Are women more egalitarian?

One way to look at how change will occur as women assume more leadership and agency is to look at matrilineal societies. They trace descent with the mother, live with her, and children are raised by their maternal uncles rather than their fathers. Examples from the past and those continuing in the present (the latter in bold) are listed in the endnote.[i] In some of these cultures women chose lovers as they please rather than monogamous marriage. For example, the Moso are a matrilineal people who live in China near the Tibet border.  They’re Buddhists like the Tibetans but also believe in ghosts and deities like their mountain goddess who is the mother of the Moso.

An interesting autobiography of Erce Namu, a girl who grew up in this traditional culture, explains that wealth was held communally and shared equally. Although the oldest woman was the head of the household, she shared decision-making. “In ideal terms, Moso families are democratic units where all relatives expect to be included in decision making.”[ii] Older people are deferred to whether male or female. Children address their biological father as “uncle” since maternal uncles raises their sisters’ boys. Daughters are favored over sons and only daughters have their own bedroom, called a “flower room,” where lovers may tap on her window to spend the night if the woman agrees. They say visiting keeps relations between men and women pure and joyful, without the fights between married couples. “Love is like the seasons—it comes and goes.” Harmony is highly valued, so it’s forbidden to argue or gossip. Erce Namu reported, “nobody in Moso country today can recall either murder or beating or robbery, or a truly ugly fight between neighbors or jilted lovers.” [iii] The implication is that women will bring more democracy, peace and sexual freedom.


[i] CherokeeChoctawGitksanHaidaHopiIroquoisLenape, and Navajo ofNorth America; the Minangkabau people of West SumatraIndonesia; the Nairsand the Bunts of Kerala and Karnataka in south India; the KhasiJaintia and Garoof Meghalaya in northeast India; the Mosuo of China; the Basques of Spain and France; the Akan including the Ashanti of west Africa; and the Tuaregs of West and North Africa.

[ii] Yang Erce Namu and Christine Mathieu. Leaving Mother Lake: a Girlhood at the Edge of the World. Little Brown & Company, 2004, p. 277. Google her name to see photos.

[iii] Ibid, p. 69

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