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I'm trying to develop a matriarchal Empire for a story, but the main issue I'm having is that I don't want the women to all be warriors or magically physically stronger etc.

The setting is essentially medieval-esque Europe and Asia, though there are differences that aren't really relevant to this question. The people of this empire are called Fayli. The Fayli have a sex ratio difference of 3:1 in favor of women, so it's quite common for groups of women to all have one husband, though rich nobles often go the opposite way and have several husbands for one woman as a way of flaunting their wealth.

By matriarchy I mean that I want the women to be the diplomats/politicians, the merchants, the crafters, the architects, the religious heads, the scientists, artists/musicians and Queens/Empress...but the main thing is: I don't want them to be physically stronger or better fighters than men. The Fayli empire's armies are still made up of men, the merchant women's bodyguards are men, the miners and field workers and laborers are still men, it's just that those men always answer to women in higher positions or to their wives. As there is such a male/female ratio disparity, very often there are women who never have children, and instead stay with their sisters or move with their brothers to their new home to take care of the children.

Essentially, it'd be:

  • Anything that needs strength or manual labor: men.
  • Everything else: women.

Men join the woman's household and take their name when they marry, before that they live with their mothers and their extended family. Divorce is generally not a thing for men or women unless no children come of the union, because of religious reasons. Woman often live with their sisters and mother/grandmother and their husbands, sometimes sharing a husband because there's far more woman than men. Children grow up communally in large extended families and it's not shameful to bring children to workplaces.

However...why would it end up this way without women having military power? If you look at how societies historically thrived/gained power, generally it came down to the military, aka, warriors.

So I've seen a lot of posts/articles about matriarchal societies developing and how for them to survive/thrive outside of marginal areas (like where near-matriarchies are found today) that women would need some way of out-fighting the men, as that's where the majority of power historically has come from. However, I personally don't think this would solve the real issue when it comes to matriarchies. The real issue is not biological affinity for fighting, but rather the fact that the population of a society is determined largely by how many women of child bearing age it has.

For example: Two tribes have 50 women and 50 men, one is patriarchal and one is matriarchal. Both of these tribes are vying for the same resources and end up going to war. Tribe patriarchy loses 40 men, tribe matriarchy loses 20 women. Both go home. The next year, tribe patriarchy could feasibly have 50 babies, while tribe matriarchy could only have 30. And, if during that time when tribe matriarchy is all pregnant tribe patriarchy were to attack...then they'd have no way to defend themselves unless the men were to protect them.

It just seems more feasible, from an evolution standpoint, for woman not to be the fighters, so as to preserve their ability to procreate. But if they don't have some sort of magic that will allow them to win a battle against other neighboring patriarchal societies, then is a matriarchy impossible? Our own history would suggest so, as most anthropologists say there's no evidence of an unambiguously matriarchal society, and especially not one that's thrived enough to become an empire.

This is what I'm really struggling with, because I just feel that it's unrealistic for women to make up the whole army of a matriarchy, even with magic fighting powers, but for men to still be in charge of the military it seems unrealistic they'd be fine being at the 'bottom of the totem pole' so to speak. I think I'm just not knowledgeable enough about why patriarchy's developed over matriarchy's in the first place, which is why I posted here.

TLDR: What would make a TRUE matriarchy possible outside of 'magic fighting powers for women'?

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    $\begingroup$ Have you ever heard of queens Victoria and Elizabeth of the UK? $\endgroup$ Aug 11 at 23:49
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    $\begingroup$ @TheSquare-CubeLaw having a queen does not make a country or empire a matriarchy. Even if England had only queens and heirs were daughters not sons, it would still only be matrilineal, not matriarchal. $\endgroup$ Aug 11 at 23:52
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    $\begingroup$ "sex ratio difference of 3:1 in favor of women, so it's quite common for groups of women to all have one husband" and "Men join the woman's household and take their name when they marry" - please explain how this works. $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Aug 12 at 0:39
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    $\begingroup$ If women:men is 3:1 your society will naturally have women in all positions of power, simply because you do not have enough men to fill all the available roles. Take a look at the history of Rwanda genocide and the massive social changes following it. $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Aug 12 at 9:08
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    $\begingroup$ women:men cannot be 3:1 if they evolved naturally and are like humans. Because in that case there would be a huge evolutionary advantage to being male - each male would have 3x the children of each female, on average. So, mutations that produced a greater proportion of male offspring would be strongly favored, until men and women are in equal numbers. This is the reason humans have a roughly 1:1 sex ratio. $\endgroup$
    – causative
    Aug 12 at 9:35

17 Answers 17

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The answer is in the sex ratio

If as you say the that ratio is three to one in favor of women then in a medieval setting (technologically as well as culturally) there simply won't be enough males available to fill all the rolls that would otherwise be filled by men.

