Matriarchal Societies of Peace Make Sound Social Policy by Carolyn Lee Boyd

carolyn portrait

The true measure of a society’s success should be the well being of those who live in it.  Are they healthy and happy? Do they have their basic needs met? Are they free from the fear of violence? While the matriarchal “Societies of Peace,” as described the book of the same title edited by Heidi Goettner-Abendroth, represent many differing eras and places and each is unique, in general they succeed in creating such lives for those who live or lived in them. Carol Christ recently explained what characterizes these matriarchal societies:

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.

Witnessing the tragedies and catastrophic problems that occur every day in our society, matriarchal  societies can seem like utopias that are far out of reach.  Yet, research and experience are increasingly confirming the effectiveness of the values inherent in matriarchal societies and, as public budgets strain to meet growing social needs with fewer resources, this may be a time when lessons learned from matriarchal societies can be adapted to policies and programs in ways that  benefit all.

Clearly, from the four characteristics cited, matriarchal societies value relationship and community.  In fact, myriad studies have found that strong interpersonal relationships reduce mortality, improve the immune system, reduce depression, decrease stress with all its health risks, and more.  In addition, many times, the most effective program models are those that strengthen relationships and communities while addressing the primary concern. One example of this would be “train the trainer” programs in which people are trained to be their own community advocates and service providers.  It is in communities and through personal relationships that people find the emotional support they need to overcome trauma, create healthy habits, and make positive changes for themselves and others.

We can inform our policies and programs with the importance of relationships and community in so many ways.  We can devote public resources of time and money to build outdoor and indoor spaces and hold events that bring together members of the community. We can provide mental health services in groups, when appropriate, so that people can feel empowered to find their own solutions with others who understand their problems. We can support public transportation, especially paratransit programs for those with disabilities, to enable people to participate in their communities.

Matriarchal societies value Nature and the Earth. Again, research shows that enhancing connections to the natural world create better physical and mental health, including reductions in stress, with all its health implications, better mood, and better health in general. How can we provide opportunities for people to experience Nature, no matter where they live or how limited their mobility may be?  We can institute programs that bring gardens to urban areas for both better nutrition and reduced stress.  We can make sure that hospitals and nursing homes include areas of natural beauty. We can support use of public space for gardens and parks.

Gender equality characteristic of matriarchal societies, is again, an essential element of addressing some of our society’s greatest problems. Those who work across cultures have long known that societies in which women are more equal have better health, education, and overall stability.  Many of the difficulties women that bring women to human services agencies are due, in some part at least, to a lack of income, especially as women grow older, traceable to economic and other forms of inequality.  Physical and emotional violence against women also takes a heavy toll on health and spirit. Many mothers and their children are homeless due to the mother’s inability to find fairly-paid work or because of domestic violence.  Supporting policies and laws to promote women’s equality is not simply just, but is also important to the well being of our society and all those who live in it.

It is easy to assume that ways of matriarchal societies are far from our own in terms of culture, time, and space. However, many of those aspects of these societies that made them successful are what our society also needs. I have described only three of them. Many policy initiatives and programs that reflect the values of matriarchal societies are already taking place, but are in danger of being defunded and need the support of citizens and policymakers. Our public policymakers desperately need good solutions to the problems of our individuals, families, and communities. They really do not need to look far to see what has worked in the past and is still working in many parts of the world today. What can we all do to support the adaptation of matriarchal Societies of Peace to our own time?

Carolyn Lee Boyd is a human services administrator, herb gardener, and writer whose work focuses on the sacred in the everyday lives of women. Her essays, short stories, memoirs, reviews and more have been published in numerous print and online publications. You can read more of her work at her blog, www.goddessinateapot.wordpress.com.



Categories: Activism, Women's Spirituality

Tags: , , ,

13 replies

  1. Thank you, a lovely article. We can educate women to choose a partner wisely if they wish to have children, so that their partner takes equal psychological, socio-economic etc responsibility in the raising of them. Too many children lack a healthy father figure..
    But your points are well made and essential –

    Like

    • Positive male role models can be so important to both young women and men. I actually find a lot of hope in the generation just coming of age. I have a 20 year old son and he and his friends, both female and male, are so much freer than I was at their age and just take gender and LGBT equality for granted as the way society should be.

      Like

  2. There was a fabulous experimental idea that was put forward in a Startrek show, where the characters visit a planet run by a matriarchy. There was some sort of crisis and the Captain of the ship, Jean-Luc Picard, had to meet the leader of the society, but he found that the leader was actually a small group of women who made all the executive decisions by way of consensus. So he couldn’t sit down and pow-wow man to man, and the confusion he was in was exceedingly funny. Jean-Luc was a good sport in the story and abided with the situation until an egalitarian resolution was made to the satisfaction of all. The show really made you feel that a matriarchy of that sort might indeed be a godsend, though it would have its own challenges too of course. Maybe the answer to your question is that we have to dream it first, engage it in the arts, in this and other blogs, and in innumerable creative ways.

    Like

    • I’ll have to look out for this episode! I do think that science fiction can be a wonderful way to envision non-patriarchal futures simply because there is so much more freedom to create a culture you want to explore when it can be anywhere in the universe and from any time period. Star Trek’s various generations had some really interesting writing along this line, as you mention. Dr. Who sneaks some of this in, too.

      Like

  3. If I had a really big magic wand and it really worked, I’d wave it and transform the whole world into matristic societies. Not quite matriarchal, because I don’t want to swap rule of Mom for rule of Daddy. But just think how much better the world would be……….. Thanks for writing this.

    Like

    • Barbara —

      I know here in the U.S. we use the term matristic instead of matriarchal, but the way the Europeans define matriarchy is not the rule of Mom. I actually think matriarchal is a good term, because it points out (once you’ve defined it) that there is a big difference between how “women rule” and how men rule, namely we create consensus, cooperate, and assume equality between the sexes.

      Like

      • Thanks Barbara and Nancy, for both your comments and for the clarification. Yes – matriarchal in the book and the post refers to the definition that Nancy describes. I should have been clearer about which definition of “matriarchal” I was using.

        Like

  4. Very timely post for me, Carolyn, since I’m just sitting down to think about an article for an anthology entitled “Goddess at the Center: Re-visioning Our World.”

    Like

  5. thanks Carolyn… we need to think out of the box of what “we” know.

    Like

  6. Carolyn, where on our planet are these matriarchal societies to be found?

    Like

    • All over the world – a good place to read about them is in the book mentioned – Heidi Goettner-Abendroth’s Societies of Peace. There she and the other contributors describe such societies in North, Central, and South America, Asia, Africa, and Oceania. It’s a wonderful book and I highly recommend it!

      Like

Please familiarize yourself with our Comment Policy before posting.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: