What Might It Be Like To Live In A Matriarchal Society Of Peace? Can You Imagine? by Carol P. Christ


carol p. christ 2002 colorThere are many reasons for women, slaves, and the poor to rebel against domination and unjust authorities in patriarchal societies. But we should not assume that there are any reasons to rebel against domination where no domination exists or to rebel against unjust authority in societies where there are no unjust authorities.

In response to my recent series of blogs on patriarchy as a system of male dominance created at the intersection of the control of female sexuality, private property, and war (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3), I was asked if there is an injustice inherent in matriarchal societies that caused men to rebel and create patriarchy.

The assumption behind this question is that if women are dominated by men in patriarchal societies, then men must have been dominated by women pre-patriarchal societies. Lurking behind the question is the further assumption that there must have been “a good reason” for the development of patriarchy. The idea that there is “no good reason” for patriarchy to exist–if “good” means fair and just–is just too painful for many of us to want to consider it.

The missing link is our inability to imagine societies without domination.

According to Heidi Goettner-Abendroth “matriarchal societies” are “societies of peace” in which neither sex dominates the other.

 Matriarchal societies have 4 characteristics in common:

1) They practice small-scale agriculture and achieve equality through gift-giving as a social custom.
2) They are egalitarian, matrilocal, and matrilineal. Women and men are defined by their connection to the maternal clan which holds land in common.
3) They have well-developed systems of consensus decision-making that insure that everyone’s voice is heard and considered.
4) They honor principles of care, love, and generosity which they associate with motherhood and teach both genders to express. They often view the Earth as a Great Mother.

What would it be like to live in a “matriarchal” “society of peace”?

imagine peace 2

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.

You would be raised in a large family with sisters and brothers and cousins, all of whom you would consider your siblings. You would never feel lonely. You would not be taught to compete with your siblings. You would never be hit by or hit others, because violent behaviors would not be considered appropriate in families.

When you got old enough to have sex, you could have all the sex you wanted. You would learn that the purpose of sex is pleasure and enjoyment. When you or your partner no longer wanted to have sex with each other, you could separate and find other partners.

There would be no need for families to worry about their children’s interest in sex. As all children have mothers and as all mothers have homes in their maternal clans, there would be no “illegitimate children,” no “bastards,” no “loose women,” no “sluts,” and no “whores.” As sex would be free, there would not be any need for prostitution.

Children born of sexual relationships would find their home in their maternal family. 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.”

With so much help, women would be able to work “outside the home” in the communal fields along with their kin. Mothers would not be “cooped up” or “closed in” with children. “The problem with no name” described by Betty Friedan would not exist. Mothers who were not dominated, lonely, or depressed, would not feel any need to “take their unhappiness out” on their children.

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.

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. If you had a skill, you would be encouraged to develop it, but you would not be encouraged to think you were better than others because you had something they did not.

As a girl or a boy, a young woman or a young man, you would be taught to respect your elders, especially the oldest grandmothers and great-uncles. However, even they would not “lord it over” you, because your clan would have well-developed democratic systems of consensus which would allow everyone’s voice to be heard before any major decisions were made.

Surely there would have been conflicts, jealousies, and misunderstandings in societies of peace.  But when conflicts occurred, they would not have been resolved by violence as everyone would have been taught that sharing and generosity of spirit are the best ways  to resolve conflict.

Societies of peace are so far from our own, and so uncannily attractive, that many people would prefer to think that they have never existed. Yet societies of peace have existed on every continent of the planet. They exist today in various degrees among the Iroquois, the Zapotecs , the Kuna, the Shipibo, the Samoans, the Asante, the Khoisan, the Tuaregs, the Berbers, the Khasi, the Minangkabau, the Mosuo, and others.

I don’t know about you, but I would love to live in such a society.  If we are looking for “reasons for” the existence of patriarchy, I don’t think the unhappiness of men in such systems is one of them. Boys and men were loved, honored, and treasured. They did not have to fight, go to war, or prove themselves in any way. They got all the sex they wanted. I assume they were very happy.

