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The Mosuo Matriarchy: 'Men Live Better Where Women Are In Charge' - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News - International

How does a matriarchy really work? Argentinian writer Ricardo Coler decided to find out and spent two months with the Mosuo in southern China. "Women have a different way of dominating," the researcher told SPIEGEL ONLINE.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Mr. Coler, you are from Argentina, where macho behavior is not exactly unheard of. What was it like living for two months in the matriarchical society of the Mosuo in China?

Coler: I wanted to know what happened in a society where women determine how things are done. How do women tick when, from birth onwards, their societal position allows them to decide everything? We men know what a man is, we put that together quickly -- but what constitutes a woman? Although, I didn't get any wiser on that point.

by Fran on Thu May 28th, 2009 at 12:02:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
in such a beautiful, relaxing, pleasant place as Lugu-hu.

The Mosuo Matriarchy: 'Men Live Better Where Women Are In Charge' - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News - International

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What is life like for a man in a matriarchy?

Coler: Men live better where women are in charge: you are responsible for almost nothing, you work much less and you spend the whole day with your friends. You're with a different woman every night. And on top of that, you can always live at your mother's house. The woman serves the man and it happens in a society where she leads the way and has control of the money. In a patriarchy, we men work more -- and every now and then we do the dishes. In the Mosuo's pure form of matriarchy, you aren't allowed to do that. Where a woman's dominant position is secure, those kinds of archaic gender roles don't have any meaning.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What astonished you the most?

Coler: That there is no violence in a matriarchal society. I know that quickly slips into idealization -- every human society has its problems. But it simply doesn't make sense to the Mosuo women to solve conflicts with violence. Because they are in charge, nobody fights. They don't know feelings of guilt or vengeance -- it is simply shameful to fight. They are ashamed if they do and it even can threaten their social standing.

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SPIEGEL ONLINE: Are men raised to be incompetent?

Coler: For the Mosuo, women are simply the more effective and reliable gender. However, they do say that the "really big" decisions -- like buying a house or a machine or selling a cow -- are made by the men. Men are good for this kind of decision-making as well as physical labor. The official governmental leader of the village, the mayor, is a man. I walked with him through the village -- nobody greated him or paid him any attention. As a man he doesn't have any authority.

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SPIEGEL ONLINE: A paradise of free love, in other words?

Coler: The sexual life of the Mosuo is very distinctive and very active -- partners are changed frequently. But the women decide with whom they want to spend the night. Their living quarters have a main entrance but every adult woman lives in her own small hut. The men live together in a large house. The door of every hut is fitted with a hook and all the men wear hats. When a man visits a woman, he hangs his hat on the hook. That way, everybody knows that this woman has a male visitor. And nobody else knocks on the door. If a woman falls in love, then she receives only the specific man and the man comes only to that woman.

fascinating interview.  last fall i was lucky enough to spend two nights on beautiful Lugu-hu (Lugu Lake) 泸沽湖, where the Mosuo 摩梭 make their home.  this was on a trip to southern Sichuan last October with a Chengdu-based NGO i was volunteering with in Chengdu, China last summer and fall.  predictably, as better roads have been extended into this very deep and hard to reach location, the tourist industry is starting up there, with all the downsides that it usually brings (gift shops, tourist inns, musical performances in traditional garb, etc.)  furthermore, the mystique of the Mosuo as a matriarchal society is very played up, as is that of the "walking marriages" 走婚 whereby a man -- of a woman's choosing -- is invited to walk over to her house, discreetly if not secretly, spend the night in her room (women of a certain age are accorded private rooms, whereas everyone else in the extended family lives in communal quarters), and then head back to his house in the morning.  while of course there is much truth behind the marketing, i felt uneasily confused about how much we were being told was accurate, and how much of it was romantization.

i was told that in fact, while the simple story told to outsiders is that women call all the shots, it is much more complicated than that, and men hold important power behind the scenes.  but i never got much detail on that.  this is what this Argentinean writer appears to be referring to above.

but Lugu-hu is a gorgeous, sensual, almost magical place.  just a pleasure to visit.  i pray it doesn't get completely spoiled by encroaching tourism, commercialization and industrialization.

below are some pictures i took:

Boating across 泸沽湖 Lake Lugu from the Sichuan side to the Yunnan side:

Mosuo children coming home from school:

Mosuo traditional architecture (home of the head lama in that region, if i remember correctly):

At performance of traditional courting dance where young men and women dance together and then line up on opposite sides challenging each other by seeing who can sing more songs -- great fun:

View onto Lugu Lake from high on Goddess Mountain (aka Lion Mountain):


Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.

by marco on Thu May 28th, 2009 at 04:15:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Great photos, marco!
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri May 29th, 2009 at 02:41:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Diary! Diary! It's not just personal, I learn fascinating things!

Don't be shy!!

by Nomad (Bjinse) on Fri May 29th, 2009 at 08:51:01 AM EST
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