Let me start by saying I was really excited to start reading this book. If matriarchies truly have existed, I thought, then they can surely exist again, or at least what is left of them can be protected and preserved while the rest of us continue to flounder about as we progress perilously through the advanced stages of patriarchal cancer, blogging obsessively, if we choose, on the topic of the Great Matriarchies that Once Were, as if in doing so we could turn back time.
But being an optimist at the time I started reading this book (more accurately being under the psychological control of a male with Blackfeet ancestry who had been named an indigenous elder at some multi-tribal pow-wow at Stanford University and who claimed to have interest in building, and in fact running, a revolutionary new matriarchal society, which I’m sure will make a great story when I am fully recovered from his abusive programming), and being an excessively abstract thinker almost wholly intellectually satisfied with the theoretical brain candy presented in the Introduction, I had been evangelizing about the virtues of indigenous matriarchal societies to anyone who would listen. I spoke of a wonderful world in which women have real decision-making power, there is no rape, and the life-creating power held by females is honored by men and centralized in every facet of the culture. To me, the existence of such societies was proof that patriarchy is only one possible social arrangement of males and females, that masculinity is socially constructed, and that there still may be hope for us all to turn this man-made trainwreck around before humans go extinct.
In between reading the Introduction to the book and digging into Chapter 1, I had a series of disturbing/enlightening conversations with friends and in the blogosphere on the topic of gender as a social construct vs. biological essentialism, through which I had been invited to think more critically about the prospect of females ever living in harmony with males. Yes, I conceded, patriarchy is made by men… but… but still, I insisted, it’s all in the book!!!
So then I had to actually read the damn book.
The author, like many advocates of a return to matriarchal society, makes it clear in the beinning that matriarchy is not the reverse of patriarchy – patriarchy is a system of power over and matriarchy is a model of non-hierarchical power centered on life itself, rather than weighted towards either sex.
When I first heard this description of matriarchy, I remember feeling proud:
“Yay! I DO have value! I am not just a dirty, stupid, worthless bitch who needs to be told by men what to do every second of the day in order to avoid falling out of favor with God.”
Deeply internalized misogyny is obviously not a good place from which to arrive at the negotiating table.
But thanks to having had a solid week of radfemming it up with a new friend in between reading the Introduction to the book and Chapter 1, the very first example given by Abendroth of a matriarchal society made my eyes bleed in horror and sadness at what suddenly and irreversibly struck me as the enormous level of psychological denial required to maintain this mass hallucination that men have any value whatsoever.
Ok, details: So the author introduces the Khasi of Northern India. To summarize, Khasi women take responsibility for all of the important economic, cultural, political and spiritual functions in society because, it is implied, men just can’t be trusted with them… Wait a second, that sounds familiar:
“But honey, it’s just that you’re so much better at running ceremonies and distributing goods fairly amongst clan members. You are just so impressively strong, I admire the way you carry a child on your back while hauling unimaginable burdens over mountains and across rushing rivers to the market… why, I bet you’re as strong as any man! And, as the youngest daughter, you’re also naturally really good at raising the kids while providing for our dying elders as well as for any clan member who is ever in need, anywhere, at any time, even if you are dirt poor.”
I shit you not, all of this was in the fucking book. The dramatization is obviously my own, but I have accurately represented Abendroth’s description of Khasi society. And this is supposed to inspire us. To give us hope. To guide us. But it just made me angry, because I am supposed to accept that in matriarchal societies, honoring women = manipulating them with flattery. How is this any different from patriarchy, in which men write Mother’s Day Hallmark cards, praising woman slaves for their sacrifice and virtue?
It is true that Khasi women do hold the final authority in the clan, own all the property, are in charge of all the food, and can even kidnap males for procreation. And the men say they are all cool with it. This is indeed reflective of the greater power women have in matriarchal societies relative to men, and men’s consent to such an arrangement proves the necessity of depriving men of such power. But instead of making me feel all empowerfuled and excited for women, it just made me ask: If only women can run a functional society, and men can only run a dysfunctional society, then isn’t matriarchy just a big apology and cover-up for men’s inherent inferiority as human beings? And who benefits from these awkward arrangements that keep this basic reality of humanity a secret? Who has the most to gain from silence and complicity in the global Testigate scandal?
Matriarchy is for men. Men are inapable of functioning as equal* members of society and as such, can only be a drain on women. Women. Do. Not. Need. Men. In a society of only women, even one in which males are periodically pulled from the swamp for reproductive purposes (which, based on current polulation levels, is not even necessary for women to exist), the word matriarchy would be redundant because it means “a system of society or government ruled by a woman or women” and donating sperm is not a sufficient definition of social membership. So aside from its inclusion of Amazonian women, who were more straight up separatist than “matriarchal,” the whole field of matriarchal studies is an excuse to justify men’s parasitic existence at women’s expense and I’m through with it. That concludes my book review.
*Since I have made use of the word “equal,” it’s worth pointing out to anyone who may not previously have considered it, that women who want equality between the sexes have been majorly duped into begging for the return of crumbs when males have stolen from females the entire batch of cookies. Men are not equal to women in value, on a biological level, and so offering us equality is a concession and a bunk deal loaded with what men must consider in private company to be hilarious and ingenious levels of irony.