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Matriarchal society: gender roles:
I've been working on developing a society for a while now. An idea came to me for characters living in a matriarchal culture, and I decided to flesh out what the gender roles and expectations of such a society might be as a worldbuilding exercise. I didn't want it to be a simple reversal of every role, mainly because that didn't make any sense. Nor did I want it to be a blanket 'women rule and men have absolutely no rights' culture, because that wouldn't be very interesting. I have tried to keep some of our current gender roles and stereotypes while twisting others around, in order to come up with roles that manage to be fair and unfair to both genders in different ways. I would be interested to hear any thoughts about this, whether you think it's plausible, and also questions about how it works and any holes people see in it. You could also outline scenarios and ask how this culture would deal with it.
The upper class, at least, is organised into houses or family groups, each lead by a Matriarch. The queen is chosen from women of a suitable age from one of the ‘royal houses’. Regardless of the wealth or status of each family group, the women are the ones that make the decisions. Women are seen as the ones with the intelligence for matters such as politics and business, while physical tasks like manual labour and fighting are seen as the role of a man. Skilled crafts and the arts are more of a grey area, as they are considered acceptable pursuits for both sexes, but a man in such a job will almost always have a woman handling the money side of things. Another grey area is the military. Many of the officers are female, but they are expected to be able to fight as well as their men do, and men can be promoted into leadership positions. Obviously, there are societal obstacles to both of these paths. Men are considered to be the more emotional sex, in that all of their emotions are big and violent and they don’t have much control over them. Women are considered to have subtler and longer-lasting emotions, and to be better able to control them. A man is allowed to cry, and this isn’t seen as a sign of weakness, only an outpouring of emotion just the same as shouting or laughing is. Women may cry in public, but they are expected to retain a greater control of their temper. Lapses in judgement due to emotion are seen as more forgivable in a man than a woman. When couples marry, the man leaves his mother’s family and goes to live with the woman in her family. Married men often have two names, their own and their wife’s, while women only ever have one. The duties of a husband are to be a partner and aid to his wife, including doing all the physical work that needs doing in the family group and also helping to raise their children. Women are allowed to have two or three husbands, but this is not common anywhere except in women with higher status/position. There are several reasons for multiple husbands – firstly, for the political alliances that marriages bring. Secondly, women who are of high position are expected to be very busy, so they won’t have as much time to care for their children. Thirdly, in the case of women who are candidates for the head of a family or for the throne, it is considered that women need to have people they can trust unconditionally around to help them. Divorce is allowed in this culture, in which case the man returns to his mother’s family and drops his wife’s name. If this is a mutual agreement with no wrong-doing, or if the woman was the one who was at fault, he is awarded half of their shared possessions and funds and is allowed to visit any children of his often (the children always remain with the mother). If the divorce is the fault of the man (such as abuse, infidelity, or any other breaking of the marriage contract) he is sent back to his family in disgrace with only a few personal possessions, and may or may not be allowed to visit his children. Children born out of wedlock belong to their mother’s family and there is no stigma attached to the children themselves. The mother, however, will probably be demoted or lose standing in the family. She will be expected to give up her duties in favour of caring for the children and will probably be the subject of much disapproval for being irresponsible enough to have a child with no husband to help her care for it. Although the man involved will also be frowned on, if he is known, most of the blame falls on the mother, because ‘women should know better’. Violence between men is tolerated, but violence between women is looked down on. A man hitting a woman is frowned on because she is physically weaker. A woman hitting a man is treated more lightly, but is still frowned upon, because honourable men won’t allow themselves to hit back, and violence is considered to be too crude for women. Physical and sexual domestic abuse is considered very serious regardless of the sex of the aggressor.
edited 29th Apr '12 6:25:00 AM by LoniJay
Be not afraid...
