What to read?
February 4, 2013 8:07 AM   Subscribe

Seeking recommendations for fiction that features matriarchy / female led societies.
posted by travelwithcats to Media & Arts (36 answers total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
"Glory Season" by David Brin is SF, and features a planet with a clan-based human society where the genome has been altered to adjust the fertility cycle of women so they're fertile once a year. This resulted in a matriarchy.
posted by Sunburnt at 8:16 AM on February 4, 2013

Do you have a Kindle? When Women Were Warriors is free on Kindle and I thought it was an interesting and plausible presentation of a matriarchal society. I actually really liked it.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:19 AM on February 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Alisdair Gray's A History Maker is set in a future matriarchal society based on plenty.
posted by scruss at 8:19 AM on February 4, 2013

Charlotte Perkins Gilman's 1915 novel Herland is the classic of the genre.
posted by Miko at 8:23 AM on February 4, 2013 [5 favorites]

Are you also interested in fiction that features Amazon-type societies that are exclusively or almost-exclusively made up of women?
posted by jedicus at 8:23 AM on February 4, 2013

Nicola Griffith's Ammonite.
posted by rtha at 8:27 AM on February 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

I would definitely recommend The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley, which tells the Arthurian legend from the point of view of a goddess-based religion.

Are you looking for a specific genre? Sci fi, drama, period piece?
posted by Paper rabies at 8:33 AM on February 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

The Gate to Women's Country by Sheri S. Tepper.
posted by fuse theorem at 8:38 AM on February 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Great suggestions so far – thanks!

Open to all genres - if you happen to love a graphic novel for instance that fits the bill please share. In terms of setting, make up of society et al. there are no restrictions on my side.
posted by travelwithcats at 8:52 AM on February 4, 2013

Carnival by Elizabeth Bear.
posted by hydropsyche at 8:54 AM on February 4, 2013

Another SF suggestion: The Ruins of Ambrai by Melanie Rawn. I don't recall that the matriarchal nature of the society was extremely pronounced, but I think most of the political leaders were women, and there was a sort of amused admiration for the "pluckiness" of various male characters.
posted by Janta at 9:07 AM on February 4, 2013

Califia's Daughters, by Leigh Richards (a pseudonym for the woman who wrote the Mary Russell Mysteries (Beekeeper's Apprentice), whose name I'm forgetting).

Postapocalyptic society where male children don't live much after birth leads to female-dominated society)
posted by leahwrenn at 9:07 AM on February 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

Starhaw's The Fifth Sacred Thing is the big go-to in the world of ecofeminism and it's a pretty good read besides if you're into that sort of thing (may be a bit long and pedantic-seeming if you're not. I loved it)
posted by jessamyn at 9:17 AM on February 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

The Books of Great Alta.
posted by homodachi at 9:25 AM on February 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Suzette Haden Elgin's Ozark Trilogy: Twelve Fair Kingdoms, The Grand Jubilee, And Then There'll Be Fireworks - the Grannies hold a lot of the power in the various communities.
posted by PussKillian at 9:59 AM on February 4, 2013

Suzy McKee Charnas' The Holdfast Chronicles features the Riding Women, who have babies parthogenetically, and help the enslaved fems (a derogatory name for women) free themselves. It's... surprisingly epic, particularly when you get to The Conqueror's Child.

I really, really liked the narrator of Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, by NK Jemisin, who's mixed race, and grew up in a matriarchal culture.
posted by spunweb at 10:15 AM on February 4, 2013

Rather different from most of the other suggestions here, but Tales from the Town of Widows & Chronicles from the Land of Men by James Cañón takes place in a Colombian village in which (almost) all of the men have been forcibly recruited by guerrillas and the women are left to fend for themselves. It's a collection of interlinked stories about the new society the women create, interwoven with stories about how the men deal with their lives as soldiers.
posted by 2or3things at 10:30 AM on February 4, 2013

Kameron Hurley's Bel Dame Apocrypha series is set on a planet run by women (because all of the men are shipped off to an eterna-war front at 16).

