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There are no unambiguous examples of matriarchy in our history or archaeology, which makes it a form of government which is wholly up to the author to invent. The first known fictional matriarchies to be described in any detail were called "gynæcocracy", and was hypothesized by Aristotle and Plutarch, but Amazons go back even further, to Homer.
The treatment of matriarchies varies from author to author and by time period, but they tend to follow a few major patterns.
- Patriarchy Flip - Identical to patriarchy, but with the genders flipped. Can often include men treated as lower class citizens, depending on the type of patriarchy and time period being imitated.
- Sexist Matriarchy - A Dead Horse Trope, this is how early philosophers portrayed matriarchies, as a warning to allowing women in power. Women were shown to be fundamentally incapable of governing. Obviously, this is full of Unfortunate Implications and often Author Filibuster.
- Enlightened Matriarchy - A more benevolent or enlightened rule than patriarchy. This can have some Unfortunate Implications when one thinks about it, and in fact can be just as sexist as a Sexist Matriarchy. A form of non-sexual Author Appeal for feminist writers, especially second-wave feminists in the 1970s. On its way to being a Dead Horse Trope, at least for the more extreme versions, as well.
- Sexy Matriarchy - A fantasy where the women in power are attractive and often scantily clad, with strong overtones of domination (often of the Romanticized Abuse kind), lesbianism or both. This can be just as offensive as a Sexist Matriarchy. A form of Fetish Fuel Author Appeal for certain male writers, and common in BDSM Speculative Fiction.
- Original Matriarchy - Sometimes an author creates an entirely new system of government which is ruled by women, and yet neither the same as any existing patriarchy nor shown to be inherently better or worse (or sexier).
Many, but not all, examples of Lady Land are also Matriarchy. Matriarchy in Name Only is a specific subtrope, where the society is purported to be a matriarchy, but, for all intents and purposes, functions very similarly to a patriarchy.
Anime & Manga
- Ooku, although men are actually treated better than women, because (1) it's also a Lady Land and, y'know, limited sperm, and (2) it's a Lady Land because of a Gendercide virus, so they don't want the guys to go out and catch it and die.
- The future stories in Elf Quest show planet Abode as being run by a human matriarchy, which seems to be a cross between this type and Enlightened - Abode seems to be a pretty decent place to live, but it's implied that the matriarchy is by no means free from corruption.
- The The Wheel of Time series packs in quite a few variants on Matriarchy into the various cultures of the world. Altara shows up as a Patriarchy Flip, a man gifts a woman a knife as a proposal of marriage and says that if she is displeased with him she may plunge it into him. This is not hyperbole, barring exceptional circumstances a woman will not be found guilty of murdering her husband even if there is clear proof she killed him.
- The novel Heart of Gold features two variants of humanity, coming with blue skin (blueshi) or golden (gulden). The gulden society is a traditional (very) sexist patriarchy, but the blueshi is a mildly sexist matriarchy, with women doing the work and running their end of society. Men are treated well compared to the gulden women, but are expected to give up their careers upon marriage and retire to their wife's family estate.
- In one of Max Frei's Echo books the protegonist and his colleague found themselves in a hilariously over-the-top Patriarchy Flip. He wonders why his friend didn't catch what's going on despite being a much better detective... and then have to explain what's "Patriarchy" to begin with, because World of the Rod got nothing closely resembling either.
- The entire planet Seggri in the Ursula K. Le Guin short story The Matter of Seggri is this variation. There are about sixteen adult women for every adult man, and the women treat men (who are made to live apart from larger society) variously as intellectually lacking sex objects or "treasures" to be coddled and patronized. Men are seen as more emotional than women and unable to use logic and rational thinking, whereas women are seen as pragmatic and rational.
- Melanie Rawn's Exiles series featured this. Right down to female soldiers, which didn't make all that much sense.
- The Castle in Septimus Heap is ruled by a Queen, and there have never been any male rulers.
- In The Plains of Passage, Ayla and Jondalar come across a matriarchal society, which had been taken over by the women fairly recently. It wasn't going well at all because the women didn't have all the skills the men had (although this was a consequence of the chief being crazy and not thinking things through rather than of women being inherently unfit to rule). The chief, Attaroa, was insane, murderous, and sexist, to the point that all the males were slaves kept in a giant pen in the middle of the camp, half-starved, denied medical care, and often worked to death. The population was dwindling because Attaroa didn't let the women have sex with the men, assuming they'd give birth only to girls as a result, and even threatened to execute women who gave birth to boys.
