Typhon’s Tropes: Creating a realistic matriarchy


In the interests of good writing, or at least writing that’s not repetitive, I’m creating a series of tips on challenging gender tropes in fiction.

If you want to do that, if you want to challenge gender tropes in fiction, at least do it right. Don’t just rearrange the daisies and baby’s breath and call it a new bouquet.

Today’s topic is “creating a realistic matriarchy.” This is just the first on this particular topic because there’s a lot to it.

In my own story, “Xenospora,” I’ve attempted to construct a realistic matriarchy. One that’s neither a dystopia nor a utopia, but simply sort of shit and sort of not-shit, like most societies have been throughout history.

I chose to make my matriarchy not a utopia or dystopia because when creating a fictional matriarchy authors have their fictional matriarchy fall into one of those two categories. Either they’re utopias based on the female supremacist notion that a world without men—or with men subjugated—would be without strife or poverty or they’re monstrous dystopias.

Now the dystopias aren’t meant to be a statement on the horrors of female-only rule; usually they’re intended as a gender-flipped version of feminism’s boogeyman, patriarchy.

The feminist conception of patriarchy is merely a placeholder for vilifying and dehumanizing men by painting them as savage brutes or sociopathic oppressors. The gender-flipped version is likewise merely a tool to “show men what it’s really like” for women in feminism’s made-up house of horrors.

As such, these societies resemble no society in history, gender-flipped or otherwise, and are about as workable as a fire hose made of woven tissue paper.

Both of these approaches to creating a matriarchy have as much nuanced insight into the human condition as a two-year-old throwing a tantrum has into her parents’ motives for not letting her eat an entire box of cookies.

These efforts are an embarrassment. If you’ve created a matriarchy like this, you should be embarrassed. But you probably are glowing with a smug, self-righteous pride over the mess of soggy, torn-up tissue paper you call a story.

So how do you avoid this trope pitfall? I’m glad to pretend you asked.

In a matriarchy, women are more expendable than men. There are several reasons for this, but I’m just touching on one today.

The height of a hierarchy is directly proportional to how much its individual members will sacrifice to belong to it. Therefore, if your women won’t sacrifice more—their lives, their health, their sanity—than your men to be part of a hierarchy, then their hierarchy will always be flatter and subordinate.

This will have a very profound effect on how death is depicted in your story about a fictional matriarchy.

In so-called “patriarchal” society, since men are expendable, their deaths mostly function as setting a mood or as a backdrop to the real story. In essence, men’s deaths are peripheral, mostly part of the scenery.

Women’s deaths, on the other hand, motivate main characters, drive the plot, and help underscore the theme. Women’s deaths are central and always integrated into the story. Take a woman’s death out and the story either collapses or has to have a massive rewrite.

So in your fictional matriarchy, it’ll be men’s deaths that drive plots, while women’s deaths are simply background noise.

For example, in the first story arc of my story “Xenospora,” several hundred women die, while only one man does. None of the women’s deaths are remarked upon, while the one man who dies is mourned for three story arcs and affects the actions of at least one main character.

But that’s life for women in a realistic matriarchy; the realism is, of course, in realizing that power has a cost and that cost is being treated as expendable.

Alison Tieman
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Alison Tieman
By Alison Tieman

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