Unlikely matriarchs

The idea of a matriarchal era in our evolution has been proposed since the 19th century and adopted as proof that women are well able to rule the world or that humans have a deep tendency to be ruled by women.


But quite likely, women never ruled the world. Yes, there have been matriarchal societies but they constituted a tiny part of all societies. At present six matriarchal societies exist that attract attention of anthropologists, feminists and tourists.


Some argue that a range of tribal societies, from about 25,000 years ago, made small, voluptuous female figurines that would represent matriarchy or female dominance.


Although there’s much evidence found for the existence of these figurines, this interpretation is contested. The so-called Venus figurines are rather seen as representing nature, motherhood, fertility, creation, destruction or the bounty of the earth. Others believe these figurines were made by men to express their sexual longing for women.


Reasonable as this may sound, more convincing is that in tribal societies women and men tend to have a complementary division of labor, with women mostly collecting plant food and men mostly collecting animal food, which remains unrelated to dominance by either sex. This pattern seems to have existed all over the planet and for 6-7 million years of human evolution.


Agrarian societies, from over the last 10,000 years, also made female figurines whereas these societies are patriarchal or male dominated. Male dominance arose with agriculture with men gradually leaving the domain of hunting and pushing women out of control in the domain of plant food, although women kept working a lot in agriculture.

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Peter van der Werff, PhD

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