Agriculture during this period was heavily labor intensive (as was herding, fishing and mining etc.) Add in the need for some kind of permanent or semi permanent military and law enforcement etc and there would be a chronic shortage of 'manpower'. Overtime as large cities and towns sprang up women would naturally take over and occupy all sorts of 'indoor' trades and crafts, like weaving, pottery and metal work etc even if some were male dominated originally. The need for labor would demand it.

Same for administrative functions clerks and the law and such. Pretty soon 'custom' would become law. Men would bear arms, be responsible for herding/animal husbandry, mining and maritime trades and perhaps a few specialized 'heavy' trades like stone masonry. They might also be employed regularly as caravan/merchant/couriers delivering goods and messages between towns and cities and nations.

This last might be important if neighboring powers have a more even sex balance and the typically chauvinist attitudes towards women prevalent in that period. The Fayli might find it politically useful for foreigners to see 'male faces' conducting business on behalf of their wives when visiting another country even if they are literally only following orders issued from home. Formal diplomatic missions to foreign courts would of course still be headed by women.

The point is that in a matriarchal culture the men don't necessarily have to be or even feel like they are at 'bottom of the heap'. They are not second class citizens. Think of it like a caste system only one where status is divided vertically no horizontally. How well you do at your particular trade decrees how far you rise not what that trade is.

Men have certain trades specifically reserved for them and have the same legal rights as women including the right to a share in the profits of whatever businesses their families conduct.

Women run the government, banking and finances of the country as well as most trades and crafts and conduct all business within their local communities. Men join the army, sail the ships, own land/herd and travel on behalf of their families, business and government, getting paid accordingly. Importantly by tradition their input on matters relating to their areas of expertise is sought and listened to by the ruling class.

Edit: If the Fayli are the only culture on the continent with the skewed sex ratio then over time intermarriage with other races might well see that ratio start to shift back towards the normal 1:1. If on the other hand all other cultures have the same issue then the need for men to travel and act as the 'face' of the Fayli for mundane business matters would not be an issue.

Edit 2: Upon reflection it might be simpler if women own all the land and by law a man who herds cattle, sheep, horses etc or otherwise rent's access to land shares profits with the female owner. The same rule would apply to any other business activity. Operate a mine, the land owner gets a share. Women can lend money for movable assets (like boats) but the men operating it 'own' it. That kind of thing. Men on the other hand can own 'moveable assets' assets, livestock, boats, wagons, equipment etc and can lend money for land assets.

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    $\begingroup$ I disagree with the answer about sex ratio, because this is rather an important modification of biology. Also, this triggers important question about renewing the population: if there are 3 woman for a man, only a quarter of the population is renewed with no common genotype (if one man can have children with 3 women, ths it triggers polygamy and thus more power for men in the society....) $\endgroup$ Aug 14 at 18:13
  • $\begingroup$ Possibly, but as framed the culture concerned is (for the moment at least) 'stuck' with the 3:1 gender ratio. Also there is no historical or cultural background to give context. If for instance the Fayli started out as nomadic pasturalists a lot of their wealth would have traditionally been associated with their herds. And with that sex ratio the use of women in a lot of trades would have been unavoidable. If women were also traditionally the ran the homes/welcomed travelers and had a role in religious ceremonies & the choosing of suitable husbands for daughter? Over time you could get there. $\endgroup$
    – Mon
    Aug 15 at 6:58
  • $\begingroup$ Ok for the sex ratio, if it is stuck by the OP But you don't justify in your answer why, with military power in the hands of men, women would be "superior". Because the OP's question is clearly about how military chiefs could not dominate the society $\endgroup$ Aug 15 at 8:39
  • $\begingroup$ Where in the the OP did it say women were 'superior'? The question as about why men would hold military power in the empire but not other forms of power. Men hold military power because traditionally that has been their role. But they're raised from the onset in households where they are outnumbered 3:1. What makes you think the women of the empire would not be smart enough to turn that fact to their advantage? And what makes you think they wouldn't be smart enough to realize their own prosperity rested upon their young sons having a defined role in the power structure $\endgroup$
    – Mon
    Aug 15 at 11:45
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    $\begingroup$ The correct term was apparently Onna-bugeisha. There's lots of summaries about them on the web like this one but historical text books reference them as well. historyhit.com/… $\endgroup$
    – Mon
    Aug 16 at 22:36
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The men are not strategists.

