Crafting Matriarchal societies in SF/F

As you know if you’ve been playing the home game, I have a certain fascination with the way we breathe patriarchy with our air. It’s a driving force behind the worldbuilding in my series. Reading this blog post on the question of matriarchal societies in SF/F gave me some new food for thought.

Before you ask yourself “Why would anyone want to write about matriarchy?”, take a minute and think about how many of the really tired tropes in genre fiction stem from the assumptions of patriarchy. Then explore further–the above-linked  blog post from The Border House is a good place to start–and consider all the truly awful examples of matriarchal societies in SF/F lit and gaming. This is definitely one of the areas in which we can do better.

What would a real, functioning matriarchal society look like? What limitations would it impose on people of both genders? I’ve tried to look at those questions, in a limited fashion, in my fiction. What are some books (or games) that have gotten it right?

Explore posts in the same categories: SFF

11 Comments on “Crafting Matriarchal societies in SF/F”

  1. WN Says:

    I’m kind of interested in this topic myself. I’ve read a ton of matriarchal fiction. The common mistake appears to be to make the women exactly like the men, just switch genders, so men are chattel, treated as inferior etc.

    I haven’t actually read any matriarchal societies where men aren’t opressed in some manner or seemingly. It begs the question as to whether I am just accustomed to such opression in partriarchy that I do not notice it anymore, but when a man is similarly treated, I do notice.

    That said, I’m very curious what you come up with.

    My favorite matriarchal novel is simply a gender role reversal:

    Ritual of Proof (Dara Joy), this is a romance with erotic elements, but I liked the characters a lot.

    I have also heard good things about Otaku Inner Temple although I haven’r read it!

    • I agree: just reversing the roles isn’t worthy of the questions involved. It leads writers to throw out Story in favor of philosophy and straw men.

      I think we can say for certain that the fact that writers can’t seem to do matriarchy without making it all about oppression is at more than anything else a commentary on where those stories come from; the writers in question have valid points to make, but I expect story in my fiction. I can read blogs and essays if I just want an anti-patriarchy rant. That being said, I do think we breathe assumptions about gender roles that makes it almost impossible to think rationally about them: we either simply absorb them or stand in reaction to them.

      I believe gender roles are bad for everyone: men and women alike. I rather suspect women got the worse deal, but strictly-defined gender roles limit everyone. For the series I’m working on, matriarchy/patriarchy isn’t the primary question, more of an ongoing issue. So far we’ve seen the matriarchy in question only from the viewpoint of an outsider from a patriarchal society, and there’s a lot he simply doesn’t *get*–and in any event there’s more pressing stuff going on. In the volume I’m working on now, one of my PoVs (there are 3 this time) is male and a member of that society, and so the expectations of that society matter more this time around–but primarily as obstacles that character must overcome.

      I’ll come back to this issue again, later in the series, but at no point will it be the focus of the story: because that’s not the primary question I’m pursuing. There’s definitely room in the world I’ve built for more focused explorations of this issue, but I don’t know if I’ll ever come around to doing them. I’d love to see more people explore issues of gender roles without sacrificing everything else to make their points, though.

      I’ll add your suggestions to my list. Wondering why Dara’s name is familiar…

  2. miladyrules Says:

    Hello! I have been trying to write my story along sort of similar lines, but starting from the world we live in now. To create a world organized by a matriarchy (like Asaro’s The Last Hawk)is a different challenge. In my Dominion stories, from 2010 to 2025, I leave a lot of what a settled new world order might look like to readers’ imagination.
    Interested in exchanging beta readerships?

    • That sounds like an interesting project, and I appreciate the offer. But I am so far behind on my editorial duties and the submissions I must read that I just can’t take on any reading that doesn’t directly serve Mercury Retrograde right now. Good luck with your project!

    • Eric Lerouge Says:

      Yes, more matriarchal-gynosupremacist stories. I have large collection and wish to share.

  3. WN Says:

    I’d like to see more characters happy with their matriarchal society and that is just the way it is as they don’t know anything different. It seems too often that characters are resisting, or don’t fit in to the society, and then I ask… Why bother creating such a world if you aren’t going to play in it as though it is the norm.

    • Interesting point. I agree that the vast majority of novels featuring matriarchal societies seem to be setting up straw men rather than truly engaging with the questions of story, and it would be refreshing to read some fiction in which the characters breathe matriarchy like air. N.K. Jemison did a good job with that in her Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. But it’s part of the tradition of heroic characters that they stand in tension with the expectations upon them, and in bigger stories the expectations they must deal with frequently extend to their very societies. I guess it boils down to whether the writer means to engage with questions of gender, and that’s a topic that’s on a lot of minds these days.

      • WN Says:

        Good point, and I totally agree. I’m going to try the NK JEmison, haven’t read that series yet. Sounds good.

        I think to some extent writers use the opressive matriarchry to broach the issues of gender equality and satirize/social criticism of popular viewpoints, as well as a tad of fan service such as we see in Wonder Woman’s amazons or the Drow. However it comes out as hamfisted when every matriarchy is portrayed in this sort of obvious way.. Also, we get societies Star Trek’s angel one which are simply gender role reversal.

        So I’d like to see more fiction where the issue at hand isn’t the society,or their perception of gender roles but other concerns which can be worked out with the matriarchal culture as the backdrop.

  4. திவ்யா Says:

    Please, publish matriarchies stories . Because future is matriarchal society .

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