Monday, March 21, 2016

The Stubborn Connotation of Matriarchy; A Scholarly Essay


People generally associate the thought of female dominance with the idea of matriarchy. Although people do not generally use matriarchy to describe societies anymore, it is still a form of feminism. Feminists and anthropologists have been studying this “Myth of Matriarchy” and the negative correlations that have surrounded the idea for years. It is so prevalent; this connotation of the refusal to accept this concept of matriarchy, and it absolutely parallels the topics of oppression and dictatorship. What would it be like to live under a dictatorship patriarchal regime? The cycle of oppression is impossible to escape without any freedoms or liberties, especially as a woman.
Even today, there are religions and forms of government that do not even allow women to vote, let alone be in any position of leadership or governmental power. When people hear the word “matriarchy”, they almost immediately reject the connotation, due to the confines of society and the way our government is run; it has conditioned people to automatically assume that the word matriarchy connotes the antithesis of patriarchy, which connotes the thought of female dominance, although it has been proven to be an egalitarian system.
     Two novels in particular truly exemplify how life is for women living under complete control. The lead female characters in both Purple Hibiscus (2003) by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Shame (1983) by Salman Rushdie, display subversive nature, complacency, and some plot silent revenge. There are allusions and scenes that make references, either directly or indirectly, to the emergence of some unknown power breaking out of the female characters, that is essentially being born out of oppression.
     Purple Hibiscus (2003) by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie illustrates how Kambili and her mother feel the oppressive weight of her father’s authority. Kambili and her family are brainwashed by her father into believing that everything he did for them was out of love, although it is clear to the reader that he is a terrible man. Kambili, Jaja, and their mother all seemed very detached and complacent with the controlling force that they were under, but all the while Kambili and Jaja’s mother was secretly and silently killing her husband, slowly over time with poison. This emergence breaking out of the mother comes from an inherent power in all women to protest against the patriarchy.
     In Shame (1983) by Salman Rushdie, we can understand that the Shakil sisters are dealing with a similar oppression, but in a more dominant and extreme way. Being locked and hidden away, never educated, until their father passes away, eighteen years after their mother has died. The Shakil sisters seem far more aware of the oppression that had been done unto them for so many years; and they are sour about it. At the very end, the emergence is given a name; it is referenced as “The Beast”. Even though these books differ in writing styles and the way the information and plot lines are presented are very different, the themes that overlap provoked interest as to what it would be like if the gender roles were reversed, or if that is even possible.
     In the artistic and literary sphere, scholar Natalie Dandekar writes on how the creative works of women can be overlooked due to the standards formed after male criterion. She discusses the female consciousness and how and if men can interpret texts written by women. She includes many opinions from various authors, and mentions how works written by women are often made to seem trivial in comparison to those written by men. She argues that “the idea that women have a distinct consciousness rests on the perception that women are socialized to perform distinct social tasks (women’s work) as well as that the assumption of subordination of women to men remains codified in most major institutions of society” (Dandekar 509). The thought that females efforts, artistic or not, may be marginalized and reduced by these precedents set by men is alarming, and also makes them seem superior to us.
     There are anthropologists that believe that there are no true matriarchal societies, however, there are many people that believe that there are exceptions to this rule. It is very possible that there have been matriarchal societies before written history, but it is all based in speculation. The connotations of matriarchy and matrilocal societies may be getting confused or mistaken for one another. Some of the world’s population truly believes that a non-patriarchal system is, by transitive property, matriarchal. Take for example, egalitarianism. Teachings that we pass on to our children ignore and suppress any ideas of egalitarian or non-patriarchal systems. 
     A very important woman named Dr. Heide Göttner-Abendroth founded and co-directs The International Academy for Modern Matriarchal Studies and Matriarchal Spirituality called “HAGIA”. She believes that the lack of will to accept the existence of the “matriarchy” may be based upon a certain culturally specific and biased notion of how this term is defined. In a patriarchy, men have control over the women, and this generally leads people to believe that a matriarchy would be the opposite in terms of power, and allow the women to have control over the men. Göttner-Abendroth defines Modern Matriarchal Studies as the "investigation and presentation of non-patriarchal societies"(Göettner-Abendroth). She believes matriarchies to be non-hierarchal, and to represent the perfect egalitarian model, distributing power equally between both males and females.
     In one of her published papers, she argues that "Matriarchies are all egalitarian at least in terms of gender-they have no gender hierarchy that, for many matriarchal societies, the social order is completely egalitarian at both local and regional levels" (qtd. in Reynolds 1). Based on Abdenroth’s findings over the years, and the research that compares to hers, it has been proven that a matriarchal society is an egalitarian society and in no way could be the stark opposite to a patriarchy.
