers of the lesser kingdoms in Oz are usually more capable than the men. However, you do get cases like the East and West Witches, Langwidere, or Coo-Eh-Oh which are God Save Us from the Queen!. Author Appeal was at work as Baum was (and married into a family of) suffragetes.
- The Castle in Septimus Heap has always been ruled by Queens.
Live Action TV
- An early episode of Boy Meets World has a career day where Topanga comes as the President of the United States. She says that men are now used for breeding and they have eliminated a need for the military.
- The Azadi Empire in Dreamfall: The Longest Journey is ruled by a conclave of Six Empresses, with women taking all important political positions (except military, which is still the male domain). Even in-game, opinions differ: April sees them as nothing more than the straight-up evil imperialists, Kian believes the Azadi state to be best of all possible, while Brian Westhouse acknowledges their imperialistic tendencies but points at their truly remarkable cultural and scientific achievements.
- Equestria, in My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, is a land ruled by God Empress Princess Celestia, who causes the cycle of day and night. Ponyville itself is run by a mare. Equestria is generally peaceful and harmonious ...but it is My Little Pony. Equestria, from what we've seen, appears to be a pretty gender-equal society, with both mares and stallions in a wide variety of roles. This is Truth in Television, as studies have found horses tend to do better when led by a female rather than a stallion, see below.
- Contrary to popular belief, with horses a lead mare is usually in charge rather than a stallion. Studies have fond groups of all geldings or with a gelding leader tend to be more anxious and less relaxed than those with a female leader.
Examples of a Sexy Matriarchy
- The Koda are depicted this way in Gen 13. They are scantily clad, lick blood from the bare skin of their Kerubim leader, and are insatiable in the bedroom with "poor" Grunge.
- This describes the matriarchial society of human colonists in Ghosts of Mars pretty well. While women hold the majority of power, it's mostly a leather-clad Fetish-Fuel Future with dominant lesbian leader figures, and women sleeping their way to the top by getting it on with their superiors is seen as expected. The men are still machos though.
- In Piers Anthony's If I Pay Thee Not In Gold, the rulership switches between matriarchy and patriarchy depending on which gender currently has magic. Each lasts several generations. At the start of the novel, it has been a matriarchy for many generations, and men are kept in near-slavery. Given the author, the sexual aspect was inevitable.
Live Action TV
- An episode of Sliders, "Love Gods," sees most of the men in the world having been killed via germ warfare. Women generally take over society, while the surviving men (at least those with a healthy sperm count) are kept in compounds. The men are to impregnate the best possible women in order to rebuild the population, especially before another country does so. (The men that succeed the most are afforded many luxuries.) Naturally, when our heroes get there, the male characters are instantly mobbed and taken into custody.
- In "Bound" from Star Trek: Enterprise, we learn that those Orion "slave" girls apparently being the slaves is all a big ruse; actually, it's the Orion men who are the slaves, with the women running everything behind the scenes via their powerful pheremones.
- Dungeons & Dragons
- Most of the Drow of live in a matriarchy/theocracy ruled by a scantily clad priestess caste. Chaotic Evil and with whips. Poisonous snake-whips animated and imbued with low-grade sentience of bound imps, at that.
- Interesting enough, the most famous mortal drow in the history of the game is male: Drizzt Do'Urden of the Forgotten Realms setting, an outcast of the race and a hero of the Realms who appears (if not stars) in many of the novels.
- A somewhat more subtle example is the asari of Mass Effect, a race of monogendered blue-skinned space babes who can have sex and feel sexual attraction to all other species, a trait that dominates their entire race's persona. However, they do deserve recognition in that their matriarchy is treated respectfully rather than for kinky D/s Fetish Fuel.
- The Syreen in Star Control and Star Control II, a race of Blue-Skinned Space Babes in which the women control the military, the government, and the economy. This is what they look like — the obvious Sexy Matriarchy trope is heavily lampshaded and Played for Laughs. The difference between the Syreen matriarchal civilization and historically patriarchal humanity is explained as arising in pre-history, when (according to the game) the more violent, patriarchal tribes of humans on Earth conquered their peaceful neighbours, leading to a history of patriarchy; on the Syreen homeworld, the peaceful tribes were better protected, and advanced far enough technologically to resist conquest, and become dominant. In more recent history, the Syreen homeworld was destroyed, resulting in the vast majority of males being wiped out, while a relatively larger number of females survived, since women formed most of the Syreen's space patrol forces. Thus, Syreen males are rare.
- The Mistress' Domain in Oglaf.
- The Drow society in Drowtales is a balanced mix of this and Patriarchy Flip.
- In Wapsi Square, Lanthas was this, according to Jin's mom, who is quite sure that since this is a patriarchial society, fathers and sons have no difficulty talking about the women the son has slept with.
