The Problem of Wymyn Power: Or Why Elizabeth von Sarmas will always be an Outlier- Alma Boykin

The Problem of Wymyn Power: Or Why Elizabeth von Sarmas will always be an Outlier – Alma Boykin


So, in light of the Nebula 2014 awards, and Sarah’s comment about my not doing any guest posts recently, I was trying to come up with something vaguely interesting to write about. Whether I’m going to accomplish that remains to be seen, since I’m still up to my waist in alligators (having beaten them down below my ears for the first time in a few weeks. Has anyone seen the swamp’s drain plug?) I apologize in advance for this rambling, wandering mini-essay.

I’m not an anthropologist, nor do I specialize in Women’s History. The latter is in part because I enjoy dabbling in other disciplines too much, and it is not easy to pull geology, climatology, range science, and other stuff into Women’s History. Another reason is because the theoretical background now required to write academic histories of women in society leaves me cold. Historical theory doesn’t excite or interest me, and it feels like pulling teeth to read many of the seminal [oops! Sorry, sorry, should say critical] theoretical works in order to bring the proper framework to my writing. I enjoy reading about the lives of women in society in various cultures and historical periods, but not doing academic research on them. I also enjoy reading about the lives of men. Oops again.

“But, Alma, you write about strong women! Rada Ni Drako and Elizabeth von Sarmas have Grrrrrll Power!” Yes, and no. They are outliers, much as David Weber’s Honor Harrington is an outlier, or Elizabeth Moon’s Paksenarrion. They also do not have any of the duties that an average female in their universes has, which makes them even farther out on the tail of the bell curve of “normal female.” That’s why, under Azdhag law, Commander Ni Drako is a male, and “his” title is Lord Ni Drako. Rada is Rada, not because she has a uterus and the various attachments that come with having a uterus, but because of her background and training. And she’s sterile because of being a hybrid, which eliminates her from possessing the “special ways of knowing” that come with motherhood. Or potential motherhood, in the case of the arguments that dominate hard-core Feminism of the late 20th and early 21st Centuries on subsections of Earth’s Western and Northern Hemispheres.

(As an aside, those of you who have read Hubris and the other Cat Among Dragon stories know that the Azdhagi society before the Great Relocation is a lot different in terms of female rights than is the culture Rada Ni Drako works in. The sequel explains why in greater detail, although you probably saw hints of it already.)

When I think of the matriarchies in fiction, neither Rada nor Elizabeth would fit very well. In no set order, I come up with: the Witches of Witchworld, the priestesses of Avalon in The Mists of Avalon and the related novels, the Sisters of the Sword and Free Renunciates in Darkover, the society in the Exiles duology by Melanie Rawn, and a couple of alien species based on bees from several different books. Oh, and Wen Spencer’s A Brother’s Price, which I have not read yet. One thing I notice first off is that the Witches and the priestesses have McGuffins—magic and esoteric knowledge that helps level the physical playing field. If you stretch definitions, you could even say that during the time of Honor Harrington, the Manticorians have the McGuffin of technology so Honor and her allies are as strong as their male counterparts.

Because this is one of the critical problems of a fictional matriarchy: physical strength. Especially in fantasy, if the physically weaker sex doesn’t have a McGuffin of some kind, they will still be at a survival disadvantage. What’s Elizabeth von Sarmas’s big worry when she flees Frankonia? Assault and rape. OK, and starvation, hypothermia, drowning, and lice, but those are problems common to men in her world as well. She’s not as big, strong, or well armed as the men around her, so she has to scramble to survive.

The Free Renunciates, especially as described in some of the Darkover anthologies, point up another problem of human matriarchies in fiction, if done realistically. What do you do with baby boys? What if a woman wants a male lover, and decides to (gasp) establish a monogamous relationship with him, even if it is sine catenas (the Darkover version of a common-law marriage)? And what about the boys who find out that their mothers set them aside because they had a Y chromosome? Don’t tell me that’s not going to lead to problems for everyone. I’ve walled a few books that didn’t address that tension, because everyone was all happy and unicorns and butterflies and the guys so totally respected the independent women more than the conventional women and look, kittens! And if you extrapolate the hierarchies and fights of the Renunciates to a larger scale, you don’t get peace, harmony, and love. You get a society that’s potentially just as unpleasant as the Dry Towns of Darkover, except with the guys getting beat up instead of the women. In other words, you have Rawn’s Exiles world to an extent.

So where does this leave my current, strong, female protagonists? Rada Ni Drako and Zabet dar Nagali have crossed paths with the matriarchs on occasion, and the outcome wasn’t pretty for the matriarchs. (Hint: Just because you are female doesn’t guarantee you a discount.) Rada prefers to deal with a political and social system based on ability, especially if she can be near the top of the ability heap. Why doesn’t she agitate for female lib on Drakon IV? Because 1) she doesn’t feel like messing her nest, 2) she has other things to worry about and 3) she figures that changing Azdhagi society is the Azdhagi’s business, not hers. Ditto on Earth: human females are smaller and have different capabilities than do human males, and Rada just shrugs and carries on, although she’ll give Joschka the what-for when he forgets that she’s just as competent as he is.

And Elizabeth von Sarmas? She’s an exception and knows it. Without giving too much away, she states this flat out later on. Like Rada, she’s unusually physically strong for a woman of her time and place, she doesn’t have the responsibilities of a normal woman (ie. children and a spouse), she has servants to do the daily work, and she thinks and acts more like a man in a skirt than a “real woman.” Which keeps the gossip and innuendo flowing, as you would expect, and has some nasty social consequences that, if she were not a noble with a killer mule and strong male patrons, would put her in a very bad position.

Can an author create a large-scale matriarchy that “works?” I’m sure there are a few out there that I just have not yet found. But when dealing with humans, the Paksenarrions, Honor Harringtons, and Elizabeth Von Sarmas of the world, just like Elizabeth I of England, Maria Theresa of Austria, Empress Wu, and other women, will be notable exceptions, not symbols of the dominance of Grrrrl Power.


272 thoughts on “The Problem of Wymyn Power: Or Why Elizabeth von Sarmas will always be an Outlier- Alma Boykin

  1. A large scale matriarchy that works? Yes, Bruce Sterling did it in “Islands In The Net”. Not only is the female protagonist the head of her household/business, the real power in the world is held by the career bureaucrats, both governmental and corporate, and those are overwhelmingly women. (The protagonist refers to the “old girl’s network” as the path to getting anything done.)

  2. Well said.

    Honor Harrington also has the advantage of being a gen-mod, so she is stronger and faster than a normal woman (plus spending a lifetime training in martial arts), this helps make the story more plausible, though there still are (and Weber points this out on occasion) as many gen-mod men as there are gen-mod women, which would be as correspondingly stronger than gen-mod women, as normal men are to normal women.

    By the way, I think you did an excellent job of addressing this in the Elizabeth von Sarmas books, as well as other issues that women would have to deal with in that technology period, that would lower their effectiveness compared to men.

    1. Plus, Honor’s home world of Sphinx is a high gravity world, which makes her stronger in “normal” gravity than would otherwise be the case.

      Weber hits from multiple places to explains Honor’s strength, which makes a lot of sense when you think about it.

      1. Yep, and she often does her workouts at Sphinxian gravity, to retain that edge.

    2. Thank you. 🙂 In some ways I’m curious why (to my knowledge) no academics have written about Honor Harrington the way they have Signey Mallory from “Downbelow Station” and a few other strong female sci-fi protagonists. It may be that HH is no longer “novel.” Or because it’s *gasp, mock-shudder* mil-sci-fi.

      1. Exactly. SJWs can’t stand all that icky military stuff.

        On a related note, ran a story from the Women Destroy SF anthology called “The Unfathomable Sisterhood of Ick”. Feel free to make your own jokes, folks.

          1. I don’t know about the “publishing industry” but for lefties, Baen is that evil publisher who publishes right wing garbage.

          2. Kind of like how WinCo has a horrible reputation with the Grocery Worker’s Union….and if you talk to the ladies at the checkout at WinCo, they’re mostly former GWU members who are glad to be free of it!

            1. It’s more accurate to say that it’s a house that is welcome to right-wingers, so they all tend to gather there.

              1. I suspect that if other publishers were willing to give the kind of pay and push (and publisher support & consideration) to Flint, Weber, Drake, Bujold, Hoyt, Ringo and other authors* as does Baen, those authors would consider accepting money from them. I believe Bujold and Weber have actually accepted such.)

                By all reports, however, Baen treats authors as valued collaborators rather than vassals, so it ain’t likely any will be lured away.

                *Except Kratman and Correia for reasons which probably don’t require elaboration.

          3. Well, in some quarters. Among people who read and enjoy the genre, not so much.

          1. Dude. You know how memes start around here, right? Do we really need a Hitler’s Penis meme? Do you want to see the variations on Hitler’s Penis cropping up with the variety and caustic wit of this Horde?*

            Please, I beg of you, use your powers for good!

            *With due consideration — nevermind, carry on.

              1. I think I saw something like that, but darned if I can remember where.

                Speaking of weird idea jumps – my coworker says I should read a different forum, because my idea stream is too weird. Hehe.

              2. ‘S already been written. It’s called “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich”, and Shirer wrote it.

                There was a very strong gay/bi/trans component to the whole “Nazi” phenomenon, especially in the early days of the party, and despite the fact that some gays and so forth were persecuted heavily in later years. Examine the number of gays who were “present at the founding”, particularly the SA faction led by Ernst Rohm, who virtually died in the arms of his young male lover during the “Night of Long Knives”.

                I got to listen to a diatribe on this issue from a very conservative Christian German who lived through those years, and it was his contention that the Nazis were by and large a gay political movement, and massively hypocritical about the whole homosexual thing. His contention was that the Nazis were founded with full gay participation, and that many of the higher-ups were deeply in the closet, even at the end of the war.

                He made the point that the Nazis were almost stereotypically gay, in a lot of ways I’d never connected. The cliquish way they organized everything, with factions constantly fighting over the most ridiculous stuff? Stereotypically gay. The love of fancy dress, at the expense of practicality? Gay. The homo-erotic ravings of men like Himmler, talking about the male-on-male “platonic love” of the front lines? Gay as hell.

                The hypocrisy of putting gays into concentration camps? Primarily, per his experience, it was the gays who’d fallen foul of someone else in the regime who wound up there. How did he know that? He was in the camps with some of them, and they all had the same story: They’d refused the advances of someone in the party, or they’d fallen out of favor. A couple were in the camps because they’d been caught “doing things” with party members, and had been sacrificed on the altar of “cleaning things up” for the party members. He only got released late in the war when they needed people to fight, and swept the camps of otherwise “good Germans” who’d just been ideologically opposed to the Nazis on religious or other grounds. He’d been a youth leader for some Christian group, or something similar, which was how he wound up in a camp in the first place.

                He’d later personally observed a bunch of the Nazi party leadership engaged in homosexual congress, during the retreat from the Kolmar pocket. Per his description, the women these men were married to were primarily “beards” for public consumption, and the way he knew that was in watching precisely who it was that these officials made sure got on the first boats and other transportation back west. And, it wasn’t the wives and kids, either–It was usually some young, pretty male who’d been on the staff as an aide-de-camp.

