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Matriarchy

Nineteenth-century Evolutionary Theory, Twentieth-century Gender And Kinship Studies, Alternatives To Matriarchy: Matrism, Gender Egalitarianism, And Diarchy

Matriarchy is usually defined as a political system in which women are the dominant political actors, as opposed to patriarchy, in which men are the exclusive or primary heads of families, social groups, or political states. But matriarchy has always been a controversial term, since whenever it is mentioned, there are debates about whether matriarchies are imagined utopias or real societies, whether they existed at some time in the distant past or could be re-created in a possible future, and how the definitions of gendered power themselves might have shifted in relation to varying social and historical contexts. The idea of matriarchy has served to inspire a whole series of legends and myths, experiments in alternative lifestyles, feminist spirituality, and woman-centered collectives, but it has long been rejected within mainstream anthropology. In the early twenty-first century new field research in Indonesia, Melanesia, and China has raised new questions about the definition of the term itself, and reinvigorated debates about when—if ever—it can be used responsibly.

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