There are different ways to define the word "matriarchy," and it can get a little confusing. For example, some people consider matriarchies to mean women are the dominant gender in a society. They make the decisions, they drive the economy and they rule the politics — basically the flipside of patriarchies.
In 1861, Swiss anthropologist Johann Jakob Bachofen wrote that matriarchies derived from hetaerism, a system where women had no power and were the property of their tribes. However, he posited that women fought back, taking total control of their families, properties and political power.
But others expect a matriarchy to manifest more as an egalitarian society where gender equality is the norm. Everyone stands on equal footing and works in partnership with one another. Experts who endorse this interpretation believe it's unfair to assume a matriarchy would look anything like a patriarchy in practice.
In an article titled "Matriarchies as Societies of Peace: Re-thinking Matriarchy," Heide Goettner-Abendroth, a German feminist and researcher of matrilineal societies, argues that a female-dominated society is not merely the opposite of a patriarchal system, and as such there isn't gender hierarchy or a social organization built on gender inequality:
"These patterns are not just a reversal of patriarchy, with women somehow ruling over men — as the usual misinterpretation would have it — rather they are, without exception, gender-egalitarian societies, and in many cases fully egalitarian societies. Hierarchies, classes and the domination of one gender by the other are unknown to them. They are societies that are free of domination but are stabilized by certain guidelines and codes. With matriarchies, equality does not mean a mere leveling of differences. The natural differences between the genders and the generations are respected and honored, but the differences don’t lead to hierarchies, as is common in patriarchy. The different genders and generations each have their own value and dignity, and through a system of complementary activities, they are dependent on each other."
— Heide Goettner-Abendroth
The Matriarchal Myth
In "The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory: Why an Invented Past Won't Give Women a Future," author Cynthia Eller says it's tempting to believe that before recorded history, ancient societies worshiped women and propelled them to leadership positions, but that this interpretation could be false. In her book, she examines both sides of the ancient matriarchy debate.