What would a matriarchy look like?

While working the last two stories in the Knights and Necromancers series (stories five and six) I ran into this simple, yet complex, problem.

What does a matriarchy look like?

Or, more to the specific point I ran into with those two stories:

How would a woman from a matriarchy respond to visiting a patriarchy?

The first answer, one that serves quite well for the most part, is that she would be like any foreigner in an alien culture. Assuming that the patriarchy in question is a moderate one, closer to the Nordic countries in culture than Saudi Arabia and that the matriarchy is similarly moderate, the differences in culture, language, and traditions would probably outweigh any specific differences caused by the matriarchy versus patriarchy clash.

But that’s also a bit of a facile answer for someone like me who is prone to over-thinking everything.

Warning! The following post is going to include a lot of fantasy gobbledygook names and enough anal world-building to make your eyes glaze over. :-)


First, some context.

In the world of the Knights and Necromancers series (Alaentera) there are a few dominant cultures.

Then there are the other cultures on Alaentera which don’t feature much in the series but show that the world isn’t aligned according to a single kyriarchical model.

So, we’re not talking about a single matriarchy in a patriarchal world. Other things to bear in mind that affect the picture:


Trying to imagine what a proper matriarchy would look like is trickier for me than you’d think, since, as a cisgendered white male, I’m going to be a bit oblivious to what it is like to be anything else. Doing so requires trying to discover some of the privileges and advantages I have.

The following strike me as possible facets of a matriarchy:

That’s just off the top of my head. I’m sure there are other likely facets.


> > There are two kinds of people; human beings and women. And when women start acting like human beings, they are accused of trying to be men. _Simone de Beauvoir_ > >

So, how would a woman from a matriarchy behave while visiting a patriarchy? This is assuming that we’re in a world that isn’t dominated by a single kyriarchical paradigm.

She’d just probably be herself and expect others to adapt to her behaviour, especially if she is a part of a community of people from her home culture. The visiting women would find things much more grating than the visiting men, obviously.

A woman used to power and influence would be personally offended several times a day by the behaviour of the locals and would find some of the hindrances she encounters annoying and unacceptable.

Both the matriarchy visitors and the patriarchy locals would be inclined to dismiss the other as barbarians and savages.

If the matriarchal visitors feel secure in their own expatriate communities they might consider playing along with some of the local gendered roles while they’re there to be a bit of harmless exoticism. If they can easily slip back into their native kyriarchy then the power imbalances of the patriarchal roles might be seen as safe, even playful, because they fundamentally haven’t lost their privilege.

If there is a longer-term profitable cultural exchange between a matriarchy and a patriarchy they would each probably begin to make allowances for their differences. The patriarchy would essentially treat women from the matriarchy as men and the matriarchy men as effeminate and lower class. Visiting dignitaries from a matriarchy would take up local male clothes and customs while in the patriarchy, provided the male fashions in the patriarchy were sufficiently different from male clothing in the matriarchy. They won’t think of it as taking up male roles but as taking on non-gendered roles in the local culture. But since it is a patriarchy, gender-neutral is synonymous with male.

It would be simpler for a patriarchy to treat matriarchal visitors as alien non-gendered (i.e. male) beings than as human males and females, especially if treating some of the visitors in the same way they treat their local women had dire consequences such as trade disputes or even war.

The same would happen in the other direction. Provided the fashions are sufficiently different, visiting patriarchy officials would take on what they see as non-gendered roles and customs in the matriarchy, the dress and manners of those in power, but would in reality be taking on female roles, since in a matriarchy, female is the neutral gender.


I’m sure there’s more to how a matriarchy would function, especially in this context (a world of many varying kyriarchies).

Any ideas?