They are big and strong and they are attentive. But they are not strategic. I am thinking of my dog - a good dog and smart enough as dogs go. But when something is up she checks what I am doing first before she takes action. She wants direction. That is why dogs have humans. Dogs get it done fine but humans are so clever.

That is how most of the men are in your society. They can put one foot in front of the other, and most do very well in the heat of the moment. They are just not big on figuring things out, and not big at all on long term planning. They look to the ladies for these things. That is why ladies are the leaders, and old ladies in particular.

Men make war because males are dispensible, as you point out in the OP. Your armies of men in the field might bring one or two women with, there as strategists. When a group is all men, they are really careful and take their time making decisions. You can have a male character who can figure things out like a woman and his male companions are surprised and pleased, and sometimes tease him because of that.

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    $\begingroup$ Potentially you could get that from cultural education. Boys go out with there fathers to help with the manual labour and train, resulting in being strong but not well educated. Girls stay with there mothers, taking the time to be educated in critical and strategic thinking. $\endgroup$ Aug 12 at 13:20
  • $\begingroup$ While I find this an interesting cultural worldbuilding idea, I think it might fall apart if those men saw other cultures with patriarchies wouldn't it? $\endgroup$ Aug 12 at 16:12
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    $\begingroup$ @TeannaSchmaeh, that would depend on how brainwashed/ignorant/stupid the men are. As an unfortunate example from reality, the USA typically thinks women can't lead, even with a wide variety of women leaders in the US and around the world that show it can be done. Not only do women excel at leading in business, but in politics and any other leadership they are put in, yet many of my fellow citizens refuse to vote for a woman, including other women. Indoctrination, narcissism, sexism, inferiority, and more can all work against equality, even when people are of equal characteristics. $\endgroup$ Aug 12 at 21:00
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    $\begingroup$ Um, that should read "inferiority complexes" in my comment, but it's too late to edit it now. $\endgroup$ Aug 12 at 21:26
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    $\begingroup$ @TeannaSchmaeh Cultural norms and inertia are very powerful forces. I wouldn't assume that just because culture A sees culture B doing a Thing, that Thing will be adopted back to culture A. EG Judaism/Islam have restricted eating pork for thousands of years. It is not 'optimal' to completely ban a potential food source, yet it has survived despite contact with other cultures. There could also be a level of active resistance - "We are not doing patriarchy, because that is what barbarians do!" or national identity - "This nation was founded on the principle that all women are created equal" $\endgroup$
    – Trasvi
    Aug 15 at 16:02
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Extrapolate from the Spartans https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women_in_ancient_Sparta

The women had right of inheritance, and the society was war-like; as the men died in battles the wealth, and thus the power, slowly accumulates to the women.

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    $\begingroup$ For a more modern example, Rwanda - due to the genocide focusing mainly on males, women took the helm - AFAIK they have one of the highest rates of seats in parliament occupied by women at over 60% $\endgroup$ Aug 12 at 7:46
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    $\begingroup$ Women's voting rights got a notable acceleration post WW2 for most nations involved with WW2, because women had essentially taken up a lot of roles in society due to men being shipped off to the front. After literal years of women in this position, it gave them the much needed time to prove that women could do the same jobs men could. Sparta had similar reasoning, that is was precisely because the men were often off to war, that the women were the ones running large parts of society for long stretches of time. $\endgroup$
    – Flater
    Aug 12 at 14:54
  • $\begingroup$ This does give some support for my idea that having more women than men would lead to more equality in the society and have more women in higher positions and have more rights, but they weren't at all a matriarchy. If a spartan woman told the King 'no don't go to war' they would still go to war. $\endgroup$ Aug 12 at 16:25
  • $\begingroup$ Well, if a spartan man told the King that, he probably wouldn't have listened either, since he's the King. $\endgroup$ Aug 13 at 21:28
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Rulership is unmanly

Stay safe in a luxurious room taking decisions?! That is a woman's job! Manliness in this culture is deeply associated with men's superior physical strength and because of that taking any kind of work that does not involve manual labor is extremely stigmatized. Even among the military, non-combat roles tend to be filled with women as hardly any man would endure such humiliation. And on top of that...

The warrior's families are in charge

The rulers might not be men, but those gals surely have men to fight their wars. Their husbands are usually officers or particularly skilled warriors, while their sons form a warrior nobility, maintaining their families power, while skipping the utter humiliation of deciding trade policies and discussion immigration. This means the warrior nobility job is just fighting and making babies with probably many wives, a great deal overall.

Side note 1: a skewed gender rate is unsustainable, if every men can easily find mates while women struggle, than there is an advantage to having more sons, creating a selective pressure.

