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ANAHITA  January 2000

ANAHITA January 2000

Subject:

Re: matriarchy debate

From:

Debbi Grenn-Scott <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

[log in to unmask]

Date:

Sat, 22 Jan 2000 10:07:51 -0800

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Hurrah, Max!  You have put on the table one of the most well fleshed-out
discussions of this whole question I have seen ... it's something I
constantly grapple with when I teach.

(the Tuareg are fascinating, aren't they?)

Best,

Deborah Grenn-Scott
The Lilith Institute / Kol Ha-Ruach - San Mateo, CA
www.lilithinstitute.com

-----Original Message-----
From:   Max Dashu [SMTP:[log in to unmask]]
Sent:   Friday, January 21, 2000 9:57 PM
To:     [log in to unmask]
Subject:        matriarchy debate

At the risk of stirring up more controversy, I am resending a post I wrote
in December which for some reason only got sent to the person I was
replying to (a fact I only just discovered).

>> Is there still enough or lack of enough "evidence" to supply
>>grounds for debate by open-minded people?

>I was told by my university teachers that there is
>no proof of any society, past or present, that was ever matriarchal
>(not to confuse with matrilinear, which is not that uncommon).

"Matriarchal" is a straw doll, which my professors also took great pleasure
in knocking down. They avoided the real issue, though, which is not female
domination in a reverse of historical male domination, but whether more
egalitarian human societies have existed. Ones that did not enforce a
patriarchal double standard around sexuality, property, public office and
space; that did not make females legal minors under the control of fathers,
brothers, and husbands, with no protection from physical and sexual abuse
by same; that did not confine, seclude, veil, bind, amputate from female
bodies; and that did accord to women public leadership roles, honored
professions, child custody and property rights, authority to make personal
decisions, and freedom of movement.

We do have documentation of such societies. "Matrilineal" is not an
adequate term for them, though it is strongly correlated with a more
egalitarian approach and  negatively correlated with institutional
repression of female power and rights. I use "matrix society" as a more
neutral term, free of the connotation of dominion carried by the "-archy."

>Can anyone give a conclusive proof to the contrary, perhaps by citing some
>well studied ethnic group of more recent times (if possible, with
>reference to a _scholarly_ publication)?

I don't have the time to compile a bibliography for you, but as a starting
point, you can look to studies of the Khasi of Assam, Seri of Sonora,
Shipibo/Conibo/Amahuaca of eastern Peru, Tuareg of the Sahara, Menangkabau
of Sumatra, Keres peoples of New Mexico, Nayar of Kerala, and the
Iroquois/Haudenosaunee of New York/Ontario. The already-cited Musuo of
Yunnan are described in the ethnographies as having an elder woman head of
household for their clan lodges, plus sexual freedom for the women, who are
visited by lovers from other longhouses. Their homeland is part of a region
designated by Chinese writers as a "Country of Women," centuries ago. There
was another of these on the other side of Tibet, in Swat, or what the Hindu
writers called Odiyana.

Any analysis of matrix societies has to take into account the historical
trend toward patriarchy, which has accelerated as these indigenous
societies come under seige. Recent news articles about the Khasi (1998, I
think) point out that the men are deserting the Khasi clans, invoking the
dominant Hindu society as a model.

Quite a few oral folk histories allude to a change to a patriarchal system,
not only in descent lines, but religious and/or political leadership. The
BaChokwe say that they split from the BaLunda over mother-right, and
subsequently migrated to Angola. There a female chieftain, Luweji or Ruwej,
was unseated by her brothers, who took the throne.

Looking to the ancient world, Strabo was amazed at the prominence of
Cantabrian women, as Herodotus was by the Lydians. There is no evidence in
Crete of a patriarchal system like that of the classical Greeks -- or any
other. That's the flip side of this whole argument: can those who are
insisting that patriarchy is humanity's default prove that it existed in
the older neolithic societies, worldwide? Personally, I haven't found any
evidence of it that predates the sacrificed-women-and-slaves burials of the
Yamna culture. And that's unique for its time, anyway.

Max Dashu    Suppressed Histories Archives
30 Years of International Women's Studies 1970-2000
 <[log in to unmask]>

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