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Any matriarchal hierarchy is in constant danger: any male dictator wannabe would hit evolutionary jackpot with a succeeded putsch. (Stop giggling, Shenzi—human sexual dimorphism favors the males somewhat.)

Bonobos have kept their system stable for millions of years, but I don't see how their "Have sex all the time" policy deters our wannabe (since evolutionary speaking he must guarantee the children are by him, not to have sex with everyone). In contrast, human matriarchalic systems are rare.

So assume current humankind becomes a matriarchy (maybe 90% of the males wiped themselves out in war, tipping the balance). How can one keep the system stable afterwards?

Please stay off too much SF/F-like, say, telekinetic violence. In contrast, Orwellian measurements are a legit option. Completely wipe out males at your own risk—I'd rather prefer more peaceful solutions. You may use all current technology.

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  • $\begingroup$ Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Worldbuilding Meta, or in Worldbuilding Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Commented Jun 14, 2023 at 12:29
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    $\begingroup$ The operative words in your question are "succeeded putsch." There have been a number of societies where women ran the place. They selected the guy who would run the wars. Such a society can have quite a number of men willing to fight to defend it and the attempted putsch could run into a real battle. In a stable situation, women manage things better than men do. So, define how things keep stable. $\endgroup$
    – David R
    Commented Jun 14, 2023 at 14:10
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    $\begingroup$ While I take your "millions of years" as hyperbole for "a very long time," bonobos are, as a species, less than 1 million years old. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…. $\endgroup$
    – Boba Fit
    Commented Jun 14, 2023 at 14:13
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    $\begingroup$ What makes the matriarchies that do exist able to survive? $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Commented Jun 14, 2023 at 20:29
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    $\begingroup$ Hi. I do not understand the first sentence of your post. Could you please explain the danger that matriarchies are constantly in? In particular, how does that danger differ from the danger that a patriarchy would be in? I mean, if a putsch succeeds and replaces the current power by another power, then the current power will be replaced by another power, but you seem to imply that there is something special about matriarchies in that regard? $\endgroup$
    – Stef
    Commented Jun 15, 2023 at 17:17

11 Answers 11

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Cultural Inertia

Culture changes slowly. Look at the real world. The difference between men and women was largely erased in the industrial revolution. But we are still grappling with sexism in its many forms.

All you need is to create a matriarchal society. Make it stable for a long time. Then it will survive well past its welcome.

90% of men are wiped out. Men are needed to keep the species alive. They become a commodity rather than a person. Males are passed around like a piece of meat. Women select which stud they want from a catalogue, and every male must impregnate many different females. Whether they like it or not.

Some of the younger men enjoy all the consequence free whoopee they get. Some of the slightly older men feel violated by all the non-consensual whoopee that is forced upon them. But since they are outnumbered 1-9 they have no choice in the matter.

A matriarchal civilization takes root.

50 years later the sex ratio has returned to normal. But after 50 years of men being sex pets rather than citizens, it is hard for society to adjust. It will take a lot longer for the matriarchy to go away.

In the real world there is a buzzword called Internalized Misogyny. You will have the opposite. Not only do the women push to remain in power, but most of the men push to keep the women in power, simply because that is what they are used to. Even if getting rid of the sexism will ultimately benefit them, most of the men are change-averse and dread the period of chaos where society is torn down and rebuilt. People are opposed to the unfamiliar. Civilizations doubly so.

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  • $\begingroup$ Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Worldbuilding Meta, or in Worldbuilding Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Commented Jun 16, 2023 at 14:46
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This is something that does not need solving

You are essentially doing a "Midi-chlorians": providing a explanation that the audience do not want, to a dilemma that does not exist.

Why does it not exist?

Because...

Evolution does not work that way

The notion that evolution inevitably leads to patriarchy is completely non sequiteur.

It is built on the mistaken idea that "Survival of the Fittest" means that these people...

enter image description here

...are most likely to carry their traits to future generations.

That is not how evolution works, instead that is pretty much Lamarckism, the discredited rival of Darwinism.

