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Matriarchy

J. I. (Hans) Bakker


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The term matriarchy has a commonsense meaning today. It refers to a situation where a female becomes an important figure in a nuclear or extended household. Thus, for example, Rose Kennedy was a matriarch of the Kennedy clan. That current meaning has deep roots. At one time many thinkers believed that women had always been secondary to men. Early ideas concerning what Carl Linnaeus called “ homo sapiens ” (wise man) were biased in favor of “men's history.” It was not clear to social scientists until the early twentieth century that male and female gender roles are social constructs and that biology is not always destiny. Comparative data on anthropologically indigenous, non-industrial societies makes it clear that the division of tasks in the household can be quite varied, with men often doing household tasks. Moreover, many cultures recognize a “third gender” in which biological men are treated in every outward respect as women. Such micro-level phenomena in relatively less technological communities are only one part of the picture. Another aspect of matriarchy is the notion that some societies have been politically dominated by women. This is sometimes called Amazonism, based on the mythical Greek “reverse gender” accounts of Scythian or independent female warriors. Bachhofen, a Swiss amateur classicist and judge, argued on the basis of the iconography of Roman tombs that the ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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