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Women at the Center: Life in a Modern Matriarchy

af Peggy Reeves Sanday

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Contrary to the declarations of some anthropologists, matriarchies do exist. Peggy Reeves Sanday first went to West Sumatra in 1981, intrigued by reports that the matrilineal Minangkabau--one of the largest ethnic groups in Indonesia--label their society a matriarchy. Numbering some four million in West Sumatra, the Minangkabau are known in Indonesia for their literary flair, business acumen, and egalitarian, democratic relationships between men and women. Sanday uses her repeated visits to West Sumatra in the closing decades of the twentieth century as the basis for a new definition of matriarchy. From the vantage point of daily life in villages, especially one where she developed close personal ties, Sanday's narrative is centered on how the Minangkabau conceive of their world and think humans should behave, along with the practices and rituals they claim uphold their matriarchate. Women at the Center leaves the reader with a solid sense of the respect for women that permeates Minangkabau culture, and gives new life to the concept of matriarchy.… (mere)

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This is, first and foremost, an ethnography of the Minangkabau people. As such, it's chock full of detailed descriptions of their culture, food, ceremonies, kinship relationships, etc. It's all interesting, but people not interested in anthropology may find some of the descriptions wear on too long.

This book also challenges Western view of a "matriarchy" by presenting the Minangkabau, who self-identify as a matriarchy. Let's get this straight: This ain't the Western feminist ideal or anything. Gender roles are in place, the sexes are generally segregated, and men hold the political power. Sanday's argument, however, is that none of this matters. She uses the matrilineal Minangkabau as an example of a society that is female-centered. Instead of placing value in aggression and dominance - as patriarchal cultures do - they value nurturing and motherhood. Despite the lack of political power, she argues that women form the bedrock of the society in their power over ceremony and social interaction.

It's an interesting and thought-provoking read. ( )
  jaala | Oct 13, 2012 |
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Contrary to the declarations of some anthropologists, matriarchies do exist. Peggy Reeves Sanday first went to West Sumatra in 1981, intrigued by reports that the matrilineal Minangkabau--one of the largest ethnic groups in Indonesia--label their society a matriarchy. Numbering some four million in West Sumatra, the Minangkabau are known in Indonesia for their literary flair, business acumen, and egalitarian, democratic relationships between men and women. Sanday uses her repeated visits to West Sumatra in the closing decades of the twentieth century as the basis for a new definition of matriarchy. From the vantage point of daily life in villages, especially one where she developed close personal ties, Sanday's narrative is centered on how the Minangkabau conceive of their world and think humans should behave, along with the practices and rituals they claim uphold their matriarchate. Women at the Center leaves the reader with a solid sense of the respect for women that permeates Minangkabau culture, and gives new life to the concept of matriarchy.

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