Friday, January 2, 2009

Matriarchy: The Power of Collective Female Leadership

Men have been the favored crowd, the popular crowd, for quite a while in Western culture. This “boys’ club” has been handed the podium, family inheritances, career advancing favors, center stage in literature, visibility in the media, sexual entertainment, and social leadership positions as far back as most of our schools’ history books go. And with that public favor they have managed to hoard decision-making power about everything from public policy to the entertainment industry.

And because this society’s favors for men have made “the boys’ club” the place where the public spotlight is, the place where all the fun is, women have often chosen to emulate men’s apparent social and material success by adopting the male behavioral strategies that supposedly have led to it. This includes men’s standards for treatment of others, as well as men’s attitudes towards women. Many women choose to conform to these standards themselves and apply them to other women simply to be included and avoid the nine circles of hell associated with being an outcast: being excluded from public leadership, left out of board rooms and after parties, ignored as cultural role models, forgotten in history books, trivialized in entertainment, criticized by boyfriends and husbands- wait… come to think of it, that’s also the cost for women’s inclusion by the boys’ club.

But beyond issues of self-censorship, women have resorted to adopting the behaviors and strategies of this self-serving group of men and their male leadership style. This is the group of men who have led Western societies into scandalous and genocidal religious wars since the Crusades, who have pirated the natural resources and lives of other cultures since European colonialism and slave trading, who have trashed and mismanaged their own natural resources and painted themselves into a corner with environmental collapse, who have repeatedly shot themselves in the foot with overspending and looted the people under their leadership to cushion themselves from the consequences: this is an undisciplined group of bullies and blundering idiots.

The problem is that women have lost touch with themselves in the attempt to emulate male aggression and other destructive coping mechanisms from our society’s traditionally male leadership. When the most badly behaved group of people is rewarded the best social treatment in the form of professional alliances, social fawning, and exemption from family obligations and the rules of fair play, their society is demonstrating a system of rewards and punishments that encourages the well-behaved among us to throw away their good social habits for the sake of social advancement.

In our society, violent crime, as well as sexually violent crime, is predominantly a male problem. Typical annual statistics are as follows: 83% of spouse murderers are male 1, 79.9% of all non-fatal family violence is committed by men 2, 75% of dating partner murderers are male 3,
87% of all stalkers are male 4. Men commit 100% of rape against women, and 70% of all rapes against men; similarly, 92% of physical assaults against women and 86% of physical assaults against men are committed by men 5. This is not violence towards an external or national threat for preservation of oneself and one’s country. This is violence turned against one’s own culture and support system.

Perhaps this cultural phenomenon of violence among men is a sign of too much power being handed to those without the social ingenuity to know what to do with it.

Over the last decade, researchers in the social sciences have conducted studies on high school students in Western cultures to determine gender differences in their learning and educational processes. These studies have found that male thinking styles and methods of coming to conclusions are “exclusionary”, eliminating other points of view and perspectives from consideration in favor of an individual one. Their problem solving style is one of immediacy, basing their solution on the context of immediate circumstances to get quick results without considering larger contexts such as environmental or human impact. This is reflected in their social style in group settings, where their approach to group dynamics tends to be hierarchal and competitive to the degree that others are excluded from group activities 6. This aptitude for reduction, immediacy and individual competition might make men very valuable for meeting short-term goals requiring visibly noticeable results and measurable impact, but perhaps not so much for meeting goals like social cohesion or long-term sustainable production.

In contrast, researchers found that girls and women demonstrate “connective” thinking when problem solving, immediately recognizing the connections between abstract solutions in the lab or classroom and practical results for the environment and community. Their style of making conclusions is “inclusive” of other people’s perspectives and points of view, assimilating other alternative possibilities to the one they’re promoting. Likewise, their social behavior in groups is socially inclusive and their approach to group dynamics is holistic rather than individualistic 7.

Women’s instinctive leadership style, like their thinking style, reflects their group consciousness, comprehensive problem solving, and awareness of others’ welfare. It is evident in their mothering of young children, their multitasking, their tendency to instigate social reform movements and start up charity work, and their prevalence in the social services. Their aptitude puts them at an advantage in fostering social solidarity, sustainable economic growth, and cultural quality of life- all things our society could use more of.

These differences in thinking styles are perhaps partially due to differences in brain construction and operation between women and men. Researchers in neuroscience have found that hormones effect brain development, resulting in a higher degree of intercommunication between the different areas of the brain in women, and a higher concentration of activity to localized areas of the brain in men. Their studies on gender differences between female and male brains suggest that female brains process multiple aspects of information at the same time, and more quickly, and process communication more thoroughly than male brains do 8. This implies that women are able to perceive the multiple aspects of a problem, or multiple alternatives for achieving a goal, at the same time, and then effectively communicate the solutions to others. Meanwhile, male brains are more singular in focus at any one time and are more perceptive of physical aspects of a situation like rates of speed and time, or human sexual behavior. This indicates that men excel in specialized tasks, or in achieving more specific goals 9. Overall, these findings would suggest women are most likely more effective social leaders, providing more holistic strategy and perceptive direction, while men are excellent as executers of such direction.