The idea depends on that the people above become leaders of society and(!) that their offspring is — therefore, somehow — the most likely outcompete others when it comes to breeding. So, to the aforementioned Lamarckism we now add Social Darwinism and a splash of The Handmaid's Tale.

Again, that is not how evolution works.

Hence, you are trying to solve a problem that does not exist.


How it actually works

Human society building relies heavily on the traits of...

  • Empathy, the ability of feeling what others are feeling
  • Compassion, the need to be of assistance to your fellow flock members
  • Fairness, the demand to get equal treatment

...and this does not apply only to humans, but other social animals as well.

This will tend to drive society more towards egalitarian democracy than androcracy or gynocracy, so that is the hurdle you need to overcome, not this imagined notion that evolution inevitably leads to androcracies.

But this is besides the point

This is the sort of issue that does not need solving, you do not need to justify why a fictional society is andro- or gynocratic. No reader will think along the lines of "Well, evolution will transform every society to a patriarchy, so why has this not happened here?! Whaaaa, immersion broken, totally unreadable!!". I bet you, not a single reader will think along those lines.

So, unless your target audience is the incel-community or other anti-feminist cesspools, you are more likely hurt the credibility of the setting if you insist on forcing an exposition that details some contrived explanation on why this society is a matriarchy down your reader's throat.

And if you must justify it

...then tradition and culture is all the justification you need. Because that is the driving force behind all gender-biased society building, and as soon as it was challenged — because people finally said "That is unfair!" loud enough to be heard — such tradition and culture began to crumble like a lump of sugar in hot coffee.

In summary: postulate it, do not dwell on it

Unless it is vitally important to the story, do not dwell on why it is a stable matriarchy. You can simply postulate that it is a stable matriarchy, and leave it at that.

And if you feel you must explain it, then what you need to explain is why it is not an egalitarian democracy, not why it is a particular flavour of inequality. The most credible explanation for a gender-biased non-egalitarian society is tradition and culture.

Leave the pseudoscientific nonsense about evolution behind, because that is not credible at all, it will hurt your credibility more than it helps, since the reader will see you are trying to solve a non-existent problem..

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    $\begingroup$ Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Worldbuilding Meta, or in Worldbuilding Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Commented Jun 15, 2023 at 7:23
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It is an issue of Psychology and Sociology, not Physiology

To make a matriarchy outcompete a patriarchy, you do not need to improve the personal fitness of a specific leader, you need to improve the fitness of the state through better leadership. If governments run by women were stronger and lasted longer than governments lead by men, then matriarchy would be the prevailing form of governance in the real world.

When you really think about it, the physical strength of a leader has very little to do with the successfulness of a system of government. Once a person is in power over any significant number of other people, thier own strength will not save them from a coup or a war, nor will a lack of physical strength change the power of the wealth and armies that they command. Many of history's strongest male leaders were men of average or diminutive physical prowess. In short, there is nothing about a woman's physical strength that makes matriarchies less successful.

Also of note, wars have never been the exclusive preview of women, even in matriarchal societies. The army of a matriarchy is mostly made of men, just like in a patriarchy; so, the physical prowess of women as leaders don't prevent them from raising and controlling an army of physically strong men. If anything, taking away men's rights makes raising a large and powerful army easier because the men have no say in whether they will fight or not.

While it is uncomfortable to think about, the actual lack of matriarchies today appears to have far more to do with psychological and/or sociological gender differences than physical ones.

