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How would a matriarchal society fetishize female power?

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Feo Takahari, Jun 9, 2014.

  1. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

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    In a patriarchal society, male power is fetishized as strength. A fetishistic male character, as intended for a straight male audience, is typically portrayed with rippling muscles and such. A fetishized female character for the same audience is lithe, elegant, and submissive.

    The story I'm editing right now takes place in a society where only one in five children is born male, and the vast majority of leaders are female. The author has an interesting interpretation of how men would be fetishized by the women of such a setting--physical strength is still considered attractive, but in submissive form. A proper man is one who can do physical labor, but he's expected to be dumber and easier to manipulate than women.

    I recently realized that the author has overlooked something. While the fetishization of males is noticeably different, the fetishization of females just shifts the power dynamic--females are still considered attractive for the same physical qualities. This is a pretty big oversight, of course, but I'm not sure what to recommend to remedy it. What traits do you think a matriarchal society would fetishize as "proof" of female superiority?

    P.S. Would such a society even have male fetishization of lesbians? The author and I disagree on this one.
     
  2. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    I literally did a *facepalm*.

    First, is the author also a Mythic Scribes member? It sounds a little like something I remember seeing a post on. If so, that's worth noting (not a name, though).

    Second, while gender is important, and gender characteristics may define certain things, it's not the only thing going on in society. People adapt to their environment. What they value as "strength" or beauty would be shaped by the setting, the technology, their history. And it would change over time. From a "realistic" standpoint, there is not enough information to answer the question.

    Third, given the obvious thematic messaging, the realistic side of things may not matter when compared against any intended social commentary. There's a chance you might be looking at it all wrong, if that's the case. Instead of, "This isn't really how it would work," the better question might be "What can we change to make it work and support the messaging?"

    Finally, if the author is just blundering poorly through a controversial topic they are in no way equipped to address at this kind of detail, everybody might be better served if that was just said upfront, instead of enabling it or picking pointless fights or struggling to "fix" something that's broken by design. And that isn't about whether you or I agree with the themes and messaging or not, but whether it adds positively to the literature or .... y'know, makes people *facepalm.*
     
    Last edited: Jun 9, 2014
  3. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

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    No, the author is not a Mythic Scribes member.

    I have the feeling this is a horrendously stupid question, but what do you think the message is? The author's exploring how different characters act within this society, but he hasn't really attached any value judgments to it.

    I really, really don't want to tell him that all the people throwing personal insults at him are right that he should stop writing this story. It's probably true that he's not really equipped to write this yet, but I do want to help him if I can. (He's rewriting from the ground up to try to address their complaints, so I could suggest that the society be made egalitarian, but I'm not sure the plot would still work.)

    P.S. If I have caused you some offense, I profusely apologize.

    Edit: To be honest, I'm shaken by your post. Very, very shaken. I put so much emotion into defending this story from folks who called it sexist. To see it apparently called sexist in a forum that doesn't usually call sexism on things that aren't sexist . . . I feel like I may have made a very, very big mistake.
     
    Last edited: Jun 9, 2014
  4. Ankari

    Ankari Hero Breaker Moderator

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    Hello Feo,

    First, this is an intriguing idea. I'm glad you asked it.

    Second, there wasn't a need to apolgize.

    Third, did this society switch from a patriarchial to a matriarchial society? Or has it always been matriarchial?
     
  5. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

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    This society has been matriarchal for a long, long time, probably since its inception.

    To try to give more context in accordance with Devor's post, it's ruled by nobles, but it's roughly Industrial Revolution in terms of technology, plus some pretty nifty magic. Much of the population engages in some form of physical labor, but with technology and magic, they're not working for fourteen hours a day or anything like that. It has pretty good standards of health and literacy. Also, it hasn't fought any wars in a very long time.

    Edit: And it has some contact with other societies, some of which have different attitudes towards what constitutes masculinity and feminity. It's possible ideas from those cultures could cross over. (Not all of them have been developed yet, so there's room to fit in most attitudes on masculinity and feminity.)
     
    Last edited: Jun 9, 2014
  6. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    At the very least, if he's not equipped to handle it, he needs to hear that, even if you proceed to help him anyways. Knowing that you're not presently equipped is a good place to be if you want to get equipped. And if people are yelling at him, all the more reason that he needs to hear it from someone who isn't yelling at him. But honestly, there's the opportunity cost, on his part, if it's not going to work and he could be writing something else. "Letting go" is part of becoming a professional.

    If he's already choosing to rewrite, though, you're in a much better place to help him. I have no idea what theme or message he might be shooting for. That's the first question I would ask. What part of the book is the core, unchangeable crux driving it forward. Whether that's a theme, a character, an idea, an event, or something else. You've got to find out what that important part is before going forward.