- In Prized, the sequel to Birthmarked by Caragh O'Brien, Sylum is a matriarchy. The reason why is because for some reason, 9 out of every 10 births are male and a large percentage of those men are infertile, so girl babies and women are a prized commodity. The protagonist Gaia comes here and is startled by the differences from her society. The leader of the town is called the "Matrarc" (matriarch). In this society, men do not have the right to vote. The society ends up being sexist to both men and women, because women are forced to have at least 10 kids and women who have children out of wedlock are considered outcasts.
- Cetaganda in Vorkosigan Saga is a matriarchial empire that is a rival of the patriarchial Barrayarans. It is complicated by the fact that it has a patriarchial warrior caste but the matriarchial eugenics caste is above them.
Live Action TV
- In the episode "Angel One" of Star Trek: The Next Generation, there is a society where men have fewer social rights then women. The men are also the fairer sex, smaller, weaker, hairless, soft cloths, and perfumed.
- The High Priestesses of Merlin, an all but extinct sect of women who were said to have been pitted against the Ancient Kings in warfare.
- One universe featured in Sliders was "The Weaker Sex," where the typical roles are reversed. Women hold every position of authority with men being assistants and such. Hundreds of years ago women got sick and tiered of watching men go off to war and killing each other so they took over. There's no war anymore, no violent crime. Wade unsurprisingly digs this idea, whereas Arturo gets easily frustrated - so much so he gets coaxed into running for mayor just to make a statement. Quinn, meanwhile, faces a bit of sexual harassment and Rembrandt winds up as "the other man" in a relationship. Overlaps with Enlightened, but the sexism means it still falls into this category.
- The Realm in Exalted is a subtle case of Patriarchy Flip. Governed by the Scarlet Empress, women are preferred in some quarters of the military and governance, but both male and female Dragon-Blooded are expected to fully contribute to the Realm (and its population) to the best of their ability.
- Troia of Final Fantasy IV is a theocracy/mageocracy of sorts ruled by 8 female Epopts. Their military is entirely female.
- Alexandria in Final Fantasy IX is a fairly bog standard monarchy. The leadership of the kingdom is passed down to female heirs instead of male ones, and the army, like that of Troia above, is almost entirely made up of women.
- The male Pluto Knights, led by Steiner, also get a lot of grief from the rest of the female soldiers.
- Radiant Historia has Granorg, ruled by the corrupt and vain Queen Protea. What saves this example from being a sexist matriarchy is the rule of her successor, Eruca, who is shown to be compassionate and wise.
- Okami has the Draconians, who are ruled by an Empress after the death of their Emperor.
- In Yoake Mae Yori Ruriiro na, the Kingdom of Sphere is a fairly standard monarchy, except with the line of succession going down female rather than male lines. The benevolent aspects have less to do with female rule and more to do with the fact that the previous Queen and her heir-apparent are benevolent people in their own right.
- In Jooubachi no Oubou bees are all ruled by their queen, and the nobles in power are also all ladies. They're pretty evil, but the narrative never implies that it's because they're female, and if the protagonist rules, she'll usually be a good queen. Contains elements of Patriarchy Flip (nude male slaves, male harems) but doesn't flip the stereotypes otherwise.
- The hyena tribe in Digger is mostly a Patriarchy Flip, though with a few original elements as well. Males can hold important posts, but it is shown to be far from the norm: there is only one male, Owl-Caller, on the Elder council, and he is extremely deferential to Boneclaw, whereas the female elders argue with her as near-equals. Justified, since this is how Real Life spotted hyenas operate, with the highest ranked adult male below all females and juveniles in female's care.
- Nilenira in The Movolreilen Saga. Men are pretty much considered to be human forklifts and plows, except when used for breeding.
- Spotted hyenas. The females are bigger and more aggressive than the males, and rule over them. Though it's not a complete flip, as the females still take care of the young without any help from the father.
Examples of a Sexist Matriarchy
- In Blackveil by Kristen Britain, there is an in-universe example in the form of the play The Mad Queen Oddacious, who was a crazed despot eventually dethroned and killed by her people. Historians are unsure if she was an actual historical figure. The protagonist muses that the play was probably created to warn of the evils of women being allowed power, especially since it gained in popularity during the rule of Queen Isen.
Myth, Legend, and Religion
- The earliest tales of the Amazons from Greek Mythology, as a warning against female rule.
- The society in the The Two Ronnies serial The Worm Who Turned starts out as a Patriarchy Flip (complete with men wearing dresses), becomes a particularly egregious Sexist Matriarchy (apparently, expecting men to cook is against the natural order of things) and naturally, this being The Two Ronnies, includes a dash of Sexy Matriarchy (the Secret Police consists entirely of attractive women in tight uniforms with bare legs, for no clearly explained reason).
