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Thoughts about patriarchy (and matriarchy)

A recent post by catrambo while she was guest blogging has made me focus on gender roles in the upcoming novel which I'm doing the world building stuff for.

Although (unlike the Meyer novels) mine will not be YA, it does deal with the coming of age of a young woman, and I have to assume that young women may read it--if it ever gets published.  Some people would say not to worry about your reader or your "message" at this point in the proceedings, i.e. before a single word has been written, or even not to worry about it once it's finished.  However, I can't just ignore what effect I could potentially have.  I grew up reading books, watching television, and soaking in our culture.  I consider myself a strong woman, but I would say that occurred despite what many sources were telling me to do and be, and I would further say that I have to fight against these influences all the time in order to continue to be who I am.  So I'd like to not be yet another force that some other young woman has to struggle against, but rather provide an example of how things can be different.

On the positive side, my heroine is surrounded by a variety of strong female figures to use as role models, and I know that having this in my life helped me.

Also, despite her youth, my heroine has agency in choosing her own path in life.  I'd say I mostly had this.  My parents' expectations were high, and certainly within my reach, although I have failed to live up to them.  Some of that I may lay down to the patriarchy we live in, but certainly not all.  I certainly can't pinpoint what degree of my underachieverhood can be laid at the feet of society telling me my primary goal in life should be to find Prince Charming and live happily ever after, wearing my crystal slippers while raising the next generation of Princes Charming.  At least equal parts were simply a) my rebelling against my parents' expectations, and b) my lack of self-discipline.

On the negative side, my heroine grows up in a matriarchy.  Some feminists would think "go grrl power!" but I ask myself whether a matriarchy in which men play lesser roles is any better than a patriarchy in which women play lesser roles.  I think it may be just as bad.  Yes, I could use this as a way to illuminate the problems inherent in any situation of gender inequity, but that's something that will be very easy to fail at (in the sense that it may just look like political blathering rather than furthering the story and characters, or it may alienate some readers, or it may illuminate nothing at all).  More pondering on this element is in order.

So what things exist to promote patriarchy that can be eliminated in a speculative world, to give the genders better equity? (I ask myself, and answer below the cut)

1. Body size differences.  If men are not larger and therefore have greater potential for muscle mass than women, then men cannot physically subjugate women, as individuals or groups.  This also eliminates economic disparities for jobs that only one gender can perform.
2. Technological/magical society.  If the means of making the world go 'round, whether building bridges or waging war, are not based on brute strength (assuming you don't have #1 in your world), and if technology or magic are equally available to both genders, then you would have equity.  Theoretically, anyway.  Our Western society is sufficiently technologically advanced that we should be able to have equality, were it not for other factors (see #3 and #4).
3. A history of gender inequity to struggle against.  You can eliminate this with #1, and you may or may not have it with #2.  In the case of technology, unless technology neutralized gender inequity a long time ago, you would still have at least traces of historical prejudices.  If a society is based on magic and has always had it, it's probably always been equal, in the absence of other influences.
4. Religious influences.  If you didn't have the equivalent of the Bible, the Torah, the Talmud, and the Qu'ran (and perhaps others I'm not thinking of in the moment) hearkening back to historical times when men's superiority was a given, or perpetuating the superiority of one gender over another for some other reason, then equality would have (or gain) more purchase in the culture.
5. Children's biology or child-rearing practices.  I don't think that pregnancy itself is any handicap to women.  However, unlike most young animals, human children are helpless for quite a long period of time, in which someone must watch over them, and someone must protect them.  These two roles can be taken by the same person, or can be taken regardless of gender, in order to have a world different from our own.  Also, if children developed faster, like animals in the wild, that would free their mother to do other things.
6. Expectations of lifelong monogamy.  I'm not trying to knock monogamy.  My only point here is that if a society demands monogamy for life, then the people in that relationship may tend to view one another as possessions.  If one of those people is also stronger than the other (physically, magically, whatever) then possessiveness can get ugly.  If both parties are free to leave at any time, then neither one can be chattel, nor subject to jealous abuse.  Further, if rather than monogamy, the society forms families in some other way, then that can help to eliminate obsessiveness, codependency, and a variety of other ills.
7. Hymens.  It may seem like a random element to throw out there, but it's not.  For at least 2,000 years, men have been giving young women to each other as gifts, and the greatest gift was a young woman with a hymen.  What if there was no way to tell a woman was a virgin?  Even getting away from the picture of one feudal lord giving his daughter to another feudal lord...this would greatly change the way individual young women experienced sex for the first time.  I think it would make the act more of the nervous but joyful occasion it seems to be for young men, with the pain eliminated.
8. Birth control (availability and cultural beliefs).  This hearkens back to a few other elements, like religion, monogamy, and child rearing.  If a woman or man can choose when and with whom they conceive, then they open up a lot of other choices for themselves.  'Nuff said.

Those are all I can think of in the moment...feel free to add your own, I'd be happy to see them and incorporate them into my musing.



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