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I recently became interested in the concept of matriarchies, since they are nonexistent in world history. I started to wonder what set of circumstances would lead to it occurring, and came up with a hypothetical scenario I've discussed with some friends. I am curious to know what other people think of it.

Suppose women early in our history possessed the inborn ability to access power from an alternate realm. This power would manifest itself in the world in the form of magic. This magic is gender specific to females, and could be learned through training and study. Simple spells and rituals would be easy to learn, while more advanced ones would be specialized. A system of magitech would form, in which magic would be combined with technology. Anything from golem-like mechsuits, to energy crystals that operate as power sources and batteries, to runes that generate heat and light could be just some of its uses. This magitech could be used by anyone, but only be created by females. Although magic is powerful, it is time consuming, draining, and often require multiple components. This would limit it's effectiveness in some ways. Attack magic would be a specialized field, and often limited to support roles in war.

One of the inborn magical traits women would possess is the ability to control their reproductive functions. Pregnancy would be an active process, in which the mother could decide whether to make it a boy or girl. Birth control would be a natural trait that could be turned on or off. They could choose to carry to term, pause, or abort the child at will. Birth would be a relatively painless, or maybe even enjoyable experience. Also, women would be infertile while under stress, which I would think would eliminate coercion.

Would these changes be enough to justify a matriarchal society forming?

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    $\begingroup$ I think this exact question was asked on this site before. $\endgroup$ – Ovi Jan 29 '17 at 23:07
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    $\begingroup$ Exactly how does this differ from the more civilized parts ofcontemporary western society? $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Jan 29 '17 at 23:52
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    $\begingroup$ Possible duplicate of What effects would a change in the nature of human sexuality have on society and infrastructure $\endgroup$ – SRM Jan 30 '17 at 4:55
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    $\begingroup$ Hey, why do you have to justify it? How do you justify a patriarchal society? You simply make it so. If you need a reason, make men honour the fact that women make life. It doesn't have to be complicated. LINK Study any of these matriarchal socities for ideas. $\endgroup$ – WRX Jan 30 '17 at 15:16
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    $\begingroup$ In many cases when we seek to make drastic changes we find that we accidentally recreate that which we sought to get rid of, and often made it even more virulent. You might explore what happens to women when they become the ones who have to go to war (because the men are too weak to), and what sorts of attitudes they may develop as a result over a few hundred years. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Mar 20 '17 at 19:52
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As a parent, I can say that sweeping changes to the first 9 months will not cause a dramatic change in status. It's the next 18 years that affect everything.

  • Determine a child's sex - this could be powerful, and would definitely complicate a patriarchal society based on firstborn sons. It's not immediately clear how it would go. On one hand, a woman could refuse to have sons unless her husband obeys her wishes. On the other hand, King Henry showed that failure to deliver a male heir can result in certain unpleasant side effects.
  • Speed up / slow down gestation - For most this would be a mild effect, bordering on not even any effect at all. For most women in history, birth occurred at home, where she would have been anyway. The timing would matter little, though I could see many speeding up their gestation just because it's a pain... literally.

Gender roles in society are based on society. If you want to change gender roles, such as creating a matriarchy, change the society. It's far easier and more effective.

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Why is there a 'patriarchy'?

I disagree that patriarchy is a product of society. Patriarchal societies are one of many possibilities, their dominance came to be mostly because it is (or was) an evolutionary advantage to be a patriarchy.

The reproductive potential of a group of people is limited by the number of women of childbearing age in that group. If the women are kept from risk-taking behavior, it increasing the odds that they will be around to increase the population. Being able to increase the population at a higher rate means that humans naturally fill environments to carrying capacity relatively quickly (see: the world, today). Once humans reach carrying capacity, inter-group conflict is more or less inevitable.

In these conflicts, the societies that emphasize male fighting prowess and female fertility have the inherent advantage of numbers. This is the primary reason that all the most advanced societies are patriarchal. Where agriculture in flood plains allowed massive population increases, those societies with lots of male warriors and female having kids were able to eliminate or displace any other types of societies. Once nomadic herding of cattle and sheep spread through the rest of the world, the patriarchal society dominated there as well.

Example

Let us say, in your society the magic wielding women do the fighting and men take care of the kids. Your society is now up against a patriarchal band from right down the river. There isn't enough farmland for both of you, so fights are inevitable.

The magic-wielding women may have an advantage against stick-wielding men of the other tribe. But in the course of conflict, a percentage of the magic-wielding women would die. By the next generation, the patriarchal band had 100% of its women produce offspring, but in the magical matriarchy, several of the women died in battle before they could have some or all children. The patriarchal tribe now has a relative advantage.

Now add in other factors. Can magic wielding women who are 6-9 months pregnant be useful in combat? Can stone age men feed newborns, or do some women have to stay behind to breastfeed while the rest of the women are out fighting? If the women are able to control pregnancy and reduce their fertility rate, that just damages the groups chances even more

Matriarchy is a product of evolution, not of society

Unless your magical matriarchy has both a way of a. outfighting male-warrior based societies and b. keeping up with their fecundity, then those societies are probably doomed to marginal areas, like the rainforests and mountains where near-matriarchies are found today.

And if these matriarchies are banished to marginal areas, they would not have the chance to technologically develop the magitech you suggest. Instead it would be the patriarchal societies that did so.

Now, the integration of female-only skills into a patriarchal society would likely make it less male-centric, but the formation of matriarchal societies from the start is unlikely.