Side note 2: if is a medieval setting, men would still be the providers of most families. Farming was the base of the economy and it is a back-breaker occupation

EDIT

Side note 1 describe a biological principle. If the gender rate is 3:1 and the population is stable, the males on average have 4 offsprings while the average female only have 1,333. This mean that mutations that skew the rate in favor of more males increase biological fitness.

This is the reason why even in mammals where only a handfull of males are able to reproduce, the sex rate tends to 1:1, despite most males producing no offspring the few bull produce enough offspring so that males have about as much offspring as females on average, thus having a male offspring or a female one is equally fiting.

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    $\begingroup$ regarding side note 1: that strongly depends on how close men and women in that world are to real world men and women. in Willk's answer he introduced the idea that men are just intellectually less capable and looking up to women, trusting in their decisions. Accepting this premise, you would circumvent this issue entirely. (Same for user535733's answer of controlled fertility of women) $\endgroup$ Aug 12 at 13:17
  • $\begingroup$ I like these cultural ideas, thank you! However: side note 1: why would there be an advantage to having more sons? In real life women can more easily find mates than men, but that does not mean there is an advantage to having daughters. What causes selective pressure is the capability for a gender to provide for their parents in old age and carry on the family name. Side note 2: I do agree this would be an issue. What does it matter if women own those fields if they don't have a husband to tend them? $\endgroup$ Aug 12 at 16:01
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    $\begingroup$ @TeannaSchmaeh It actually is a biological principle at play. If the sex rate its 3 to 1, in a stable population the men would leave 4 offsprings while women would leave only 4/3 on average of course. This mean your male offspring has greater fitness than the female, so mutations that alter the birth rate in favor of more males would easily spread until the average fertility reach an equilibrium. That's also the reason why in species that only a few males reproduce the sex rate its about 1 to 1 at birth, even if most males do not reproduce, the bulls are pulling their average fertility up $\endgroup$
    – LuizPSR
    Aug 12 at 16:34
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    $\begingroup$ @LuizPSR I see, I just looked it up, and apparently, it's called ESS. After reading more about this it seems if I were to want to stick to the 3:1 ratio there would need to be some element at play outside of genetics or I'd need to find some other solution to how a matriarchy would form. I just don't think cultural norms are enough, if they were then we'd see more matriarchies in our own history. $\endgroup$ Aug 12 at 16:47
  • $\begingroup$ If males required 3 times less care then the choice is between 3 male offspring versus 1 female offspring. $\endgroup$ Aug 12 at 21:21
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Females control fertility.

For example: Let females consciously control whether or not they conceive, AND consciously emit a substance (undetectable by the male) during intercourse that temporarily renders male impotent and sterile for, say, a month or so.

  • Females control their own fertility
  • Females exercise limited control their partners' fertility

Successful males, rather than pursuing harems, abusive control, rape, and other (awful) power-based strategies must persuade a small number of potential partners that they are worthwhile mates. If they become too aggressive or controlling, they suffer a month of lost opportunity.

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  • $\begingroup$ I really like this idea! certainly would take away some of the push towards aggression and dominance over women in order to procreate. $\endgroup$ Aug 12 at 1:33
  • $\begingroup$ Basically queen bees, but a different male-2-female ratio. $\endgroup$ Aug 12 at 8:28
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    $\begingroup$ Sorry, but in real reality (and dark fiction), a violent person can kill. "If they become too aggressive or controlling, they suffer a month of lost opportunity"... but the woman is dead. $\endgroup$
    – Pablo H
    Aug 12 at 14:38
  • $\begingroup$ @PabloH the OP has described the functioning society that they want, and it suggests adequate safeguards to protect folks against (atavistic) murderous female-hating maniacs. $\endgroup$
    – user535733
    Aug 12 at 15:53
  • $\begingroup$ I read OP as asking for what such safeguards could be, instead of assuming they exist or are unnecessary (because violent tendencies don't exist). My comment just pointed out that your proposed control+substance alone would not work as such safeguard. Though it might, perhaps, if it also interferes with the male's mind, emotions, etc. $\endgroup$
    – Pablo H
    Aug 12 at 16:21
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It's Been Done With the Iroquois

The Iroquois Confederacy was a matrilineal society (inheritance was passed down from the mother's side of the family) and women had a large sway in political society.