                I am not knowledgeable enough to say with any accuracy how true this gentleman’s allegations were, but a lot of what he said made a hell of a lot of sense, when looked at in conjunction with other facts, and in a certain light.

                  1. Yeah, and what was disquieting to me, as a fairly open-minded sort, is that this German guy I’m talking about was predicting precisely what we’ve observed recently. And, he was doing it back in the mid-1980s, before all this crap started happening. He didn’t have much animosity towards gays, in general, either–I guess he’d been nursed through having caught typhus in the camps by some of the gays he’d been in them with, but he had few illusions about the pathology of it all.

                    He traced a line from the libertine Weimar years, to the early days of the Nazi party, right up to the Holocaust, and he drew it right through some of the same pathologies we see in the gay community today. His observation was that it was a lot like art–Great art doesn’t come as a product of workaday, average people: It requires a certain amount of madness. And that the same mental pathology that leads to aberrant sexual behavior can make for some very charismatic leaders, who aren’t necessarily the people you want making decisions for a nation.

                    When you stop and think about it, it makes a certain amount of sense. How many of our “great leaders” are sexual deviants, in one direction or another? Anthony Weiner, anyone? Bill Clinton? How about that lunatic bible-thumping televangelist who was caught with the hookers?

                    Show me somebody with a rich and wild sex life, and past personal experience has led me to only want to watch them as an entertainer on TV or in the movies. Put them in a position of power? Are you ‘effing mad?

                    1. It might not simply be homosexuality but rather the fact that any group whose primary identity is based upon their sexual desires is eventually going to become corrupt and intolerant of those whose identities are based upon other interests, such as spirituality. Since sexual hunger is typically appeased (though never sated) through novelty, such a focus would tend to lead one into “perversion” in pursuit of greater novelty, and having rejected “bourgeois mores” in one realm how likely are such people to adhere to them in other areas?

                      Is there any group other than gays whose identity is solely bounded by sexual appetite?

                    2. I’ve heard it said that the current potus cut quite the swath through the Chicago bathhouse community, along with his buddy who’s now the mayor of that city. Flotus as beard. Makes a terrible sort of sense as we slide into the abyss.

                    3. ” having rejected “bourgeois mores” in one realm how likely are such people to adhere to them in other areas?”

                      One notes the euphemistic use of “love” to refer to their associations. One also notes that a pretty basic requirement of loving someone is refraining from doing things that might infect your purported beloved with a fatal, nasty, and incurable disease.

                      Try pointing out that the real homophobes are those who fought tooth-and-nail against the precautions that can contain a fatal and incurable STD — we know this because they contained syphilis before we had penicillin — and you won’t even get rage because it does not sink in. Indeed, I had someone once retort that they were homosexual activists as if that it were some kind of counter-argument

                1. There was a lot of overlap between some of Hitler’s favorite occult German groups, those homosexual groups full of friends of Hitler, and various segments of the Nazi Party, particularly the SA. History Channel or one of the other cable stations did a show about Nazi sex lives at some point, and they didn’t have to exaggerate.

                2. It has also been rewritten — have you read Spinrad’s The Iron Dream? Post-apocalyptic Mad Max world in which “true men” fight against “muties”, pulverizing them with their powerful truncheons modeled upon a fist at the end of an upraised arm.

                  1. You left out the “fun part”. “The Iron Dream” was said to have been written by this German immigrant to the US named Adolf Hitler. [Very Big Grin]

              3. Ah yes the enchanting tale of Adolfina, Berlin caberet singer by night and mugger of Jews by day

              4. I’m imagining something like Springtime For Hitler, but more so.

            1. “The gun is good. The penis is evil.”

              *preemptively carps himself for bringing Zardoz into this*

          2. Careful now, so do I. I am NOT Hitler. Of course, I have the knowledge (and training) to be far worse, on a local scale. I don’t care much for large-scale bloodshed, havoc, and destruction. I might need something that could get destroyed. Keep it local… yeah, that’s the key.

      2. I think it’s because Honor ROUTINELY gets her ass kicked, even though she still gets the job done and wins in the end. She’s always getting shot up, losing limbs (trying to avoid spoilers here), and losing people that are important to her. That makes her so believable and human that it’s hard to see her as the paragon of women’s lib. Especially since she likes dudes.

  3. Oh and – since I was just reading the Elizabeth books – there’s the whole time of the month thing. I thought you did an excellent job showing that limitation and (for that matter) how Elizabether doesn’t whine about it but just copes dammit.

    1. Thank you. I’ve tried to walk the fine line between “realistic for the situation” and “sends people running from too much icky detail.”

      1. You do fairly good at balancing down that line, until somebody (maybe it’s just because I’m a guy) pictures using dryer lint, and what a nasty mess that would be.

  4. It is always the Outliers. We would not care all that much normally about those that were not. Even seemingly ordinary folk when presented with extraordinary circumstances usually act as ordinary folk usually do but there is always one among them that does not. These are the people who interest us. These are the ones stories are written about.

    Today it seems that there is an effort to find these outliers where none exist and then promote this as the ideal. Without the outliers we have nothing to aspire to, nothing to avoid only the soft squishy middle. I love a book that explores the outlier character be it Male ,Female, or even gender non-specific. I am not as interested in the soft squishy middle unless it is about escaping those circumstances.

    1. A hero (or heroine) by definition is an outlier.

      Maybe that has something to do with the masters of the herd not wanting to promote heroism (except the sort of heroism that displays itself by not defending one’s integrity.)

      1. I could go into the possibility of Aristotle’s dictum that we like characters who are as good as us, or a little bit better. (While he encompassed more than moral goodness in that “good”, he did include that.) But that would involve drawing conclusions about the relative character of those who like their characters effective and good, which is to say, heroic, and those who prefer ’em ineffective and morally bankrupt — so I won’t.


    2. “Today it seems that there is an effort to find these outliers where none exist and then promote this as the ideal”

      Ideal? As the reality. As Dalrymple observed

      I warned her as graphically as I could that she was already well down the slippery slope leading to poverty and misery—that, as I knew from the experience of untold patients, she would soon have a succession of possessive, exploitative, and violent boyfriends, unless she changed her life. I told her that in the past few days, I had seen two women patients who had had their heads rammed down the lavatory, one who had had her head smashed through a window and her throat cut on the shards of glass, one who had had her arm, jaw, and skull broken, and one who had been suspended by her ankles from a tenth-floor window to the tune of, “Die, you bitch!”

      “I can look after myself,” said my 17-year-old.

      “But men are stronger than women,” I said. “When it comes to violence, they are at an advantage.”

      “That’s a sexist thing to say,” she replied.

      A girl who had absorbed nothing at school had nevertheless absorbed the shibboleths of political correctness in general and of feminism in particular.

      “But it’s a plain, straightforward, and inescapable fact,” I said.

      “It’s sexist,” she reiterated firmly.

      Full thing here:

  5. While I really like Spencer’s *A Brother’s Price*, enough to have reread it three or four times, it is profoundly unrealistic. The McGuffin there is that the sex-ratio is drastically skewed, as it is on Weber’s Grayson (or perhaps even more so), and in addition boy-babies tend to be delicate.
    As so few men live to adulthood, sisters generally form a household together and all share the same husband.

    Even allowing for this, however, the story is unrealistic. Spencer evidently believes that gender is entirely a matter of nurture vs. nature, as gender roles are completely flipped throughout the society to the apparent happiness of all concerned. The men cook and clean and sew and raise the family’s baby girls (and buy hand-cream and other cosmetics); the women farm and fish and defend the home.

    I still enjoy reading (and rereading) the story; it’s a darned good Western with a mystery and some Ruritanian politics thrown in, but it’s pure fantasy.

    1. Here is an interesting thing about Brother’s Price, though. Right after I finished reading it (and I too really enjoyed it as a story), I was out running errands. Now, for this to make full sense you need to know that I’m a male just over 6 foot tall and in good shape. So, I’m doing something (I no longer remember what…probably loading something pretty heavy into the car), and I found the following thought flitting through my head: “I might not be able to manage this. That’s OK, though, no one will think less of me if I don’t manage it; after all, I’m only a man.”

      I mean, the words may not have been that exact, but that was the *sense* of the thought. “It’s OK if I can’t do this, I’m only a man.”

      That experience gave me considerable appreciation for just how much language and gender roles affect our worldviews at a fundamental level. It gave me a visceral glimpse into one tiny aspect of the world in which (some?) women live.

      Regardless of how accurate my perception is I can forgive the story any of its false-to-reality aspects because of the power of that experience. Helping one to preceive the world from a different point of view is one of the magical things that good writing can do. Of course, it wouldn’t have worked if it hadn’t been a *good story* first 🙂

      1. Interesting. I always feel if I fail at something, someone will raid my house and take my family into submission. Now, that’s probably part of how I’m INTERESTINGLY broken. So I can’t say if other women have that responsibility shrug mode.

          1. Nobody will think less of a woman, because she’s only a woman?

            Hahahaha! Dude! If gender roles completely flipped, a lot of men would totally be judging each other ALL the time, and so would a lot of women be judging men all the time. Any woman who thinks women don’t judge is either living with some very tolerant, easygoing women who are comfortable because they rule their own roosts so thoroughly — or is not paying any attention and will soon have mysterious Bad Things mysteriously happen to her.

            And a woman totally has to think about the implications of asking for help, or has to know them already so thoroughly as not to worry about thinking about them. Some guys, you don’t want to ask; that’s all I’m saying.

            1. Not that I usually worry too much about what other men or women are thinking of me, but I do have a sensible regard for people’s sensibilities and tastes. There’s a reason I inspected the state of my legs after putting on capris, and there’s a reason I took my sauerkraut pork lunch outside.

            2. Any woman who thinks women don’t judge is either living with some very tolerant, easygoing women who are comfortable because they rule their own roosts so thoroughly — or is not paying any attention and will soon have mysterious Bad Things mysteriously happen to her.

              More likely, it’s not “judging” when she does it, or when she’s OK with it.

            3. I think in my temporarily altered state of mind it was specifically the strength issue (which, therefore, was an analogy based on the source text, and who the heck knows how my brain got there…I think in the text it was being able to shoot a gun accurately? It’s been a while since I read it). Do women in general think less of themselves if they aren’t strong enough? I don’t think less of them for it, but I don’t think I give men as much leway. Which is a failing, because people differ.

              But, like I said, I don’t really care that my perception doesn’t align with reality (though I’m glad to learn more about reality), it was just cool to be placed in such an altered state of mind by reading a book.

          1. I COULD make guesses, but they would involve revealing stuff that’s not mine to reveal. We’ll just content ourselves with “interestingly broken.”

        1. I always feel if I fail at something, someone will raid my house and take my family into submission.

          If you’re broken in that way, then so am I. It isn’t a particularly feminist stance either, but one that’s handed down to me from my mother’s ancestors (some of whom were Chinese.) To this day I feel very bad that I have not amassed a small horde of gold jewelry to safeguard my family with financially. Gold jewelry to us is ‘something you can sell or pawn off in case of accident, hospitalization, house burning down or disaster, with some pieces for family history sake and affection, and should never be sold.’ A lot of this mindset is hammered in with the idea that ‘if something happens to your husband, your children and you find yourself penniless and without a home, and starving.’ It’s actually one of those things that my hubby CAN’T convince me of relaxing on too, because that situation WAS hammered home to me after my father died and I took over as head of the household (since I was the eldest.) Since my dad died rather unexpectedly, there was a great deal of flailing and hardship, and our safety net was gone.

