Not So “Matriarchal” After All: Mother and Child as the Foundation of Civilization (The Ethos of Civilization, Part V)

[The Ethos of Civilization PDF VERSION full article]

V. Not So “Matriarchal” After All: Mother and Child as the Foundation of Civilization



The same treatment of the sexes and the idea that the roles of men and women and that of father and mother are interchangeable largely has its roots in 19th and early 20th century communist/socialist ideology. Only in these types of totalitarian regimes is complete “equality” promoted or realized to any extent. Indeed, even most of the societies that are cited by feminists and others championing the cause of female empowerment still uphold and uplift the distinctive role of the mother. Among the modern Mosuo “…women are treated as equal, if not superior, to men; both have as many, or as few, sexual partners as they like, free from judgment; and extended families bring up the children and care for the elderly…” Yet, “With life centered on the maternal family, motherhood is, unsurprisingly, revered.” The Kingdom of women: the society where a man is never the boss (Last Visited February 18, 2019).

Even matrilineal civilizations (nearly wholly extinct in the modern world) did not denigrate the role of a mother in the caretaking and nurturing of her young children, nor has any matrilineal society expected that men would fill in for mothers and be nurturing. The Native American tribes in existence up to the time period of the American Revolution give familiar examples of a matrilineal society:

…the Seneca was the largest and the most powerful of the six tribes that made up the Iroquois Confederacy. Seneca men ranged over a territory that extended from the Mississippi River east to the Atlantic Ocean and from Hudson Bay south to the Carolinas. They traveled to hunt and to conduct warfare and diplomacy, and often were gone from their villages for weeks or months at a time. In fact, Iroquois men were away from home for such extended periods that women came to control much of the day-to-day affairs of village life.

Among the Iroquois, women were the farmers…

Women usually farmed communally…They had little incentive to farm alone, however. Even if a farmer could produce extra food for later use, such hoarding would be frowned upon if other families in the village were in need…

The Iroquois had no concept of private land ownership. A woman might work a particular piece of land, and as long as she used the plot, it was considered hers. But when the village moved to another location, as it did from time to time, she no longer held a claim to her old fields. Near the new village she simply etched out another plot for her family. Economic security came primarily from contributing to the good of the village as a whole, rather than from individually owning and working a farm plot.

In addition to being the primary food producers for their villages, Iroquois women also maintained social stability through tightly knit female relationships. The mother-daughter bond was particularly strong. The Iroquois considered it more important than any other relationship, including that between a wife and husband. In times of trouble, women turned to each other for food, medical care, and advice on love and childrearing. The reason was simple: women were always there, whereas husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons were often away.

The close mother-daughter bond helped dictate where family members lived. Traditionally, large Iroquois dwellings, known as longhouses, sheltered as many as 50 or 60 people, all descendants of one elderly woman. They often lodged only a single family or a mother and one daughter with her family. Unmarried sons as well as daughters lived with their mothers. The houses, then, and the fields that surrounded them, were controlled by the women of Iroquois villages.

Children also came under the control of women more than men. Infants and toddlers spent all of their time with their mothers because weaning did not occur until children were three or four years old…Fathers came and went, providing essentials such as meat and trade goods for their families and offering instruction or advice as necessary. Although their contributions were important, they represented only distant figures compared to mothers…

The close and enduring ties of women complemented the loose and often short-term relationships between women and men. Men’s frequent and lengthy absences placed a great strain on some marriages, and divorces and subsequent remarriages were common…Because women were primarily responsible for the day-to-day care and feeding of young children and because land was held in common, questions of paternity and inheritance did not disrupt this system of remarriage…men’s absences made easy divorce and remarriage a social necessity. Marylynn Salmon, The Limits of Independence, American Women 1760-1800 13-16 (1994).

It also appears that such matrilineal customs lingered on even in the case of “assimilated” Native Americans, who seemed to have preferred their own native customs even though adapting to the presence and laws/ways of the European colonists:

Assimilated Indians, or those living within the borders of Anglo-European towns, began using the colonial court system almost exclusively by the 1730s. Indian use of the Anglo-European courts to settle disputes began earlier…but it was not the only forum for settling differences in the seventeenth century. By the eighteenth century, however, Indians who had managed to survive among colonists adopted many of their legal practices- though not without leaving an Indian imprint.

In the Chesapeake, Indian heritage contributed to the retention of certain practices involving property. Despite the preference for primogeniture in Anglo-Virginia, at least one Anglo-Indian man, who had a large estate, made his daughter the executrix of his will and left her his land, making gifts of money and chattel to his sons. Whether this was a legacy of Algonquian matrilineal customs or simply a preference for his daughter over his sons is not certain, but there is other evidence that Indian heritage played a role in their use of the colonial law. Michael Grossberg & Christopher Tomlins, The Cambridge History of Law in America, Volume I: Early America (1580-1815), Chapter 2: Katherine A. Hermes, The Law of Native Americans, to 1815 49 (2008).

The disconnect in today’s post-feminist society is in attempting to yet maintain centuries of patriarchal culture and inheritance from our ancestors while at the same time promoting vigorously female empowerment. Roaming, Hunting, and conducting warfare is what the men of the Seneca (and other) native cultures around the world spent their time doing. To return to Seneca culture, boys, “[a]fter reaching eight or nine…began to imitate adult male behavior by forming hunting gangs that roamed the woods in search of small game. Until they reached manhood, these gangs maintained independence from both parents to a great extent.” Salmon, The Limits of Independence, at 15.

How can such male behavior be reconciled with the “civilized” ways of post-industrial society where roving gangs of young men routinely rape, murder, damage and destroy private and public property and otherwise terrorize communities? The answer is that it can’t be, so female empowerment and independence cannot be achieved in the traditional means that are seen in these matrilineal societies. Instead, men must be relegated to the role of domesticated and dependent child-nurturers, readily willing to shamelessly delegate their traditional roles as primary providers for their families and defenders of the nation to women and who are routinely encouraged to act more feminine and get in touch with their “softer,” more emotional side (and society’s ultimate acquiescence in accepting homosexuality, in particular, is the final achievement of this male feminization (see above, pp. 12-13)).

In contrast to male feminization, women must act more aggressive like men, pursuing casual sex and careers- which are often incompatible with a mother’s keeping of a young infant suckling at her breast or toddling by her side all day. (And does this not psychologically damage mothers as well as their offspring when their children are ripped from their arms and from their care at such a tender age in life?) The result is a schizophrenic society where men and women no longer even know how to relate to one another (and increasingly no longer even want anything to do with one another) and the very foundations of civilization are rapidly crumbling away.

We have inherited the good that our ancestors have done thus far. Yet the apple-pie baking grandmothers who devoted their life and time to home and family are all passing away. Now what does civilization have left? Today’s grandparents are a product of the hippie generation and the youth of today will never get the opportunity to grow up knowing the same warmth and love and stability of families that our grandparents and great-grandparents once provided for us where the mother was the center of home and family life. We cannot continue to reap the good of the legacies our ancestors had once bequeathed to us for much longer.