While Wikipedia has more details, the crux of the divide was that women and men both formed their own councils of government. Women would form a local council of Clan Mothers, with each mother naming a male Chief (Sachem) to the Grand Council of Sachems. If the Clan Mother disapproved of the choice of her Sachem, she could "knock his horns" (removing the ceremonial Deer antlers of leadership given to Sachems, effectively recalling them). While both councils would have to act to pass laws, the Women held the power as they could recall their Sachem and install one who did what they were told. Because the Iroquois were a confederacy of 5-6 tribes, the level of of government had Confederacy (Grand Council) > Tribal (Local Council) > Clan (Clan Mother).

In times of war, Clan Mothers would declare war by naming a male "War Chief" who would lead the all male war parties into battle. Because the society was matrilineal, the Clan Mother could push the men to become warriors by declaring those that would not fight cowards and thus barring them from marriage. Women could also name diplomats (called "Pine Chiefs"). All of these positions were similarly able to be recalled if the Clan Mother felt they acted in the wrong.

Essentially, it was a system where the woman were the dominant players in domestic politics but the men were charged with foreign relations duties.

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  • $\begingroup$ But why did men allow this? $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Aug 12 at 23:27
  • $\begingroup$ @RonJohn: It was a part of their myth that women were the custodians of the land, so they thus had more importance in society in land that was controlled by the tribe. Men were expected to go out and hunt. Women kept the home ready for them when they returned, and thus had more authority to speak on the matters of their home. $\endgroup$
    – hszmv
    Aug 13 at 17:26
  • $\begingroup$ "It was a part of their myth" IOW, the answer is religion? $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Aug 13 at 18:18
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The high woman to man ratio is not an answer I think. The actual problem for medieval populations was the amount of children you need to have to maintain stable population. It does not really matter how many females are there, if each one has to have (on average) 4-5 children to maintain stable population. The ratio you want is similar to what you have in a pack of lions, not very matriarchal group.

Female rulers are relatively easy, especially in some sort of collegiate rule, like Iroquis Confederation. In monarchy it is more difficult, though your queen could adopt children (rather than risk men taking over during the first and any subsequent pregnancy). But full matriarchal society will be way more difficult to maintain in medievalesque tech level.

What you need is not a high ratio of females to males but some biological change - you need near modern ratio of children reaching adulthood and much lower risk (again, modern like) of females dying in childbirth. In fantasy medieval society this could be achieved either by being naturally more healthy or by some sort of magical medicine. Having multiple births per pregnancy as a norm rather than rare occurrence would help as well.

Reducing the risks of pregnancy and the amount of time spent pregnant per individual female would naturally give rise to more equal society and increase the likelihood of matriarchal societies.

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  • $\begingroup$ Just imagine how much lower the rates of women dying in child birth would have been if basic hygiene would have been an important thing in this medival setting. You don't need full modern medicine to just be way better than european medieval era was for many people. All you need is slightly more advanced knowledge of medicine, maybe disinfectant herb cures and a general emphasis on hygiene and you don't need to raise the tech level that much. But i do agree that some biological change in either sex could help the settings believability. $\endgroup$ Aug 12 at 13:24
  • $\begingroup$ I understand lowering the danger of pregnancy, but how would having litters of children at once allow be more beneficial than having a single child? $\endgroup$ Aug 12 at 16:09
  • $\begingroup$ @TeannaSchmaeh If you have normal litter being 3 rather than 1, assuming born children are as healthy as single one and pregnancy risks being the same as well (the risks are higher for real human) you need just 2 pregnancies instead of 5-6. This means women having way more free time for other activities and, as you say much lower chance to die. $\endgroup$
    – Archelaos
    Aug 13 at 9:22
  • $\begingroup$ @TeannaSchmaeh Remember that someone have to take care of the children for at least 5 years after birth. If you add it all up, ordinary human female in medieval would spend almost entire time between 15-35 years old either pregnant, recovering or taking care of the children. $\endgroup$
    – Archelaos
    Aug 13 at 9:33
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Iroquois Confederation is said to be a matriarchy. The constitution online (http://www.amaxpro.com/DivaLyri/IroquoisConfederacy-The-Great-Law-of-Peace.pdf) mentions that "Lordship" is passed through the women. Only the "Lords" are members of the Council and are selected by the women who have the right. A War Chief is not a member of the Council. The confederation worked well because by working together, they had a larger fighting force than other tribes. There are other matriarchal societies around the world. A quick search can find a number of web sites on the subject.

Women do not need to be the fighters in order to have power. Generally speaking, when raiding and capturing of women and taking huge risks is common, the society is patriarchal. But when a society is more stable, women come into power. Women do a better job of managing (even today, women run companies are doing better on average then men run companies). When we want a system to manage farm land for the next 500 years, we would do well to consider how matriarchal societies have been able to do that already.