          We, as mothers, are the ones responsible for the survival of our house, the raising of the children to responsible adults, the ones who provide the stability, multitasking if necessary. It’s our half of the partnership, the social contract we make with our spouse.

          1. We, as mothers, are the ones responsible for the survival of our house, the raising of the children to responsible adults, the ones who provide the stability, multitasking if necessary. It’s our half of the partnership, the social contract we make with our spouse.


            A woman’s duty, which usually gets ignored– as an obligation by the Femanzais, and that it counts for anything by the various flavors of cad.

            1. Rhys, to me once when I was fretting about not being able to help with the finances: It’s because I am secure in the knowledge that you are capable of taking care of everything else that I can go out and work. I know the house is safe and I don’t have to worry about things like there not being enough food, the children are not being cared for, that the budget is spent on foolishness, the way I would worry if I were with someone who was less than you. Don’t worry too much about the money – that’s my part of the job.”

            2. Feminazis ignore that both men and women have duties and obligations; they’d rather that women have none and not be responsible for anything. Because being eternal children appeals to them, while bleating all the while they’re grown ups.

              1. Heaven help you if you point out that having a child is, by their own rules, entirely the woman’s choice, and therefore her responsibility.

      2. Never experienced the “nobody will judge me, I’m just a woman” thing.

        In my head, I’m not “a girl.” I’m me, Fox, with these abilities and these inabilities. If I fall short of what I can do, I feel shame– I judge myself.

        When I see other people, I don’t go off of “girl” or “boy,” it’s just a factor. A 45 year old woman with her hair cut short wearing work-worn jeans and a cow related company cap will be expected to be more physically able than a 25 year old guy in pre-stressed jeans and a flannel shirt holding a soda in a PBR can cover. If I’m looking for help and there’s two identical guys in jeans, button up shirts and cowboy hats, I’ll ask the one that’s not wearing work boots.

        1. I only experienced it in respects to not feeling in competition with men and thinking that an all-girls school or college would be about the most miserable thing I could imagine because there wouldn’t be anyone you wouldn’t be in direct competition with. So, in a sense, that was… I didn’t *care* if boys/men were better at something than I was, and I didn’t *care* if I couldn’t do something they could do.

          Girls… different story.

          Granted, I felt that way as a teenager. I certainly don’t bother with it as an adult.

          1. At the college I went to (the first time), I competed with a few other eager beavers and myself. Most of the ladies exhibited the exact same “hang back and don’t be aggressive” behavior they complained about seeing when they were at coed schools. No wonder teachers never called on them.

            1. Yes… I pretty much don’t shut up in class. Conceptually, I do not understand the silent ones. Objectively I know they exist because I see them, right there, in the flesh. But the notion that they don’t talk because the guys talk over them? Complete bull poo.

              1. At one time there was this idea that teachers (high school or lower) paid more attention to boys than girls.

                Apparently somebody “dug deeper” into that idea and found out why teachers paid more attention to boys than girls.

                It appeared that the teachers *had* to pay more attention to boys because the boys were less well-behaved than girls. [Evil Grin]

                1. I forget who it was I saw on CSPAN making that point (for some reason I think it was Lynne Cheney, but that seems improbable) but yes, teachers call upon students whose attention is obviously wandering.

                  Apparently the idea that some people don’t want to be called upon by teacher doesn’t occur to these Lisa Simpsons and Hermione Grangers.

        2. In my head, I’m not “a girl.” I’m me, Fox, with these abilities and these inabilities. If I fall short of what I can do, I feel shame– I judge myself.

          This. This is how my headspace goes. I own what I do. A number of my guy friends have expressed that I will try to prevent the unpreventable, and if something happens outside my control, I will curse myself for the failure of not anticipating it or not being able to prepare for it.

            1. Yeah. Housemate’s never been exposed to someone like me, but I think he’s acceded that my idea that a full pantry that MUST be constantly stocked and restocked, the two fridges and a standing freezer full of food has merit after when we HAD to go tighten belts due to the freaking carbon tax being implemented and our electricity bill skyrocketed. We got by on minimal groceries. Rhys hasn’t a problem with my mindset – he’s seen even before from visiting us that this works.

              The backfire on this is though is the perception (wrong one) that people have of my family. We mutter about things being tight, but our fridge is always overflowing with food, therefore we’re rich. /rolls eyes Because we have our priorities straight = we’re rich now? The full fridge is expected to last two weeks, feeding a family of eight or nine!

                1. There’s also the awareness that as a general rule, the man with the most physically demanding job will eat more than the one who doesn’t (Which is the difference between Rhys, and Aff.) This is a necessity – when he’s out field we can get away with scaling down our meals to : roast chicken = a dinner for two grown ups and the kids, and a lunch for the two grownups . Bones go into a pot that is filled with water and Aff uses to steam up things like dim sums since he keeps irregular hours. When he decides the bones need throwing out, he strains the broth and then boils instant noodles in it. Nothing goes to waste.

                2. Yep. I’ve noted meat has gone insane, and yep, I’m spending double what I used to on it, but it’s not impossible, because I buy on 50% off or more sale, and fill the freezer.

                  1. With pigs and chickens, it’s pressures to be “ethical.”

                    Which means chickens get pecked/scratched/wing-beaten to death more often, and piglets get rolled on or eaten by their mothers.

                    *resisting a rant*

                    1. Please don’t, resist that is, I’m sure you will be more coherent than if I start in on the subject of these idiots.

                    2. Does it matter if we’re coherent? The chickens have more sense, and they’re terrified every shadow is going to eat them.

                    3. Besides, what your average chicken knows about ethics can be written on the head of a pin in 10-point type and still leave room for angels to boogie-woogie.

                      The only thing any pig ever knew about ethics was what he learned from reading Animal Farm, and he probably misinterpreted it.

    2. I think the ratio was about twenty female births per male, where as Grayson was four-to-one. I remember thinking that, if anything, the male numbers were still a bit high to get the resulting society rather than a harem-type society, but it felt plausible at that point.
      Now, interestingly, I didn’t come up with the same impression of gender-role reversal as Meredith at all. Yes, the male protagonist is doing the housework, but it’s his sister who is obsessed with male fashion and cosmetics from the first scene, and later he’s very uncomfortable with fashion when he has to get fitted for new clothes. At the very beginning, there’s an incident which requires his strength to solve, and his sisters don’t argue whether or not they are able to do the task, only whether or not it ought to be done at all. My impression was that the females in that society pretty much relied on numbers to get strength-tasks done and had most things set up so that they could.

    3. I suppose it made sense to me that the men would cook and watch babies for no real reason other than that they were confined to the house and kept from doing anything dangerous. Since I “bought” the idea that men weren’t allowed out and about (normal risk plus risk of kidnapping and violence) it made sense that the work they’d do was the domestic stuff.

      The women farm and fish and defend the home because it doesn’t matter so much to the family if they die since there are always more women.

      Yes, the situation was forced and the ratio of women to men was pushed to the extreme, which I think it would need to be to get where she wanted the story to be. Weber’s 3-1 or 4-1 Grayson ratio wouldn’t do it.

      1. Of course, the evolutionary pressure in that world is immense. For every grandkid a daughter could give you, a son could give you twenty. The Whistlers, if they were as fertile in the next generation, could get about 160 kids from the “daughters” — split the families, and each one has about 40, just as the previous generation did. They also have nine “sons” in that generation — who could have something like 360 kids, if the families were the same size.

      1. From I heard, she wrote it as a way of saying “Hey look, women can mess up a world just as well as men”. [Wink]

        Wen hates the “meme” of “if women ruled the world, it would be a better place”.

        1. If Sarah ruled the world, we’d all have to think for ourselves. It could get exciting for a short while after she takes over, at least before Darwin finishes sorting folks out. [evil little grin]

          1. I’m just going to take this little idea and go ponder the Hoyt-verse (D’Almeida-matrix?) for a while.

            *The beard hides any lip curving*
            *Not an evil gleam in the eyes*

              1. Sweet huckleberries, man! Do you think I need more characters crowding my head space?

                My recently completed (and now fully finalized) Baen short story has already spawned a novel busily plotting (and re-plotting) itself. On top of all the others.

                Besides, this really sounds like a job for — Dan Hoyt.

                “Hey, Mr. Dan, I’ve got this buck for you…”

                    1. Nah, came through without a hitch. Then I spent much time with your edits open and Dan Lane’s edits open and my scribbles on the desk and some other contributors comments… Anyroad, I beat the thing about and set one idea against another and now I’m fairly comfortable with it. I’m letting it simmer until the end o’ the week (because I have no time anyway) and then it’s off!

                    2. Nice! Sorry I didn’t get you anything sooner. Last couple of weeks have been interesting, in the full Chinese implication.

                      Now go write more! *grin*

                    3. No apologies, what you gave me was very helpful. Thanks!

                      The brain is busily plotting. Now I just need to give the fingers time to be writing…

            1. Has there ever been a revolution that didn’t have a few fishy aspects about it? Especially one on the scale of what would be necessary today.

    4. It’s decent book, and one that will make you think. Fairly well-written, too, with decent characterization.

      However, huge ‘effing comma, it’s a story. And, one written to support a particular idea, where I think the author started from her end-state, and worked backwards with her world-building. I don’t think that the society which actually resulted from her underpinnings would look anything at all like the one she came up with.

      It’s never specified, that I’ve spotted, what this massive shift in sexual ratios stemmed from, or how long it’s been in effect for humans. Had the ratio shift have started during prehistorical times, I think you’d have seen very different adaptations made in the resultant societies, once civilization got going. I don’t remember anywhere in the book where they talk about the “before times”–It’s just “always been like that”.

      I don’t think you’d necessarily see something like a “queendom” which is virtually a gender-reversed carbon copy of a cultural matrix that resulted from a male socially-dominant model, unless it happened within historical memory. I don’t honestly know what women would come up with from a starting point where they were in a 20-to-1 sexual ratio situation from prehistory, but I’m pretty sure it would look a lot different from what came out of a situation where the male-female ratio was essentially one-to-one.

      There’s also the issue that whatever it is that’s causing this divergence in sex ratios should have been long since adapted around, by virtue of the fact that the only successful survivor males were doing the breeding–Either the males they were breeding from would need to be consistently sickly and unlikely to survive, or the rules of genetics in her world are completely different than ours. I don’t think that it would be possible for the sort of thing she posits to actually, y’know, work like that. A short-term plague that kills off most males for a generation or two? Sure, I can see that, and I don’t see a problem with the biology of the idea. A long-term, endemic situation? Biology doesn’t work like that, at all–The “fit” males would have passed on their genes, and unless someone did some significant genetic engineering to ensure that the traits which caused the high male mortality rates were permanent, I’m not seeing something like that plausibly remaining in effect.

      I’m not sure that there’s ever really been a “real” matriarchy, one where women dominated exclusively. I’m sure it’s been tried, on a small scale, somewhere, but I suspect that it would have failed miserably in very short order–How the hell would the rulers in such a society manage to make the men hang around? You can always walk away, or build a damn boat to get away to somewhere else. Patriarchy works because the women are tied to their kids by emotional bonds, and they don’t want to leave them behind. Run that same game on a male, and he’s very, very likely to just walk away from it all. “Oh, yeah… I’m going hunting/fishing/whatever… See you when I’m back…”. What’s the ruler in this matriarchy to do, in such a case? Chop the feet off the men, and starve?