Examples of an Enlightened Matriarchy
- The Mouse Guard is always governed by a Matriarch, with Gwendolyn currently in the role. Why this role is specifically female when no gender roles seem to exist anywhere else in the Territories is anyone's guess.
- The First Sex, by Elizabeth Gould Davis speculated that early human society was made up of matriarchies. They were characterized by pacifism and democracy, which was later overthrown by a far more barbaric patriarchy.
- Merlin Stone posited a similar theory of prehistoric cultures in When God Was a Woman, in which all prehistoric societies were utopic matriarchies later destroyed by patriarchal Indo-Europeans.
- In The Wheel of Time Andor qualifies an example of an Enlightened Matriarchy. The throne is always held by a queen, but aside from that the rights of Andorans do not vary by gender.
- In the Heralds of Valdemar series by Mercedes Lackey, in Karse, the "Son of the Sun", the leader of their theocracy, is a woman this time around, by direct divine intervention. This would normally just be a gender flip, but she is also reversing the excesses, pogroms, and corruption of the previously patriarchal theocracy. She singlehandedly changed Karse from being one of the major antagonists and "evil" forces in the novels to one of the good guys.
- The Oz books tend to run with the "enlightened" version. Ozma, Dorothy, Glinda, and the North Witch are very capable leaders, and the female rulers of the lesser kingdoms in Oz are usually more capable than the men. However, you do get cases like the East and West Witches, Langwidere, or Coo-Eh-Oh which are God Save Us From the Queen. Author Appeal was at work as Baum was (and married into a family of) suffragetes.
Live Action TV
- An early episode of Boy Meets World has a career day where Topanga comes as the President of the United States. She says that men are now used for breeding and they have eliminated a need for the military.
- The Azadi Empire in Dreamfall is ruled by a conclave of Six Empresses, with women taking all important political positions (except military, which is still the male domain). Your Mileage May Vary on how enlightened they are. Even in-game, opinions differ: April sees them as nothing more than the straight-up evil imperialists, Kian believes the Azadi state to be best of all possible, while Brian Westhouse acknowledges their imperialistic tendencies but points at their truly remarkable cultural and scientific achievements.
- Equestria, in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, is a land ruled by God Empress Princess Celestia, who causes the cycle of day and night. Ponyville itself is run by a mare. Equestria is generally peaceful and harmonious, and war is an unfamiliar concept...but it is My Little Pony. Equestria, from what we've seen, appears to be a pretty gender-equal society, with both mares and stallions in a wide variety of roles. This is Truth in Television, as studies have found horses tend to do better when led by a female rather than a stallion, see below.
- Contrary to popular belief, with horses a lead mare is usually in charge rather than a stallion. Studies have fond groups of all geldings or with a gelding leader tend to be more anxious and less relaxed than those with a female leader.
Examples of a Sexy Matriarchy
- The Koda are depicted this way in Gen 13. They are scantily clad, lick blood from the bare skin of their Kerubim leader, and are insatiable in the bedroom with "poor" Grunge.
- In Piers Anthony's If I Pay Thee Not In Gold, the rulership switches between matriarchy and patriarchy depending on which gender currently has magic. Each lasts several generations. At the start of the novel, it has been a matriarchy for many generations, and men are kept in near-slavery. Given the author, the sexual aspect was inevitable.
Live Action TV
- An episode of Sliders, "Love Gods," sees most of the men in the world having been killed via germ warfare. Women generally take over society, while the surviving men (at least those with a healthy sperm count) are kept in compounds. The men are to impregnate the best possible women in order to rebuild the population, especially before another country does so. (The men that succeed the most are afforded many luxuries.) Naturally, when our heroes get there, the male characters are instantly mobbed and taken into custody.
- Dungeons and Dragons
- A somewhat more subtle example is the asari of Mass Effect, a race of monogendered blue-skinned space babes who can have sex and feel sexual attraction to all other species, a trait that dominates their entire race's persona. However, they do deserve recognition in that their matriarchy is treated respectfully rather than for kinky D/s Fetish Fuel.
- The Syreen in Star Control and Star Control II, a race of Blue-Skinned Space Babes in which the women control the military, the government, and the economy. This is what they look like.
- The Mistress' Domain in Oglaf.
- The Drow society in Drowtales is a balanced mix of this and Patriarchy Flip.
- In Wapsi Square, Lanthas was this, according to Jin's mom, who is quite sure that since this is a patriarchial society, fathers and sons have no difficulty talking about the women the son has slept with.
- Other World Kingdom, a micronation located in the Czech Republic. Though not officially recognized as a sovereign state, it maintains its own system of laws and governance--which are based entirely around BDSM and femdom play. Technically also a Patriarchy Flip, but for the purpose of kink rather than political reform.
