Societies Where Women Rule (Literally) Do Exist — Here's How They're Different From Ours

Closest thing on Earth to paradise? Maybe.

Mainstream society has by and large been dominated by men for at least the past few millennia. But under-the-radar communities where women are at the center of the culture have long existed. Prevalent mostly in rural areas, matriarchal societies differ from the mainstream in many ways — some surprising, some less so. 

Matriarchy is defined in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as a family, group, or state governed by a woman; or a system of social organization in which descent and inheritance are traced through the female line. Contrary to popular misgivings, the matriarchy is not a system where women lord over men; rather, as founder of the International Academy HAGIA for Modern Matriarchal Studies Heidi Goettner-Abendroth put it to Dame magazine

The aim is not to have power over others and over nature, but to follow maternal values, i.e. to nurture the natural, social and cultural life based on mutual respect.

However, things are certainly different when gender power structures are flipped around. Many societal issues that exist today seem to be absent in matriarchal societies, and both men and women are happier when the society holds different values, at least according to Argentinian writer Ricardo Coler, who spent two months with the famous women-led Mosuo tribe in China. Here are some that stand out the most:

Family Structure

Schoolgirls from the Mosuo tribe in China, one of the world's most well known matriarchal societies.
Schoolgirls from the Mosuo tribe in China, one of the world's most well known matriarchal societies. Flickr/mAyumlx

Many matriarchal societies are matrilineal, where the line of descent is through a female ancestor. Heritage is passed from the woman; children often get family titles and names from their mother, and land is typically handed down from mother to daughter.

Marriage

Khasi girls in traditional dress. The tribe in India is matrilineal and matrilocal, which means that children live with the mother's side of the family or clan.
Khasi girls in traditional dress. The tribe in India is matrilineal and matrilocal, which means that children live with the mother's side of the family or clan. Wikimedia Commons/Bogman

Marriage in matriarchal societies are typically non-binding, and various types of romantic relationships are embraced. 

In the mostly matrilocal tribe of Khasi in India, because children live with the mother's family side of the family or clan, there is little to no stigma and hardship when women divorce and have to move. "No matter how many times the woman marries, her children will always remain with her," editor of The Shillong Times and a Khasi, Patricia Mukhim, told Dame magazine. "And even if a man abandons a woman he has impregnated, the children are never 'illegitimate.' "

Crime

A woman from Umoja, Kenya, a village established by a group of women who abandoned their husbands after being raped by them.
A woman from Umoja, Kenya, a village established by a group of women who abandoned their husbands after being raped by them. Flickr/Madelinetosh

In mainstream society, men overwhelmingly commit more crimes — and more serious ones at that — than women. Jennifer Schwartz of Washington State University's Department of Sociology told Dame magazine: 

In more gender-egalitarian societies, there is much less crime by both women and men. And in those societies, the crime gap between women and men is somewhat larger, that is, women participate even less in crime.

Sex

Mosuo girls
Mosuo girls Flickr/Sherry Zhang

Generally, people who live in matriarchal societies have much more sex and face much less stigma. In the Mosuo tribe, for example, men and women can take as many sexual partners as they please and bearing children with different people is accepted. 

Domestic Violence

Men and women perform a traditional Minangkabau dance. In the Indonesian tribe, women control land inheritance, and husbands move in with their wives upon marriage.
Men and women perform a traditional Minangkabau dance. In the Indonesian tribe, women control land inheritance, and husbands move in with their wives upon marriage. Flickr/Arian Zwegers

Domestic abuse is an epidemic in mainstream society; an estimated 3-4 million women are battered each year in the U.S. alone. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are indications that domestic violence is close to absent in matrilineal societies.

Cover image: Daniel Berehulak / Getty Images