      Successful societies have always allowed for both male and female “dominance”, usually simultaneously, but in different fields of endeavor. Women want to raise kids, and have tight, long-lasting bonds with them. So, they usually wind up dominant at the family level. How many men are there who are deciding what social events the family is going to take part in? Generally, it’s not many, and those who are doing that are usually mentally ill and/or abusive. At the same time, the men are usually running the “outer world” aspect of life in these societies. You don’t see very many successful societies or cultures where one sex runs everything all the time, and there are reasons for that. And, when it does appear that one sex dominates, in a successful society, it’s usually because the observer has missed huge swathes of What’s Really Going On ™.

      1. There’s also the issue that whatever it is that’s causing this divergence in sex ratios should have been long since adapted around, by virtue of the fact that the only successful survivor males were doing the breeding–Either the males they were breeding from would need to be consistently sickly and unlikely to survive, or the rules of genetics in her world are completely different than ours.

        I think the simplest hand-wavium would be something in the Y chromosome that results in a very rough pregnancy; if most male fetuses don’t make it to term, and those that do are in bad shape, that seems the simplest.

        Maybe something in the X chromosome (mumble) that actively attacks Y, and the only way a Y chromosome child can survive is if their X chromosome has a full copy of the “attack Y” programming.

        It would pretty much HAVE to be artificially introduced across the entire population, and would only last until it was altered around, because “almost half of your babies die before birth” is a horrible handicap even if there ARE work-arounds.

        1. Webber did something similar on Grayson. Basically the same modification that gave them high metal tolerance had a less extensively propagated oops that worked it’s way in due to the less than ideal circumstances. Basically, the X chromosome breaks catastrophically, so boys didn’t make it to term as often as girls. There’s a full destination in Echoes of Honor if I recall correctly.

        2. I had got the idea that it was a somewhat recent pathology and that people were very very afraid that it would keep on getting worse.

          I don’t know why I got that idea, but in my mind this had only really been going on for what would amount to “modern times”. Not something in living memory, but Historically.

        3. It would pretty much HAVE to be artificially introduced across the entire population, and would only last until it was altered around, because “almost half of your babies die before birth” is a horrible handicap even if there ARE work-arounds.

          I’m gonna go out on a limb here, not being a specialist in things relating to obstetrics, but wouldn’t a situation where “almost half of your babies die before birth” lead to a much, much larger problem with maternal survival rates? OK, if the fetal deaths occur early enough, it might be an “easily” dealt with miscarriage, but should the death occur later in the pregnancy, like after the second trimester? Wouldn’t that lead to huge problems with fertility and fatality, for the mothers?

          Biologically, and based on what I know of the sciences, I’m really not seeing a way to make the world of “Brother’s Price” happen as she’s laid it out. Anything that would result in that 20-to-1 ratio would have to break too many other things, in order for it to maintain that ratio.

          If anything, I suspect that the resultant world where this happened would be devoid of human life in a few short generations, or the survivors would develop an immunity to the cause, whatever it was, and things would swing back to “normal” in a few generations. Biologically, I just don’t see how it would work out, over the long haul. You want to tell me that women in the world of “Brother’s Price” are having to deal with the debilitating effects of late-term miscarriages/stillbirths, and still going out into the world and making wars happen? I’m not buying it, at all. I think the major focus of such a society would be just staying the hell alive, and breeding enough people for the next generation, and that they wouldn’t have time or energy to be doing the things detailed in the book.

          Let’s not even consider the emotional/mental effects on the women in question, either. I’ve got a good friend of mine who still mourns the stillborn daughter she didn’t manage to bring to term, thirty years ago. It’s been a major factor in her depression and other mental health issues. Even if it were a routine expectation in a society, I still think there would be major social implications–Not the least of which would likely be an aversion to killing anyone, anyone at all, in case you were killing someone’s child. My friend with the stillbirth? That loss played a major role in her decision to go vegan, because she couldn’t stand the idea of killing anything to eat, anymore.

          Of course, I’ve never mentioned to her that I have to wonder if her previous lacto-ovo vegetarianism didn’t play a role in the stillbirth itself, but… You don’t point these things out, y’know?

          1. If the mother’s system is responding to the very DNA of the kid, most likely the women would never even know they were pregnant, especially if there’s any sort of physical stress.

            1. Yeah, it seems easy enough to postulate that the cellular level machinery surrounding conception could be altered such that XY fertilization and/or implantation was much less likely than for XX. But it seems unlikely to be stable unless there’s an additional survival reason linked to that (engineered?) mutation. Even with a linked survival trait I think things would eventually mutate back to our norm, but…there’s a lot we don’t know about genetics and evolution, despite how much we do know, so who knows how long it would last.

              There’s enough room for handwavium there, I think, though I don’t know what the linked survival trait would be in Wen’s universe (for the Graysons, it was heavy metal resistance).

              1. I’d probably be vague and say something about an alteration to the X chromosome that meant that, without a matching X, the embryo was almost always “non-viable.”

                There’s so much room for handwavium there that even future science shouldn’t be able to knock it down inside of recorded history.

              2. ” But it seems unlikely to be stable unless there’s an additional survival reason linked to that (engineered?) mutation. ”

                Of course it’s not stable. Even an additional survival reason would last only until a mutation worked around it. But while it’s microevolution, it still works on the scale of generations.

            2. Hmmm… I thought it was some sort of disease process, and the male fetuses were succumbing to that?

              Maybe an autoimmune disorder, one that was keyed to something in the fetal genes?

              I’m just not seeing the biology working that way, at all.

              1. There are genetic disorders right now where…basically, the fetus simply isn’t viable, and never develops large enough to know there was a pregnancy without hormone testing. I’m mostly familiar with it in cattle, if you don’t get hybrid vitality into the herd– sorry, I don’t know the actual NAME for them. Sometimes it’s called “Failure to establish,” but I’m not sure if that’s a technical term.

                It sounds like you’re picturing something like the problem that can happen when the mother’s immune system identifies the baby as a disease?

            3. Perhaps it is as simple as the women’s reproductive systems being extremely hostile to “y-sperm” so that fewer get through to fertilize the ova. Something as simple as the ph-level seems to affect this here on Earth, so diet or background trace elements might account for it.

              1. What’s the mechanism, though? I’m not at all sure that the immune system can differentiate between the sperm, when it comes to determining sex. I think it has to wait until later on, when hormones start to be expressed…

                Anyone else know more on this? I’m not remembering any way for an immune system to differentiate between the two, but maybe there is…

                    1. I’ve been known to be base, I admit. That women can be acidic…



                      *walks away, whistling*

          2. Of course, I’ve never mentioned to her that I have to wonder if her previous lacto-ovo vegetarianism didn’t play a role in the stillbirth itself, but… You don’t point these things out, y’know?

            My family has a high rate of failure-to-establish miscarriages– basically, there’s Something Wrong and the baby doesn’t make it through to the second trimester. I’ve been lucky enough to avoid it, but the damage to my female relatives who haven’t is psychological, not physical, and part of why I don’t talk about it around them is because I know they sometimes have their cycle a couple of weeks late, and it’s a little heavier than usual….

            I can’t save the kids, but I can at least not rip my relatives’ hearts out every time they may have lost their baby, especially when their cycles are so unsteady that it has happened from the very start.

            1. Early miscarriages may not be as physically debilitating as having a stillborn child, but I was under the distinct impression that they were something that wasn’t at all good for a woman’s health, over the long haul.

              One of the kids I had working for me in the Army had his wife go through a string of what they later discovered were what you’re talking about–Failure-to-establish miscarriages. She went through something like seven in a year, and I’m here to tell you, she looked awful at the end of it all. It turned out that the two of them had some serious histological imcompatibilities, and the doctors that were brought in to consult on the case were in serious doubt that the two of them would ever conceive naturally. Both were fully fertile, it was just that the two of them were not compatible for reproduction.

              Having seen the results of her going through that, I have to wonder what the implications would be for a society as a whole. And, then there’s the whole issue of “What mechanism is there to fix a case where the husband of seven wives who are sisters is not compatible with their genes…”. You’d think there would be something, even in a primitive society with poor medicine, where there might be “trial marriages” to see if the husband would work out for fertility. I don’t remember seeing anything like that in the book, either–And, an agrarian society, close to the world of animal breeding? Well, they’d be able to do the math, and something would have been come up with to cope.

              1. Wow, I’ve never heard of such a thing, but I can see how the iron loss alone would knock you for a loop– add the hormones on top of that and holy crud.

                I’m actually about at the spot she would’ve been when she lost her babies (nobody tell my family) if I’ve got it figured right, and there’s already been a day or two when I was knocked flat to the point of falling asleep on the couch after feeding the kids–it’s not the miscarriages, probably, it’s the “ramping up for the kid” over, and over, and over. I hope she didn’t have much of an understanding of the biology involved, because it sure sounds like the incompatibility hit at some point after her body was in full on baby mode and they really didn’t need any extra horror.

                1. Yep. I was anemic for years.
                  BTW one ALMOST made it seven years ago, but I had massive allergy attack to something at the Tempe Palms Hotel in Arizona. Ah well…

                  1. BTW — if you are anemic, be sure to take Vitamin C with your iron-rich foods. It helps with absorption. Though industrial-strength anemia can overcome that. . . .

                    1. The body speaks, but do we listen? On the other hand, one year I craved Pepsi. I listened then.

              2. It turned out that the two of them had some serious histological imcompatibilities, and the doctors that were brought in to consult on the case were in serious doubt that the two of them would ever conceive naturally. Both were fully fertile, it was just that the two of them were not compatible for reproduction.

                I remember reading somewhere that this was one of the reasons listed for a valid divorce in older Jewish laws – that sometimes a couple was infertile together, and that if they divorced and remarried, they might have the ability to have children with other partners.

              3. And, then there’s the whole issue of “What mechanism is there to fix a case where the husband of seven wives who are sisters is not compatible with their genes…”

                A character watches an opera where a prince is sterile and all the tragedy flows from that.

                1. Just to make things clearer, the opera is based on historical events in the world of Brother’s Price.

              4. Actually, there is – see the Zulu tribe. Two marriages, the first one is the trial that parts after a year with no harm no foul, unless the man “treads the woman’s moon.” In which case, the second, lasting marriage.

                Hand my Calmer Half a beer sometime, and ask him about Zulu traditions. Don’t start drinking until you’re fairly sure the dry humour won’t get you in the middle of a swallow.

            2. THAT is my issue. Conception is not a problem, implanting is. It does take a physical toll after a while, but since ONE survived without treatment and I wanted more, I didn’t want to take contraceptives. Did sometimes for a year or so JUST to reestablish my health. (it’s debilitating. Does weird hormonal stuff if you’re VERY fertile. And it does hit you over the head psychologically.)

              1. A Catholic blogger I read just recently managed to drag her body across the line for not booting the baby– not sure that she’ll read this, given her losses, but her treatment involved taking progesterone pills and shots to try to…. well, bend her hormones back into shape.