    As for the original question, I really want to reiterate the importance of the setting in understanding the society. An obvious example, is obesity a sign of laziness or of power and wealth? One is "disgusting," the other "beautiful." I took a course on International Marketing, and what people find as beautiful in a woman is demonstrably different just between the US, France and Germany. And for reasons that can be traced back quite a ways through history. If you want to understand how people would behave in this society, the author needs to relate the gender changes to the rest of the setting. Which means he has to build the setting around his vision for how the gender issues should play out.


    I facepalmed for a number of reasons, but none of them reflected any personal offense or judgement towards you directly. I would describe it more as a recognition that the concept and the discussion is a field of landmines rife with issues.
     
  7. Queshire

    Queshire Auror

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    Hmmmm.... My thought is that much of the drama comes from the fact that it's such a hot button topic. Is how he does it unrealistic? Possibly. Is that a bad thing? I don't think so. Take the average reader, would they have the ability to or desire to look deep enough to see and take offense at this tale on them? No, I don't think so. Femminsts would, but is his target audience femminsts or just the average guy on the street who doesn't really think about such a thing. In that case I think it is a perfectly serviceable simplification meant to allow men to empathize with what it's like, true not perfectly but as a first step, to be on the other side of the fence, to be in a society where they're the lesser ones, same with woman and empathizing with men.
     
  8. Terry Greer

    Terry Greer Sage

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    Rippling muscles etc are what many men would like to think of as their most powerful attributes.
    Perhaps the route to take would be to ask what attributes women themselves would want to represent them?

    If its power that they want to show then I'd suggest that strength, athleticism, fecundity and sexual power are still relevant - but that shouldn't be clouded by makeup, fancy clothes or any of the other trappings layered onto women by culture.
    So - athletic or powerful bodies - perhaps showing maturity rather than youth and with the rich trappings of wealth?

    Might end up looking like archetypal fertility symbols from the stone age.

    Tricky subject though - as the risk of offending (or seeming sexist) is very high on this.
     
  9. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    Firstly, I don't think the story is sexist, from what has been presented here.

    Secondly, I wouldn't approach is as though there is only one right answer. When you start off saying "what would they do about X," it makes it sounds like there is one logical conclusion as to what such a society might do, and that's it. This is not the case.

    What would they fetishize in the female? It could run a wide range. There's no reason they couldn't fetishize the same traits of beauty as we do. You could certainly construct a social background for the society there that ends up being the case. It doesn't have to be the case, but it could be.

    Maybe the associate certain physical traits with fertility and fetishize those, since fertility and bringing life into the world is a clear line of demarcation that separates them from the male. Perhaps those things that are confined to the female sphere are elevated. Determining what they associate with fertility could be fairly open-ended as well, and there could be a variety of reasons for going down certain paths.

    As Devor said, all this gets shaped by culture over the centuries. There is no wrong or right way to do it. I'd ignore criticisms relating to sexism, and to the extent people don't think he's equipped to write the story just because they don't like his conclusions or directions, I'd ignore that as well. Being equipped to think about an issue and write a story doesn't require coming to a conclusion that other people agree with.
     
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  10. TWErvin2

    TWErvin2 Auror

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    No right or wrong way, but playing off of the 'dumb' muscular male laborer, and much of the population doing labor...

    Would the female strive for technical or intellectual prowess, maybe accentuated by atrophied musculature due to being served and dedicating to study and knowledge, and being able to use that to control others and their environment and destiny. If not atrophied musculature, then extreme obesity as a sign of wealth and power. Some cultures, it's that way with males who are in charge or dominant.

    If fertility is deemed important, maybe glamorizing pregnancy, showing it off, stretch marks from pregnancy as a sign of honor, or tattoos denoting how many children have been borne/delivered, # of offspring as a status symbol, even the number of male fathers for different children, etc.
     
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  11. Trick

    Trick Auror

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    I'd like to point out one thought. Rippling muscles are not the only male power symbol. I'd say they're pretty low on the list in fact. A $5000 suit, a Ferrari and a $200 haircut seem to fall higher on the list. Being "in shape" with defined muscles but nothing overboard, IMHO, is very popular as a theme for male attractiveness. Powerful and successful men are often praised for their intelligence (whether they deserve it or not). Women in a similar standing may not be getting identical treatment, since our culture is flawed, but it is often similar. Since the men in your fellow's world are "dumber and easier to manipulate" then why not have women praised and found attractive for their intelligence, success and power? You can't take the physical form out of the picture but it can definitely be muted. Unless you are talking about lesbians, why would a woman try to form her body to some sexual ideal when she can easily have any man she wants through her power and cunning? Think about Warren Buffet (I know nothing of his personal life so this is just a baseless analogy): He is old and no longer physically attractive, if he ever was (I honestly don't know what he looked like young) yet he could have a different 25 year old model in his bed every night, if he wanted to. That should not imply that he could have 'any woman' he wants because an intelligent woman who values herself would not be so easily bedded, even by a multi billionaire. This could be the case in your fellow's world but with an interesting juxtaposition that would create new and different versions of this concept. So, a powerful and intelligent woman is attractive to submissive men, which feels as realistic to me as he could get, and her physical form is secondary though still important because of the base biological imperative.

