What We Talk About When We Talk About Matriarchy

30 Pages Posted: 24 Dec 2013 Last revised: 9 Jul 2014

See all articles by Tonya L. Brito

Tonya L. Brito

University of Wisconsin Law School; Institute for Legal Studies; Institute for Research on Poverty

Date Written: December 23, 2013


Is post-recession America experiencing a shifting landscape between men and women? This question has been raised in recent research studies and books that compare labor market trends for men and women and, more specifically, gender differences apparent in the impact of the economic downturn. While in recent decades women have made significant advancements in a number of domains, including education and the labor market, the recession has ushered in a public debate about whether those trends have accelerated to the point that women are not just doing better but are surpassing and dominating men. The word matriarchy has been and remains a socially constructed term. Its use in public discourse reflects anxieties surrounding female independence and their transgression of conventional and gendered social roles. Looking back at previous "matriarchies," however, we see that the economic opportunity (or lack thereof) of men figures into patterns of family union and stability. Even today, as social mores have loosened and public acceptance of nontraditional family forms has increased, the tendency to see the gains of women as a net loss to men persists (and vice versa). Instead, more attention ought to be paid to how government rules and regulations unduly constrain the capacity of families to adapt flexibly to economic hardship, particularly families at the lower end of the income ladder. Lacking access to a fully adequate social welfare system, such families need at their disposal a full range of options when jobs are scarce, including the matriarchy option.

Keywords: Family Law, Poverty, Poverty Law, Equality, Inequality, Gender, Child Support, Justice, Law and Society, non-marital births, family change, child rearing, family life, economic change, race, class, sexuality, autonomy, politics, social change, parenthood, paternity, women, nontraditional

Suggested Citation

Brito, Tonya L., What We Talk About When We Talk About Matriarchy (December 23, 2013). 2013 Michigan State Law Review 1263, Univ. of Wisconsin Legal Studies Research Paper No. 1242, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2371402

Tonya L. Brito (Contact Author)

University of Wisconsin Law School ( email )

975 Bascom Mall
Madison, WI 53706
United States

Institute for Legal Studies ( email )

United States

Institute for Research on Poverty ( email )

1180 Observatory Drive
Madison, WI 53706
United States

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