Examples of an Original Matriarchy
- The eponymous Jaran in Kate Elliot's Novels of the Jaran have a complex matriarchal structure. Women are the power both in the family and politically, and it is deeply ingrained in their culture that men respect and obey women. There are two exceptions to this: Marriage and war are under male domain. This society is not depicted as particularly better or worse than a patriarchal society.
- In the Wheel of Time, many smaller independent villages are an Original Matriarchy, they are governed by two separate (theoretically equal) groups. The Village Council is all male and the Women's Circle are exclusively female, but members of both bodies will privately admit that really, the women are the ones calling the shots. The Aiel exhibit a similar governance (and similar admissions of who holds the true power) though in their case they are led by a Clan Chief (male), a Wise One (female) and the woman who owns the Hold.
- Yilanè in West of Eden have a matriarchy, which may or may not be due to their sexual dimorphism.
- In Lois Bujold’s "Borders of Infinity" novella, hundreds of POW's are trapped in an always lit dome. They lose all hope and civility. The only order is the ‘women’s area’, which women cooperate to guard, to remain safe from rape. The (male) protagonist, Miles, must appeal to their leader to start his uprising.
- The teen novel Epitaph Road, which tells the story of a boy in a society where a virus, which turns out to have been deliberately released, drastically reduced the male population and led to a society ruled by women.
- Antaris of Chanters of Tremaris is a magocracy and, due to the high notes in their sung magic, all of the ruling magicians are female.
- The Helmacrons in Animorphs are one of these. Males are essentially slaves and don't even have names. At least until the Animorphs give them a pep talk and start a male vs female war among them. Oddly, the lead female, the Captain, is dead. A living ruler could make mistakes, so the Captain is killed to ensure she won't make mistakes.
Myth, Legend and Religion
- Later depictions of the Amazons from Greek Mythology, particularly by modern authors.
- Some say that the stories of the Amazons were based on Iranian tribes like the Scythians and Sarmatians, in which women fought alongside men and held political power.
- The people of the Qunari in the Dragon Age series. While the females are never seen in-game, their roles include choosing the breeding, administrative duties, and spiritual duties (the priest caste, Ariqun, is all women.) Whatever capabilities men may show for these roles, women will simply do it better, according to the Qun (in contrast to the Arishok and the warrior caste, which is all men). They are said to be the "brain" of qunari society. The Qunari, however, do not see either as superior or inferior: Both men and women view themselves merely as a part of the whole, all are equal and serve their role.
- The Iroquois and the Mosuo are sometimes Flanderized this way. Both are societies in which men and women share societal power, rather than being actual examples of female rule. Specifically:
- The Iroquois Confederacy's central government is composed of 50 chiefs, who are nominated and can be removed by an assembly of elder women. However, it is the male chiefs and not the female elders who make actual decisions, not to mention that this assembly has never been terribly important and most Iroquois governmental decisions are made on a local level anyway.
- Among the Mosuo (who live near the China/Tibet border), women have a very high degree of choice among sexual partners and can choose to make and break relationships essentially whenever they want; the only person with veto power over her relationship is the eldest woman in her family, who also holds a great degree of power over the family. However, men ALSO have this level of sexual freedom, and there are lots of powerful positions that are only or mostly male (e.g, all Mosuo cultural priests are men).
- Bees, ants and many other social insects live in a matriarchal society where males pretty much exist only to father young.
- Bonobos. So much so that a male's rank is determined by his mother's rank.
- Elephants; males leave their birth herd when they reach maturity, going on to become lone bulls if strong enough or form bachelor herds.
- Most species of lemur.
- Orcas, also known as Killer whales.
- Wolves have two leaders, an alpha female and a alpha male, with each alpha being in charge of all of the wolves of the same sex. One of the alphas is dominant over the other, and this is usually, but not always, the female. (Note, however, that "in charge" is not a very precise term here. The alphas are "in charge" over the other wolves in about the same way your grandparents are "in charge" of you.)
- Naked mole rats, which have an insect-like society with a queen.
- Domestic cats. A lot of feral cat colonies are entirely composed of female adults and kittens, so matriarchy is default, but if there's a few toms in the colony the "alpha cat" is still more likely to be a queen. Though weaker, female cats can sometimes dominate the males through bluff; females are much quicker to hiss and swat.
- Lions have a reputation of being ruled by a "king", but for similar reasons as elephants, some zoologists consider them matriarchal. Though the fact that the adult male(s) in a pride takes "the lion's share" (the male eats the prey first even though the females are usually the ones who caught it) screams "patriarchal!" to many.