  1. Matriarchies tend to declare wars of annihilation, Patriarchies tend to declare wars of conquest. To be clear, I am not saying that Matriarchies declare war more or less often than Patriarchies, but the kinds of wars they engage in tends to be different. When you look at history's matriarchal societies like many of the native tribes of North America, or many Early Indo-European cultures, you will notice that wars of annihilation were the cultural norm. They would kill men, women, and children with equal prejudice, and wars often ended in 90% or greater depopulation of the losing side. However, Patriarchies are more prone to want to capture women and children, and if possible, recruit or enslave the men as well, as such, it is very rare for a Patriarchal society to kill more than 1-10% of thier rival's actual population in an act of war. This difference means that Patriarchies tend to grow in size and power faster than Matriarchies. Now this is not to say that every female leader is genocidal and every male leader is a conqueror, but the trends are strong enough that everywhere that Matriarchies and Patriarchies have co-existed, that the Patriarchies eventually out-grew and destroyed the Matriarchal culture. So, it is not the physical strength of thier own men that your Matriarchy needs to fear nearly so much as strength of Patriarchal Imperialism from thier neighbors.
  2. Women are more effected by the “power dead-even rule”. While men and women both care about thier own social status, women care more about the social status of others. A man is more likely to engage in a relationship with someone above or below thier status than a woman. This becomes a major issue for female leaders because they are more likely to shun those beneath them. This makes it more difficult for female leaders to garner the loyalty of and cooperate with those beneath them. Whether this is a biological difference or just a cultural trend of modern civilization is uncertain, but since you are trying to start off with modern humans, it's an important consideration.
  3. Higher leadership levels tend to require more male-specific EQ competencies, such as assertiveness and confidence, and less female-specific EQ competencies, such as interpersonal relationships and empathy. The women that have risen to leadership roles throughout history have generally shown EQ competencies more typical of a man than a woman; so, matriarchies are automatically disadvantaged by having fewer people with strong EQ competencies suitable for leadership. Research agrees that EQ is partially genetic and partially environmental, though how much of it is genetic is highly debated. The fact that there are genetic differences in EQ, and that men naturally exhibit better EQ qualities for leadership means that you will need to actively suppress men's natural EQs to prevent the men from organizing a coup.

To answer your problem: Trying to ensure safety above all else by wiping people out is exactly the sort of thing that tends to make Matriarchies so unstable. If you want a stable Matriarchy, you need it to choose to value and preserve men the same way that Patriarchies value and preserve women. Even if they treat men as property, you should remember that property has value that makes it worth keeping, controlling, and working for. So, when they wage war, the goal should be not to kill the men, but to circumvent the men to kill the women. That way they can assume control of as much of their rival's left over property (the male population) as possible allowing the nation to grow in strength and resources.

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  • $\begingroup$ Citations for the claim that wars started by matriarchal societies tended to be annihilationist? (I don't doubt you, but want to read more about it.) $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Commented Jun 14, 2023 at 20:31
  • $\begingroup$ Not even psychology, but sociology . imgs.xkcd.com/comics/purity.png $\endgroup$
    – MichaelK
    Commented Jun 15, 2023 at 6:37
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    $\begingroup$ "Annellation" is a rarely used word outside chemistry and I suspect it's the wrong word, do you mean annihilation? $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Commented Jun 15, 2023 at 8:24
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    $\begingroup$ @RonJohn I do not know of any published study done on the topic, but it is really hard to find examples of matriarchies that did not do wars of extermination. A few years ago someone said something about how primitive tribes typically wage wars of extermination. So, I went down a lot of rabbit holes and found that it was true in some parts of the world, and false in others. I tried to find inherent differences between the tribal societies (food scarcity, climate, etc.) but the only strong correlation I could find was matriarchy vs patriarchy. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Commented Jun 15, 2023 at 18:38
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    $\begingroup$ I wish I would have documented my research better; so, I don't have much hard facts to cite, but I do remember the correlation being surprisingly strong. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Commented Jun 15, 2023 at 18:38
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Where does a couple live upon marriage?

If a women joins her husbands village:

Then you have a village better able to do snap-defense against threats. Better able to do snap-defense due to males in the village are related and have known each other and worked together long term.

But this also means that almost all women are not related and thus if there are marital relationship problems the man has support network and the women does not. This favors the mans position.

To put is more explicitly this is an argument as to how Patriarchy starts, and with the survival advantage and cultural inertia it persists.

If a man joins his wife's village

Majority of the women are related. This means any marital arguments will likely come out in the women's favor due to strong support networks of most of the women being related. Matriarchies will tend to form in such conditions.

These groups will have weaker snap defense then in the case of all related males in the village. With males having less time working together, weaker social bonds to cooperate, defense will take longer to form up, be less effective. Thus making these groups more vulnerable to raiders and other attacks.

