The idea of a ubiquitous, entrenched patriarchy is regularly championed by certain members of the credentialed class. But patriarchy can’t be parsed without also addressing matriarchy. Like day and night, or north and south, paired relationships must be examined if we’re to understand either side of a duality.
The angst about patriarchy is generated by a specific sector of the left, where some assert oppression by it. Matriarchy is discussed far less frequently. But if you listen closely, you’ll hear the anti-patriarchy activists cautiously proclaim matriarchy’s virtues …… with a hope for its ascendance. The two concepts are linked.
To understand the meaning of these terms, it’s helpful to begin with their benign cousins – paternal and maternal. These concepts don’t contain the authoritarian connotations. In fact, they make few objective assertions at all. Each is a creature of the values axis. Therefore, they sit at the left and right poles of the circle.
Mother Earth is representative of the maternal impulse. Thus, liberal groups, like feminists and environmentalists, find a “safe space” at the left pole. Similarly, Father God represents the paternal impetus, so conservative evangelicals and warrior-oriented “patriots” gravitate to the right.
Every human answers two fundamental questions, however. And the terms paternal and maternal (aka liberal and conservative) stand as valid answers to only one of them: the values question.
We must therefore ask …… how do these concepts shift when the power question has its say? The obvious response is that some of the maternalists (liberals) will favor a centralization of power, while others support a citizen-oriented distribution. The paternalists (conservatives) will sort in the same way.
This brings us back to matriarchy and patriarchy. The roots of these terms – matri– and patri– – represent contrasting values responses. Meanwhile, their shared suffix, –archy, functions as a common answer to the power question.
Archy– is related to the term hierarchy, which represents a top-down approach to human organization. Therefore, matriarchy and patriarchy both assert a “centralized” power answer. They reside within the upper quadrants of the political circle ……
A spatial model functions as a tool for analyzing political speech. In this case, the circle helps us to assess the assumptions made by specific partisan actors. Those who make statements critical of “the patriarchy” are fighting against top-down control by conservatives. But they often seek to replace it with top-down control asserted by liberals.
A troubling issue arises here: what about those liberals and conservatives who favor neither patriarchy nor matriarchy? No descriptions exist for people who combine their values orientation with a citizen-oriented power answer. In other words, there are no labels for a maternal or paternal emphasis within the lower quadrants …..
Specific qualities attract someone to the lower quadrants. A “matrizen” will favor liberal values, but they’ll also join fluid, flat organizations that favor a clear mission, full transparency, and an often-local orientation. They’ll be pragmatic and data-driven, and will view dissidents like Edward Snowden or Julian Assange favorably. The “patrizen” will exhibit similar preferences, but they’ll lean conservative.
These citizens, and their organizations, already exist in large numbers. In fact, their myriad grassroots movements are growing. But they remain unlabeled within the collective conversation. And they’re ignored or dismissed by the centralist gatekeepers of major media.
If our society continues to structure its politics on the wrong spatial model (the left-right line) such blind spots and gaslighting will fester. Conflation and unclear definitions will further degrade the discourse surrounding words like patriarchy.
When we shift to a two-dimensional construct, however, the circle allows clear distinctions to be drawn within the language of politics.