Matriarchy is a chimaera: it’s not what you think it is

matriarchy in the philippines pic
Pic: Rod Fleming

Western feminists, for over half a century, have argued that gender itself has been the fundamental agent of women’s oppression. The solution often claimed, is to establish a matriarchy. But very few understand what a matriarchy really is.

Where society was based on forms of meritocracy — often on the power to make financial profit — artificial barriers that might exist in less fluid societies could be broken down by women excelling and so they could rise in the culture.

Two Groups

In order to compete and succeed, women had to become adept at playing a game that men had devised. Men did not do this out of spite. For thousands of years and probably since the evolution of our species, humans lived in societies that were divided into two groups. These are the ‘Men’ or ‘Away’ group who were nominally the hunters but more importantly the protectors, and the ‘Not-Men’ or ‘Home’ group, made up of women, children, elderly men and those males who either did not wish to or were not allowed to join the ‘Away’ group.

This behaviour is innate and is seen in many other species. In lions, for example, females take care of the young and do most of the hunting, restricting themselves to a fairly small geographical area (though they may migrate in pursuit of game) while males are semi-detached, wandering over a range of hundreds of square miles. They do sometimes assist with hunting but their principal role is of defenders of the ‘Home’ group — the females and cubs.

So the division of society on sex-based lines is not unique at all to humans. In fact it is a widespread rule. The principal difference in humans, from lions, for example, is that the males are not solitary. They form a group, the Away group.


Human settlement was a function of women’s desire for stability and security; a safe, permanent home. Within that home space, they established the rules of the Home group. This was certainly applicant at Catal Hoyuk, for example and explains why no masculine artefacts have been found at the site: the settlement itself was under the control of women, who prevented men from bringing weapons into it.

This model, of the ‘two-group’ society, is the evolved way for humans to live; yet in the West we have set out on an experiment to destroy this.

This has come about because, since the beginning of the 20th century, women in the West have desired to colonise the ‘Away’ group. They have been conditioned to believe that bearing, raising and protecting children is a form of slavery. This derives directly from the ideas of Karl Marx and his fellow-travellers, who identified that the society they wished to destroy — which is all human society — was based on the nuclear family. This is actually a matriarchy based on the grandmother, not the husband. This latter model is a relatively recent development.

Moving outside the Home space meant that women had to interact directly with men and indeed, to compete with them. But women do not compete well; they are cooperative by nature. So operating in the Away group was difficult for them. It had been evolved by men, to suit men; and the only way that women could succeed in it was to become like men.

How much ‘woman’ is left?

When we look at Hilary Clinton, Margaret Thatcher or Angela Merkel, we must ask, how much ‘woman’ is left? At least in terms of their public personas, none.

If women do not do this, become better men than men, then men will always dominate. The ‘patriarchy’ is just the society of men; and men are reluctant to see the rules changed to accommodate women. This is reasonable since women refuse point black to allow the rules that govern their spaces to be changed to accommodate men. A classic example of this is in the ‘trans bathroom’ debate. Transwomen are actually male, but seek the privilege (as they see it) of using wmen’s reserved spaces. Women are increasingly fighting bac against this and with reason. But they should remember that if women have the right to define spaces exclusive to females, then so do men.

Once they move into the Away, space, women are required to behave as men do, in order to rise in its hierarchy. This is because it is not a female space.


The requirement on women to ‘become men’ in order to succeed in the patriarchy leads inevitably to a compromise of gender.

Effectively, women who do rise to the highest levels in the Away group are themselves transgender. They may not be transsexual — that is, they have not modified their bodies to be more manly — but they have become transgender by adopting gender behaviours and roles specified and described by men. In short they are ‘women-become-men’.

Amongst many feminists today there remains an unfortunate and erroneous conviction that ‘gender is a social construct designed by men to oppress women’ and that the only way for women to advance to the status of men would be to erase gender itself.

Many expressions of gender are invented. For example, 300 years ago, men wore long wigs, colourful brocades, velvet pantaloons, frilly lace collars and cuffs, stockings, high-heels and full make-up, and considered themselves very manly indeed. These conventions are fluid and change all the time.

On the other hand, when researching ‘Why Men Made God’ we could find no human culture — even amongst those where people habitually go naked or nearly so — that did not display differences of gender; and these were all very similar. So while gender expression clearly is somewhat conventional, gender itself is innate, or at least, universal.

That makes the idea of ‘getting rid of it’ seem much like Marx’s idea that the State might ‘wither away’ in Communism — which we have adequate evidence to show, gained at the cost of huge suffering, is not true. So it seems likely to also be the case with gender. You may hate it or love it, but it does not appear that you can do away with it.

‘Why Men Made God.’

If patriarchy is just the society of men and if gender is real and cannot be done away with, then we have to ask ‘with what do we replace the patriarchy?’

The only possible answer is ‘a matriarchy.’

Well, what is the matriarchy? It is the patriarchy inverted; it is the society of women. The position we are now at is that we are being asked to replace a two-group, balanced society with an unbalanced one, a matriarchy.

This has never been shown to have been successful, ever, in human history. All successful matriarchies have existed in the context of a two-group social model. What we are now being asked to do is to remove all male society and replace it with female. In other words, all men must become women.