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    $\begingroup$ This magical matriarchy outfighting a male based fighting society is what I suggested in my answer. Please look it over! $\endgroup$ – Gryphon Mar 20 '17 at 20:18
  • $\begingroup$ This feels like a pure opinion based question, so voters should be careful to note their own biases. Thinking is good for you. $\endgroup$ – Charles Merriam Mar 23 '17 at 21:40
  • $\begingroup$ Your answer assumes that human evolution in OP's world is the same as in reality. However I would argue this is not the case at all. In a world where women are preferred and women can control the gender of the offspring, would the women not increase the ratio of female to male births? Your answer right off assumes that the birth ratio is 1:1. Given that females can control offspring gender, what would happen if the female to male birth ratio were 3:2? 7:3? 9:1? I would say male sperm would become more valuable because there are fewer males so they would be the ones isolated from fighting. $\endgroup$ – Visfarix Mar 24 '17 at 18:44
  • $\begingroup$ For women to be better at combat than men from the outset (due to the magical talents mentioned in the question) would likely drastically alter the gender roles in a society compared to those seen historically on Earth. A society that keeps all its women at home (and thus doesn’t have the advantage of magic) will be utterly crushed by one that has them participating in combat, under these circumstances. A higher birth rate will do little to make up for that. $\endgroup$ – Obie 2.0 May 30 '17 at 4:14
  • $\begingroup$ Even a society in which men and women had the same innate magical combat abilities would likely see far more gender equality than current ones. You can say that a society that values keeping women out of combat would still have higher birth rates (true), but the ruler who decides they’re fine with having twice as many people who can kill people with their minds will quickly gain the advantage (note that this doesn’t apply to the question, where women could be confined to limited social roles while still providing weapons for the use of men). $\endgroup$ – Obie 2.0 May 30 '17 at 4:15
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YES

This would form a matriarchal society, on one condition.

The magitech could be altered/ made in a basic form over short time periods. If this is viable then women would be the most likely to become warriors, as they could improve/alter their fighting magitech at short notice to respond to a given situation.

This would most likely result in a matriarchal society, as the warriors tend to become the chieftains (chieftainesses?) Over time, with a more complex society, this would result in a matriarchy without any need for birth control/alteration magic.

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  • $\begingroup$ I like your explanation, but the OP specifically states that "Although magic is powerful, it is time consuming, draining, and often require multiple components." $\endgroup$ – bhilgert Mar 24 '17 at 17:29
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They wouldn't need to control the birth process to gain control. They wouldn't even need to enter combat directly.

The minimum they would need is to be able to "buff" or heal the fighters. If they could increase the strength of speed of their fighters (presumably men) then their tribe would be more likely to win battles. If they can heal the fighters, they will be less damaged from the battle and have a better chance of winning the next battle.

Just using this strategy, A tribe with women who could wield magic would spread its influence. Since the women are responsible for the easier victories, their influence would rise over time.

The tribe with the happiest women would be the one with the most support.

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I'll disagree; a stable Matriarchy would not form.

Anything can create a matriarchy. The question will always be "Is it more stable than alternatives?" Humans have tried almost every conceivable means of governance and have learned some lessons along the way. For example, celibacy is not hereditary.

Also, patriarchy's of old worked in large part because the blood lines could be blurred. The male child of the Queen was the Prince. If the King is so inbred as his family tree looks more like a bush, the captain of the guard was new blood. There are estimates of "non-paternity" that vary widely, but hover around ten percent. Historical rates are just pure guess work.

Note that this is an argument on Patriarchy as a means if inheritable stabilization over many generations. It doesn't apply to local power, sense of worth, or other contexts. Those are questions steeped in assumptions of current society.

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Absolutely

If women alone were able to access abilities that far surpass conventional physical abilities then they would surpass men long before civilization developed.

Men's patriarchal authority stemmed from the superior physical strength and lack of hardship from childbirth. By essentially removing both of those women would immediately be superior to men in nearly all aspects of life.

Men would at this point be little more than dumb brute animals since their only real advantages over women are void. Even though this was how many women were treated in various societies in history, they did eventually overcome this (and many are still in the process today) because women are still closely comparable to men.

In a society with differences of this degree though, women would never have any need of men for much more than breeding and manual labor that couldn't be done with magic. They might as well be cattle and would likely never learn any of the basic knowledge necessary to advance in society like literacy or even basic math.

This doesn't just support it, but almost guarantees it. In comparison to men, women would almost be literal gods:

  • ability to create life
  • magical abilities that can control aspects of nature
  • likely some sort of magic and/or eventual technology to greatly advance life
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  • $\begingroup$ How would you prevent men from dominating women and taking over though? Remember attack magic is rare and a specialized field. The idea I was going for would be that men exist to serve and protect women. Females are the mind and males are the body. Something along those lines. $\endgroup$ – user32862 Mar 23 '17 at 23:52
  • $\begingroup$ Physical force is not the only means of control by far. Their inherent magical abilities give women control of nature itself even minorly. They can control food, weather, and birth rates. If men can't eat without pleasing women, they obey. If they can't go hunt or sailing without pleasing women, they obey. If they can't expand their armies and work forces without pleasing women, they obey. They could bring down armies even just by making minor adjustments to terrain before the battle even started. Kill an oppressor by making him trip and fall on his own spear. $\endgroup$ – TitaniumTurtle Mar 24 '17 at 20:26
  • $\begingroup$ The simple truth is men would not have a chance to be dominant. Men or are on average more physically capable, but they can't compete with manipulating the forces of nature. That combined with the fact that those women could control birth (including gender) and more than likely men would be out numbered. After all, a woman can usually only have one baby at a time, but you only need 1 man to impregnate 100 women. This is a concept that has been used in maintaining animal populations for centuries. $\endgroup$ – TitaniumTurtle Mar 24 '17 at 20:27

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