(Disclaimer: Not read it yet, but read lots of good things about it).
posted by Happy Dave at 10:40 AM on February 4, 2013

Turning on the Girls, by Cheryl Benard.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:05 AM on February 4, 2013

A Brother's Price by Wen Spencer--in it, men are only about 5% of the population, so men's and women's roles are basically reversed. Men are protected and more or less treated as property, and the women fight and run businesses and so on.
posted by exceptinsects at 11:08 AM on February 4, 2013

I think The Blazing World is an important touchstone in this genre.
posted by munyeca at 11:20 AM on February 4, 2013

The Last Hawk by Catherine Asaro (and to a lesser extent the rest of her Skolian Empire books).
posted by therewithal at 11:30 AM on February 4, 2013

An important graphic novel would be Brian Vaughan's Y: The Last Man, which shows several female societies recovering from disaster.
posted by bonehead at 11:35 AM on February 4, 2013

If you want to watch a movie that's about this... sort of... very weakly... then believe it or not, you're looking at John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars. AKA "Ice Cube and Natasha Henstridge team up with Pam Grier and Jason Statham to beat up zombie-ish freakazoids."

They tell you it's a matriarchy at the beginning and then never bring it up again. Me, I think this was an attempt to power the Earth by causing Anton Chekhov's corpse to spin at transluminal speeds, but I guess they forgot to wrap a dynamo around him.

But... it's entertaining enough, and you can amuse yourself when there's no shooting or chopsocky by looking for evidence of a matriarchal society.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:36 AM on February 4, 2013

Ursula LeGuin's short story collection The Birthday of the World has a story "The Matter of Seggri" that I think would fit the bill. (Also, this short story collection is in general one of my all-time favorites.)
posted by rainbowbrite at 11:37 AM on February 4, 2013

There is the incomparable Mating by Norman Rush, which is partly set among a matriarchal society, but also is a delightful read, containing many wonderful reflections on the nature of men and women and attraction.
posted by amoeba at 11:47 AM on February 4, 2013

Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy is an 80's-era science-fiction-tinged feminist novel that paints a picture of an egalitarian society in the future.

Joanna Russ is another go-to author in this genre.
posted by matildaben at 12:11 PM on February 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

In French, a seminal work with this theme is Les Guerillères by Monique Wittig. There is an English translation, but it's somewhat problematic because the translator translated all of the "elles" (third person plural feminine pronoun) in the book to "the women."

Wittig's intention, however, is somewhat untranslatable, because in French the pronoun "ils" -- third person plural masculine -- is used to mean "they", even if the group is composed of men and women. Wittig used "elles" instead as a feminist statement.
posted by redfishbluefish at 12:14 PM on February 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Fumi Yoshinaga's manga series Ooku (adapted for film as well, I think) is an alternate history set in Edo/Tokugawa Japan in which much of the male population is wiped out by smallpox-like disease and women take over major offices of power, including the shogunate. It's primarily from the point of view of the men in the shogun's inner chambers. It's brilliant, but there's a lot of violence, including rape, and it's very much not a feel-good fantasy, just fyi.
posted by thetortoise at 12:17 PM on February 4, 2013

The Maerlande Chronicles, by Elisabeth Vonarburg. Translated from French.

A Woman of the Iron People, by Eleanor Arnason. (anthropologic sci fi, kind of reminds me of Ammonite, which is also excellent).

A Door in to Ocean, Joan Slonczewski.

And I'll echo some of the recommendations above: Suzy McKee Charnas's Holdfast novels are interesting, I enjoyed Tepper's Gate to Women's Country and LeGuin touches on this theme.

The only books that are coming to mind for me are sci-fi.
posted by maryrussell at 12:19 PM on February 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Two novellas by James Tiptree, Jr.: "The Women Men Don't See" and -- I believe the best thing ever written on this subject -- "Houston, Houston, Do You Read." No magic, no fantasy elements, just some observations on what a Female Society might be like.

When "The Women Men Don't See" was published in an anthology with an introduction by Robert Silverberg, he stated categorically that it was proof that men and women write differently, because it was impossible that a woman could have written that story. When the anthology was re-printed, after it was revealed that James Tiptree, Jr. was, in fact, Alice Sheldon, he was offered the opportunity to change what he wrote. He rose to the occasion and simply added a note saying he was wrong and she was a magnificent writer (or words to that effect).
posted by kestralwing at 12:20 PM on February 4, 2013 [7 favorites]

Doris Lessing's The Cleft qualifies.
posted by zadcat at 12:48 PM on February 4, 2013

It's hardly a flattering depiction, and as you read it you can slowly watch the author going crazy, but... Dave Sim's Cerebus.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 5:31 PM on February 4, 2013

Arete is boss in the Phaiakian episode of Homer's Odyssey.
posted by mahorn at 7:44 PM on February 4, 2013

Along with the above mentioned fantastic Califia's Daughters, I'd recommend "Daughters of the North" (which was also published outside the US as "The Carhullian Army") by Sarah Hall.
posted by 8dot3 at 10:35 AM on February 5, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks again everybody!
posted by travelwithcats at 4:39 AM on February 7, 2013

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