                It’s horribly uncommon, which is pretty dang pathetic since we finally have the ability to DETECT hormone problems like that and it’s not like inability to have kids is the only effect it has on health.

          3. OK, if the fetal deaths occur early enough, it might be an “easily” dealt with miscarriage, but should the death occur later in the pregnancy, like after the second trimester? Wouldn’t that lead to huge problems with fertility and fatality, for the mothers?

            This. Later term stillbirths and infant deaths hit the mother incredibly hard emotionally, especially since there is hormonal prepping of the brain to prepare the woman toward nurturing and caring for the child. Not to denigrate the loss of a child for miscarriages, but I think it does have to do with the female mind having a mental progress bar of ‘increasing chance of infant survival’ as the pregnancy goes on.* Mind, our current setting of ‘infant survival’ is MUCH higher than it was in the past, where there were cultures who didn’t give their children names until they hit a certain age; between 3-5!

            *At least, that’s been my own observation, with no science backing this line of thought…

            1. Yes, but the seven week cycle, two as body resets, then seven again STILL gets hellish, trust me. And when you know it’s happening over and over again, and you WANT more kids… bah. I’m sorry I only have two, but I’m glad the rollercoaster of hope/loss is gone.

                1. Not sure if you’ve read the Teakettle Saga, about the father’s view. Here’s a link to all three parts.

                  Steven Ozment’s book “Flesh and Spirit” about family life in late-medieval Nuremberg is startling, in terms of the incredible child mortality and miscarriages/stillbirths that happen. And this is among the patrician families, the best fed and healthiest group.

                  1. Heck, TX, in my day, even middle class families didn’t get too attached to a kid till he/she was 3. Because antibiotics were new, and old habits die hard.
                    1960s. Portugal.

      2. I see your point about adaptation. Nature will not tolerate an unsuccessful procreation strategy. Animals that have too complicated a mating or birthing process tend to disappear rather quick.

        Also. With such a small pool of available mates, wouldn’t inbreeding start to crop up as more of an issue? And what about slavery?

        I mean at 20 to 1, wouldn’t men start to become far more of a property than a person? Men would be a resource at those levels. Every one would be precious, which gives them an inherent disproportional value to the women.

        Enterprising women, would catch on that they could enslave men and use them to generate profit by offering women a chance to procreate. Given women’s biology that begins to go off in their 30’s that says “time to have kids” This becomes a surprisingly self successful business strategy.

        I could see a society were women work hard for the first 10 years so they could save up to go to stud farms in their 30’s so they could have children. Hell I could see some women using that as a retirement strategy.

        Even worse i could see women taking malformed, undernourished, or just sickly men who survived birth from town to town in chains so less privileged women who can’t afford stud farms could have a go at having kids.

        Add onto that since men would be more valuable it seems to me that some family’s would even pay to start breeding daughters as soon as they begin menstruation in the hopes of hitting the jackpot of multiple male births in a generation.

        Plus what about family lines who show higher percentages of successful male births. Wouldn’t they, over time begin to see more and more influence as their ability to produce a viable product increases?

        Also there would be poor communities of women that wouldn’t be able to afford a man individually so they may as a community pool their resources to purchase a man and then generate 3 or 4 generations off of him, (hell i can see 8 if he lives long enough, and the mothers were far less picky about how old the daughter needed to be for sex) 8 generations with the same father… why do i hear banjos?

        I could go on, i see lot of problems with skewed birth rates. But i will avoid blasting the comments with yet another over sized post 🙂

        1. Husband raids were mentioned as existing in this world, mostly in the past but sons/fathers were still strongly protected.

          For that matter, Jerin Whistler’s grandfather was a prince captured by his thieves turned soldiers grandmothers. Oh, the grandfather was a son of a rival branch of the royal family during a civil war. He accepted his “capture” because the winners of the civil war would have executed him. Oh the grandfather managed to civilize his former thieves “captors”. [Very Big Evil Grin]

          Oh, legally men were property and there were “crips” where women could go to get pregnant.

          One of the neighbor families of the Whistler family was suspected (for good reasons) of using their only boy to get his “mothers” pregnant.

          The Brother’s Price of the title was what Jerin’s family hoped to get by selling him to women wanting a husband. Note, Jerin’s “Eldest Sister” was more than willing to give Jerin a say in who he was sold to. [Smile]

          Oh, the Whistlers were envied for having so many sons.

          1. Interesting. Looks like at least some thought was given into the property value approach.

            How about large scale warfare? I always imagined primarily matriarchal societies adapting a policy of annihilation over conquer and integration. Except for men in this case, who would in fact be spoils.

            Course that could just be sexist based scarring from watching girls fight in high school. Couldn’t pay me enough to wade into one of those fiasco’s to break it up… i could get killed.

            1. Oh yeah. You execute entire families here, down to the babies.

              And Jerrin’s grandfather is officially listed in official records as spoils of war.

            2. How about large scale warfare? I always imagined primarily matriarchal societies adapting a policy of annihilation over conquer and integration. Except for men in this case, who would in fact be spoils.

              Again, Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels ventures into that territory. The bad guys (both male and female) in the story would slowly corrupt a local area’s culture to decay it from the inside out, weakening the race. The mistrust sown by the men for strong women, and the mistrust of any man or woman with stronger Jewels lead into localized pogroms and exterminations, which lead to the weakening of magical bloodlines. Insecure men and women were encouraged to give into their petulant beliefs and ambitions (If only that Red Jeweled Queen were gone, I’d be a much better Queen! Even if I don’t have the power, social chops and the strength of character! It’s really her fault!) The bad Blood women regularly kept male sex slaves and could select any male they could subjugate for on demand sex. The bad Blood males would rape weaker women and liked to keep sex slaves. And so on, without the corrupted people realizing that this perversion of their society was all done so that the women behind it could stay in power and force the Realm to look at them as the social heart (and the people behind it were explicitly Priestesses, not Queens, which meant they were trying to over-reach on their by-birth assigned magical caste.)

              1. so in essence they played the “your society is so decadant and corrupt, and our society is so pure and perfect” game, only they were running the background.

                Very long term planning for that. Societies don’t corrupt overnight.

                Maybe it’s just the number of female friends i have who love to run down all the other women in my life for this slight or that problem, but i’m having difficulty seeing such long term cooperative planning from a cabal of people who in essence hate each other.

                Like i said, it could just be the type of women around me. But allow me to add context. I work in, lets call it an office, (small building with environmental testing chambers is just to much of a mouthful IMHO) and in this office there are currently 4 women on my shift. they run from maiden (27 years) to crone (one just turned 60). At any given time when i talk to any single one of them away from the other 3 all they do is gossip, dig for information and advise me of how horrible the other 3 are.
                Now this does not account for the sheer amount of hate mongering i get from these 4 about the dozen or so women on day shift, nor the various other areas of rumor mill gossip hate mongering i get from my friends wives. I mention these 4 because for all purposes they have worked here for at least 4 years. After 4 years they still hate each other.

                Even people I don’t like i can still tolerate and move into the I don’t giveadamn pile after only a month or so.

                So with the examples I have in my life I can only conclude that unless there are fundamental shifts in the nature of women in these novels, I’m not sure I could swallow a cabal of alpha female priestesses playing the long game. A lone Alpha sure, but a group…

                And please prove me wrong on this, i plan to start dating again soon, and would like some hope that what I have here is not the norm. 🙂

                1. Ah, I forgot to mention the main orchestrators of this were part of the millenia-lived races. Yes, there’s time involved.

                  I … dunno. The discussion about finding more ‘women like you ladies’ has come up before; and a few examples on where to meet ’em included the shooting range. I’d be a very bad example of whom to ask on the dating scene because my hubby and I met online in a forum where we played a story-posting RPG and I used to correct the spelling of a lot of people there, including himself. I got lucky finding him, because I couldn’t make sense of the dating scene most of the time, and well, considering he’s in Australia and I was in the Philippines…

                  The only consolation I suppose I can give is ‘we’re out there. There’s still some women like us left.’ and “Yes, there are still women who aren’t psychotic hoesbeasts out there.”

                  1. Thanks for the advice 🙂

                    To avoid any possible confusion i wasn’t trying to get dates, i was trying to reinforce my point.

                    Sorry bout that.

                    Had a buddy marry a woman from the Philippines. He loves her cooking, but complains about how much better at playing a mage in wow she is than him.

                    Me i just giggle and yell at him to bring up his DPS 🙂

                    1. I’m more of an MMO player than my hubby is, but he beats me in FPS (because I suck at that.) He loves my cooking too, and since he’s come home FOUR DAYS EARLY from field exercises, I’m going out of my way to make him something nice and yummy tonight! *dance of joy*

                      That’s a good friend! Your friend needs to bring up his dps! ;-P

                    2. There are a goodly number of sane women out here. It’s just that we tend to avoid the nut cases like the plague, so they concentrate into pools, with results like you’re seeing, Bubba.

        2. “With such a small pool of available mates, wouldn’t inbreeding start to crop up as more of an issue? ”

          There’s a very large pool of available mates. It’s normal for a family to have a son, or even two, among their twenty or thirty or forty daughters, and there are a LOT of families.

        3. “Plus what about family lines who show higher percentages of successful male births. Wouldn’t they, over time begin to see more and more influence as their ability to produce a viable product increases?”

          It’s a major selling point for Jerrin that he has three brothers (not counting the boy born after the main events), four male cousins from his aunts, and four uncles, all of whom have more than one son.

          Forget influence. What the Whistlers will really see is more and more of their genes spread throughout society. The trick is, it takes time.

        4. I appreciate the replies.

          I like to theory craft worlds into existence far more than i like writing about them(working on that ratio) it’s fun for me to take a premise (like 20 to 1) birth rates and push them out as far as i can logically see them go.

          It’s even more fun for me to see other people have done this and not all our ideas line up perfectly.

          The dichotomy of my conclusions and someone else’s on a theoretical idea are how i learn and consider new theory’s, concepts, and ideas. In the end it only makes me a stronger world builder.

          Now, off to try and translate that to being a stronger writer 🙂

  6. Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels series is a partial deconstruction of the domination versus partnership. Though her (magic using, caste based with power ranking mixing it up) matriarchy was there, she played with it in the ‘what if respect was completely gone between the two genders? What if the dominant gender flat out subjugated the other, in defiance of the original social contract? (Which was actually a mutual partnership of respect and protectiveness, as well as loving and cherishing those you cared for.) Recognizing ambition and insecurities, along with human frailties, without the tethers of restraint and codified social behavior and rules (The Protocol), the matriarchal society was actually falling apart due to a constant cycle of social dominance wars, fear, vengeance and conquest. With the nonmagic humans, it was casually shown that the status quo we’re familiar with existed (the male being physically stronger than the female). The series has a lot of flaws, I’ll grant, but I enjoyed it and the books made for entertaining reading. It’s touted as feminist fantasy (which surprised me when I found out); but I have my doubts about that as while the woman is the more powerful/lethal magical gender, and socially dominant, their Protocols allow the males to actually get in the way of the female, especially if the woman in question is about to do something incredibly stupid and may hurt herself/hurt things she actually cares about. The expectation is that the man cares enough to risk himself to protect her from herself, and if she cares about the man enough (friend/father/brother/husband/person under her rule), she’ll recognize that, and she won’t maim him for it, emotionally or otherwise. She might grumble about it, but she’s expected to back down and listen to reason, even though she has the right to rip them apart for it.