I love to imagine everyone on earth living in societies of peace where the values love, sharing, and generosity are understood to be the highest values. The “golden age” does not have to remain in our past. I dream that we can bring it into the future.

imagine peace

Imagine: A Matriarchal Vision

Carol P. Christ leads life-transforming Goddess Pilgrimages to Crete through Ariadne Institute. There is still space in the spring tour May 25-June 8.  Join her and learn more about the pre-patriarchal Goddess culture of ancient Crete.  Carol spoke on a WATER Teleconference recently which you can listen to now if you missed it.  Her books include She Who Changes and Rebirth of the Goddess and the widely used anthologies Womanspirit Rising and Weaving the Visions

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27 replies

  1. That’s it! I’m going to put it in Portuguese language and share in my blog. Thank you for your vision.

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  2. What a wonderful post! Creating positive visions of the future is such an essential task of feminist religion and spirituality. So many of those who write books and give lectures on what the future will be see it primarily as a higher technology version of the present without considering the importance of changing our society as a whole. This is a beautiful and reachable global future for us all to work towards.

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  3. You yourself, Carol, often challenge comments to your posts, you don’t just pat everybody on the head. In Nature, evolution is dependent on adaptation to stress. It’s not survival of the strongest, it’s survival of the most adaptable. Growing and learning doesn’t come about because of an easy ride. Patriarchy is an evil, but women are evolving by leaps and bounds, in our time, by challenging it to the core.

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    • To disagree is not to dominate and it is certainly not to assert one’s point of view through violence, that is the difference. There are good reasons to believe that the “fittest” are those who survive by co-operating with others in the course of evolution. In matriarchal councils different points of view are debated until consensus is reached, at least that is the goal.

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  4. May I recommend Urusla LeGuin’s book “Always Coming Home”? It imagines a society much like the one imagined here, with a richness of detail, including among it’s many narratives the plight of the unlucky, and the interactions with different societies, all in an imagined future. It should be noted that LeGuin’s parents were anthropologists working with tribal societies in California. It is not a single narrative for the Kesh of the valley of the Na would find such unbelievably egotistical. but a mosaic of narratives, lore, customs. A “good read” and one directions to go from this essay.

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  5. Brava! I’d love to live there, too. I described such a society, based largely on the work of Marija Gimbutas, in the prologue to Secret Lives. I’d love it if our members of congress could read–and understand–your blog and the principles you enumerate. Am I naive to think people in government might come to their senses?

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  6. Thank you so much for this encouraging and positive vision, Carol! I’m looking forward to reading Gottner-Abendroth’s book. It’s so important for people to know that cultures like these have existed and continue to exist in our world. Change is possible!

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  7. Carol, this is a vivid summary of matriarchy. Your readers might also enjoy reading my recent interview with Heide Gøttner-Abendroth, founder of modern matriarchal studies, scheduled to appear later this year in FemSpec journal (femspec.org). One of the questions i asked her was about matriarchy and the future.

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  8. Thank you so much for this post. It takes courage to say: “Yes, we actually do have an alternative arrangement for society, it existed in the past, it worked, and it will work again. Here it is. Now, if you really want to abandon killing, raping and subjugation, let’s go for it together”.

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  9. I am so happy to have discovered the existence of the goddess (history, societies and cultures) and matriarchal studies. They express ideas i have been thinking about myself, and the deep frustration and anger at the abject failures and crimes of patriarchy. I do have a few questions based on your post, Carol…

    1. So what have people found about why patriarchies developed? I have read about Gimbutas’ Kurgan invasions, the idea of the lost ritual of the hunt being replaced by war, and perhaps jealousy over female power, but also about how perhaps letting men deal with trade? Certainly that would give them more power maybe than they should have…

    Relatedly, what about the biological fact of male violence? I know male bonobos are not as violent as male chimps, but what if men merely express masculine, ie, destructive, ie, yang energy?

    If you can advise of any further reading, would be very grateful!

    2. I think we should talk about how to bring matriarchal/focal living into a society where we’re not only working in fields. I think we should talk about rebirthing female power in today’s social world, ie, for a regional as well as tribal or communal vision with respect to governance, and in practical terms with regard to our stalemated political situation today. Gaia needs us to act now.

    Thanks for your post. I am so happy to learn of our matrifocal history… and our matrifocal present and future.

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    • Societies of Peace is a must read.

      Men have not always been violent and dominant, so even if not being mothers of children or having testosterone makes them more prone to violence than women, this is not “inevitable.”

      One day in the museum in Heraklion, I said to myself. It is not that the Cretans are natural and nonviolent and that the Greeks were violent because their culture encouraged it. Both Crete and later Greece had cultures that encouraged certain kinds of behaviors.

      From there on I have had an even stronger belief in the importance of cultural symbols in encouraging or discouraging what may or may not be innate tendencies which may or may not be different depending on sex or gender.