Euo will do!What of the role of sisters and aunts? After looking to his mother, a man would be expected to take heed of his sisters as well as help them... and a sister's role would most likely to try and keep her brother/s out of trouble until he's/they're safely married off. This might also extend to any children of the brother's, to a limited extent. Should the bloodline he marries into suddenly hit trouble, he might be expected to pull strings via his sisters with his own more powerful female relatives to aid dialogue between his wife's side and his mother's. Same if he hits relationship problems with his wife: odds are, it's not his mother he goes to for advice/ help, but his sisters. After all, both bloodlines have a vested interest in whatever daughters he helps bring up, even if his own bloodline's link is limited.
edited 29th Apr '12 8:11:48 AM by Euodiachloris
There have been numerous real life matriarchal cultures, so looking them up could be a good place to start.
Yeah, I have to agree with Stripe. Just taking our society and reversing it based on hypotheticals is very artificial and difficult. Why not just pull from real life societies?
The multiple husband thing is problematic. It's only ever existed in reality under very limited conditions, usually only in tribal cultures and usually only when the wife is considered shared property. A woman can usually only have one child at a time (except, of course, in the fairly rare case of multiple births), so the arrangement wouldn't yield more children. Human biology is so designed that it makes sense, from a "survival of the species" standpoint, for a man to have many wives, but not for a woman to have many husbands. This is, of course, not to say that you can't do it the way you describe; you'd just end up with a lot of husbands with little to do unless their wives had large holdings to take care of, or provided them with busywork. They'd essentially be high-born, unpaid labor. Otherwise, they'd be dangerous; history has proven again and again that a large male population with little to do and little reason to feel invested in their society generally ends up being seriously troublesome.
@Eudachloris: Yes, that all sounds like it fits Particularly the bit about the men being a go-between between families. @Stripes and Breadloaf: That does sound like a good idea, yeah... even though I'm often reluctant to draw too heavily from real-life cultures. This has mainly been a project for me to puzzle out for fun while I'm busy with other things, though, so I'm usually not at a computer or library when doing it. @Gray: I know, it doesn't make a great deal of sense in a lot of ways. That's the reason I made it uncommon and confined mainly to the upperclass. I might have dropped that aspect entirely by now, except that the characters who set me off on this whole thing were a princess and her three fiances. They're much changed now from their original concepts, but if I removed the polyandry aspect to their story I wouldn't have much left of them.
Be not afraid...
Well for a princess (or even a noble-lady) you could easily get away with a tailor/launderer, a cook and a man-servant.
I was trying to look up some matriarchial societies and it is suggested that the Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) was matriarchial. Another one I found was Mosuo, a Chinese ethnic group. Men do tend to take up the political positions, although since females are the head of each household, I would guess the male just does whatever the female tells him to and has limited independence from that. The general view is that men do nothing and women do all the work (they also make all the business decisions). They don't have traditional marriages and instead of "walking marriages", in which a female keeps one partner whom they may visit at night at their own choosing. It seems to be some kind of system of "serial monogamy", in that they can switch partners fairly often but they only have one at a time. The children are raised by the mother. "Marriage" is largely a group-decision, and a matriarch can (though rarely) ask a visitor to not come to her household. Being promiscuous here is a bit different but still considered bad, such as not knowing the father of your children. From a cursory glance at various matriarchal societies of varying "female dominance", I tend to see a few trends:
edited 29th Apr '12 7:24:48 PM by breadloaf
Yes, I was looking up the Mosuo just now myself Although... I realise now that I'm extremely contrary =/ Reading about these cultures isn't making me think "Oh, I could try to incorporate that into mine, " it's making me think "Interesting! I wonder what it would be like to do the exact opposite?" I also notice that the Iroquis way seems to be based around the 'women are closer to the earth' view. I usually figured mine was more based around a 'women are smarter and more subtle' view.
edited 29th Apr '12 8:18:32 PM by LoniJay
Be not afraid...