     Journalist and author Margot Adler wrote, "literally, ...  means government by mothers, or more broadly, government and power in the hands of women." According to Adler, in the Marxist tradition, matriarchy was referred to as “…an egalitarian pre-class society where women and men share equally in production and power…a number of feminists note that few definitions of the word, despite its literal meaning, include any concept of power, and they suggest that centuries of oppression have made it impossible for women to conceive of themselves with such power” (Adler). She says that there is quite a good deal of information about ancient societies, where the women held the greatest positions of power, even more so than women do now. It has been living on through myth and legend, which can make people doubtful, but it has also lived on through the legal documents for marriage and divorce, owning of property, and positions of power. In our time, we have feminist movements happening all over the globe every day. However, we may not understand the full effect of living in a dictatorship. Some countries do not allow for women to have some freedoms that we would think to be basic and humane.
     According to Cynthia Eller, "'matriarchy' can be thought of ... as a shorthand description for any society in which women's power is equal or superior to men's and in which the culture centers around values and life events described as 'feminine’ (Eller). Eller believes that the concept of matriarchy stems from romanticism and modern social criticism, which was meant to describe something like a utopia to make contemporary social criticism seem valid and reasonable.
     During the second wave of feminism, Professor Cynthia Eller found extensive acceptance of the matriarchal myth. Eller understands that it is about females being able to trust males to accept all equality on all levels.
     It seems unnatural to most people, men and women, feminists included, that women would be in a position to govern men. The idea that female superiority is untraditional really bothers and frightens people, and it seems as if they will make up almost any excuse to reject the idea that women and men both have the same political and authoritative capacity.
     There are many novels that have been written, by women and men, which are set in matriarchal cultures, in worlds where females reign supreme. These may be figurative worlds or realistic.
     In feminist literature, matriarchy and patriarchy are not seen as opposites of one another. While matriarchy can mean, "the political rule of women", people often refuse this based on the notion that patriarchy is meant to hold power over others while matriarchy focuses on internal power. It is not meant to be domineering or authoritarian. There are radical feminists believe that matriarchy is important because it is meant to ease the burden of the oppressive system.
     Charlotte Perkins Gilman, in 1914, argued for "a woman-centered, or better mother-centered, world" and discussed “government by women.” She believed that governments run by a male or female should be assisted by the opposite gender so that both can be "useful ... and should in our governments be alike used", taking into account the differences between the sexes.
In a book entitled The Answer is Matriarchy, Barbara Love and Elizabeth Shanklin wrote, "by 'matriarchy,' we mean a non-alienated society: a society in which women, those who produce the next generation, define motherhood, determine the conditions of motherhood, and determine the environment in which the next generation is reared. When we hear the word "matriarchy", we are conditioned to a number of responses: that matriarchy refers to the past and that matriarchies have never existed; that matriarchy is a hopeless fantasy of female domination, of mothers dominating children, of women being cruel to men. Conditioning us negatively to matriarchy is, of course, in the interests of patriarchs. We are made to feel that patriarchy is natural; we are less likely to question it, and less likely to direct our energies to ending it” (Love, Shanklin, 275).
     A man by the name of Steven Goldberg wrote a book called The Inevitability of Patriarchy. He makes the claim that males have ruled in all societies, current and prior, and there is no history, reasoning or anthropology, that can change this. He discusses physiological reasons, the differences between females and males, and how trying to change the social institutions will not make a permanent change.

     Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines matriarchy both as “a family, group, or government controlled by a woman or a group of women” or “a social system in which family members are related to each other through their mothers” (“matriarchy”) Similarly, the Oxford English Dictionary defines it as "a system of society or government ruled by a woman or women; a form of social organization in which descent and relationship are reckoned through the female line” (“matriarchy”). A matriarchy, as we know it, is any society in which females, have the role of moral and political authority.  The definitions in the dictionaries and in general English, however, hold little relevance to what the word means to society. There also seems to be a correlation between the textbook or standard dictionary definition and the connotations that people hold. We have to wonder what causes discrimination and why we cannot get rid of this separation. We must challenge the social dominance constructs. How far have we actually come in terms of social tolerance and acceptance? Has our entire social system just become more chaotic?

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