    It’s also the first series I’d ever seen where false accusations of rape carried an equally severe penalty as being a rapist. A woman wasn’t expected to be sexually faithful, but could develop a reputation for being a user and abuser. The men and women’s differences were not erased or smudged, the weaknesses of each gender’s emotions/thinking/ethos were highlighted along with their respective strengths and the ideal partnership involved the shoring up of the other – even in nonromantic social ways. The most powerful male in the series lets his household staff affectionately bully and scold him because it allows him to relax and is a visible representation of their trust in him; he falls for his girlfriend precisely because she doesn’t hesitate to lecture him if she thinks he’s being stiff and old fashioned and forgets his rank, age, and who he is when she has her dander up. In return, the household staff are very protective of the master of the house and his family.

    Oh and the concept of duty isn’t just pure ‘serve my whims’.

    It’s almost as if it were somewhat tongue in cheek social commentary on modern feminism’s desire to dominate as opposed to seek partnership/equality.

    Most of the rules are left deliberately vague, but this interesting exchange occurs between two brothers:

    “Obedience is obedience.”
    “No, it’s not. For Blood (the magic-wielding races) males, the First Law is to honor, cherish and protect. The second is to serve. The third is to obey.”
    “And if obedience interferes with the first two laws?”
    “Toss it out the window.”

    The rest of the laws are never really defined. The main characters’ court life and social setups are also acknowledged to be outside the norm even for the societies described, but deemed necessary because of the powerful personalities AND the power wielded by the people in question (think world destroying.)

    It’s not for everyone but it was entertaining and is one of the series on my shelves we have to periodically get new copies of due to rereading.

    1. Good points. Oddly (or perhaps Oddly), when I was devouring the books, I didn’t think of the Black Jewels world as a matriarchy, even though it is. I may have been so focused on the way Bishop treats power in all its aspects that I skimmed over the details of who wields it. Annnnd I may have been a titch bit too interested in Saetan SaDiablo. *ahem* Moving along. You’re right that the series is not for everyone.

      As an aside, how does Bishop get away with so little setting description? She’s a minimalist, but you can still see the places clearly in your mind’s eye.

      1. There’s nothing wrong with having a crush on the High Lord of Hell… since I have one too…*ahemperversesexuallustahoy* And my hubby has asked that if we ever have another girl, can we please name her Jaenelle? (Yes.)

        And yes, Bishop treated it more of an examination of power and abuse of trusts (roughly), so it was easy to miss the matriarchal rule. Frankly I don’t see it as feminist fiction at all, since the series has a number of really vicious women who, when I would resurface from the books, made me think of the modern day Feminazis, social circle queens and Queen Bitches (hah, see what I did there?)

        I think it’s because she doesn’t really treat the places as more than stage settings; Dhemlan is barely described outside of Hallaway and the SaDiablo Hall but you can imagine the Hall being this massive several wing edifice that sits between ‘Castle’ and “Manor House with Steroids.” With fields and gardens and such, and Hallaway being the nearby farmer’s town. A bit of a trust, I guess, on the audience being able to fill in the blanks with real world equivalents and concepts. Rather a gift, that; and you’re right; she was able to get away with it. Her current series has MORE setting description than the Three Realms and the Tir Alainn series even has a map.

      2. Also, is it wrong that I dearly wish she would write Saetan’s past? Like, his childhood, rise to power, him and Andulvar in the Dark Court of Cassandra… all the way to the conclusion of the War and him becoming a Guardian?

        Coz… Saetan (I actually found him more interesting than Daemon.)

        1. No, I’d like more of his story too. Daemon . . . meh. To me, Saetan’s character has a lot more depth, perhaps because he’s operating outside the sensual power aspect of the system to a large degree. And because he scares the nasty b1tches spitless. He’s sort of the “odd dude with honor and a nuke:” they hate him, but they don’t want to be the ones to find out if he’s still serious about that nuke. (And I’ll stop there because of spoilers.)

  7. Suzy M Charmas’s Holdfast Chronicles could be in that list, I think. The series starts out as one of those “we’ve seen this before” evilzmans oppresses the womens, but gradually grows out of that early cocoon. The last novel in the series – The Conqueror’s Child directly addresses the offspring question.

    What makes me crazy is stories that attempt to wish away physical differences (including reflexes, empathy, multi-tasking & maths) between the genders and make a world where these are not an issue. That’s fine for escapism, but its not solving the problem. Figuring out how people work together to create a safe society that still nurtures innovation would be a better solution, imo. But that’s a) hard work and b) too much like real life.

  8. “And she’s sterile because of being a hybrid, which eliminates her from possessing the “special ways of knowing” that come with motherhood. Or potential motherhood, in the case of the arguments that dominate hard-core Feminism of the late 20th and early 21st Centuries on subsections of Earth’s Western and Northern Hemispheres.”

    Ah, she doesn’t need that.

    I still remember reading Ti-Grace Atkinson’s essay on “metaphysical cannibalism,” which attributed that to males because they can not bear children. Women are exempt — without mentioning girls, post-menopausal women, sterile women, and worst of all, women who use contraception or abortion and therefore willfully reject not suffering from “metaphysical cannibalism.” if you use common sense.

    Mind you she approved of both contraception and abortion.

    1. True. I was thinking of the 1970s-early 1990s “Earth mother” and eco-feminist types. Somewhere I read a semi-academic essay about how only women who have given birth should be allowed to speak for Nature and environmental things, because they are closer to Nature and so on and so forth. I only remember it because there’s something about the idea of mothers as noble savages that sets my teeth on edge.

      1. You can have ’em both. After all, look at their arguments. Do children belong with their mother? Well, are you arguing about whether custody is hers by right, or whether she can stuff ’em in daycare 80 hours a week? Are women as aggressive as men? Well, are you arguing that only discrimination explains why they are not equally represented in the highest ranks of powers, or that they are never, ever, ever the aggressor in domestic violence? Are women responsible for anything in history? Well, are you apportioning blame or credit?

        Motherhood both as an intolerable burden and as a mystical source of power is nothing to them.

      2. OMG. I’m closer to nature because if they piss me off, I’ll give them the back of my hand, like a natural woman, is about it. And they do piss me off.

      3. I have known a few very overprotective city moms. If they had the right to decide about Nature and environmental things it would be DDT all the way. 😀

  9. A minor kerfuffle erupted recently when the Gemmell Award winners were announced. Not only were all the winners men *gasp!*, but the books featured male protagonists *double gasp!*. Someone even went so far as to suggest that an all-female fantasy award was needed to balance this. It seems with modern feminisim, if it isn’t all women, all the time, it’s a problem That Must Be Dealt With.

    1. Segregation Today! Segregation Tomorrow! Segregation Forever!

      Somehow “fairness” always seems to end up in the same place…

  10. One of my favourite comments on the whole idea of matriarchy was actually a very quick, almost throwaway observation in A Game of Thrones, in this exchange between Catelyn Stark and her uncle Brynden:

    “…I believe your sister intends to rule herself until her boy is old enough to be Lord of the Eyrie in truth as well as in name.”

    “A woman can rule as wisely as a man,” Catelyn said.

    “The right woman can,” her uncle said with a sideways glance. “Make no mistake, Cat. Lysa is not you.”

    Competence and corruptibility are not sex-distributed traits.

    1. A lot of people ignore that Catelyn’s Stark being such a highly respected co-ruler (such that if her husband and eldest son were away, she’s the one actually in charge, and even if they were there, they look to her for counsel) is BECAUSE she’s a very effective partner and a fair ruler like Ned. Of course this falls apart as the series progresses because well, she was much a product of living in a time of gentle summers, not harsh winters, so to speak, as well as her starting to prioritize being a highly emotional mother over being a just, dependable and morally centered ruler.

      I confess I do find interesting what they’re going to do with Margery…

  11. The societies that need to be examined fir how a matriarchal society might work are the home scenarios in Russia, Scandinavia, and even Korea. The external world was patriarchal, but the internal was managed by women. The Babas in Russia, the women who did not go a-viking, the Grandmother in Korea. All of these women wielded huge amounts of power over the lives of those around them. A large scale matriarchi would have to make use of these trends. It would likely be a harsh rather than gentle land, one where the men simply did not have the luxury of running the country on a day to day basis, which would almost require a perpetual state of war or a highly dangerous environment. Most of the time the power of women comes through their shaping of the future generations. Keepers of knowledge and traditions will always have enormous influence, though it will not always be obvious.

      1. I have a whole bunch of books about social customs and life in late medieval – Early Modern Russia on my wish list, in part because of my ongoing curiosity about why Russia developed so differently from western Europe. All I need is time, more book money, time, a little more background in Russian political history, and time. I do have “The Baba and the Comrade” on my Kindle, but . . . time.

        1. It’s a bit older than you’re looking for, but look for a book called the Domostroi. It’s a full length work on how to run a Russian Household in the time of Ivan the Terrible before he lost his mind and became a monster.

          The fundamental reasons Russia Developed so differently was their isolation, their greater contact with the Far and Middle East, and the amount of Land they had. You didn’t have to be a noble to own Land, and there was a lot of Russia to get lost in if you disagreed with the government. Everyone was armed to fight off wild beasts and invading mongols. Their weather also played a major role. I could go on and on. 🙂

          Russia was my specialty when I was active duty.

          1. There’s also the problem of low population density, which goes with the large amount of land. I suspect the lack of population after 1100-or-so sets up a lot of what followed, aside from the “little” invasion problems.

            1. And, that until Ivan the Terrible (the Russians call him Ivan Grossnie, which means ‘the thunderous’. He was actually popular with the people until he lost his mind.) there were many countries calling themselves Russia. He is often called the First Tsar of Russia, this is a mistranslation. He was first Tsar of all the Russias. Some of the modern conflict comes from that. Kiev has never forgotten that Russia started with them, and Russia views Kiev as natively theirs.

              1. At the time the translation was fixed, “Terrible” still meant “inspiring terror.”

                1. *nods* it still wasn’t particularly accurate at the time. The linguistic changes on both sides have made it less so. The mistranslation came with the plural/singular bit. I’d have to dig up my notes to verify who called him ‘Terrible’ first. I think it was the French, but could be wrong.

                  1. Well, they might have gone more for the connotations than the denotations. What, after all, would “Ivan the Thunderous” make a native English speaker think, normally?

                2. Oddly, I never understood “Ivan the Terrible” as anything other than the “terrifying” sort– like, “he’s a terrible czar” doesn’t mean “you suck,” it means “AAAAAAH!!! RUN!

                  1. Eh, the more modern context for him comes from his Rule starting in 1563 where he became one of the most efficient tyrants in Russian history. His life is a rather fascinating study, though it’s hard to find good resources.

        2. Simply put, the Ancient Rus adopted Orthodox Christianity instead of Catholicism. In many respects, the Russian mindset is pretty similar to other Orthodox Christian lands.

          “Sailing From Byzantium” by Colin Wells has a section detailing this, And “The Byzantine Commonwealth by Dimitri Obolensky, though slightly dated, is also a good read if your interested in learning why.

    1. Same where I grew up in Portugal and, weirdly, I’ve heard the same from Arab friends. THAT type of power is “woman power” I think. Naturally and without tech that’s where women fall. With tech, well..,

      Feminists however don’t see that as power. they want “guy power.”