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      • Societies of Peace is in my Amazon cart. I like and agree with your definition of patriarchy from your previous posts. However, maybe we need to push back even further, and it does not seem that evolutionary biology should be excluded from the discussion with respect to male violence and competitive dominance hierarchies. Maybe Rupert Sheldrake’s work is relevant. I know people are wary of the dreaded “essentialism,” but I don’t think we should refuses to admit essential differences between masculine and feminine energies, of the existence of yinyang as the relative forces expressed by universe. I am not arguing for essentialism, but to exclude difference, ie, change, as the nature of the universe itself I feel is short-sighted.

        If patriarchy is a system rooted in the ethos of war, then where and how did the ethos of war originate? Pre-agricultural territorial nomadism? Is it therefore merely part of the earlier stages of history and human development, a historical product, as you suggest? The fact that patriarchy is historical does not make it any less un-natural, in my opinion, since it in fact evolved and exists, though I do agree that it is unnatural to us as humans psychologically, ecologically, in that sense, as natural beings, because we have evolved beyond it, really, long ago. I think we have to entertain the view that unfortunately, whatever exists is natural, has evolved naturally, taking the broad view that there is no real distinction between nature and culture. I have to accept that there is something natural about patriarchy to fully understand it, I think. War doesn’t go back far or deep enough for me. Male chimps exhibit war-like raiding behavior, for example.

        And what about evolutionary biology? I hypothesize and probably other people have, too, that women’s mothering experience is a primary foundation of culture — though I know menstruation is also said to be primary, but perhaps it is really sex + reproduction itself, along with apparently rapid brain development assisted by ancient archaic psychedelic culture…? – that renders women natural social and therefore political and cultural authorities, as do their concomitant greater empathetic abilities relative to men as currently constructed, and their concern for the well-being and development of others, as Jean Baker Miller suggested in the late 70s — all despite our culture’s millennia of selection against these traits. I think this has implications, for example, for whether or not men as a group should be trusted with control of trade. I think I read somewhere where male control of trade may have also been a factor in the evolution from matriarchy to patriarchy. Today, we know that money given to women in rural, so-called “developing” societies is used for the benefit of the family/community, whereas money given to men is gambled away or thrown away.

        And to take your definition of patriarchy further, patriarchy, as a war system, as is noted I think in The Great Cosmic Mother, is essentially fascistic, and anti-democratic. We live now in a state of unacceptable and very painful contradiction, of a stated so-called “democracy,” born out of struggles of resistance to patriarchy but which has not gone beyond patriarchy in vision. I think we have to do more than resist now, and go beyond a critical stance to a transformational and visionary stance, provided through all this fabulous revolutionary work by women. Now we have a case where matristic politics, matriarchal politics as it’s called, is in fact the best revolutionary politics.

        Sorry to write so much and think aloud. Again, I am so happy to have discovered all of this great work. Thank you again.

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    • Anna, you might also want to read Riane Eisler’s “The Chalice and the Blade.”

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    • Anna – I posted elsewhere on FAR about violence and testosterone. There is a Scientific American article http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=strange-but-true-testosterone-alone-doesnt-cause-violence that discusses testosterone can be a result as well as a cause of aggression. Testosterone is related to social dominance. Testosterone is necessary for violence but not sufficient. I’ve also pointed people to Leonard Shlain’s book The Alphabet vs the Goddess which points out the interesting coincidental rise of alphabetic literacy and the patriarchy. Shlain argues this linear literacy strengthened men’s already linear brain and the balance of power shifted. It takes something significant for people to break out of cultural constraints because we don’t even see them.

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  10. What a wonderful world it would be. Great article Carol. X

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  11. This is cool! I’m tired of patriarchy! Women always being used for men. Girls le’ts dominate >:D just kidding. In the end I hope we’ll have a woman president. Women who are wise and not emotional would make great leaders. They’re more peaceful, less likley to try and dominate, but could be tough when the time comes.

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  12. Questions:
    1) What about not knowing your biological father? That would be a huge minus for many people. When children are rised by single mothers, they always ask: “Who was my father?”. Also adopted children mostly want to know their biological parents. Maybe it’s in humans nature to want to know their creators? I don’t have a great relationship with my dad, but I want my son to have good relationship with his father, because it will help him to grow up as a happy and healthy human being. Fathers are important.
    2) What if biological brother and sister have sex not knowing that they are sibilings? That could result in disabled children. Also, if there would be no restrictions for sex, there would be early teen pregnancies that are bad for girls health.
    3) What if I don’t want to give up the chance to rise my own children? Do you disagree with theories that in the early childhood baby needs to bond with one constant caregiver? And what about little children that would feel much happier being with their mummy than being put in a daycare with a group of other children?