However, the development of the male thinking style into social aggression is apparently not inherent in male hormones or physiology. Rather, as a fascinating study by anthropologist Peggy Sanday shows, male expression of aggression towards others is socialized, based on the external factors of cultural orientation and segregation from women. It is a cultural habit, not a male instinct 10.

Similarly, the female behavior of catering to the male crowd and sabotaging other women, and sometimes men, seems to be more a peculiarity of certain cultures than an inherent norm. This is especially evident when examining the gender dynamics of other cultures.

By comparing cultures traditionally led by male solidarity groups to cultures traditionally led by female solidarity groups, it becomes apparent that when women follow collective male leadership their quality of life goes down and their behavior slowly conforms to unchecked male behavior, which is usually anti-social and violent 11. When men follow collective female leadership, this is not the case.

The leadership styles of women observed from a number of non-Western cultures demonstrate consistent results in the areas of social stability and quality of life. Societies where women are the primary decision makers for public policy, political action, and/or economic management result in egalitarian gender relationships, the elimination of male violence towards women, and greater provision of nutrition, healthcare, and education for their children compared to societies where men dominate decision-making. They are often associated with peaceful national prosperity 12.

In other words, under female leadership both female and male behavior improves, relationships stabilize, and quality of life goes up for all.

Specific examples of the benefits of female leadership can be found in documented and observed matriarchies, a couple of which still exist. Matriarchies provide great examples of female-style thinking in operation. Such societies feature women collectively exercising political and economic authority or power, in some cases attributed to them by right of a culture’s religious beliefs and in other cases gained by them because of the vital or economic importance of their labor to the society 13. In addition these cultures are known for their lack of male aggression towards women; in turn men are eligible for certain political or religious positions delegated to them by female leaders 14.

In a scholarly documentation of all known and researched societies worldwide between 1750 B.C. and 1960 (A.D.), 32% of these societies qualified as matriarchies by this definition. Some feature women in public positions of power, like the Lovedu (South Africa), or the Abipones (Argentina); others have women in collective economic control and leadership, delegating public roles to men, like the Ashanti (W. Africa), the Iroquois (N. America), The Tchambuli (New Guinea), and the !Kung (Africa). Some feature female collectives that hunt and war independently from the men in their culture, like the Eastern Cree (N. America) and the Abipones. Others show women integrated with men in their culture while retaining certain legal privileges over them, like the Minangkabau (Indonesia) 15.

But all exhibit the features of female-style thinking in their operation, and all are essentially matrifocal. In matrifocal societies, female solidarity and interpersonal alliances are strong and male conformity to female values follows.

A society becomes matrifocal when collective female decisions and activities override the importance of male activities for society because of the concentration of socio-economic power among women 16. Men then focus on and respond to the interests of women as social habit, because that’s where the public interest is, that’s where important things are happening, and that’s where all the fun is. As a result, men come to emulate and learn from the female values of the women. Women constitute the “popular crowd” in their society because of their success, and because of their solidarity, which seem to go hand in hand.

Interestingly enough, the pattern of values found in the female leadership styles of matriarchies seem to closely resemble the female thinking and problem solving styles found among female students in Western culture 17.

Upon further study, it becomes apparent that matrifocal societies, or matriarchies, are led by female-style thinking. Female leaders do not hoard decision-making power, despite their ability to do so, unless absolutely necessary on a temporary basis to prevent social dissension. Instead, they often prefer to delegate their political duties and share government leadership with men for the sake of labor efficiency and the men’s sense of social inclusion. In some matriarchies, these delegated positions are more for show or symbolism than political function. In other matriarchies male positions are more functional but limited by female leadership through female selection and female veto. Either way, this strategy increases social cohesion by benevolently providing visible social identity for men, while simultaneously extending women’s capacity to rule and keep watch over both the public sphere and the family sphere, leaving them time for childcare and economic productivity 18. The majority of matriarchies result in sexual egalitarianism between women and men 19. They are much less likely to be engaged in war than patriarchies 20. Most matriarchies seem to rule their society peacefully through the power of attraction, accumulating prosperity and showing generosity with it towards their followers and allies. Their priorities seem to be social peace and a high quality of life, economic stability, efficiency in human resources, and future survival of their society. And being their priorities, those goals are met.

The benefits of matriarchy for women are evident: supportive social networks and mutual aid groups, economic self-sufficiency, economic security for one’s children, control over the home environment, responsive public policy-makers. And according to researchers, matriarchy would certainly be in the best interest of children. However, the benefits of matriarchy for men and society as a whole are easily overlooked, mainly because these societies are unlikely to make international news. They’re too peaceful and contented, and aren’t prone to invading the countries surrounding them.

