Let's start with the latter definition from the last page. Rather than imagining a matriarchy as a culture where women pin down men by the points of their stiletto heels, picture it as a cultural model where women simply occupy a central role in the society. Everyone is on even ground and decisions are reached by consensus.
One excellent example of this is the Minangkabau people of West Sumatra. Around 4 million in number, the Minangkabau are an ethnic group that consider themselves a matriarchy, and this, combined with a philosophy called adat that emphasizes nurturing both people and nature, forms a core tenet of their society [source: Sanday].
How does this work? Women own the land, and it's passed down matrilineally from mother to daughter. Rather than women moving in with their husbands upon marriage, the men join their new brides' households. Women are considered central to the community, and older women even more so -- they're regarded as the strongest pillars in the society. The men aren't oppressed; they're simply peripheral in familial organization. All the members of a family work for the betterment of everyone else.
But what about a society where females truly do dominate males? According to some, in many parts of the world that's exactly what's happening, even in the United States. The theory goes like this: As we've transitioned into a postmodern society, women seem more adaptable or more naturally suited for the changes and challenges that evolution involves. Perhaps success is due in part to talents such as social smarts and communication skills which are now more often valued in the workplace than the physical strength and stamina that originally propelled men to the top.
Women today hold more managerial and professional jobs than they ever have (50 percent up from 25 percent in 1980). About three quarters of the approximately 8 million jobs lost in the latest recession were lost by men in blue-collar industries such as construction and manufacturing, and white-collar industries like finance. When it comes to growing sectors of the economy, men are leading in only 2 of the top 15 categories -- janitorial and engineering [source: Rosin]. In terms of education, women are getting degrees three to two over men. In terms of money, women control more than half the wealth in the United States, and in terms of purchasing power, their control is even greater. Women generally manage some 80 to 90 percent of their families' buying power [sources: PBS, Pittsburg Post-Gazette].
Whether these statistics are signs of a domineering or egalitarian matriarchy is not yet completely clear. But it does appear that a strong social shift has been occurring and still is. Although a wage gap remains between the genders, women workers are slowly but steadily closing that divide. In the past few decades, women have taken the workplace by storm; they still largely rule the home; and they comprise a huge portion of the consumers pushing the demand side of the market as well. Even if that's not technically a matriarchy, it certainly doesn't sound like much of a patriarchy either.