    For me it seems that matriachy and patriarchy ar two sistems that each has their positive things and their problems. Maybe we need to take the best from both and create a new sistem that would work for us as we are today?

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    • Children generally would know who their biological father is. But their fathering would come from their uncles. Brothers and sisters and cousins in the same maternal clan would not have sex. You would not give up raising your own children, you would just have a lot of help from your sisters and cousins. It is not a daycare group.

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  13. We are not very far from this idea today. We no longer have to “Imagine” this reality as it has destructively played out before our eyes. As women, I think we owe it to our children to look at the inevitable results of this mentality as it relates to physical safety. I would like to propose that this is a very dangerous thinking for many reasons but primarily because patriarchy is the only hope women have of being free from violence.

    In unpatriarchal societies, which are invariably either primitive tribes as you suggest or else rapidly collapsing civilizations, women are raped or robbed frequently. Men have no reason not to do these things; because as you say their sole purpose is to act as sperm donor and gratify their own whims. Such tribes have no real concept of paternity, so mothers are free to raise their sons as they wish, without interference from those pesky fathers. According to feminist propaganda such as this, these women will raise their sons to be peaceful and nonviolent and respectful to women. In reality, however, these fatherless boys grow up violent, rootless, and with no reason not to do whatever they feel like. Besides compelling men to protect their wives and children, patriarchy causes men to hesitate to assault other women and children, because of the innate masculine respect for property.

    I guess it might be nice if we were a cuddly species that never hurt each other or anything. However, we are sinful by nature and no matter how many mothers or aunts a little boy has he will continue to seek to follow the desires of his flesh unless he is put in his place by his own father. Lets not fool ourselves. Until we can realize our own sinful nature, we should not react by dismantling the only possible safety women and children can have in this world.

    When women have a significant amount of power in society, morality collapses and women and children are left defenseless.

    Let’s not fall for this trap. This is merely ANOTHER CALL TO JUSTIFY REBELLION. Children want to rebel against their parents, wives against their husbands and husbands against God. There is no originality here. This has been done before and the desire to rebel against the God given order of the family unit has existed since the beginning of time, And we know the inevitable outcome of rebellion is pain.

    The safest, and best place for a woman and her children is under the care of a loving father. That has always been the case. In order for loving fathers to exist boys need examples of what a loving father looks like. If we continue to ostracize them from society they will never learn and we will never break this cycle and experience true freedom.

    Shame on you for diminishing the crucial role men have to the family and the continuance of our nation. Shame on women for being so ignorant and believing this fairytale. Lets look at the facts ladies and not be fooled as Eve once was in the garden of Eden. I do not know about you but I don’t want to lead a society. With that is incredible pressure, responsibility and stress that I think we are quick to underestimate. Lets stop being victims. Until we can enjoy our precious, crucial, God given role in society with joy and humility we will not be able to experience tremendous freedom, true peace and protection.

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    • god given design-according to your religious belief system and your man made(not God inspired) book the bible. You are obviously so brainwashed you can’t imagine anything different. patriarchy means father origin, men are not the givers of life mothers are. matriarchy is the natural way. patriarchy is a system of exploitation of the many for the benefit of the few at the top of the pyramid. Christianity is a political religion contrived to give the rich and powerful a divine right to rule.

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  14. If patriarchy could fulfill its sometime promise to protect women from violence, why is it that at minimum 1 in 5 women experiences sexual violence in the US today? Why is it that it is almost impossible for a rapist to be convicted? Why is rape so prevalent in the US military? Why is the rape of women in war a common practice?

    Note also that boys in matriarchies have manifold examples of loving and caring male relatives, their uncles and great-uncles, in whose image they grow into men, and whose places they will grow into in the maternal clan. Not only that, they are not taught that boys have to be tough or violent, they are taught to be as loving and generous as mothers, which is what their uncles were taught before them.

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Trackbacks

  1. Matriarchal Societies of Peace Make Sound Social Policy by Carolyn Lee Boyd | Feminism and Religion
  2. Who Is Jephthah’s Daughter? The Sacrifice of Women and Girls by Carol P. Christ «
  3. Matriarchy as a solution to a whole lot of issues - IndusLadies
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