    That being said, it might be easiest to stick with something close to the modern idea of female beauty so that readers can relate. If one were to make obesity (or something close to it) the standard of beauty, I think it might affect the readers' suspension of disbelief. As much as many people might hate to admit it. If you describe a character as beautiful (male or female) I immediately have a body shape pictured in my head because that's my idea of physical beauty. Everyone is different, true but there is a mean of the extremes and it might keep the physical beauty quandary within a manageable spectrum to stay close to what the modern world sees as beautiful. This could be achieved by studying foreign standards of beauty and combining them with American standards and resulting with a unique but relatable idea of physical attractiveness.

    Just my $0.02
     
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  12. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    I only just saw this. I didn't call it sexist. I didn't call him bigoted. If it came off that way, I apologize. But I believe in being honest with people. If a story just isn't going to work, I believe in saying so. I think that's better for everyone involved. I'm not saying that it is definitely the case that the story won't work, as I have only your post, and anyways, his attitude will matter more than what he's written thus far in determining where it will go. But it sounds like -

    I had a friend, in college at New York University, a roommate studying film, who did a film presentation for his class. In the film presentation, he included clips of the towers falling on 9/11. He had a million reasons for including them. But the class, and the teacher, couldn't see them. They didn't care. All they saw was the towers falling, and they couldn't get past it. They got mad, and - as I'm told - they couldn't even articulate a reason it should be offensive, except that it was too close to home.

    To me, it sounds like the author here is doing the same thing. He's creating a world where gender is so much at the forefront that it's going to crowd out whatever he's trying to do with the project. He's telling a story? It must be about woman power. Or how bad woman power is. Or how dumb men are? Or how women want to treat men as stupid? Or something, right? Probably none of that. It was just a thought that he thought would be interesting to explore. But he's wading into issues that might be bigger than what he's trying to do.

    That isn't sexist. But it might not be wise.

    As for the topic:




    Well, men are bit uncommon. Supply and demand. It means that they're also valuable. And that value is going to show in the gender relationship, one way or another. That's the first hurdle I would want to solve. How would that value-question play out.
     
  13. Terry Greer

    Terry Greer Sage

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    To clarify - I didn't mean the story risked being sexist - I was referring to the forum and what I was writing in the post as I didin't want to offend.
     
  14. Sheilawisz

    Sheilawisz Queen of Titania Moderator

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    The discussion in this thread has reminded me of my Aylar stories.

    In the Aylar species, there is only one Guardian (male) for every seven females. The society is not exactly Matriarchal because the Guardians live quite separated from the females, and they have a social system that is something like this:

    When a Guardian is born, he spends the first five years of his life under the care of his mother and sisters. By that age he is already some eight feet tall, and then the father comes to take him away. The Guardians live together in large groups that they call Legions, usually inhabiting very large structures outside the towns and cities of the female Aylars.

    The Legions have their own naming system for the Guardians that are part of it, without family names. They have their own leadership as well, but they are loyal to the Queen of their country anyway...

    The female Aylars regard their Guardians as very valuable, extremely loyal and powerful friends.

    They are over twelve feet tall and weigh around 1600 pounds, which means that the average Guardian has twelve times the physical strength of an average female. They evolved this way to act as protectors, which does not make a lot of sense considering the varied collection of deadly powers that are features of the species.

    The Guardians are not viewed as dumb or simply as strength machines by the females, not at all!

    What really defines the Guardians is their loyalty and protectiveness of the little ones as they call the females, and their powerful instinct to never hurt them and do almost anything that a female asks them to do.

    The stereotypical values associated to each gender would be perhaps these:

    1- Females: Beauty, elegance, crystalline voices, family values, royalty.
    2- Guardians: Power, loyalty, legion values, protection, toughness.

    What do you think?
     
    Last edited: Jun 10, 2014
  15. buyjupiter

    buyjupiter Maester

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    I'm half amused by the assumption, by default, that whatever we have got now as a society (fetishization of certain beauty standards, societal class/caste value, etc) would be exactly the same if women were in charge.

    I'm not saying that if a matriarchal society were the status quo that it wouldn't develop into valuing one kind of man for x,y,z qualities above another, as a societal norm, but it seems to be the default assumption.

