Matriarchy is a term, which is applied to gynocentric form of society, in which the leading role is by the female and especially by the mothers of a community. Some authors consider it as a hypothetical form of human society. There exist many matriarchal animal societies including bees, lions, elephants, and killer whales. The word matriarchy is coined as the opposite of patriarchy, from Greek matēr "mother" and archein "to rule". Gynecocracy (γυναικοκρατία), is sometimes used synonymously.
While there are many existing matrilinear and matrilocal societies, such as those of the Minangkabau or Mosuo, no matriarchal societies are known in historical sources, and hypothetical prehistoric matriarchy has been discredited. However, strongly matrilocal societies are sometimes referred to as matrifocal, and there is still some debate concerning the terminological delineation of matrifocality from matriarchy.
Most modern anthropologists and sociologists assert that there are no known examples of human matriarchies from any point in history, and Encyclopedia Britannica describes their views as "consensus", listing matriarchy as a hypothetical social system. Some examples of matrifocal societies, however, are known to exist. The Britannica article goes on to note, "The view of matriarchy as constituting a stage of cultural development is now generally discredited. Furthermore, the consensus among modern anthropologists and sociologists is that a strictly matriarchal society never existed." For more information see the appendix Patriarchies in dispute.
There is also dispute about matrifocality (see Matriarchy vs. matrifocality). Matriarchy is defined by some as distinct from matrilocality, which some anthropologists use to describe societies where the maternal side of the family manages domestic relations, owing to the husband joining the wife's family, rather than the wife moving to the husband's village or tribe. If, additionally, family property passes down the maternal line (matrilineality), the wife is effectively supported by her extended family, especially her brothers, these maternal uncles serving children of the couple as "social fathers", while the husbands tend to be more isolated. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matriarchy
Whether matriarchal societies might have existed at some time before historical records is unknown, and opinions about this remain controversial.
The controversy began in reaction to the book by Johann Jakob Bachofen Mother Right: An Investigation of the Religious and Juridical Character of Matriarchy in the Ancient World in 1861. Several generations of ethnologists were inspired by his pseudo-evolutionary theory of archaic matriarchy. Following him and Jane Ellen Harrison, several generations of scholars, usually arguing from known myths or oral traditions and examination of Neolithic female cult-figures, suggested that many ancient societies might have been matriarchal, or even, that there existed a wide-ranging matriarchal society prior to the ancient cultures of which we are aware.
This was reinforced further by the publication of The White Goddess by Robert Graves and his later analysis of classical Greek mythology and the vestiges of earlier myths that had been rewritten after a profound change in the religion of Greek civilization that occurred within very early historical times.
From the 1950s, Marija Gimbutas developed a theory of an Old European culture in neolithic Europe which had matriarchal traits, replaced by the patriarchal system of the Proto-Indo-Europeans with the spread of Indo-European languages beginning in the Bronze Age.
From the 1970s these ideas were taken up by second-wave feminism and, expanded with the speculations of Margaret Murray on witchcraft, by the Goddess movement, feminist Wicca, as well as (Elizabeth Gould Davis, Riane Eisler, and Merlin Stone).
The concept of a matriarchal golden age in the Neolithic has been denounced as feminist wishful thinking in The Inevitability of Patriarchy, Why Men Rule, more recently by Philip G. Davis (Goddess Unmasked, 1998, and Cynthia Eller, professor at Montclair State University The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory, 2000. According to Eller, Gimbutas had a large part in constructing a myth of historical matriarchy by examining Eastern Europe cultures that she asserts, by and large, never really bore any resemblance in character to the alleged universal matriarchal suggested by Gimbutas and Graves. She asserts that in "actually documented primitive societies" of recent times, paternity is never ignored and that the sacred status of goddesses does not automatically increase female social status, and believes that this affirms that utopian matriarchy is simply an inversion of antifeminism. The unscientific feminist scenarios of neolithic matriarchy have been called into question and are not emphasized in third-wave feminism.
The original evidence recognized by Gimbutas, however, of neolithic societies being more egalitarian than the Bronze Age Indo-European and Semitic patriarchies remains valid. Del Giorgio in The Oldest Europeans (2006) insists in on a matrifocal, matrilocal, matrilineal Paleolithic society. The records of the earliest human writings in Ancient Egypt support the concept that prior to that time, egalitarian social organization existed in other locations as well. Ancient Egyptian women held property, positions of power in the religious and social organization, were able to divorce, and Ancient Egyptian lineage was traced along the maternal lines. Some of their traditions seem to have roots in the paleolithic culture that proceeded their historically documented records.