Many fine things have happened because of men: science, art, and so on. All the glory of Rome, the richness of the renaissance, the intellectual jewel of the Enlightenment, the powerhouse of the Industrial Revolution — these are all the results of men’s efforts.

What might be the consequences of a matriarchy operating outwith the constraint of a larger social model? We don’t know. It has never, in the period of recorded history, been tried.

Matriarchy in the Philippines.

Matriarchy in the Philippines, as a model, exists across southeast Asia, with only small cultural variations. All of the societies there, whatever their more recent religious overlays, have their roots in animistic cultures, which remain extant in local tribal cultures within them.

Although these cultures are famously ‘macho’ they are in fact matriarchies. This is consistent with the ‘two-group’ structure we discussed in Why Men Made God. In this, societies are divided into an external group of men and an internal hierarchy of ‘not-men’ based around fertile women.

We can clearly see this at work in older hunter-gatherers societies. Men hunt large game and carry our heavier tasks, to which they are suited physically, while women forage, trap small game and look after the children.

The traditional model.

Matriarchy in the Philippines conforms to the model evolved over thousands of years, from tribal, to village-settled mixed hunter/horticultural/agrarian. This culture was based on small villages. With increasing population and urbanisation, these villages became subsumed into larger towns and cities, but retained their character. These became the barangays or ‘villages’ — as they are still often called — of the modern Philippines.

Within this culture, the old social split still prevails: in the streets, a powerfully ‘macho’ masculine society exists: within the home a matriarchy is in place. Men rarely socialise in the home, nearly always in the street, because within the home is a ‘not-men’ space. It is centred on the hierarchy of women.

Within traditional Filipino culture, the head of the household is the grandmother, Lola. Crucially, she looks after the family finances. If there is a business, she looks after the accounts, while the men do the work, the trading, the bartering and the deals. But when it comes to taking or paying money, the women, headed by Lola, are responsible. Usually her oldest daughter will learn how to take over.

You can see this anywhere that women have a presence. Filipino markets — called ‘palenke’ or ‘wet markets’ — are women’s spaces. Women run nearly all the stalls. In certain areas, such as butcher’s stands, there might be men hacking up the meat. They may even serve the public — but when the customer pays, the man hands the money to the senior woman, and she returns the change.

Colonise and control.

In fact, women colonise any space where they are significantly represented — not necessarily in a majority. They turn it, de facto, into a women’s space. Women don’t allow men to be ‘bad boys’ in it. No farting, cursing, or brawling. No dirty jokes, no sexual innuendo. You behave. Mama is watching.

This extends to politics: since the fall of the dictator Marcos in 1986, the Philippines has had two women Presidents. These were Corazon Aquino (1986–1992) and Gloria Macapagal (2001–2010) . This means that women have governed the Philippines for exactly half the time since Marcos fell.

It is true that powerful political clans backed these women. But they did not get to be President by abandoning their gender. They did not do it by being ‘better at being men than men are’. Instead, they did it by being the matriarchs who ruled over their clans. They did it by being what they were — ‘Lolas’. They didn’t ‘erase gender’. These women used the gender-based system of external patriarchy/internal matriarchy to access supreme power. They used gender as a political tool.

And while these women were Presidents, they are no exceptions to the rule: powerful women are everywhere in Filipino life, in the legislature, the judiciary, academia and business.


The recently-elected President of the Philippines is Rodrigo Duterte. He exemplifies Filipino macho culture. Tough, vain, bombastic, foul-mouthed, cheeky, hot-headed, a brawler and larger-than-life, he has scared the living shit out of many observers, and with reason.

But despite the brutality of his tactics, he has a 91% popularity rating, far in excess of the 38% who voted for him. Why? Because he is exactly how Filipinos like their men. He is the epitome of ‘Filipino man’. He is popular with men because they see their idealised selves in him — and with women because they see their idealised sons and husbands in him.

I often wondered why so many Pinays go for ‘bad boys’: it’s because in taming the bad boy, they show their prowess, not just as women, but over men. ‘See, he may be the toughest guy in town, but I whistle, he comes.’

Duterte is not governing despite women. He is not popular despite women. He is doing both because of women and because he exemplifies the kind of tough, masculine, no-nonsense leader that they believe the Philippines needs.

Restore order. Fix corruption. Clean up the streets. For goodness’ sake, a woman can’t walk to work without tripping over druggies. Rape is everywhere. Lawlessness. Men must do their job. Get to it.

Duterte personifies the idealised role of the Filipino man as defender of the family: go and sort this bloody mess out. Fix it. Make the house safe again. The price of lionesses call on the alpha lion to do the job.

An alternative illustration of the consequences of matriarchy.

Gender in the Philippines does not, in any way, work against women: it works for them.

Once again, the Phils, that magical, contradictory, confused and confusing, riotous place, provides an alternative example that we should look to carefully. And while I am focussing on the Phils, it’s not unique. Across south-east Asia we see the same, to a greater or lesser degree.

I am not suggesting that we should try to replicate the south-east Asian model in the West. Indeed I am not even suggesting that it would be a good thing. I am saying that before we condemn gender in the name of equality, we should recognise a simple rule: you can’t buck evolution.

Gender is not the problem. Trying to deny it exists is.

Originally published at Rod Fleming’s World.