    I can only go off of what I personally do (and what behavior I normally observe from women around me) and objectification (when it happens) isn't of the same quality(?). I don't know if this is a "taught" behavior, absorbed from Hollywood, or what but most of the women I hang out with don't tend to go that route. (And yes, I know about surrounding ones self with people that reflect ones values, but.) What little I've noticed is of the "he's really hot"/"I'd like to shag him" variety and not the "I'm going to comment on his eyes/hair/bottom until he's uncomfortable and keep going until I get what I want" kind.

    I am, however, quite bored of the "matriarchy as destructive man killing force that must be stopped by a man". Because, Star Trek--as progressive as they were--did that story idea to death. And has made me leery of picking up stories about matriarchies written by guys. Just once I'd like to see a matriarchal society that kicked a**, took names, and didn't kill their menfolk after making babies. (Oh, wait, Catherine Asaro's Skolian Empire series did just that...)

    I don't know if that's where the story is headed, but among spec fic readers Star Trek is well-known enough that some of those ideas have trickled into the consciousness, even if everyone hasn't watched the specific episodes. I would definitely suggest that if it's closely approaching that line of "let's scare every red blooded American male by making this about how we'd be so screwed when the women take over, because they're going to take over and it's gonna be a bloodbath", you have a chat with the author about not propping up old ideas about matriarchies and trying for some new and undiscovered territory.

    Inherently, within the idea itself I see no sexism. In the execution, however...
     
  16. JourneyToTheWest

    JourneyToTheWest New Member

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    As a foreigner, I have to admit that you gave me a hard time with so much "big" words, just like a punch in the face. XD

    If you wouldn't mind, I can give you some information base on my own culture-Chinese culture. China has been a Feudal society for more than 3 thousand years, with most of the history recorded. Even though China is a typical patriarchy culture, it still happened for several times that it was a woman who controls the empire, as a female emperor or a queen(they are different). Since it is recorded in the history, it is obvious that female have different behavior when they gain the leadership in the society. With all due respect to all female, the famous women in Chinese history conquered men with their capability in managing human resource, making allies, and unscrupulously revenge.

    In my opinion, woman fetishization is no big difference compared with the ones you listed, such as elegance etc. But there are two others, one is the wisdom to balance all forces in the society, making sure that not a single one is over her control; and the other one is the width of her pelvis, which indicates the danger she faces while giving birth. The empire can not be steady without the daughters of the queen, and the queen must survive giving birth, which is always a huge risk of life for women.
     
  17. ascanius

    ascanius Inkling

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    Thats is one of the things that bugged me when I read the OP.

    Feo to me it seems that what he did was take the societal norms of power and sexuality and simply switched the sex around.

    See what I mean, he just turned the fertilization around without putting any thought into it, I think that is one of the things people are having a problem with.

    In my anthro class many years ago we learned about a completely matriarchal society in china, don't remember where or the name save that it was in an isolated mountainous region. there were maybe a handful of villages with at the very max 30 people per village. The women were in charge but it was simply that the women took care of everything and made all the decisions. there was a leader who acted in more of a role of arbitrator of giving advice. She didn't rule by telling others what to do, others simply sought out her knowledge and wisdom. The women raised the kids and did everything else that needed doing. the men just wondered from house to house village to village helping, very little at that mostly they lazed about. At night the women would feed and give the men a place to spend the night, and maybe a romp in bed. This society is definitely not a repackaging of a patriarchal society.

    I think he needs to rethink his society and actually think about it instead of simply switching sexes around.

    Oh, I'm sorta extrapolating based on what you said but from what I read it seems to be what he did.
     
  18. Jabrosky

    Jabrosky Banned

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    I once wrote a story with a setting you might call matriarchal, at least in the sense that it reversed some gender norms of our own. In this setting, men were expected to farm in "bachelor villages" while the women hunted in nomadic bands. I don't think my world-building got around to the topic of sexual attractiveness, but one of the female characters did say, "Don't whine like a man!" That might imply that emotional stoicism wouldn't be seen as manly in this setting.

    On the other hand the story did mention a female fear of men taking advantage of any women in their presence, so it wasn't a total inversion of our gender/sex norms.
     
  19. Trick

    Trick Auror

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    A total inversion of gender/sex norms is impossible. One might as well call men 'women' and vice versa. We are defined by what we are. If men remain physically stronger, more sexually and violently aggressive but the idea is to have women rule, they must do it with their minds. Their intelligence would be their greatest strength. Much like a woman with a small frame and without extreme musculature could defeat a large, strong man in a fight if she were an experienced martial artist. That is an example of brains over brawn even though it is a physical fight. I prefer to think that a matriarchal society would be more peaceful but there would be easily as much political intrigue, likely on a higher level since they'd have more time to devote to it, with them being better at avoiding all out war.
     
    Last edited: Jun 11, 2014
  20. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    On the other hand, all-out war, on a controlled scale, could be a way that matriarchal societies might keep male populations in check and lessen the likelihood of males coming together to use their greater average physical strength to overturn the existing order.
     
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