The women are "smarter more subtle" is a view produced by today's patriarchal societies, so I tend to view that kind of basis for a matriarchal society as suspicious. That's basically how we train our women... they go to university not trade school, they gossip about one another rather than have a "guy code" etc. So for a matriarchal society, I would expect someone to throw away that basis and come up with a basis developed by women instead. That they are leaders of the household, that they know best for a family/clan, that they do more of the work than men, that marriage and partnerships with men is about establishing a meaningful emotional bond or children and not about economic bonds. What seems to remain static is that warfare is the domain of men, but perhaps the overall decision making, such as in the Iroquois tribe, is at least shared by women or dominated by women. Generally speaking, women held more power in the household, in budget management and in owning property in societies where women held more power. You shove those up to the nth degree, it's about women using proxy men in politics or war, they are leaders of corporate/business organisations that extend out from their household clan, they decide how to split income, they decide on acceptable women approaching male descendents... Buuut... ultimately it is up to you. Afterall, if it is a society that became matriarchal from a patriarchal society, then your basis makes more sense.
edited 29th Apr '12 9:49:32 PM by breadloaf
Does that view have to emerge from a patriarchal society, though? Is it impossible for it to rise on its own, and why would that be?
Be not afraid...
No it doesn't but one thing about fiction compared to real life is that... if it happened in real life (I mean we've had some pretty screeewed up and idiotic systems and social values before) you can't question it; it happened. If you try something new and artificial in a work of fiction, it's difficult to justify because people expect fiction to have some sort of plausibility. So if you do try to say those views came up on its own, if you ask an anthropologist the questions that arise go something like this:
The description of your matriarchal socioty in your initial post sounds good imho there are only 2 things that seem a bit odd which is mainly the idea that children born out of marriage would incur shame/disapproval and a fall in status simply because in my experience social shame/disapproval of single mothers is a feature of patriarchal socioties. If a child gained their status/wealth/importance in socioty/etcetera from their father then the only way for a man to ensure that a child was his was through the wifes faithfulness. (i am working under the assumption that there are no reliable ways to test paternity in your socioty). Social shame/disapproval of single mothers (or adulterous wives) was one tool used by patriarchal authority to control female sexuality witihn their socioty. But if descent is traced through the female line and ones status/wealth/importance in socioty/etcetera comes from ones mother then who fathered the child is not really of any importance beyond who should be responsible for helping the mother to raise the child therefore single motherhood being a source of social shame/disapproval doesnt seem right in your matriarchal socioty. The loss in social status does make sense if the woman is of a small/poor family because she would have to siblings or servants to help her raise the child. This joins up with my second niggle which is the need in your socioty to be married in order to have children. Forming alliances both political and personal through marraige makes sense as marriage is a binding social contract that usually implies either political alliance or a strong affection if not love between those involved. The higher up the social ladder you are the more likely you will have to make political rather than personal alliances i.e. marriages. However does it necessarily follow that a woman who wants a child should have to form an alliance with another family just to have said child especially if descent/social status/etcetera is inherited from the mother? Wouldnt it just be easier if it was customary for families to loan out their menfolk as lovers/breeding studs to other families? It would probably mean a bunch of children out of wedlock but it would prevent the problem of inbreeding amongst families trying to maintain historical alliances via marriage, and also would allow men and women from different families to get to know one another and figure out if they would suit well as a married pair or should just limit their relationship to one of temporary lovers. It could also raise interesting questions of loyalty as if a man is loaned out to another family he may come to care for the women of that family but his loyalty will still primarily be to his own and he may report any useful political/trade gossip he overhears back to his own family a possibility that the family he has been loaned to woudl be aware of. Also the menfolk of the family he was being loaned to would probably have little in the way of trust/respect for him though they would probably still be polite so as not to