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  • $\begingroup$ I think it's generally thought that most other 'matriarchies' around the world are actually matrilineal or matrifocal, not matriarchal. Iroquois Confederation does seem to be the closest thing historically to a matriarchy, tho really seems more egalitarian to me. I suppose the answer to my question might be: there is no matriarchy without egalitarianism, unlike patriarchy, which is kinda a good thing really. $\endgroup$ Aug 12 at 1:31
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The old standby: religion.

Assume a society that developed a religion where communion with the deities was strictly the province of women, in a world where the skewed gender ratio meant most things that didn't require the biggest/strongest (which are statistically more likely to be men) is going to be carried out by women anyway simply because of the numbers. The society becomes more martial, using the example of Sparta, where all men are expected to be members of the warrior class. Initially, as being the primary holder of martial power, it's likely you might have men in charge, but women are going to be doing everything else: be the merchants, the educators, many of the tradespeople, and so on.

And, importantly, passing on how the god(desses) expect people to properly live.

One problem they'll have to avoid somehow is the agriculture trap: to keep the society fed, you need a lot of farmers making up a good chunk of the population. Pre-industrial farms depend on having a lot of kids to work those farms, but infant mortality rates were so high that a woman had to basically be pregnant all the time to have enough surviving offspring to maintain the society, which naturally has consequences for a woman's health. While upper-class women wouldn't have this issue, proportionally they'd represent only a fraction of the population so that vast majority of women a person would interact with would literally be barefoot and pregnant not because they were intentionally being oppressed but because they had to be to keep the society running, which is going to have psychological effects on people.

Now, you could go the Spartan way and rely on a large slave population, which is a possibility, but there is another one: have a food crop that is ridiculously hardy, prolific, doesn't require much in the way of care, preserves easily, is easily gathered with minimal effort, and is highly nutritious so that you don't farm so much as gather in a much smaller area. This means you don't need 75-80% or more of the population being farmers to supply food, which means you have a larger non-agricultural population, which means women don't have to be kicking out kids so often, which is going to be better for their health.

As others mentioned, lower infant mortality helps as well.

Okay, so now you've got a situation where you have a larger non-agricultural population, freeing up more men to be able to focus strictly on warfare, but religion is considered a purely female-led province, and women are doing most other non-warfare things. Which leads to education being female led. A king might be in charge with his sword-bros who hang out with him, but women are going to be the ones keeping to society running. And since the men are often marching off to war, someone has to stay to defend the community against the random bandits and raiders, which means women, which is going to improve the prestige of women since they're not only maintaining the running of their culture, in the end they're the last defenders.

It's only going to be a matter of time until some king decides it's more fun running around with the boys to raise hell in the neighbouring regions than doing all that boring governing stuff, and lo, the Head Priestess has conveniently had this revelation from the goddesses regarding that sort of thing...

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  • $\begingroup$ That's pretty much as it works in Brandon Sanderson's Stormlight Archives series - female arts include writing so barely any man learns to write, as result all scientists and entire bureaucracy are female. $\endgroup$
    – Archelaos
    Aug 13 at 10:17
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Cultural Norms leading to rulership being a womens role.

Men are labourers and soldiers. The lower class. Women are able to stay indoors while the men are off in the fields or at war. The women are left back in the cities, in control of trade, religion, education. They are the ones that actually keep the country running. If the men are of the raiding and pillaging variety, they may be away from home for months or years at a time; it seems only natural then that the women who stay at home and run the household/country are actually in charge.

Brandon Sanderson's "Stormlight Archives" has an example of this; not a matriarchal society, but a warrior society in which women occupy all of the above roles. Men aren't even taught to read - that is women's work, most men actively don't want to do it, and a main male character is branded a heretic when he learns. The Queen's role in bureaucracy is as important as the King's role in war. You could take this to the next step - the Queen / head of the household is vital in keeping the finances running. Men don't, not because they are less intelligent or anything, it's just taboo; and they don't have time/inclination what with all the manual labour they do.

If you're worried about military takeover, then extend women's role to the military: men do the soldiering, but the generals are women. This keeps the maximum number of experienced fighters on the front lines; and besides, just because you're good at swinging a sword doesn't mean you're good at directing troops or organising supply lines. Or maybe there have been attempted military coups by male generals, but the country quickly descended in to chaos as the illiterate/unskilled men try to take the places of the skilled women. After 2 or 3 failed attempts at this over the centuries, everyone knows it is better for women to do the ruling.