Result of material conditions

That is to say if there is a mix of villages of matriarchy and patriarchy that all experience the same degree of attacks that cause village failure periodically this will favor patriarchies in the long run. This assumes they are villages that have resources that need to be defended such as farming villages.

This suggests that for matriarchies to be favored societies should have couple living in the wife's village/community. With additional condition of not needing much snap defense, or snap defense that can be handled by the women.

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Castration

90% of baby males are castrated.

The remaining 10% cannot easily dominate society.

As an extra measure, the 45% of population of eunuchs are set at odds with the 5% of men; history suggests the antipathy is easy enough to generate.

Your society can justify the castration any way you see fit (eugenics, conscious popular preservation of the existing order, feminism, wokeness, a religious cult, etc), or it may be imposed by a dictator or elite with very little justification at all.

Parthenogenesis

As per the successful short story "Consider Her Ways", a society of almost all women may use technologically facilitated parthenogenesis to reproduce. All X chromosomes in -> all X chromosomes out-> pure matriarchy. Adjust sex ratios and details to suit. Requires near-future technology but suggested anyway.

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  • $\begingroup$ that's pretty gross $\endgroup$
    – wokopa
    Commented Jun 14, 2023 at 11:59
  • $\begingroup$ @wokopa So are genocide, genital mutilation, sex slavery, and pedophilia, but look at history. Orwellian measures were authorised by the OP, remember. $\endgroup$
    – user86462
    Commented Jun 14, 2023 at 19:46
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    $\begingroup$ It's a high percentage, but not impossible with high urbanisation, and certainly not entirely out of line with historical bureaucracies. Of course you can ignore the peasants working the fields for these purposes as they'll need all the men as well to be able to farm. $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Commented Jun 15, 2023 at 8:27
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Religion / Culture

If it is deeply engrained in the beliefs and culture of the society that a woman shall be the leader, it will tend go back to that for a long time even if there is no practical reason for it.

Like some countries, like england, even to this day have a king or queen that practically serves no purpose at all. Even if there were enough opportunities to go full republic / democracy they did not. In the past because it was perceived as gods will and later because thats how its always been.

If a male usurper occurs, he may have many kids but dictatorship is not transmitted via genes and if the kids are not as competent as their father at beeing a dictator (most are not, as history has shown), society will likely get rid of them at the first opportunity. They also can not make a hereditary claim because thats not a thing in this society (at least not for males) and will convince nobody to follow them.

Physical prowess has almost nothing to do with this, in a society of any reasonable size the leader has no need to be individually strong, he/she needs to successfully convince OTHERS to do the dirty work to stay in power.

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Male-female ratio

This is (very) similar to Daron's answer, except the male-female ratio never returns to anything like equal. A disease emerges that is airborne and extremely infectious, so it's essentially impossible to contain. It has no or at most very mild symptoms, except one where male babies will most likely be stillborn or die shortly after birth. Very small number of males grows up to adulthood. Female babies may be affected but will usually pull through and grow up fine. Don't think such a disease is at all possible but this is not a hard science (biology) question. By the time this symptom is noticed, it's too late to eradicate the disease.

Faced with a probable extinction of humanity, the governments of all or almost all countries issue laws which either completely dissolve the institution of marriage because there aren't enough males for a one male-one female marriage, or allow marriage but make extramarital sex (for males) not only blame-free but compulsory. There would be a lot of social turmoil after that but the laws are eventually enforced by increasingly Orwellian governments.

Eventually as the population starts falling more and more and male-female ratio gets increasingly skewed (we're talking 99-1 or even higher) the males are increasingly forced into full time breeder role and not allowed to hold other professions because this would interfere with their primary function of impregnating women, which at this point is a full time job. Most of men's time would be taken not by actual sex but by travelling from place to place, to minimize the effects of inbreeding. At some point severe inbreeding problems will become unavoidable but the governments (now composed of women) want to put that off as long as they can. Some men are just fine with this state of things, others are not but won't be able to do anything about that because there are so few of them.

This society can't be anything other than a matriarchy simply because almost all people are women. Men are highly revered, any crime against them carries extremely severe punishments, but at the same time they're given zero choice about what to do with their lives.