offend his family. Of course if a man ended up marrying one of the women from the family he was loaned out to then he would automatically switch loyaltie to his wifes family. But what if the marriage is purely political rather than affectionate and the man cares more for his sisters (in a platonic sense) than the women or family that he has married to? Would this affect his loyalty? And would children from marriages be ahead of those born out of wedlock in matters of inheritance? After all why bother forming a marriage alliance if the female offspring that results isnt going to inherit the mothers position and influence? Sorry if this post descended into rambling speculation on stuff that wasnt even a part of your initial post everything i have written is of course my own humble opinion feel free to ignore it or steal anything useful from it (if you can find anything useful amongst the rambling speculation)
Hmm. You have a point that there should not be as much social stigma attached to children out of wedlock; the way I was thinking of it, though, is not that it's somehow 'shameful', it's just not smart. Husbands are there to look after your children; if you don't have one you have to look after the children yourself, which means you're going to have to give up your other responsibilities. Such a woman might even be seen as having given up her 'womanly' role to do something that is beneath her. There's also the fact that this society would be just as prone to 'boys need a father figure to teach them how to be a man!' as ours is. The main issue with the whole 'loaning out' of men to provide children is, the men are not belongings to be loaned. There is a lot of social pressure for them to do as their mother or grandmother says, but nobody is going to make a man have sex with or marry a woman he doesn't want to. A husband is not a piece of property, he is a partner. Think of all the 'separate but equal' and 'created to be his helpmeet' stuff you sometimes hear in conservative religious romance advice. The whole divided loyalties thing would be a big issue, yes; there's probably fuel for a separate story or two in there. I had thought that this thread had died
Be not afraid...
Artisan of Auspicious ArtifactsIn a post-industrial revolution society it's very hard to oppress anyone because it's way to easy to just give everyone a gun and start shooting. In a pre-industrial society it's difficult to oppress the men because they're, what , 30 percent stronger? Actually enforcing such an oppression would be impractical. However, you don't need oppression to form a matriarchal society.
the flies will find youSome random suggestions. It would be neat if there were a single, specific ideal of "a perfect man", like a male Proper Lady. Women on the contrary would be freer to pursue a wider range of ideals (some of which might conflict with each other). So in effect, there would be only one way for a man to be a "proper" son, husband and father, and any deviation from this norm would be a fault and his duty to overcome, while a woman could excel and be appreciated in some ways (managing her household, managing her business, at socialising, at being a trustworthy, loyal friend, being a great soldier/huntswoman etc etc), and not face much stigma when it came to coming short on other aspects, such as using alcohol heavily, emotionally neglecting her family, being crude... Oh, and a sentimental idea of how a man's presence is required for a house to become a home... you know, a man's touch and all that :D There should be different honorifics and words for married and unmarried men no matter if there are such for women. Think Miss/Missus and maiden/wife. Perhaps also a common honorific for a man who has married a lady of status (comparable with Lady), or is one's son. Also elaborate on the future marriage prospects of a man who has been widowed, abandoned, divorced, or who has been in an extramarital affair. Consider the transition from boyhood to manhood. Also, does the sexual purity (virginity/boyhood or abstinence) of a man matter? How much? In which ways? In which ways do men pursue greater physical attractiveness? By what methods? Is there a branch of industry and service sector to cater to these needs? Do men aspire to be masculine, or androgynously beautiful? Does this change with fashions, between cultural spheres, between social levels? What are acceptable ways for a male to pursue a lady he is interested in? Does he speak to his mother? May he send her a letter? May he talk to her before being officially introduced? May he initiate any form of communication or does he need to 'flutter his fan' in hopes she picks up his interest and makes the first move? Is it considered risque or inappropriate altogether that a man expresses or even has interest in ladies? (Lay down and think of fatherland :I) May a man turn down a woman's proposition to talk? To meet? For courtship or marriage? For sex within marriage? May a married/unmarried man be in private with a married/unmarried woman? How different it is for a man of lower or higher class? How different it is for interclass relationships? (Oh and I'd like to see your musings in this thread too :3 Watchlisting!)
