There has never been a ‘matriarchy’

We can watch the Barbie film and have a conversation about the gender pay gap, domestic violence, motherhood, female genital mutilation, the history of the suffragist movement, and so on. We may not agree on these topics, but they would at least invite reasonable discussions.

But as is often the case with issues in which woke crusaders get involved, the plausible quickly derives into nonsense. For example, some activists who denounce racism in Hollywood regrettably end up claiming that the 1963 film Cleopatra is racist because the Egyptians were black. Sadly, such Afrocentric nonsense gets in the way of any meaningful attempt to curb racism. There is no need to falsify history in order to resist oppression.

Some feminists are now doing something to similar effect. For example, recently on an edition of Piers Morgan Uncensored, panellists discussed the Barbie movie. One of them was Nomiki Konst, an American journalist and political activist, who is the co-founder of Matriarch, a progressive advocacy group dedicated to getting working-class women elected to public office. She explained her vision for society: “We want to replace the patriarchy, which is very top-down, to a more communal, democratic… which is the matriarchy. In fact, when we had matriarchies, it was more democratic… The famous island of Crete had a matriarchy, where they didn’t go to war, and everything was communal.”

This is a preposterous statement, so let’s set the historical record straight. Admittedly, the word “patriarchy” is usually ill-defined, but we can define it as a social system in which men overwhelmingly occupy positions of power; in matriarchy, women play the part. In Crete, archaeologists have indeed found figurines depicting female snake goddesses. So what? Does that imply that women ruled the island? Of course not. Martians may very well come and visit the shrines of Fatima or Lourdes, but they would be absolutely wrong to think that on the basis of religious symbols in those sacred places, we Earthlings are matriarchal. Men are still largely in charge.

The nonsense spouted by Konst actually goes back to the 19th Century. Swiss lawyer Johann Jakob Bachofen claimed in his 1861 book Mother Right that, since men ignored their role in procreation, kinship in ancient societies was entirely structured around women, and they held a dominant position in society. Actually, anthropologists have largely debunked the claim that in ancient societies, people did not understand the connection between sex and birth.



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In the 20th Century, archaeologist Marija Gimbutas expanded the theme. According to her, there were matriarchies all over Europe, but evil Indo-European horse-riding warriors — the Kurgans— destroyed those blissful societies and imposed their oppressive patriarchal regimes around seven thousand years ago.

What was Gimbutas’ evidence for this wild thesis? Again, female religious figurines. This proves nothing. In fact, as anthropologist Ena Campbell reports, “mother goddess worship seems to stand in inverse relationship with high secular female status.”

The hard fact is that the matriarchy is a figment of the imagination. The historical and anthropological record is clear. After a thorough examination of the evidence in his 1972 book The Inevitability of Patriarchy, Steven Goldberg concluded: “Patriarchy is universal. For all the variety different societies have demonstrated in developing different types of political, economic, religious, and social systems, there has never been a society that has failed to associate authority and leadership in these areas with men.”

Goldberg aroused much controversy because he implied that, based on its universality, patriarchy is inevitable. That may or may not be the case­— I happen to think that gender equality is a noble and realizable goal. But while critics may oppose Goldberg’s interpretation of the data, nobody has been able to dispute the facts that he has brought forward about the historical nonexistence of matriarchies.

Crackpot pseudo-historians who claim that Cleopatra was black do not make racism go away. Likewise, wild theories about ancient matriarchies hurt sensible feminism the most. Bringing up Cretan figurines in a conversation about the gender pay gap makes it easier for feminists to be dismissed altogether, even if they have many reasonable things to say about the plight of women in our culture.

Feminist author Cynthia Eller convincingly made the case in the title of her important book, The Myth of Matriarchal History: Why an Invented Past Will Not Give Women a Future. As she explains, “feminist matriarchal myth does not actually recount the history of sexism, as it purports to do… We do not need matriarchal myth to tell us that sexism is bad or that change is possible.”

Change can only be enacted by acknowledging the facts.

So, if it makes you happy, wear a pink wig while watching Barbie, and talk to your friends about how much women still need to improve their lot in society. But remember that the truth shall always set you free. There has never been a matriarchy.


Gabriel Andrade is a university professor originally from Venezuela. He writes about politics, philosophy, history, religion, and psychology.

Image: In the 2017 version of “Wonderwoman”, Gal Gadot stars as Diana, an Amazon warrior princess.

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  • mrscracker
    It’s continuing to kick a dead horse, but Cleopatra can be whatever one wants to imagine her to be since the identity & ethnicity of some of her ancestors isn’t entirely clear. If you go by the Jim Crow one drop rules Cleopatra might have been what was classified as “Black” in older days. We just don’t know either way. We have no DNA results to go by.
    It may be taking theatrical license to portray her one way or the other but I’m not sure it’s 100% false historically.