Patriarchy, Matriarchy, Schmpatriarchy…
Not all of my readers are American, of course. In fact, my blog stats tell the story of periodic visitors from 57 countries in total. So, shout outs to those of you reading in Myanmar, Peru and Morocco!
Still, most of you are from the States, and, as a result, you know only a world marked by male privilege. Put another way, you and I have been breathing the air of patriarchy for a long time.
So much so that we have a hard time seeing it.
But here’s the thing…not every culture operates this way.
Meet the Mosuo, a group of people in southern China who operate in a matriarchal system. That’s right, in Mosuo culture the women are in charge. Thanks for my friend Caroline for sending along this article, that tells the story of Argentine writer Ricardo Coler’s visit to the Mosuo. What he found is striking. It’s also more than a bit disturbing.
For instance, according to Coler, the Mosuo’s matriarchal system has a whole different take on authority. He writes:
“I had expected to find an inverse patriarchy. But the life of the Mosuo has absolutely nothing to do with that. Women have a different way of dominating. When women rule, it’s part of their work. They like it when everything functions and the family is doing well. Amassing wealth or earning lots of money doesn’t cross their minds. Capital accumulation seems to be a male thing.”
I’m not sure if I agree that getting rich is only a “male thing,” but there’s something compelling about this picture of leadership. It feels communal and empowering. In fact, elsewhere in the article, Coler notes that the matriarchs absolutely abhor violence and will do almost anything to avoid it. Imagine if American culture operated like that.
On the other hand, there appears to be a fair degree of, well, gender funk in Mosuo culture.
Most distrublingly, the matriarchs endorse a free sex, low commitment culture. Coler notes that sometimes a woman will get pregnant and have no idea who the father is, such is the prevalence of promiscuity in the culture.
But perhaps more significantly, Mosuo’s matriarchs appear to have little respect for their men. Men get treated like little boys, they are only sporadically involved in the decision making, and there is little clarity about the role of a father. In fact, Mosuo’s matriarchal culture reminds me in some ways of American patriarchal culture:
The out-of-power gender gets the short end of the stick.
Sometimes people ask me what the end goal is. They want to know what I think should replace male privilege as our cultural norm. After reading about the Mosuo, I feel comfortable saying that it’s probably not matriarchy.
In the end, I want to live a world where neither patriarchy or matriarchy wins the day. I want a third option, a world marked by collaborative partnership, power-sharing, and mutual, joyful submission.