What does a society run by women look like?

Does a matriarchal society have to look like this? Perhaps not ...
Does a matriarchal society have to look like this? Perhaps not ...
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Think about the fauna that inhabited North America during the Ice Age. The oversized animals must have looked powerful to the primitive peoples roaming the land at the time. Massive woolly mammoths, saber-toothed cats, ancient bison, dire wolves and wily American lions would have been scary stuff up close and personal. Still, prehistoric people clearly recognized the value in hunting these large, dangerous animals as important for the survival of a tribe. Naturally, a tribe would send its strongest, fastest members to undertake the task of hunting down the quarry, and that typically meant sending the men.

When the men came back to camp dragging a giant carcass behind them, it must have been kind of hard for the women to argue with any directions over how to prepare dinner. In a situation like that, you know if you follow orders, you'll be warm and well-fed in short order. This is likely how patriarchies became the dominantly established social order in all but a few cultures.

Now, however, it appears things are changing. Because if you're looking for a society run by women, you could be looking at one all around you -- or at least the rapid evolution toward one. The potential evidence is everywhere, but before we go into any examples, let's take a step back and cover a few fundamental points in the debate. There are different ways the term matriarchy is defined, and it can get a little confusing. For example, some people consider matriarchies to mean women are the dominate gender in a society. They make the decisions, they drive the economy and they rule the politics -- basically the flipside of patriarchies.

But others expect matriarchies to manifest more as egalitarian societies. That means 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, for the very reasons a distinction can be made in the first place.

Those two different interpretations give us some interesting launch points that we'll cover on the next page.