So a “matriarchy” means women are the Deciders. But what decisions do they get to make? This is best put by someone Rosin interviews: women “‘make every important decision’—whether to have a baby, how to raise it, where to live.” In other words: all decisions about matters inside of the home.
The idea is not new. Fear of matriarchal rule in the home first arose with a group Rosin references: low-income black women in the 1970s and ’80s. After the release of the infamous Moynihan Report in 1965, which attributed black poverty to a “deviant” family structure with a focus on “momism,” black women as all-powerful matriarchs who demoralize the men around them became a national preoccupation. Rosin copies that language, saying black society “has turned into a virtual matriarchy.” Yet even back when this idea was sweeping the nation, these women’s supposed decision-making power within the home didn’t hold up to scrutiny—they still shared decision-making with the fathers of their children. And then as now, some have raised the question, in the words of sociologist Robert Staples: “Over whom do these women have control?” It matters where and over what women make decisions.
Domestic decision-making does not a matriarchy make. In a true matriarchy, women would sit at the head of more than a kitchen table. As Coontz mentions in her op-ed, women currently make up only 17 percent of the seats in Congress. This trend holds across all levels of governing: women are a quarter of officials and legislators at the state and local level, hold only 12 percent of governorships and are 8 percent of the country’s mayors. (And we’ve never once had a female commander-in-chief.) Few women are in charge of the decisions that affect the lives of Americans who don’t live in their own households. So to start, a matriarchy would entail not just equal political representation but political domination, putting women at the helm of nearly all policymaking.
And despite the fact that it was economic power that sparked Rosin’s original thesis, women don’t hold the decision-making roles there either. Less than 4 percent—that’s right, not even four out of 100 people—of the CEOs in the Fortune 500 are women. Women would not only be the majority of high-powered executives in a matriarchy, but they would also bring in the big bucks. Yet less than 8 percent of the top earners at these companies are women.
They also wouldn’t have to contort themselves in the extreme ways that the high-powered women Rosin interviews do. To be taken seriously, as Rosin herself reports, these women have to be “girlish enough not to trigger a backlash,” yet also “aggressive enough”; “polite, but firm”; “a self-starter and a team player.” This “tightrope specificity” and need to “play by the rules” are hardly the characteristics of a matriarch drunk on unchecked power. They are merely attempts to find a way to fit into the existing patriarchy’s guidelines.
Secular humanist, freethinker, progressive, and bibliophile. I love living life, learning things, and meeting people.