I read a very interesting article yesterday about one of the last matriarchal societies on the planet: the people of Mosuo are one of the many ethnic minorities in China. There are about 28,000 of them leading a very simple life: men raise cattle and build houses, women harvest corn and potatoes.
It's the women of Mosuo who wear the pants in the family: the children take their mothers' last name, and any property is handed down from mother to daughter. If the children or grandchildren make any money, they give it to the grandmother.
Marriage does not exist. This is how the Mosuo woman keeps control of things. Women and men live in their own mother's houses all their lives. The women allow men to enter their room at night, discretely. The man has to make sure to go back to his own house by sunrise. Men usually knock on the women's doors after 10PM, and the woman then decides if she wants to open the door for that particular man, or not. The children that are the fruit of these nocturnal visits are then raised and taken care of by the woman's clan: her mother, her grandmother, the child's uncles and aunts...The word "father" does not even exist in the Mosuo's dictionary. It's normal for women to have several lovers, although some women do spend all their nights with the same man.
They may have found the solution to martial problems: because men and women do not see each other during the day, they simply do not fight. No fights about who owns what, no arguments about who takes care of the children. The clan stays intact: the woman keeps her children and grandchildren with her all her life. They take care of her.
A girl's life changes at her first menstrual cycle. The family organizes a ceremony to mark her passage into adulthood. The young woman then gets the key to her own room. This symbolizes her ability to make her own decisions, although normally, she does not frequent men until she is about 17 years old.
Jealousy does not exist for Mosuo people. It's not allowed for a woman to feel jealous, for fear of bringing shame to her family. Women never expect the men to be faithful.
There is some sort of a "mating ritual" if you please: a man cannot visit a woman without approaching her beforehand. At night, the young men and women gather around a bonfire. If a man likes one of the young women, he delicately scratches the palm of her hand. If she, in turn, holds the man's hand, it means that she is also interested in him. The young man can then dance with her, and sing to her.
I wanted to write about this because it sort of fascinates me. Everything about the Mosuo is so different than anything I have ever known and anything I have been exposed to. I did not even know of such societies, where marriage is unheard of, where the notion of "family" as we know it simply does not exist. But who knows? Maybe we're the ones doing it all wrong!