edited 28th May '12 12:57:38 AM by peccantis
before the darkness arrives
Euo will do!What cultural roles would be available, as well? If, for example, the role of hunter-warrior-wanderer is a mainly male one, then by extension, maybe others like travelling salesman (for his wife's/ mother's/ sister's) interests or players/ minstrels/ entertainers are open, as well? Would such an occupation be seen as quite a catch for a young girl? Or a big social gaff, as, although it's manly, it's maybe not seen as honourably so? What would that mean for the culture as a whole?
the flies will find youOh, and pejoratives and insults. For inappropriately sexual men (think slut, trollop, hussy, town ride, skank). For men of displeasing nature or manners (think bitch, goose, bimbo). For unattractive men (think cow, dog, hag, butterface). For any other way a man could deviate from the ideal or the norm: frigidness and/or impotence, hysterics, homosexuality, unfatherly, emotionally cold, bad housekeeper, too ambitious, too careless of looks and romance, using looks/sexuality for gain, being 'spoiled goods', working outside family (implications of being sexually available)... //edit How many centuries have passed since "men have no higher intellect; they think with their testes" was a valid argument? Lordy, I'm having way too much fun with this :I
edited 28th May '12 1:19:25 AM by peccantis
before the darkness arrives
This is a lot of questions for a thread I thought was dead... @Peccantis: I don't know about that first bit; I was thinking that the standards for women would actually be higher than those for men in some of those aspects. After all, men are the volatile emotional ones, and women are supposed to be reliable. Interesting ideas, though. The whole insults/perjoratives and honorifics would be important as well! Unfortunately I've been unable to come up with many. It kind of says something about our culture that there are so many generic 'female' insults, but not a lot of male ones, doesn't it? If you have any ideas feel free to bring them up =) The sexual purity of a man... well, I think it does matter, but not to the point that men are 'shamed forever' if they don't behave right. Promiscuity (or even excessive flirtiness) before marriage is seen as a bad thing, because there is an idea that 'if you take a man with bad habits, you'll have a lot of work to break him of them', and women expect faithfulness, of course. Masculinity is mostly seen as attractive over androgeny, although I suppose there would be a lot of variation in what individuals like. Apart from that, I suppose I haven't thought about it a lot... It's acceptable for men to approach women they're interested in, but offers of marriage usually come from the woman's family to the man's. Men are expected to be interested in women and it's considered a bit weird and unnatural for them not to have a libido or to refuse too many offers. Men can turn down women for whatever reason, and although marriages are often 'arranged' it's considered abusive for them to be 'forced'. Men can refuse sex within a marriage; but if the woman feels that she's not being fulfilled by the marriage, 'he never wants to have sex and it's not working between us' is grounds for a divorce. @Eudochloris: ... I honestly don't have an answer for a lot of these, probably because I don't have a totally clear idea of what technology level is available and how the society is organised. That's always been the weakest aspect of my worldbuilding.
Be not afraid...
Euo will do!All questions help the thinking cap. Hope we've supplied a few. Hmmmm: along with gay men, you're going to have to think about lesbians. How would they be seen? Would they have to "woman up" and just have the kids, already, even if their preference would be otherwise? Once having secured the bloodline, would they be free to indulge in whatever partnership they felt like? How would that impact on possible partners? Perhaps gender-preference is no big deal once familial obligations are sorted... even with homosexual males. After all, if he still finds a place in society, it would be to help his sister(s) out, rather than a wife's family. That might still be seen as an honourable way to make a living.
edited 28th May '12 1:56:44 AM by Euodiachloris
the flies will find youIs there social stigma for males in army? What kind of?
edited 28th May '12 2:46:49 AM by peccantis
before the darkness arrives
Euo will do!Considering how female arousal tends to not be as visually-cued as male... that might skew art and culture quite a bit. Hmmmm... However, unattached men may also have their needs catered for: but, how? Would such women be the lowest of the low? Those who, for whatever reason, lost land and titles? Cast-out daughters/ orphans who did something considered heinous? Slaves? What would determine that? And, if it is a case of major social scorn, how would they be prevented from suicide? How would taking your own life be seen? Conversely, maybe woman volunteer, as they are desperate to conceive, but have had very little luck and are now trying the quantity over quality approach... so prostitution for such a reason might be a social duty (the risks of disease maybe being seen as ones worthy of a dutiful daughter of the bloodline)? A temporary, personal burden for the family's overall good? A girl's way of sowing her wild oats, before settling down to look after the family business properly? (And, maybe making some money on the side.) Not the most acceptable way of doing things, but understood? Particularly if your family cannot afford contracts and arrangements.