Edit: This could be a situation that initially arises from necessity due to geography or surrounding nations. Say the Fayli nation is in land that is particularly difficult to farm. They need significantly more labour to produce food than other nations - and so the women take up more of the 'management roles' in order to free up as many men as possible for farming. Similarly, they could be surrounded by aggressive neighbours and/or be a less populous nation than those neighbours. The Fayli again have the women take up the roles of religion, governance, trade in order to allow more men in to the military. The Fayli can defend themselves by having a military force disproportionately large for their population - but women are the ones at home running the government, bureaucracy, education and trade with the rest of the population in the cities.

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  • $\begingroup$ But OP wants "while men are still the heads of war/military". $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Aug 12 at 23:25
  • $\begingroup$ The topic title does say that, but the bulk of the question discusses physical strength. I don't think it is necessary that the military heads are chosen from strong soldiers. But even if the generals are men, they might still be battlefield commanders and prized fighters while their strategists and quartermasters are women; and these women have just as much if not more control over the military as the soldiers do even if they do not technically rank as high. $\endgroup$
    – Trasvi
    Aug 13 at 2:58
  • $\begingroup$ Military heads aren't born military heads; they start as underlings. Most importantly, in "essentially medieval-esque europe and asia", leaders stayed in power because they were violent. $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Aug 13 at 3:08
  • $\begingroup$ And for Heaven's sake, don't say "military heads". It shows your ignorance. $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Aug 13 at 3:10
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    $\begingroup$ But anyway. Strategists could train in military colleges like they have throughout history. I don't see that being good at swinging a sword necessarily translates to being a good officer (see: Peter principle). In fact I would bet that throughout history it has been MORE common for officers and generals to have not been frontline soldiers - they would be nobles installed to those positions positions rather than peasants who worked their way up. $\endgroup$
    – Trasvi
    Aug 14 at 7:11
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Your societies main hurdles are being taken seriously for trade, communication, and defense when a Queen is at the helm of the nation in the early and mid stages of their development.

In the past patriarchies surrounding or recently coming form even further away nations to the new land who encountered the matriarchy would just ignore her country for these things until they relented and broke due to societal pressures created by no trade, no food, or constant defense against the outsiders who did not sign peace treaties with women.

Essentially they shunned them until a King was presented to them (breaking the near or constant Queen rulership) and then even if the matriarchy had a puppet King in order the Queen over time would be given less and less access to the meetings and dealings till she was barred wholly and only the fake King had to take over and it was then deemed beneficial to allow the transition. As more outsiders did not do business with a matriarchy.

The other death to a matriarchy comes in modern era via exposure to the outside world devaluing it’s system on the sole fact they have women as their leaders.

Warfare can be taken on by women as well as men the Trung Sisters fought China alone with their 32 female generals and unknown many more for males as an example. As they noted in WW2 women in general are slow to want to kill but when you get them to the point they want to do so you can’t stop them.

Yet we also have many women in WW2 who heard their country was going to war or it was incoming then made legal attempts the next day to join the military when that failed they'd then prioritize (1) illegally entering the military in either disguise or just walk/transport themselves there themselves (2) join a more feminine favored way to contribute to war like nurse then persuade the command on site to let them into combat, or (3) give up and find another way to help the war effort (4) start/find/join armed resistance. Their own journals (suppressed after the war by publishers) explained they had motivations of love, pride, patriotism, or protection of their homeland for their reasons.

So your matriarchy will have warring Queens and Queens of peace, good, bad, and horrid, their struggle will be not be against how many women have kids in their society it’s in the patriarchies surrounding them not excluding them from trade and treaties due to them having a Queen this has killed many matriarchies. If a nation denies yours trade wound or kill them into submission.

Isolation seems to be for the majority of matriarchies their best friend as war was not much a factor to them and then they were opened up to the world after all the wars in their region was done for, but this is also a reason why they are not in the modern era as well. But for the minority that did not have isolation knew when to strike, when to make peace, and when to brutalize their neighbors.

Men in your society could find a limited worth in war but they’re told and shown since birth it is not a honored trait in men to be war like it is an exception a man must be put into war for necessity not for sheer fun and whim of the Queen so he should feel while he is in danger he is not being placed so without care from the Queen and society overall. And you may not see a man who leads all forces due to the political and optical glass ceiling effect put upon him.

So would the matriarchy allow a man with skill to rise in a field of interest to him? Yes, but they may not glorify him like patriarchies do. This male would be odd and probably seen as a whore “he slept his way in there” or his skill is just luck that will pass. If he holds onto that position he will meet a glass ceiling that he can go no further and he will never feel like he fits in with his female co-workers nor will all of them see him as equal some will but others will not shake off their views of him as a whore or boss favorite pet.

