I always find it kind of weird that matriarchal cultures in fiction are always “women fight and hunt, men stay home and care for the babies” because world-building-wise, it makes no sense
think about it. like, assuming that gender even works the same in this fantasy culture as it does in ours, with gender conflated with sex (because let’s be real, all of these stories assume that), men wouldn’t be the ones to make the babies, so why would they be the ones to care for the babies? why is fighting and hunting necessary for leadership?
writing a matriarchy this way is just lazy, because you’re just taking the patriarchy and just swapping the people in it, rather than actually swapping the culture. especially when there are so many other cool things you could explore. like, what if it’s not a swap of roles but of what society deems important?
maybe a matriarchy would have hunting and fighting be part of the man’s job, but undervalued. like taking the trash out or cleaning toilets: necessary, but gross, and not noble or interesting. maybe farming is now the most important thing, and is given a lot of spiritual and cultural weight.
how would law work? what crimes would exist, and what things would be considered too trivial to make illegal? who gets what property? why?
how would religion work? how would you mark time or the passage into adulthood? what would marriage look like? if bloodlines are through the mother, bastardy wouldn’t even be a concept – how does that work?
what qualities would be most important in a person? how would you define strength or leadership? what knowledge would be the most coveted and protected? what acts or roles are considered useless or degrading?
like, you can’t just take our current society and say you’re turning it on its head when you’re just regurgitating it wholesale. you have to really think about why things are the way they are and change that.
THIS IS SUCH A GOOD POST THOUGH.
I think what really bothers me about the whole “men take care of the children and tend house because they’re not in charge” thing is that it reinforces the idea that traditionally feminine work SHOULD be undervalued. That there’s no way anyone could see raising children and think, “wow, what a valuable contribution to society”. Even though families are what societies are MADE of, and if you ignore the welfare of your children the society falls apart in a generation or two.
Imagine if women were seen as the ideal political leaders BECAUSE they’re the ones best suited for raising young children. What if it was assumed that government positions were sort of scaled-up households, and that only a leader who saw their subjects as their children could be fair and compassionate enough to rule effectively? What is a village, or a country, but an extended family?
On the one hand, the ability to use physical force effectively is super important for a low-tech society, and there’s always the threat of hostile military takeover, either from outsiders or via internal revolt. On the other hand, a society where all the men want to rebel is probably not a society that’s being run at all effectively, and there are other ways of maintaining control (ie religion, cultural traditions, propaganda, etc). Women could be the more educated group–in some ways that’s even intuitive, since a non-magical preindustrial society is one with a high infant mortality rate, which means it has to have a high birth rate to compensate, which means women will be pregnant a lot. If they have trouble consistently working physically demanding trades, why not assign them to jobs that require more mental exertion? Why not a society where all the lawyers are female, all the doctors are female, all the historians and most respected poets are female? If you keep that up for long enough, eventually that gets seen as an inherent sex difference, and men don’t exert physical force because holy shit they’d have no idea what they were doing once they gained power.
It doesn’t have to be these specific differences, of course. But I think that’s the thought process that most of the best worldbuilding comes from–why are things this way? How have they stayed this way? Just saying “what if women could tell MEN what to do!” is so boring compared to asking why we value the things we value. Besides, fictional societies that are created without asking why things are the way they are are not going to stand up under close scrutiny, whether they play into or subvert our expectations.
‘I think what really bothers me about the whole “men take care of the
children and tend house because they’re not in charge” thing is that it
reinforces the idea that traditionally feminine work SHOULD be
undervalued. That there’s no way anyone could see raising children and
think, “wow, what a valuable contribution to society.”’
YOU ARE ABSOLUTELY RIGHT
Okay, so let’s imagine ourselves a society where it’s believed that men can’t have children. Like, at all. They don’t really play a part in the process. Women are the ones who procreate, and the men are just kinda… there. Offshoots. Dead ends.
(And there is absolutely such thing as toxic femininity, and women get mocked for infertility, and helping take care of someone else’s kid is seen as “manly work”. You can’t really put down one gender without the other getting the blowback.)
And sure, men help hunt, carry heavy things, stuff like that, but that’s really menial work, it’s not valued very hard. (But if a woman so much as carries a basket on her own, she’s oooh’d and aaah’d about as OH SO STRONG AND CAPABLE. Hypocrisy is the name of the game!) The ‘manly’ professions always have women supervisors, anyway, and it’s nearly impossible for a man to break through the glass ceiling and prove that having done this job for decades means he just might know more about doing it than a fresh-faced young girl. Those who manage are lauded as ‘an exception’, ‘a credit to their gender’ and ‘a woman’s mind in a man’s body’.
Teaching and healing, as arts that quite naturally go with childrearing, are valued highly. They are also never taught to men. Why would they even need it, poor things, their place is outside the house.
Cooking is also highly valued and regarded on par with healing – NOURISHING YOUR BODY AND MAKING IT HEALTHY. And sure, men are the ones who bring the ingredients… whatever.
A woman who dies in childbirth is a hero. A man who dies on a hunt or crushed underneath heavy stones on construction is ‘meh, whatever, a man’s traditional death’.
Men are encouraged to not show their emotions, as they should be obedient, strong, quiet and always ready to do more work.
Family units are mostly bigger and consist of several generations. Men are traded between households like sexual objects with bonus working capacity that they are. A woman who lives alone or with other women, without a single man to the household, is respected and somewhat pitied, as she has to either pay for men’s work or (gasp) DO IT HERSELF. What an amazing hero.
There is, of course, widely avaliable contraception. Women have babies when they WANT, and have sex more or less all the time. Marital loyalty isn’t really a concept, even as society develops and science confirms that men do, in fact, play a role in childbirth. If a woman wants to have sex with a man, whether for fun or to bear his children, he can’t really say ‘no’ and doesn’t have any claim on the kids.
Pregnancy and menstruation are both sacred. Nobody dares disturb a menstruating woman, it’s her well-deserved rest. And pregnancy is a time for self-educating, reflection, perhaps writing. No strenuous work, obviousy, how could you suggest that?
With time, civil rights movements start to crop up. Men can be smart too, they say. Men deserve to have a vote in what happens to them, they say.
Sure, my stud, now go back to your factory, the women say.
There are caricatures with women in dirty overalls mining or fixing something broken and smug-looking men in dresses reading a book at a fireplace, with captions “this is the world that suffragists want”.
Men eventually get their rights to wear dresses and skirts and makeup, but getting a woman to wear pants is a ridiculously untenable task, and those who might say they want to get ridiculed mercilessly.
Current goals of the androphiles movement is to assert that a man has a right to have his genetic offspring acknowledged as his, that a man has a right to say ‘no’ to sex, that a man can handle a household on his own (YES men can cook! they insist). The idea that men can be trusted with rearing a child is a far off pipe dream of the most daring.
There are rumors about men getting higher education. They are mostly scoffed at – these men must be shirkers! Women educate themselves when their bodies are doing the hard work of being pregnant and menstruating, a man has no time to be doing something as frivolous as that. They have men’s work to do! Imagine if they all went into universities and who would be left to tend to the menial jobs? Women? Ridiculous!
(I didn’t lead it to quite modernity but we all know where it’s going)