- Other World Kingdom, a micronation located in the Czech Republic. Though not officially recognized as a sovereign state, it maintains its own system of laws and governance—which are based entirely around BDSM and femdom play. Technically also a Patriarchy Flip, but for the purpose of kink rather than political reform.
Examples of an Original Matriarchy
- The eponymous Jaran in Kate Elliot's Novels of the Jaran have a complex matriarchal structure. Women are the power both in the family and politically, and it is deeply ingrained in their culture that men respect and obey women. There are two exceptions to this: Marriage and war are under male domain. This society is not depicted as particularly better or worse than a patriarchal society.
- In the Wheel of Time, many smaller independent villages are an Original Matriarchy, they are governed by two separate (theoretically equal) groups. The Village Council is all male and the Women's Circle are exclusively female, but members of both bodies will privately admit that really, the women are the ones calling the shots. The Aiel exhibit a similar governance (and similar admissions of who holds the true power) though in their case they are led by a Clan Chief (male), a Wise One (female) and the woman who owns the Hold.
- Yilanè in West of Eden have a matriarchy, which may or may not be due to their sexual dimorphism.
- In Lois Bujold’s "Borders of Infinity" novella, hundreds of POW's are trapped in an always lit dome. They lose all hope and civility. The only order is the ‘women’s area’, which women cooperate to guard, to remain safe from rape. The (male) protagonist, Miles, must appeal to their leader to start his uprising.
- The teen novel Epitaph Road, which tells the story of a boy in a society where a virus, which turns out to have been deliberately released, drastically reduced the male population and led to a society ruled by women.
- Antaris of Chanters of Tremaris is a magocracy and, due to the high notes in their sung magic, all of the ruling magicians are female.
- The Helmacrons in Animorphs are one of these. Males are essentially slaves and don't even have names. At least until the Animorphs give them a pep talk and start a male vs female war among them. Oddly, the lead female, the Captain, is dead. A living ruler could make mistakes, so the Captain is killed to ensure she won't make mistakes.
- Queensland, the country in A Brother's Price. Men are only about three to five percent of the adult population, and are regarded as more delicate and fragile than women, mostly relegated to House Husband duties. Women are far more collective than they would be in a simple patriarchy flip. Sisters, born to a set of sisters married to one man, look to the firstborn among them, their Eldest, as an authority.
Myth, Legend and Religion
- Later depictions of the Amazons from Greek Mythology, particularly by modern authors.
- Some say that the stories of the Amazons were based on Iranian tribes like the Scythians and Sarmatians, in which women fought alongside men and held political power.
- The Iroquois and the Mosuo are sometimes flanderized this way. Both are societies in which men and women share societal power, rather than being actual examples of female rule. Specifically:
- The Iroquois Confederacy's central government is composed of 50 chiefs, who are nominated and can be removed by an assembly of elder women. However, it is the male chiefs and not the female elders who make actual decisions, not to mention that this assembly has never been terribly important and most Iroquois governmental decisions are made on a local level anyway.
- Among the Mosuo (who live near the China/Tibet border), women have a very high degree of choice among sexual partners and can choose to make and break relationships essentially whenever they want; the only person with veto power over her relationship is the eldest woman in her family, who also holds a great degree of power over the family. However, men ALSO have this level of sexual freedom, and there are lots of powerful positions that are only or mostly male (e.g, all Mosuo cultural priests are men).
- Bees, ants and many other social insects live in a matriarchal society where males pretty much exist only to father young.
- Bonobos. So much so that a male's rank is determined by his mother's rank.
- Elephants; males leave their birth herd when they reach maturity, going on to become lone bulls if strong enough or form bachelor herds.
- Most species of lemur.
- Orcas, also known as Killer whales.
- Wolves have two leaders, an alpha female and an alpha male, with each alpha being in charge of all of the wolves of the same sex. One of the alphas is dominant over the other, and this is usually, but not always, the female. (Note, however, that "in charge" is not a very precise term here. Wolf packs are largely based on family groups, so the alphas are "in charge" of the other wolves in about the same way your grandparents are "in charge" of you.)
- Naked mole rats, which have an insect-like society with a queen.
- Domestic cats. A lot of feral cat colonies are entirely composed of female adults and kittens, so matriarchy is default, but if there's a few toms in the colony the "alpha cat" is still more likely to be a queen. Though weaker, female cats can sometimes dominate the males through bluff; females are much quicker to hiss and swat. And tomcats would rather save their energy for the mating competitions, anyway.
- Lions have a reputation of being ruled by a "king", but for similar reasons as elephants, some zoologists consider them matriarchal. Though the fact that the adult male(s) in a pride takes "the lion's share" (the male eats the prey first even though the females are usually the ones who caught it) screams "patriarchal!" to many.
- Horses as mentioned above.