      1. Which is silly, and worse, they have gone to the point where that kind of power is not recognized for what it is, yet they wield it blindly. I sometimes jokingly wonder if Kipling was a prophet. His summation of what happens when women step more into traditional male roles is relatively accurate. (Reference: Kipling’s ‘The Female of the Species’)

        1. … they have gone to the point where that kind of power is not recognized for what it is …

          Oh, you have no idea: Sarah was on a panel at RavenCon on the role of the Mother and Crone archetypes in genre fiction and fandom. Eventually, the panel devolved into, “who is your favorite Great Woman of History; which do you admire most” and similar nonsense. Popular answers were Liz the First, Catherine of Aragon, Katherine the Great. I don’t remember if Hil-o-the-Clinton was mentioned, but I imagine at least a couple of the panelist would have cheered. Sarah commented that none of those mentioned were worth admiring, as they simply did the best they could to survive. That they were all women in traditionally male roles and were prisoners of circumstance just as much as the men in the same positions There was much hemming, hawing and pseudo-polite disagreement. There was much entertainment, albeit unintentionally

    2. And this has been repeated in SF, even in the golden age, even by male authors, even in that most miltaristic of societies, Gordon R Dickson’s Dorsia.

    3. Damn, my first attempt to say this seems to have evaporated, so new try…

      Here the men would leave for months at a time to hunt and fish, sometimes taking half of the household with them since a lot of the farming was done as slash and burn which required finding new plots for the fields every few years. But those who also owned land, had permanent farms etc, well, the male head of the household might leave a male relative or trusted man to look after them, but his wife might often be the safer alternative. Male relatives might be a bit more likely to go for some version of backstabbing in hopes of getting the property to themselves, while for a wife a living husband is usually better than a dead one.

      As I have mentioned before, one of the finest viking age swords ever found in this country was from a – probably – woman’s grave. There are some mentions in old chronicles of other people of a ‘women’s land’ which may have been on what now is Finland. There is Louhi, the big bad in Kalevala, a harsh mistress who has more power in her household than her husband has (a husband is mentioned in some poems 🙂 ).

      It seems certain some of the women had power close to that of men. It seems to have been a power held through an association with a man, most often that husband who would spend most of his time away trying to gather wealth in the ways it was easiest here, furs and the more valued types of fish, later timber and tar – farming is not a good way for that this far north, due to the short growing season and frequent bad years. But when the men – the ones with most power, anyway, leaving their women to lord over servants and slaves – were away for months, and sometimes didn’t return, that power was very real. And he needed to trust her to keep his house when he was away. It wasn’t matriarchy, but it may have gotten closer to that than most historical societies did.

    4. My asteroid belt miners are that way… from the inside looking out, women run everything. They are the ones studying medicine and law and teaching engineering to the boys and girls. When the men are out mining, they’re not at the habitat to make any decisions. Some few women (those out of their “childbearing” years) go out mining, too, and men cycle home for longer visits, and men are the ones who might leave if they find a wife among a different miner community, so how much resources does it make sense to spend on their education?

      From the outside, of course, people have decided that the women are held captive and forced to breed.

      1. That’s a very Merovingian/Carolingian society — the guys learn outside skills and war, the women learn medicine and other inside skills, and so much of the extended family’s wealth and time and labor is invested in the women that they stay tied to their families even when they marry (and usually return to their families if the husband dies).

        Merovingian ladies also had a reputation for poisoning men they didn’t like, even in their own family; but that may or may not be true. Some of the stuff they historically were known to have done was pretty highhanded.

  12. I enjoyed Wen Spencer’s A Brother’s Price although I thought that Jerin should have throttled his older sister and put up a better fight against the bad “gals”. [Smile]

    On the other hand, Wen wrote it as a reaction to the idea that “if women ruled the world, it would be a better place”. [Very Big Evil Grin]

  13. A working fictional matriarchy? I would argue Robert Jordan’s “Wheel of Time” fits the bill. The pivotal event that leads to the creation of the cultures in the books is the Breaking of the World, a disaster laid at the feet of the male Aes Sedai, whose power source was corrupted by the Dark One, and drove them mad. So the world of the books is one shaped by that impression, that men are dangerous and impressionable, and women are more trustworthy with power. It shows up in ways both overt; most kingdoms are ruled by women, and subtle; the men of Two Rivers may appear to be the owners and operators, but every important decision is made by the Women’s Circle.

    Why doesn’t it get credit? Because sex based roles are still primarily the same…men are still the warriors, and anything requiring great physical strength, and many of the female characters are perceived to be “unlikable” because they fall prey to the chauvinist presumptions of their culture (that men are unstable and untrustworthy).

    1. It took me a while of reading the series to realize that, but yes, that’s a good example. Alot of things that bugged me started making sense.

    2. Truthfully, I’m not sure I’d agree with this; I think most of the groups/cultures in Randland (with some specific exceptions like Andor, the White Tower or the Children of the Light) tend to be much more about the idea that life and politics work best when both men and women are present, in balance, and attending to those functions best suited for them — the whole metaphysics of the One Power itself make this explicit, with the most powerful works relying on integrated linked circles of male and female channellers. Women’s Circles may initially appear to be the “real” power in Two Rivers townships, but a closer reading suggests not only that the Village Council seems to be as adept at getting round Circle pronouncements as vice versa (in their own way), but that in times of active conflict or war a lot more power devolves on the men doing the actual fighting; a similar tension is shown between the clan chiefs and the Wise Ones among the Aiel.

      You are right, though, in that even a “balanced” integration of women into effective power networks still doesn’t get credit, because it also includes the idea that men and women are, for the most part, different. (One condemnation of the series I once read called it, “Robert Jordan’s testament to gender essentialism.”)

      1. I think your point about how both sexes are “needed” is indeed the thrust of Jordan’s argument-the lesson we are meant to take away from the books, but it wasn’t what existed in the cultures as we were introduced to them. Learning to appreciate the contribution of each sex, and their differences was once of the hurdles the main characters had to overcome in order to set things right.

      2. What? Men and women are different?

        Well, that might explain why I haven’t gotten pregnant yet.

    3. Well, to the extent that the world of Wheel of Time (I call it “Randland”) was a “working” matriarchy – it sort of worked, but with a lot of grit in the gears – it wasn’t just the role played by men in the Breaking, but more importantly the fact that women were still able to wield magic without going mad.

      This created an artificial power imbalance between the sexes, with the (post-Breaking, exclusively-female) Aes Sedai calling the shots politically, imposing their will on male and female rulers alike…and able to back up their rule with magic.

      Call it the fantasy equivalent of Honor Harrington’s genetically-modded, heavy-gravity bred and pistol-fingered physique.

      And when the girls of Randland weren’t able to rely on magical backup – as happened to pretty much all of the female protagonists at one point or another in the series – then it didn’t take long for the coach of power to turn right back into the pumpkin of vulnerability.

  14. Not fictional, and certainly not official, but the Baptist church I was raised in was a functional matriarchy. Baptist preachers are hired by the congregation, rather than being assigned by a central authority. A preacher can get away with a lot, but aggravating the little old ladies who run the joint will get him down the road in a hurry.

    1. I have yet to find a Catholic parish that, likewise, is not actually run by a covey of LOLs, esp post Vactican II. Priests come, priests go, the choir and bank account and school are all managed by women.

      (Which makes abuse cases all the more horrific, because it’s not just the priest/bishop turning a blind eye, its the congregation itself.)

    2. Funny, it just occurred to me that the public school system where I work is a real-world matriarchy. Cross the old girls network and you will pay.

  15. When I read an Elizabeth Von Sarmas story, I keep thinking of Joan of Arc. Is she a model for her?

  16. One thing modern radical feminists deeply get wrong is in their notion that a matriarchy would be ruled by women who avoided men and that icky childbirth stuff. They miss the meaning of “matriarchy” — rule by mothers, just as a “patriarchy” is rule by fathers (if they just want to say “rule by women,” the term would be “gynarchy”).

    The etymology is not accidental. The most influential men in any low-tech community are usually older men who have children. The “children” part is important, because it means that there are other men whose minds they have helped to mold and who are (unless the older men are doing something very wrong) fundamentally loyal to them. In clan-based cultures such as those portrayed in Genesis through Judges, having loyal warriors is very important to a patriarch.

    Likewise, in a “matriarchy” the most influential women will be older mothers of many children. Whether this is the kind of matriarchy in which the women do the managing and the men the fighting (the closest real human cultures have ever come to matriarchies) or a fantasy one where the women rule the battlefields with magic, having more children makes one more important, especially in a clan-based culture, for the same reason as is true in a patriarchy.

    This means that the leaders of a matriarchy are going to be tough, probably rather unsentimental grandmothers — kind enough to the ones they care for, but highly-realistic about the darker sides of life. Think less the naive young grrrl-power advocate festooned with Social Justice buttons and more the traditional frontier granny, rifle in hand and gimlet eye fixed on you and your starry-eyed hopes and dreams. As for liking men — and children — especially in a low-tech society where bringing a child from conception to age five can be very difficult (50% or higher mortality rate for the whole process), a woman not enamored of both will be unlikely to succed at the “matri-” part of the term.

    Alas for the wymyn Social Justice Warriors, their fantasy of “matriarchs” shall we never</i. have with us. Because power in human societies just doesn't work the way they imagine.

    1. Additionally, so many seem to imagine an oppressive matriarchy (though they never call it such, I suppose they imagine it as ‘justice’).

      Wherein I can imagine a matriarchal society, it is with the cooperation and commitment of men.

      In the absence of those things? In the face of the systematic oppression of men such as I’ve seen posited?

      My disbelief doesn’t suspend that far.

      1. Equestria, from My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, is one of the few non-oppressive matriarchies I’ve seen in speculative fiction. And it’s a (literally) theocratic benevolent despotism!

        1. Ah, we just had a discussion at dinner about the elements of Harmony, and the meaning of Discord (also the name of a villian.)

          And the music is a pastiche, but a good one!


        2. If we could be sure that government was benevolent, we’d probably opt for despotism, too. The less time you spend on government, the more time you have to do fun stuff like garden or build bridges or write poetry or play chess — according to desire.

          You’d probably rotate the post so the despot doesn’t overworked.

          But that would require benevolence.

    2. History has shown that even in patriarchies, the “Grand Dames” have considerable power.

      For one thing, a upper-crust man who married a less-than-respectable woman would find it impossible to get his wife accepted by “polite society”.

      1. ‘The other half is called Society, in which women are admittedly dominant. And they have always been ready to maintain that their kingdom is better governed than ours, because (in the logical and legal sense) it is not governed at all. “Whenever you have a real difficulty,” they say, “when a boy is bumptious or an aunt is stingy, when a silly girl will marry somebody, or a wicked man won’t marry somebody, all your lumbering Roman Law and British Constitution come to a standstill. A snub from a duchess or a slanging from a fish-wife are much more likely to put things straight.”‘

        “There was until lately a law forbidding a man to marry his deceased
        wife’s sister; yet the thing happened constantly. There was no law
        forbidding a man to marry his deceased wife’s scullery-maid; yet it did
        not happen nearly so often. It did not happen because the marriage
        market is managed in the spirit and by the authority of women;
        and women are generally conservative where classes are concerned. “

    3. Exactly! Married men with children had social and political power. An older, unmarried man had less social standing than a married woman because he was considered suspicious in the lack of a wife or children (was he gay, a pedophile, perhaps into bestiality?). Sure, someone might pay him pennies to do hard manual labor, but he wouldn’t be well thought of in a medieval society.

