"I sometimes try to imagine what would have happened if we'd known the bonobo first and the chimpanzee only later-or not at all. The discussion about human evolution might not revolve as much around violence, warfare and male dominance, but rather around sexuality, empathy, caring and cooperation. What a different intellectual landscape we would occupy!"
― Frans de Waal
The social scene of the world has always been dominated by two seemingly opposing concepts, viz. matriarchy and patriarchy. Both of them portray the structural formation of the society in question. While matriarchy refers to a kind of society that is dominated by women, patriarchy is a social system in which males play a dominant role. Archaeological and historical studies tell us that ancient societies, which we know today as paganistic in nature, were essentially matriarchal, in that not only the women were given central duties and were respected, but they were also worshiped in the form of divine mothers or the mother goddesses. With the passage of time, as social and religious structures evolved, the authority gradually transferred from the hands of females to those of the males, thus, giving rise to patriarchy. In literal terms, matriarchy refers to the rule by the mother(s), whereas patriarchy refers to the rule by the father(s).
Difference Between Matriarchy and Patriarchy
Although the two concepts seem to stand in complete opposition with each other, it should be noted that they are not actually as contrasting as they seem. However, there are a number of obvious differences between the two social systems. Let us make an attempt to differentiate between the two social systems by placing them in parallel with each other.
Matriarchy is essentially a woman-oriented society
, wherein all the leadership and authority rest in the hands of women.
Patriarchy, on the other hand, is a social system, wherein males enjoy all the powers, control, and authority
, and women are given subordinate roles.
Matriarchal societies are also often matrilineal
in nature. This means that the descent of the younger generations is traced through their mother's side. This also means that children get their title from their mother, and that the property is passed on from the mother to the daughter.
Most patriarchal societies are patrilineal
in nature. This means that the descent is traced from the father and his ancestors, rather than the mother, and that the property is passed on from the father to the son. Unlike the matriarchal system, here the children inherit the title of their father, and not of their mother.
The matriarchal approach emphasizes on the private ownership by both, females and males of the society
, of household items, religious items, and what are supposed to be "magical" objects. Here, the concept of private ownership pertains to small things, which occupy an important place in daily life.
The patriarchal approach rests on the idea of only the males having a right to private ownership
. Accordingly, they not only own physical, mobile, and immobile property, such as money, house, land, etc., but also own people, which include one's wife, children, and slaves.
Views about Nature
The matriarchal system is nature-oriented
. The matriarchs regard nature as an organic whole, and lay emphasis on maintaining its balance at all times. Owing to this, those sources of energy, which do not harm nature in any way are used more (sun, wind, water, etc.). Conservation and recycling of resources are considered important, in order to maintain the balance of nature.
On the other hand, the patriarchal system is consumer-oriented
. The patriarchs believe that nature has immense resources, which can be used by humans, in order to make profits. Accordingly, nature is considered as a thing to be exploited, and often, non-recyclable resources are used up, leaving by-products that can be harmful for natural balance.
The matriarchal society is pretty liberal
when it comes to research and experimentation. They are open to change, and always tend to have a holistic approach of looking at things. They believe that personal experience and observation play a very important role in social progress.
On the contrary, the patriarchal society has a very conservative
outlook. They do not seem to be very open to change at all times, and also tend to discourage research and experimentation, if they pose a threat to the established norms. They believe in dissection rather than observation, and have a pretty rational approach of looking at things.
Philosophy and World View
The matriarchs look at the world as a harmonious whole
. They believe in the idea of several entities coming together in harmony, and facilitating the smooth functioning of the universe. Owing to this, concepts, like dualism, triplism, etc., which are founded on the basis of perfect balance between two different (and often, opposite) entities, are matriarchal concepts. The matriarchal societies also believe in complete union of man with God and nature.
The patriarchs place different entities of the universe in parallel with each other, such that the two separate entities can never meet
, like they do in the matriarchal system. Therefore, God is separate from man, body from the spirit, and so on. It also places certain entities in opposition with each other, possibly in order to lay out the moral code of conduct. So, patriarchs always tend to make a comparison between the good and evil, heaven and hell, and so on. Unlike the matriarchs, rather than accepting that both opposing entities can exist together, it is always attempted, either to dismiss or nullify one of them.
