As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog, I am in the mountains of western North Carolina, specifically in Cherokee. We woke up to falling snow this morning, which was a beautiful start to the day. I’m just here for a few days, but it is enough time to realize how attached I am to my computer and social media craziness. I have little internet access, but have found the time and place to be connected. It has been nice though to have a bit of a break. One thing I had on my to-do list that did get done is getting on Twitter- So follow me @matrifocalpoint.
I saw four huge elk which was amazing. One was right by the road. I’d post a picture but I parked and was walking closer to the scene and a policeman zoomed up and fired a shot into the air so the elk would move away from the road, so my pics are from afar. The elk were beautiful! I also went to the Cherokee Museum, which had a lot of interesting gems of information.
Cherokee societies are traditionally matrilineal and matrilocal. Many Native American tribes have been matrilineal. Matrilocal means that a married couple lived with or near the woman’s family, that women owned their homes and fields, and a child’s clan affiliation derived from the mother. Are the societies traditionally matrifocal, like the name of this blog?
When I use the term matrifocal, I am using it to say women are respected, have influence and power in the society, and are focused on in a positive way. It is to say matriarchal is the opposite of patriarchal and a matriarchal society is not ideal for what we would like the system to look like because that would be a mimicking of patriarchy with women in charge. A matrifocal society would assure women are equal, respected and emphasis would be on women’s wellbeing.
I’d like to say yes the Cherokee societies are matrifocal, but there are many societies that boast of matrilineal and matrilocal practices and customs and still do not allow women to participate in government and religious positions of power, so it’s very possbile they are not actually matrifocal.
But I wonder, why did they have matrilineal societies? Did having matrilocal societies help women? Were women looked at differently than they are today? Are women in Cherokee culture looked at differently within Cherokee culture than women are looked at in the white society that surrounds them?
From Wikipedia: Within matrilocal societies, visiting marriage is often practiced, meaning that husband and wife live apart in their separate families and the children of such marriages are raised by the mother’s extended matrilineal clan. The father does not have a significant role in the upbringing of his children, but he does in the upbringing of his sisters’ children. In direct consequence, property is inherited from generation to generation, and over all, remains largely undivided.
Matrilocal residence is found most often in horticultural societies. There are tens of examples. In native Amazonia, this residence pattern is often associated with the customary practice of brideservice, as seen among the Urarina of northeastern Peru. Brideservice is essentially the groom working for the bride’s family to get the bride.
In contemporary mainland China, uxorilocal marriage (matrilocal marriage) has been encouraged by the government in an attempt to counter the problem of unbalanced male-majority sex ratios caused by abortion and infanticide and abandonment of girls. Because girls traditionally marry out in virilocal marriage where the couple lives near the husband’s family, the women have been seen as “mouths from another family” or as a waste of resources.
In other regions of the world, such as Japan, during the Heinan period, a marriage of this type was not a sign of high status, but rather an indication of the patriarchal authority of the woman’s family (her father or grandfather), who was sufficiently powerful to demand it.
That was Wikipedia. I was feeling disheartened until I read the following: (from this article)
“Europeans were astonished to see that Cherokee women were the equals of men—politically, economically and theologically. “Women had autonomy and sexual freedom, could obtain divorce easily, rarely experienced rape or domestic violence, worked as producers/farmers, owned their own homes and fields, possessed a cosmology that contains female supernatural figures, and had significant political and economic power,” she writes. “Cherokee women’s close association with nature, as mothers and producers, served as a basis of their power within the tribe, not as a basis of oppression. Their position as ‘the other’ led to gender equivalence, not hierarchy.”
I’ll add the following piece of the same article. This piece, as much of the article just made me sad.
“The U.S. government and missionaries made a concerted effort to transform Cherokee gender roles and attitudes towards sexuality and the body,” says Johnston. “They sought to inculcate Euro-American values of true womanhood and confine Cherokee women to the domestic sphere. They met with resistance from the traditional Cherokees, but, over the course of contact, wealthier members of that society, often of mixed ancestry, readily accepted both Christianity and the ideals of true womanhood. This gender inequality intersected with class inequality because more affluent women were freed from most domestic labor by hired help of slaves, and they had the means to acquire education and gentility. By the end of the 18th century, Cherokee women no longer agreed among themselves what it meant to be a woman.”
Our society is modeled after White Euro-American values. Maybe the matrilinear societies were set up for balance, for women to have power. Maybe it was the white European society that came in and conquered that insisted on patriarchy.
I am perhaps in search of a matrifocal society, but more than that would be the search to have the society in which I live become one. But maybe I did find my matrifocal society, but the white colonizer conquerors killed it off, just like it continues to try to do to all women.
What would it mean to agree with other women on what it means to be a woman? That is a fascinating idea and whether or not it is necessary or practical or something that we want to strive for, it gives me hope for unity among women.
Grrl Code: Know what your culture says about women and women’s place in society and as a woman of that culture, be prepared to support the strengths within those beliefs and to change what needs changed.