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Thu Apr 5, 2012, 08:44 AM


Matricentrism and Patriarchy

The basic question she addresses is why men feel the need to be dominant and even aggressive toward women. What are the roots of patriarchy? An interesting sentence that sets the stage for her hypothesis is “…we need to learn the lessons of the weaknesses of the matricentric core of human society that made it vulnerable to patriarchy.” (171) Her suggestion is that the “core” of human society is matricentric (not matriarchal) because women have always tended to be the primary care givers of children—both male and female. That’s what makes the core of society, even under patriarchy, matricentric. The problem is, she says, that “The matricentric core of human society remains, even under male hierarchies, and continually reproduces the insecure, resentful male, who emancipates himself from his mother by negation of women.” (169) Sanday’s research revealed the prevalence of male resentment of women in societies that have not successfully balanced matricentricity with adult male cultural roles. (169)

According to Ruether, based on Sanday’s worldwide research into diverse cultures, there is a psychosocial weakness inherent in matricentricity. Here is its pathos: “its difficulty in drawing in the contributions of the grown male without either conceding to this male a dominating role over women, or else producing a demoralized male deeply resentful of women. The root of the problem lies in the extension of the female childbearing and suckling functions into making the mother the dominant parent. … While the female role is built into the process of life-reproduction…the male role has to be constructed socially. Societies that fail to develop an adequately affirmative role for men, one that gives men prestige parallel to that of women but prevents their assuming aggressive dominance over women, risk developing the resentful male, who defines his masculinity in hostile negation of women.” (167)

Sanday’s research showed that “societies that have achieved gender parity…were societies that either had elaborately structured mutual acknowledgment of male and female prestige and power, where women conceded power roles to men…or else societies of considerable gender-role fluidity.” (167) Both Sanday and Ruether make clear that by “conceded power roles to men” they do not mean allowed men to dominate women. I take it that this means acknowledging men as equal with women in terms of value to the family unit and therefore to society. According to Ruether, based on Sanday’s research, male domination of women, patriarchy, occurs because men feel insecure about their worth and need to secure their worth by domination. [...]In gatherer and early gardening societies, built on the matricentric core of the human family, women often had real power and prestige, when food-gathering and agriculture also meant female control of resources. Such societies achieved real gender parity of power when they constructed ways of drawing in the adult male contribution to work and parenting, conceding to him real and symbolic spheres of prestige and power, while limiting male aggression. But the conditions of such societies began to break down as the agricultural revolution moved toward more crowded urban societies about five thousand years ago, and only remnants still exist today. (170)


Now, it would be totally wrong to interpret Ruether as suggesting that the blame for patriarchy lies with women. Nothing could be further from the truth. She is arguing, however, that matricentricity is the “original position” of human society because only women can give birth and suckle and, generally speaking, in most societies, women have been the primary nurturers of children. And there’s nothing wrong with that UNLESS some mechanism isn’t found to balance matricentricity with male prestige and power. When men become resentful, which happens when they feel hopeless about prestige and power, patriarchy is the result. (Remember, “matricentricity” is not “matriarchy”—the opposite of patriarchy. Both would be hierarchical patterns of relationships. Ruether is against all hierarchy as dominating power over. Matricentricity is in itself a good thing. But it contains a hidden weakness that leads to patriarchy unless that weakness is acknowledged and corrected. The way to do that is for matricentricity to yield to young men prestige and power, not dominating power over. I think of “prestige and power” as social acknowledgement of worth and value.)


mothers relationship with children. sons position of power over him from woman. fathers role. i have always felt this was a delicate balance.

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Arrow 6 replies Author Time Post
Reply Matricentrism and Patriarchy (Original post)
seabeyond Apr 2012 OP
redqueen Apr 2012 #1
Warren DeMontague Apr 2012 #4
Tumbulu Apr 2012 #2
seabeyond Apr 2012 #3
Tumbulu Apr 2012 #5
seabeyond Apr 2012 #6

Response to seabeyond (Original post)

Thu Apr 5, 2012, 11:10 AM

1. I vote for considerable gender role fluidity.

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Response to redqueen (Reply #1)

Thu Apr 5, 2012, 08:15 PM

4. I agree. And I would add to that self-determination in all aspects of life and identity, including

Gender identity, which applies of course to transpeople as well as others all over the sexuality spectrum.