edited 28th May '12 2:57:52 AM by Euodiachloris
Now that youve explained it further i understand better about the social stigma thing it would make sense if it wasnt about shame but about women expected to be the smart ones in socioty. Also your right men are not belongings to be loaned. I must admitt that part of my rambling speculation was influenced by, of all things, a paranormal romance series i recently read that involved a matriarchal pride of lion shifters who would loaned out their more than willing naturally high libido and just happy to be fed male relatives as breeding fodder for other prides. Naturally the series was about the couple guys that were unsatisfied with that lifestyle and on the lookout for a permanent monogamous relationship with one woman I do wonder how your socioty would react to men who are naturally effeminate and men who would prefer to be women? Are they treated sympathetically, as women are the superior gender who wouldnt want to be one, or are they seen as a disrupting influence to traditional gender roles possibly a male attempt to usurp the authority that righfully belongs to women and therefore treated with suspicion?
I think you guys need to write your own matriarchal societies. This is clearly something you would enjoy writing. I don't think there would be a social stigma for men in the army. It's well within their established gender roles. Of course, there would be a bit of an issue if they're unable to stay home with you, so maybe because of that they're not considered terribly good 'husband' material. But it would still be a fine, honourable calling for a son or brother to go and risk his life for the country. I don't know a lot about how historical dowries actually worked; guess I'll research that. If anything, though, I think it would go with the husband to his new family, so that he isn't joining it empty-handed. How money is handled after a divorce would depend a lot on the circumstances. If the wife finds out that the husband is cheating, she's within her rights to keep all of the money that belonged to them as a couple and send the husband back to his mother in disgrace with nothing. If it was her fault, or if it was nobody's fault, he's much more likely to get an equal share of things. Male prostitution is... difficult, because of course women don't want to get pregnant by some strange sex worker. It would exist anyway, but I don't think it would be all that socially acceptable. Indulging your lust in a risky way probably is seen as a bad thing, because women are supposedly the ones with more control over their desires. For female prostitution... well, I can't see it being socially well-regarded for a woman to serve a man's needs in a subservient way, so for those, much of the power would rest in the prostitute's hands. I expect most of them would be mature women, probably lower class, in it for the money and maybe because they just like lots of men, who exercise a lot of control over what is acceptable behaviour and who they will or won't accept. If people look down on them, I doubt they care. I expect there aren't a lot of pimps, but if there are they're women. I had not thought about flower and animal symbolism yet, but I shall Hmm, infertility. I guess one option would be for them to divorce their husband and try with another one. I don't think there would be as much stigma against infertility as there was in our society, though. Feminine men... hmmm. It's definitely seem as odd and out of place. Men are probably the source of most of the hostility, because most have no real problem with the way things are. They're not interested in such things; why should other men be? Female attitudes are probably not as hostile, but there is definitely an idea that said men are trying to be something that they're not and will undoubtedly do a horrible job at it anyway.
edited 28th May '12 3:59:41 AM by LoniJay
Be not afraid...
It's an interesting concept. As to the multiple husbands thing, was it common for the husbands to vy with each other for the affections of the wife and use their status as the wife's favorite to increase their own power? This was apparently common in harems/ places that had multiple wives. In Islam, a man supposedly could have up to four wives if he could provide and love them all equally. Going with Gray 64, high born men with little to do and no real feelings for the society they live in would pose a problem for society. If anything, their bickering/ power plays with each other might actually destabilize the wife's house and thus affect society as a whole.
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