In the matriarchal society, polytheism
, meaning the worship of several deities, is widely practiced. The mother goddesses are the principal divinities
, and male gods are worshiped, only as their consorts. Furthermore, the matriarchal religion is also pantheistic
in nature, believing in the omnipresence and omnipotence of the Goddess and Her oneness with universe and nature.
The patriarchal religion is monotheistic
(worship of only one God or entity), or what can be called "modified monotheistic"
in nature. Here, gods essentially have a hierarchy, with the major ones occupying a more important place than the lesser ones. Moreover, the male gods are principal divinities
, and the mother goddesses are worshiped as their consorts.
Accessibility of the Divinities
In the matriarchal religion, the goddesses often dwell in places, which are easily accessible to humans
, such as caves, wells, springs, etc. Owing to this, they are approachable to anyone and everyone, who can worship them out in the open, without any hurdle.
In the patriarchal religion, on the contrary, the gods reside in places where humans cannot reach at all, or very rarely, if ever they can
. These include places, such as mountaintops, clouds, fire, and so on. Because humans cannot reach their gods themselves, the patriarchal religion incorporates a number of middlemen or intermediaries in the form of priests, prophets, and/or godmen.
Nature of Worship
Worship in the matriarchal religion is extremely joyful and enjoyable. Owing to the fact that the matriarchal religion is based on the ideology of pantheism, every task that people perform is considered to be sacred, and hence, is regarded as worship of the goddess
In the patriarchal religion, worship is very serious. There are various myths with regard to the wrath of gods, and how several men were cursed because of their wrong deeds. Owing to this, the main emphasis of the patriarchal religion is always on the appeasement of gods, rather than pure, selfless worship
Matriarchy is a very open social system, which does not have any hard and fast moral code of conduct
that people are expected to follow. Morality, in matriarchy, is a very personal aspect, wherein people are allowed to have their own way as long as they are not harming or disturbing others.
Patriarchy lays down a very strict moral code of conduct
, which people are expected to follow, come what may. These rules are essentially governed by religion, government, etc. Patriarchy always seeks to teach people the difference between the good and bad, right and wrong, and so on.
A matriarchal society is often sexually open
, and sex is regarded as a religious expression. Owing to this, all kinds of relationships―heterosexual, bisexual, homosexual, etc.―are acceptable to the matriarchal society.
A patriarchal society is often sexually repressive
. This is because sex here is considered to be of two kinds―one that is for procreation, in which case it is considered to be sacred, while the other one is lustful love, which is regarded to be sinful, and brings shame. Moreover, a patriarchal society essentially accepts only heterosexual relationships and is largely homophobic.
In a matriarchal society, monogamy, polygamy, and polyandry
are acceptable forms of marriage. Moreover, people can also choose to stay in open relationships
In the patriarchal society, however, women are expected to practice strict monogamy, while men are free to get married more than one time (unless otherwise bound by religious laws)
Virginity, Rape, and Illegitimacy
The matriarchal society allows its members to choose if they want to indulge in sexual activities or not. Virginity has no place in the matriarchal outlook
. Because this kind of society is open with respect to sexual relationships, rapes do not or very rarely occur
. Moreover, a mother always knows her children, and so, there is no question of illegitimacy
Female virginity, in patriarchal societies, occupies a very prominent place
, and is considered to be a virtue, mainly because society is not very open about sexual relationships. Rape is often used as a brutal expression of power and control over the weaker sex
. Possibility of illegitimate children is very high
in patriarchal society because the father need not always know his children.
Matriarchy, which was widespread in historical times, seems to have declined to a great extent today, with most of our mainstream societies now being patriarchal in nature. It is, however, notable that matriarchy still exists, not only in many primitive/tribal groups around the world, but also in the form of a subculture within patriarchy. So, though we know that patriarchy took over with the passage of time, it is rather difficult to say whether or not matriarchy ever ceased to exist.