To give an example of matriarchal social values in action, I will offer a quick description of the Lovedu, a royal matriarchy in South Africa that was still in existence, although on a much smaller scale, as of 2001. For over 400 years the tribe was ruled by a succession of bachlorette queens which had a reputation among neighboring tribes and even roaming European invaders as politically savvy, avoiding altercations and battles through “skillful diplomacy”.

By excellent management and public policy, these queens increased economic productivity by making labor enjoyable and full of benefits, like free food and alcohol on the job, and avoided unnecessary rules and regulations for public life and work. Their diet was vegetarian and extremely healthy and well rounded.

This motivated them to be extremely hardworking. The economy prospered, and by investing in quality of life for society members and avoiding war they managed to maintain and accumulate that prosperity. Human resources were applied to the mastery of botany for food and medicine production, maximizing use of their resources for self-sufficiency. As a result, the Lovedu were a contented and self-supporting, stable society.

Women were independent and well respected in Lovedu society. They ruled religious life and, many of them occupied important political positions along with men. Critical diplomatic positions were occupied mostly by women, and both men and women in these positions were referred to as “Mothers”. Because of the abundance of impressive female role models, men were sexually attracted to the confidence, maturity and independence of older women and pursued them romantically. Marriages were performed by mutual consent.

Their foreign relations strategy was to diffuse political tensions with generous offerings of land and brides for intermarriage. In this way, each queen always managed to secure protective treaties and form prosperous alliances with their neighbors, increasing the monarchy’s respect and renown in the area.

Anthropologists who observed their culture first-hand considered them to have a “genius” for social life 21. As Ann Jones explains:

“Lovedu wealth was not based on trade; cattle and land passed from one household to another as gifts, and security lay in faith in reciprocity and the equivalence over the long term of services and obligations.” 22. This was how all Lovedu were raised and this mentality was positively reinforced with social inclusion.

One has to admire the frame of mind that would lead a group of people to behave in such a trusting and productive way, and yet wonder where it came from. It seems that Lovedu culture and society placed a high value on such personal behaviors as “appeasement, compromise, cooperation, helpfulness, tolerance, generosity”, and the ability to live at peace with others. They disapproved and looked down on the practice of individual competition, aggression, exploitation, and all forms of coercion, quarrelsomeness 23. The attributes the Lovedu lived and governed by were the group-inclusive and holistic tendencies of female-thinking styles.

It seems the benefits of being accepted and popular in this society outweighed the short-term gains of selfish behavior, creating strong positive reinforcement for conformity to these values. The social expression of disapproval for anti-social or self-centered behavior provided the negative consequences that reinforced people’s positive behavior.

And there you have it. Rule by attraction rather than intimidation, unless you count the fact that other cultures feared losing the advantages and benefits of being associated with the Lovedu queen and on good terms with her.

Today, this culture is just a small-scale version of what it used to be, due to the monopolizing effects of European colonialism and Westernization in the area. Like all societies, matriarchies come and go. But the wisdom of socially oriented female instincts remains powerful in potential. When feminine aptitude is applied to social and economic development on a mass scale through female solidarity, collective goals such as social peace, egalitarianism, economic prosperity, sustainable resources, environmental preservation, productive foreign relations, universal child health care- they all become viable. Women live in safety from assault. Men are influenced and guided by female values while the most useful aspects of their male-thinking style are developed and their productive social potential is realized. Society at large enjoys a better quality of existence.

And as usual when it comes to female leadership, men benefit from it.

Oh, and as for how collective female leadership deals with the occasional signs of male attempts to hoard political power from women? They usually assert their dominance over men in the form of an agricultural and foraging food supply strike, or collective confrontation and public male humiliation. Or, as in the case of the Abipones, sometimes women enforce a mutually agreed-upon tribal ritual where they inflict public whippings on all the men in the village to keep their male egos in check.

But who says assertiveness and strict discipline aren’t inherently female values too? ;)

1 U.S. Department of Justice, (2005)
2 U.S. Department of Justice, (2005)
3 U.S. Department of Justice, (2005)
4 U.S. Department of Justice, (1998)
5 U.S. Department of Justice, (2000)
6 Pierce, (1998), Zohar, (2005)
7 Pierce, (1998), Zohar, (2005)
8 Gurian, (2001), Moir, (1989), Pringle, (2008), Rodgers, (2001)
9 Gurian, (2001) pp. 29-42, Moir, (1989) p.47, Pringle, (2008), Rogers, (2001) pp. 26-27
10 Sanday, (1981) pp.9,165-172
11 Sanday, (1981) p.156-160
12 Sanday, (1981) pp. 131, 165-177, UNICEF, (2007)
13 Sanday, (1981) p. 114
14 Sanday, (1981) pp.114-115, 165
15 Jones, (2001), Mead, (2001), Murdock, (1969), Sanday, (1981), Sanday, (2004)
16 Sanday, (1981) p.116
17 Pierce, (1998), Zohar, (2005)
18 Sanday, (1981) p.115
19 Sanday, (1981) p.177
20 Sanday, (1981) p.174
21 Krige, (1943)
22 Jones, (2001) p.17
23 Jones, (2001) pp. 15-17


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