Women, Men, and a Life Sustaining Culture

The following remarks are quoted from Carol Christ’s article “Women and Men in Egalitarian Matriarchy.”

Carol writes “When the word “matriarchy” is spoken, the first question that comes up is: what about men? Most people imagine that matriarchy must oppress men—just as patriarchy oppresses women. Sadly, concern about the oppression of women in patriarchy is less automatic.

In the classical dualisms (stemming from Plato) that structure much of western thought up to the present day, nature is associated with finitude and death, which are viewed as limitations. Men are said to be able to transcend finitude and death through their rational capacities, while women are said to be tied to the body and less capable of transcending it. This becomes a justification for the subordination and domination of women…

Mothers in egalitarian matriarchies want their sons as well as their daughters to be happy and to feel important and valuable. Thus women make special efforts to insure that rituals celebrate the contributions of males as brothers, husbands, and fathers to the family. Women recognize that it is important for men to have honored and meaningful roles within egalitarian matriarchy. In contemporary culture, women are the stable element in the family and uphold the traditional rituals… while men articulate the meaning of during rituals and adjudicate disputes…”

My response:

First, I have shied away from use of the word matriarchy because for me it did imply another sort of domination… I am now using the word because you have defined it for me in a different way.

Secondly, your words: … “nature is associated with finitude and death, which are viewed as limitations. Men are said to be able to transcend finitude and death…” really struck me like lead. I realized suddenly that I have always associated Nature with nurture and growth – just the opposite of what the Platonists believed. For me, death in nature is always tied to and in service to a great round – and as I grow older and closer to dying myself I find comfort in being a part of this greater whole. But with that much said I used to be tied to transcendence as well – so I was split just the same – and it wasn’t until I left the church for the second time at mid – life that I was able to leave transcendence behind… and not without an inner struggle.

I am also aware on a personal level that living in my body means that I have to live through my feeling/sensing self and that because of personal suffering I am conditioned (unconsciously) to leave my body involuntarily whether I want to or not. This is not transcendence. Mother’s day, for example is always difficult, and this year I am still “walking on air” not having been able to stay with the anguish I experience year after year. Being tied to a body has limitations of all sorts, and as women – even when we are disembodied – our bodies are calling to us.

And yet, for me at least, joy is also directly tied to living in my body, and it is through my body that I receive information that would otherwise not be available to me – either through insight, animals and plants in Nature, or dreaming. And it is through my feeling, sensing body that I reach the third point I want to respond to…

Like you Carol, for many years I refused to contemplate the idea that it might be up to us as women to TEACH men how to be compassionate caring human beings. Just the thought of it infuriated me. More WORK for women? NO, I said… but I had this nagging feeling that I might be wrong and it wouldn’t go away … Now, in my seventies I am reluctantly starting to believe that as unfair as it seems, civilizing men may be our only hope. We need men as nurturers and protectors and they sure don’t seem to be able to get this on their own – or many don’t. And with a patriarchal structure in place (one that privileges men over women) how can that ever change?

Many Indigenous cultures are predicated on egalitarian matriarchy, which is a system that doesn’t privilege either men or women but one that focuses on the equality of women and men and the stability of communities living in peace with one another.

And so I close this commentary in total agreement with you. As great a challenge as it may be, I think it is up to us as women to create a more nurturing life sustaining society.