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Any matriarchal hierarchy is in constant danger: any male dictator wannabe would hit evolutionary jackpot with a succeeded putsch.

This assertion doesn't really make sense—if it did, it would make just as much sense in the real world, but clearly that's not happening. Offspring does not equal rulership.

How can a matriarchal society be maintained?

Have the characters respect women.

The fact that the answer is so simple, yet the question has still been asked, speaks volume about our current patriarchal society.

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    $\begingroup$ How will you respect someone you can overthrow with a shove ? Someone who disregards authority that much to overthrow the current ones, cares not about theyr gender. $\endgroup$
    – Or4ng3h4t
    Commented Jun 15, 2023 at 12:09
  • $\begingroup$ @Rekesoft Explain to me how not respecting someone means you gotta harm them ? Does it work like that for you ? Surely you didn't mean what i think you did, ill flag your comment and move on. $\endgroup$
    – Or4ng3h4t
    Commented Jun 15, 2023 at 16:35
  • $\begingroup$ @Or4ng3h4t "How will you respect someone you can overthrow with a shove ?" Do I really need to tell you to your face why this is a fatally flawed argument, or can you figure it out yourself? $\endgroup$
    – MichaelK
    Commented Jun 16, 2023 at 11:47
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelK yes how is it flawed? how can a women in power command respect without the underlying risk of violence present in every male conversation ? whats there to respect? whats she gonna do yell at me ? $\endgroup$
    – Or4ng3h4t
    Commented Jun 16, 2023 at 16:19
  • $\begingroup$ @Or4ng3h4t That was 100% pure nonsense. You are not talking about respect but of threats. That is not how humans interact. If you believe that just because you are male you can order females around because of some perceived notion that you are physically stronger than every female out there, then I cannot help you... then you are completely detached from reality. $\endgroup$
    – MichaelK
    Commented Jun 17, 2023 at 0:08
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Genetics. Many genetic diseases are non-dominant linked to the X chromosome, which results in them automatically occurring in biological males due to them only having one, but biological females are much less likely to inherit them thanks to a second x-chromosome. Have a prominent genetic disease that leads to physical or mental deficiency (yes, I know tradition would work better but I wanted to give another option).

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Any matriarchal hierarchy is in constant danger: any male dictator wannabe would hit evolutionary jackpot with a succeeded putsch.

A minority 'putsch' with zero popular support is unlikely to get far.

Rule requires the support of the masses, or at least a significant minority of them.

If the country is governed wisely, justly, and with popularity, then a putsch is unlikely to succeed.

There are lots of ways for a regime to get the people on side. For example, 1500 laws were passed in the first nine months of the Cuban Revolution, and these did things like halving people's rent. That makes all those renters materially invested in supporting/sustaining the revolutionary regime.

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You may use all current technology

-- no, you would not want to use anything close to current technology. Instead, you would want to regress to the point where human labour is the most important motive power in the economy. Of course for that you would need a lot of labourers, whose supply is restricted by the women's collective fertility. It would then be natural to elevate the women's position because they would hold the key to everyone's continued prosperity. By contrast, current technology relies on motive power provided by fossil fuels, allowing the political power to be concentrated in the hands of whoever has access to the most fuel, at the expense of women and humans in general.

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    $\begingroup$ hahhaha... nope. Look at modern societies where "human labor is the most important motive power in the economy" women are treated way worse. $\endgroup$
    – Questor
    Commented Jun 14, 2023 at 18:39
  • $\begingroup$ @Questor exactly. Women pump out the babies, so when you need a lot of laborers, the women will be at home doing the baby making & raising thing. $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Commented Jun 14, 2023 at 20:33
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    $\begingroup$ @RonJohn yeah... That doesn't make lead to better treatment... $\endgroup$
    – Questor
    Commented Jun 14, 2023 at 22:24
  • $\begingroup$ @Questor, thank you. Name one modern economy where human labor is the most important source of motive power, and then we'll talk. $\endgroup$
    – ihaveideas
    Commented Jun 15, 2023 at 8:20

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