    4. And why do old women have great power and respect in traditional cultures?

      My guess is that because without older aunts and grandmothers, we lost too many babies to the mistakes and tempers of youth. Societies that did not keep their elders around – even when the elders were physically weak – were outnumbered and out bred.

  17. SF deals in outliers – the “one” – the kwisatz haderach. Heroes are frequently granted an edge through the use of some atypical power. S.M. Stirling and Frank Herbert do an excellent job of portraying credible matriarchies with the Draka Domination in Drakon and Frank Herbert with the Bene Gesserit in Dune. The thing is each was subverted in favor of story rather than made the star at the service of some goofball ideology.

    You never hear extremist feminists talk about those because it doesn’t fit their hysteric lie men in SFF want to suppress women. That’s because all this stuff about diversity is a lie. As you can see in the Nebulas, it’s an ideology with a politicized hatred of ethnic European male heterosexuals. Extremist feminism will never produce interesting stories, unless you’re fascinated by how people as racial and gender groups who never did anything actually did ad nauseam until you’re ready to bang your head against a wall.

    Normal SF deals in underdogs – radfem SF has institutionalized that into supremacist group cant, rather than the supremacy of the individual through superior principles. Identity wins, not a better value system. Women, gays and PoC in and of themselves constitute a superior value system. In principle, the 2014 Nebula winners represents the same space as an anti-Semitic literature.

    In radfem cant, Herbert’s Fremen are the plucky oppressed by colonialism PoC, gays and women whose superior innate morality and spirituality wins the day. There is no need for extreme Fremen discipline or even that of the Atreides – radfem’s people are already better á la “wise Latinas.” In the ’50s and ’60s, American TV and film consistently showed that exact stupidity as the main weakness of – surprise – Nazis.

    1. …portraying credible matriarchies with the Draka Domination…

      Uhmmm… I’m trying really, really hard to remember where a matriarchy was described anywhere in the Drakaverse. Strong, female protagonists? Check. Strong, female antagonists? Check. Matriarchy? Where the hell was that?

      Now, Islands in the Sea of Time? There were some definite matriarchies described therein–Swindapa’s tribal governance comes to mind, for one.

      1. My memory is from the short opening of Drakon before the woman is thrown out of time. I haven’t read the others. My impression was that it was a female-dominated culture.

        1. Nope, the “Final Society” of the Draka was gender neutral in that males and females have the same “odds” of reaching high positions in it.

          1. That may be so, but there is no sign of it in the novel I recall and several references that lead one in the opposite direction, as it did me.

            1. You didn’t read the preceding novels? It’s pretty clear all of them that the Domination of the Draka is sexually egalitarian, at least for the Draka…

              Even in Drakon, it’s written that Gwen’s successor as Archon was male, and that she was perfectly OK with that. I seem to recall that she told one of her englamored serfs in her new timeline that they should be grateful it was her, and not a male Draka that had come through, because that male serf would have been forced into a sexual subservience with his master, regardless of his own tastes.

              That’s pretty clearly not a mark of a matriarchal society, in any way, shape, or form.

              I kinda want someone to bring out new copies of Marching Through Georgia and the rest. The versions he put into the omnibus edition were sorta bowdlerized, from what I remember.

              Very interesting world he created, there–I can’t recall ever reading a work where the antagonists were so damn attractive, nor did I ever run into anyone else who’s ever managed to make me feel pity for the Nazis.

  18. Part of the problem I’ve seen with “matriarchy” books is that they’re usually a gender-flip of the same simplification that bugs me in folks describing “patriarchy.” It’s really unusual to find one that will recognize guys in history also didn’t have modern options.

    Read a really mind breaking “poor oppressed women” sub-plot recently where in the same chapter the character bemoaned how women had no official power, and then bemoaned that “nasty old women” controlled the social power without which nobody could get anywhere, no matter what their official power was.

    Pretty sure it wasn’t on purpose. *grin*

    1. So, what you’re seeing is patriarchy but with women dominant, so “nicer” because they don’t have penises (same throne room, doilies on the chairs and nicer curtains in the windows?) Nobody is fully rethinking the changes in social structure that would be essential in an actual matriarchal culture?

      Which is the problem of citing Elizabeth, Victoria, Catherine et al — the cultural architecture remains the same.

  19. This post is less about the matriarchy-in-SF-and-Fantasy trope specifically than about liberal/conservative politics in SF generally.

    (I apologize; I originally tried to comment on the older posts that might have been more on-point, but they seem to have been closed).

    Mr. Correia’s awards slate seems a brilliant solution to the way conservative ideas have been drowned out in SF writing. If conservatives can break into the Hugos this way, maybe we’ll start seeing a more diverse and popular approach to SF generally, and the sort of debates we’re seeing now will become less one-sided.

    Why not take it a step further?

    Instead of relying solely on Mr. Correia to do all the work, perhaps somebody (or several somebodies) in the conservative SF community could poll the top conservative-leaning SF/F writers — Card, Ringo, Kratman, Weber, Pournelle, Correia, Torgersen, you, and several others — annually about the year’s best writing, and then post the consensus / most-voted-for list? If nothing else, it would give conservative SF fans a greater voice at the Hugos, and provide us with some awesome reading material recommendations.

    And ironically, it might even encourage us to read left-leaning SF more often. Because it’s a lot easier to appreciate an alternate viewpoint when it’s *one* option instead of the *only* option.

    (crossposted at Ms. Correia’s blog and Mr. Torgersen’s, in case they might be interested)

      1. The dangers of cut-and-paste editing. I saw the same comment over at MHN, only there it was “Ms. Hoyt and Brad Torgersen” (obviously should’ve been “Mrs. Hoyt”).

  20. John C. Wright’s The Hermetic Millennia and Judge of Ages hit on the matriarchical era in history, the Witches, predicated on a longevity trick that worked only on women. It didn’t last. Revelations in Judge about it — hit at the root.

    The Nymphs could also be viewed as matriarchies. Drugs are involved. Lots and lots and lots of drugs.

  21. Not quite a matriarchy example, but in the Fire Emblem video games (which are set in a medieval-style world with no traces of industrialization), men and women constantly fight on the front lines together, with no one remarking that this is unusual. It’s simply treated as a matter of fact. (To be fair, men vastly outnumber women in the large armies.)

    The various Pegasus Knight squads in particular are ludicrous given medieval population levels. Only women can ride pegasi, you see, and the women are usually young and of childbearing age. Furthermore, the peggies aren’t that physically robust — arrows, in particular, make mincemeat out of them.

    If a large group of peggies gets wiped out in a battle, the population they came from will enter into a demographic death spiral, more so than if male soldiers died! Even if we suppose that the peggies are required to have a few children before going (there is no evidence for this in any of the games), why would a guy marry if he’s going to lose his wife to conscription after his second or third kid? It would only accelerate the problem. Given that most people in such societies farmed for a living, too many dead peggies may well cause a famine, too.

    But I’m overthinking this. 🙂

    1. That’s part of the reason why, on Colplatschki, women can’t enter a religious order unless 1) they are widows with grown children 2)otherwise past their child-bearing years, 3)have several sisters and brothers who can bring children into the family, or 4) have their husband’s permission after giving him two children that live past age 12. When Elizabeth gets asked about girls in the army, she’s inclined to invoke the same rules, although she comes up with a more tactful, and very public, test. That way there’s no question of favoritism or lack thereof in her decisions. *sigh* And yet she still manages to p*ss people off. It’s a gift.

      1. Sounds sensible. I suspect that Fire Emblem does what it does not out of progressiveness, but to cater to people who like to see hot babes fight. It’s usually tasteful about this, though; except for Awakening, they don’t dress in some risqué manner.

        1. Fan service may be part of it, but I think there are also some other pragmatic reasons.

          Fire Emblem has a story/character focus, lots of characters, and uses the characters as pieces on the game board to tie together the story and gameplay.

          If it only had a male cast, that might limit the stories they could tell enough that with the demographics they focus on, they might narrow the market.

          If a large portion of the cast were present in story, but never actually showed up on the field, some of the people that enjoy the games now might be annoyed.

          Certainly, the game would not be the same if one had a story with five characters total.

          In short, I think this and related phenomena in other games can be understood in terms of trade offs maximizing audience.

          I think that is good enough justification to throw societally dubious amount of mechanically identical women/girls into a war video game or other video game. The folks for whom it is entirely a deal breaker might take issue with healing or magic even if satisfied on the first point.

          If a Fire Emblem were an Otome game, it’d be pretty easy not to have any women risking their lives in combat.

          1. Good point. I’m a big fan of Fire Emblem largely because of the character interactions. I was disappointed with Shadow Dragon leaving out support conversations (though I know that it was a remake of the first NES/Famicom game), as well as with Radiant Dawn doing the same.

            I will say that I’m a bit partial to the peggies, though.

  22. Sorry I forgot to mention this, but the speculation begins at “If a large group of peggies…” None of what I said after those words is really discussed in the games, to my knowledge.

  23. “And what about the boys who find out that their mothers set them aside because they had a Y chromosome?”

    My guess is they turn them over to their sperm donor so HE can abuse them.

    1. There are two Darkover anthology stories that go into detail about the problems of “baby men” and the emotional strains on all parties involved. The results are not pretty, and in one case change the protagonist’s mind about how involved she’s going to be in her son’s life (since the father is willing to let her be as active as she chooses.)

        1. Ah. I was dealing with a book-related tsunami of frustration yesterday afternoon and read it too literally. My bad.

          FWIW, I wrote the essay before the MZB stuff hit the impeller and got distributed across the entire pan-galactic ‘Net.

  24. Brin’s “Glory Season” posits a believable matriarchy based on cloning. The women keep men around to “spark” the parthenogenesis. Wish he’d write a sequel.

    1. then there’s Poul Anderson’s Virgin Planet which has to be matriarchical because there are no men. Just clones.

    1. Ah yes. If USCU had just kept their profile lower and tempers in check, they wouldn’t be “forced” to “inflict” the Constitution et al on their poor, under-served students. *cue Muttly-like snicker here*

  25. Meh, I’m late to the party. But I will say this. It sounds like Drago works in a society that really does have GENDER roles, rather than sex roles. Japan is like that. When I worked for a Japanese company, I wore a man’s uniform (skirts would NOT work for my job– blame the factory floor and construction site), a tie, and glasses. (Women were contacts in Japan)
    Anyway, people would call me “he” even though I have… obvious secondary sex characteristics. None of these people were fooled by wearing a uniform. It had to do with the fact that I was filling a male ROLE, and it did not change my nature or make me somehow less of a woman. It is a “gender” role because it does not change how you live your life at home or on vacation, but once you are on the job, your pronoun changes. This did not transfer to those who were steeped in American culture, but it worked (so long as I was not offended. Fortunately, the VP was careful to explain how this worked ahead of time, so I wasn’t blindsided) . I did my job well, and many folks had confidence in my abilities, so being physically female had no effect on the job.

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