While reading Dakinikat’s post on Geithner’s profanity-laced rant against Sheila Bair and Mary Shapiro I could not help but wonder how the dynamic would have been changed had either Bair or Shapiro been in Geithner‘s position and vice versa. This lead me to wonder if their gender might have influenced his performance tactic or if his control issues manifested themselves in a gender-neutral fashion. Then, having recently read a piece in Der Speigel on the Mosuo matriarchy, I wondered how differently the whole episode would be playing out, if the Mosuo matriarchy’s institutional structure was guiding their behavior.
At the outset, it is worth noting that the Mosuo matriarchy is only one of potentially myriad forms of matriarchy. This brief mainstream media-derived post should not be seen as claiming that all matriarchies would carry similar features based upon a specific essentialized version of human femaleness in its socially-dominant context.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Is Mosuo society a paradise for feminists?
Coler: I had expected to find an inverse patriarchy. But the life of the Mosuo has absolutely nothing to do with that. Women have a different way of dominating. When women rule, it’s part of their work. They like it when everything functions and the family is doing well. Amassing wealth or earning lots of money doesn’t cross their minds. Capital accumulation seems to be a male thing. It’s not for nothing that popular wisdom says that the difference between a man and a boy is the price of his toys.
Hmm. I think it fair to suggest the Mosuo’s take on the role of the Federal Reserve Bank, and Wall Street in general, would proceed along a vastly different tack then it did in the aforementioned meeting. Given the downplay of capital accumulation, how does this cash out in terms of social organization?
SPIEGEL ONLINE: What is life like for a man in a matriarchy?
Coler: Men live better where women are in charge: you are responsible for almost nothing, you work much less and you spend the whole day with your friends. You’re with a different woman every night. And on top of that, you can always live at your mother’s house. The woman serves the man and it happens in a society where she leads the way and has control of the money. In a patriarchy, we men work more — and every now and then we do the dishes. In the Mosuo’s pure form of matriarchy, you aren’t allowed to do that. Where a woman’s dominant position is secure, those kinds of archaic gender roles don’t have any meaning.
Curiously, in this matriarchy, women’s share of the workload increases with their share of the division of labor.
Coler was astonished by the absence of violence in the society. Fighting, for example, was eschewed because of its shamefulness and its bad effects on social standing. It seems reasonable to hypothesize that this outcome is tied to the downplaying of the importance of possessions, the absence of a formal marriage structure, the Mosuo’s view that all children are everyone’s children, and the sexual freedom of the society.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: How does this division of roles function when it comes to love?
Coler: In the matriarchal society, love and eroticism are omnipresent. But there is a big difference between the two. They constantly crack double-entendre jokes. Someone always wants to present you with a woman and there is always a woman there who is smiling at you. Like I said, these are very strong women who give the orders and yell at you as if you were deaf. But when it comes to seduction, they completely change. The women act shy, look at the floor, sing softly to themselves and blush. And they let the men believe that we are the ones who choose the women and do the conquering. Then you spend a night together. The next morning, the man leaves and the woman goes about her work like before.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: A paradise of free love, in other words?
Coler: The sexual life of the Mosuo is very distinctive and very active — partners are changed frequently. But the women decide with whom they want to spend the night. Their living quarters have a main entrance but every adult woman lives in her own small hut. The men live together in a large house. The door of every hut is fitted with a hook and all the men wear hats. When a man visits a woman, he hangs his hat on the hook. That way, everybody knows that this woman has a male visitor. And nobody else knocks on the door. If a woman falls in love, then she receives only the specific man and the man comes only to that woman.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Does the concept of marriage exist for the Mosuo?
Coler: Yes, the children are even threatened with it: “If you aren’t good, then we will marry you off.” The children understand marriage as a horror story.
Contrary to other cultures in the region:
A family without daughters is a catastrophe. Furthermore, these families do worse economically because the women are the ones who deal with money.
Obviously, my meanderings have strayed far from Geithner’s uncivil, expletive laced invective towards Bair and Shapiro. Having read about how the Mosuo design such behavior, and violence, out of their system, and given that our system is in need of re-tooling, would it not be wise to look for some guidance from them??
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Filed under: Cost of Sexism, culture, domestic violence, Economy, feminism, financial bailout, Financial Meltdown of 2008, Gender Equity, General, sexism and misogyny, The Cost of Sexism Tagged: | capital accumulation, civility, family, feminism, gender division of labor, gender roles, marriage, Mary Shapiro, matriarchy, Mosuo matriarchy, Sheila Bair, Tim Geithner