There also maybe a held back male force for national breeding the society literally will not allow x amount of men to be slain for battle. Women will be drafted though they already will make up a portion of your army maybe 40% at the start already. All women serve without exception x amount of years inservice all women know how to fight most likely groomed into this starting at age 10 or so to prepare them for whatever age you wish to use them in national defense only the men who sign up for war training consideration will know how to fight.

Matriarchies prioritize women for property, resources, education, inheritance, awards, decisions, men’s aggression issues, or that women are seen as more stabilizing overall to the societies functionality, and other things not based on how many kids they can have or give to the nation.

Some matriarchies may allow men in limited numbers into areas of the society while others shutter men completely as they’re deemed incapable or should remain unburdened by the trouble society can thrust onto him.

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Being in leadership in the military - even at the top of the hierarchy - could be culturally considered as a role of service rather than a position of power. As long as the military leaders cannot choose who to go to war with, the real power still belongs to the women in charge who make such decisions.

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There are cultures in Africa where the king and queen rule together, but have a clear separation of powers. Often the queen is responsible for domestic affairs (administration and law) while the king is responsible for foreign affairs (diplomacy and warfare). You could extrapolate from such a culture and create a similar separation in the government which then became a trendsetter for all levels of society.

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In the real world, women strongly prefer to sleep with men who are self-directed and not with men who are obedient. If women were to reverse this preference, it would not take long for women to become the decision-makers in all areas of life. This would happen even more quickly and more completely if women were to openly conspire together over which men would be shown favor and which men would be incels. Within a few generations of this -- as long as women did not break rank -- the DNA of men who fail to adjust to this system would be erased from the gene pool.

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  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to worldbuilding, freeideas. Please take our tour and refer to our help center for guidance as to our ways, enjoy the site. $\endgroup$ Aug 13 at 20:46
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As I said in comment, I disagree with the answer about sex ratio. So here is my answer, rather simple, historically accurate:

War is a matter of volunteer units, trained and financed by one or two owners. The owner is at the disposal of the government. Men are at thetop of all those units.

But in such a system, as in Europe during the 16th-17th centuries, military work is not well-seen. There is a famous painting about that showing a son being recruited by a soldier, and all the family is aggressive or awared by this situation.

So, in your world, women have taken an important place in the society, for any reason you want. They lead the government, but military is still in the hands of men because their work as a military is not socially valuable.

A similar situation could be obtained with a "Mamluk system".

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You misunderstood how medieval People became (usually) military leaders

If you base this off of medieval Europe: Military leaders at the time were usually nobles. Noble families (at least in the generations after enoblement) didn't stay nobles because their heads and heirs were the strongest fighters. They stayed on top because they owned and controlled important ressources, were good at politics (comes with having the ressources to afford a political education), and if they were militarily threathened, were good at raising troops to defend themselves (comes with having the ressources necessary to afford equipment and training) and were capable strategists and tacticians (comes with having the ressources to afford a military education).

Have 1) a matriliniear inheritance system and female-only landownership, 2) have a man's wifes be usually related among each other, and 3) have previous military service or something related be a prerequisite for men to be allowed to marry. That keeps institutional power in female hand, solves the problem of how to have a man marry into only one family, and means that basically all your men will be members of the military at some point and have less involvement in the civilian sector. It also means 4) that the peope raising and commanding troops will be majorily women, while the bulk of the troops will be men. This means whenever you have grat losses, you're not going to loose a lot of women and therefore loose out at the repopulation game, because women will a) be a minority in your military and b) the vast majority of your female poulation will be safe at home.

Another thing to think about: Standing armies were usually not a thing in the middle ages. Too expensive.

In conclusion: Women in your society don't need to be stronger than men or have female exclusive magical powers. They just need to control the ressources. Therefore point 1).

Justify with cultural and religious reasons as needed.

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Just like in real life.

A few years ago, Barack Obama, a feminist, was head of the USA, and head of the military. He was known for having his wife be very involved in meetings and politics and being very open to feminist proposals and ideas.

He also waged several wars and had control of nuclear weapons that could destroy the world.

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Have this be the norm, with female based groups having a great deal of political power. They have quotas for female politicians, they have female friendly politics.

Those men that do rise up in the hierarchy have no gender loyalty, and tend to rise up to appease female voters or elites.

Women would be recognized, due to the female focused politics, as being superior at a variety of tasks, and so would be dominant in areas outside of physical strength, while men could fight and die in wars and do dangerous and backbreaking work in fields.

This could be reinforced by an education system that focused on teaching men how to lift things and fight and an education system for women that taught them how to be cultured and make things and talk to people.

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