Do people confuse feminism and matriarchy

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Popular cultures

Since the 19th century, matriarchal theories have not only inspired the imagination of women. The cultural scientist Meret Fehlmann pursued the social utopias that are associated with it. Tonight she will present her study at a book launch organized by the Institute for Popular Cultures.

Marita Fuchs

The Germanic goddess Freyja, as she imagined the painter Nils Blommér (1816-1853). Matriarchy theories, which refer to the ancient Germans and other peoples, could not be proven until today. (Image: painting by Nils Blommér, 1852 / wikipedia)

Are Women Better People? The term “matriarchy” - that is, maternal rule - is based on the idea of ​​a peaceful society dominated by women, which, however, never existed in this way. Nonetheless, or precisely because of this, theories and longings about matriarchy are widespread today and appear in a wide variety of contexts.

For example, in various Internet circles or in historically fantastic novels. Just think of the sensational success of the fantasy novel “The Mists of Avalon”, an interpretation of the Arthurian legend told from the perspective of a priestess, Arthur's half-sister. In the 80s there was an intensive feminist-esoteric examination of the novel.

In her extensive dissertation, Meret Fehlmann, senior assistant at the Institute for Popular Cultures at the University of Zurich, traced the spiritual traces of matriarchy and the utopian notions of a women's society associated with it. She is presenting her book entitled «The speech is from the matriarchy» today at a book launch. Three other authors who have researched gender issues at the Institute for Popular Cultures also present their work. (More on this in the box below.)

"The myth of the matriarchal society was never a reality." Meret Fehlmann, senior assistant at the Institute for Popular Cultures. (Photo: Marita Fuchs)

Patriarch discovers matriarchy

Meret Fehlmann's dissertation is initially about the Swiss Johann Jakob Bachofen (1815-1887), who coined the term matriarchy. In 1861 he published his 1000-page work «Das Mutterrecht», which is now considered a classic. In it, Bachofen describes how he imagines the beginning of the history of human development. To this end, he developed the concept of matriarchy.

Although women were physically inferior from the beginning - according to Bachmann's theoretical assumptions - they prevailed against the physical strength of men in the first phase of development of human society, thanks to their primacy in the sphere of the cult. According to Bachofen, this was how matriarchy, the rule of women, came about. He could not prove his theory - nor could his assumption that the custom of naming oneself after the mother and not after the father originated from this time. Because the father could not be identified because of the irregular coexistence.

A few years later, after the publication of the «Mother Law», there was an ethnological confirmation of Bachofen's theories. In 1877 "Ancient Society" by Henry Morgan was published. This book was in turn the template for Friedrich Engels “The Origin of the Family”. Morgan had discovered the principle of one-line kinship among the Iroquois, who were organized according to the maternal line.

“But matrilinearity, in other words: the transfer of certain rights from mother to daughter, should not be confused with the idea of ​​matriarchy,” says Fehlmann. The myth of a matriarchal society was never a reality.

Modernity critics rave about women's rule

Around 1900 there was a broad reception of Bachofen's "mother law" in Germany. The book had a great influence on the “Munich Cosmics”, a group of artists and intellectuals. Their praise for the beginnings and the mothers went hand in hand with a fundamental criticism of modern society.

The then emerging life reform movement also praised matriarchy and the cult of mother earth. She used the idea to advocate other forms of society. Non-Christian oriental religions met with great interest. Ascona in Ticino with Monte Verità became a central location for this counterculture.

Matriarchy was also an issue in the völkisch movement of the 1920s and 1930s, which attacked modern society from the right. The social order of the ancient Germans was a point of contention. A majority that assumed a patriarchal structure was opposed to the faction of ethnic feminists who were convinced that women had the say in the Germanic tribal associations.

Split opinions in the women's movement

In the modern women's movement, no unified position emerged. While the matriarchy idea met with widespread approval in the 1920s and also served as an argument for more equality, the women's movement after 1945 clearly rejected matriarchy. The enthusiasm for this idea grew again in the early 1970s. Radical feminists still advocate the rule of women today. They are convinced that women's rule leads to a better society.

Book launch:
"From now on we will play along." Posts on gender in popular media.
The Institute for Popular Cultures cordially invites you to the joint book launch of Meret Fehlmann, Dana Frei, Lou-Salomé Heer and Manuela Kalbermatten, who present their new publications on gender in popular media. Following the book presentations, Brigitte Frizzoni will moderate a panel discussion with the authors. The event is rounded off with an aperitif to which all guests are cordially invited. Time: Monday, April 2, 2012, 6:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Location: University of Zurich Center, Rämistrasse 71, 8006 Zurich. Large seminar room, KOL F 118 Raffle UZH News is giving away a copy of Meret Fehlmann's book: Meret Fehlmann: The Speech of Matriarchy. To the history of the use of an argument. Chronos-Verlag 2011, 68 francs. If you would like to take part in the raffle, send an email to [email protected] by Wednesday, April 4, 2012, 5:00 p.m., keyword: “Matriarchy”.

Marita Fuchs is the editor of UZH News.