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In a recent Art of Manliness podcast titled "Demonic Males with Dr. Richard Wrangham", Richard Wrangham makes the claim, starting about 28 minutes into the podcast that,

If there was ever a clash between what men wanted to do and women wanted to do, then the authority always resides with the men. In that sense, every single human society is patriarchal. By the way this not just some man saying this, if you take a book edited by two strong feminists called "Women, Culture and Society" in the 1980's and endless chapters by women anthropologists and everyone agrees there are no matriarchal societies.1

This strikes me as a very bold claim and as such, is it generally accepted within the peer-reviewed anthropological community that there are no matriarchal human societies either now or in the historical record? Conversely, is there any strong support from researchers of feminist theory to refute this claim?


  1. Note that the quote might be a bit off since there is no transcript for the podcast, and I believe the book is "Women, Culture and Society" edited by Michelle Rosaldo and Louise Lamphere.
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    Not that I would ever take it as a primary source, but the fact that there's a list of Matriarchal societies on Wikipedia suggests that the answer is "No, this claim is unfounded". en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matriarchy – Zibbobz Jan 29 '15 at 18:54
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    Found it - I think it was en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mosuo – user5341 Jan 29 '15 at 19:42
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    @DVK Yes, I'd heard of them as well, but I'd also heard that they are controversial among anthropologists with regards to if they are matriarchal or not. It seems like everyone agrees they are matrilineal, there is disagreement on the matriarchal side of things because of political power resting with the males. – rjzii Jan 29 '15 at 20:05
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    You said "political power". But then what does "matriarchy" mean, anyway? Wikipedia says that 'matriarchy' means 'women as the head of the family' (but not to be confused with matrilineal). Women as the head of government is a different word, e.g. gynarchy or gynocracy. The source you quoted uses the term without distinguishing/defining. – ChrisW Jan 29 '15 at 21:06
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    If you want the stricter definition, then IMO there are two different claims: i.e., "every single human society is patriarchal"; and, "there are no matriarchal societies". You (the OP) are free to choose either or both of these two claims as the subject of your question. Per that stricter definition, IMO most modern first-world societies are more-or-less egalitarian, i.e. neither patriarchal nor matriarchal, and, the author is tempting us towards a "false dilemma" i.e. "fallacy of the excluded middle". – ChrisW Jan 30 '15 at 0:08
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According to the US Indian Health Service page Navajo Nation

Traditionally, the Navajos are a matriarchal society, with descent and inheritance determined through one's mother. Navajo women have traditionally owned the bulk of resources and property, such as livestock. In cases of marital separation, women retained the property and children. In cases of maternal death children were sent to live with their mother's family.

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    That addresses descent and inheritance, but who does the authority largely rest with? – rjzii Feb 11 '16 at 21:15
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    "A woman controls the hogan" navajorug.com/navajo-indians-matriarchal-society – DavePhD Feb 11 '16 at 21:26
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    @rjzii "Traditional Navajo society was matrilineal, matrilocal, and matriarchal. Family name, blood line, and inheritance came from the mother; women controlled the land and owned the home and livestock. Women participated in all aspects of Navajo life, including decisionmaking for the family and clan." ncjrs.gov/App/publications/abstract.aspx?ID=145413 – DavePhD Feb 11 '16 at 21:28
  • Plenty in Papua New Guinea too, though I forget their names – user56reinstatemonica8 Feb 11 '16 at 23:22
  • Looks like we are on the right track, but the US Indian Heath Service website wouldn't exactly pass the standards for peer review. Have you come across anything in the literature that would back-up the website(s)? – rjzii Feb 12 '16 at 14:23

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