This is an interesting article which raises several interesting points, not the least of which is that most of our primate social structures evolved or developed over 100,000 yrs or so of hunter gatherer existence. If, say, western male domination or western religion developed as a "reaction" to earlier matricentral organizing principles (and, certainly, there's a good body of evidence to support the idea that the earliest religions were faily uniformly goddess-centric) then it's worth considering that, as well, many of these structures were outgrowths of early civilization, primitive agriculture, modes of existence that are themselves outdated in today's interconnected, post industrial information age.

My point is that, in my opinion, changes to the human animal's circumstances have always led to dislocations, big and small, to our way of relating and existing with each other. The changes, now, are coming at a breakneck pace. Our social structures have not caught up.

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Response to seabeyond (Original post)

Thu Apr 5, 2012, 07:51 PM

2. another interesting post!

Last edited Thu Apr 5, 2012, 11:23 PM - Edit history (1)

Wow, seabeyond, you are something!

I do think that this is really a great topic. I do think that it is delicate and difficult to figure out how to raise our children .......

I lived in West Africa for a year. There the women produced the food crops, gathered the wood for fires/cooking. Cooked all the food, took care of all the children and then gave the men the food to eat first. The women and children only got the food LEFT OVER after they ate.

The men's job was to pray, make fences, and perhaps grow a cash crop (money from which they kept).

In this society women really were the source of the power and the men appeared to be jealous (at least to me). The men were obligated to beat their wives once a year- if they did not then some unknown man in the village dressed up in a terrible costume would come around and beat them with thick sticks- and I mean really beat them. So, the husbands would beat wives once a year to avoid something worse.

I felt that all this horror came from the fact that the men absolutely completely were dependent on the women and knew it. And did not like it either. The little boys were taken away from their mothers and placed with the men at around age 12...they did not want to leave their mothers and become the monsters that they perceived the men to be. I could not figure out why the men were so useless (imo) as even though I pray a lot and value it, I do not see why one cannot pray WHILE working. Why this culture felt it was so important for the men to be kneeling and praying for hour after hour while the women did all this backbreaking work- did I mention hauling water on their heads? - I do not know. But there are other cultures where the men are supposed to be praying all the time and women do all the real work, this model is not unique to the part of West Africa that I lived in.

Needless to say this system outraged me......and still does.......it was my glimpse into a horribly brutal patriarchy. What we have here in the west is in a type of flux. I often wonder how it happened and how what happened for us can be translated into the lives of women in other parts of the world- women like the friends that I made in West Africa whose lives of outrageous injustice (at least as it appeared to me) never seemed to get them down.

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Response to Tumbulu (Reply #2)

Thu Apr 5, 2012, 08:02 PM

3. the disconnect and where i see the issue arises


that i have addressed with my sons, is all of society teaches the boys at a very young age their value to be above women. yet, a woman is telling them what to do.

i had a mother and her son in my car for a 6 hour trip. they were from india. that little punk ass, ten year old boy told me what to do the whole way. i have gps with voice and it would say, turn left. he would tell me to turn left. then the mother would repeat.

my own son KNEW how pissed i was getting.

this KID telling me what to do the whole damn trip.

when i picked them up (it was a week camp), without his mom, the first time he told me what to do i turned, pointed finger, and said, ..... i am the adult, you are the kid. i know what i am doing.

driving home with the mom for 6 hours after dropping kids off, she talked a lot about her subservient role, arranged marriage, how women are treated and perceived.

was a huge... wow.

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Response to seabeyond (Reply #3)

Thu Apr 5, 2012, 11:28 PM

5. Wow, what a story! It is overwhelming

and we, the women able to vote, drive cars, operate machinery, own land and property, etc hold a special light for other women in the world whose cultures are still so very violently male dominant.

Of course I knew nothing about this until I traveled and lived in other places......

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Response to Tumbulu (Reply #5)

Fri Apr 6, 2012, 11:55 AM

6. hold a special light for other women in the world whose cultures are still so very violently male do


when i said this was an eye opener, this is really what i was talking about. firstly, this woman is living in the panhandle of texas, so regardless, she is feeling an ostracisation because of race. we had never spent any time together but to put this trip together. she clung. lol. i am an isolationist and dont do people much, and she clung. i dont care about the trappings of a person. i work with the within of the person, so she recognized there was not judgment in what their culture was. she clung more. i got all that.

the 6 hour trip home was her intense need and desire to hear from a western women in all these behaviors and beliefs. SIX hours of me talking none stop of who western women are. my mouth was dry, nad voice literally got raspy, but i got her need for the conversation. was really interesting.

so it is absolutely what you are saying.

IF i were a more social person, lol. but still, when we run into each other, such brightness on her face, welcoming, with interaction.

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