What is a matriarchy? Well, Merriam Webster defines it best as “a system of social organization in which descent and inheritance are traced through the female line” (Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 2022) . Basically- FEMALE. In our history classes, it is especially normal to learn about male leaders, rulers, presidents, and kings. Although, in that mix we usually do not get to hear about the female leaders; but history has quite a few prominent ones. As we celebrate Women's History Month, we are capitalizing some of history’s notable female rulers and matriarchal societies. (See more here).
Island of Women:
The Island of Women, also known as Kihnu, is considered to be the last matriarchal society in Europe. It is situated in Estonia, more specifically in the Baltic Sea and embraces the importance of women in a colorful and vibrant way. It is believed that this culture emerged centuries ago, because when the men were working abroad or fishing, the resiliency of the women was what kept the culture alive and maintained the island functioning. UNESCO, an organization which promotes international peace and security, proclaimed this island a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, being that it is entirely run by women. Maybe the most characteristic part about this culture is its saturated colors and patterns in their clothes, as they spend a considerable amount of time handcrafting it. Along with the colorful skirts, another outstanding thing about this culture is the music that makes the people dance and merge into a gyre of color.
The Sitones, or Suevi, were a Germanic tribe that originated in southern Scandinavia during the first century. There is little knowledge about the facts and culture of the Sitones other than that written by Tacitus, a Roman historian and politician. The tribe is primarily ruled by women which was an unusual aspect compared to other Germanic tribes. In a description written by Tacitus, “they degenerate not only from a state of liberty, but even below a state of bondage” which implies they had strict rules and traditions for their people, even with a female leader. The Sitones eventually split off from Scandinavia and settled farther south to adopt Germanic culture, which would explain cultural differences with other tribes. This matriarchal society was not uncommon in Northern Europe and was one of the first signs of the capabilities of a female ruler.
Egypt’s Leading Woman:
Hatshepsut is known for being one of the most successful Egyption pharaohs. During the year 1473 B.C. she rose to power as a co-ruler of Egypt. During this time she began to take on most of the weight, she oversaw trade and building projects. During this time it was not common to see a female pharaoh in power. In order to announce herself clearer and alter her image, she began having statues and art made to her representation. However, some of this art depicted her with hyper-masculine features, and in others, she has her natural feminine features. Hatshepsut died in 1458 B.C., and accomplished a lot during her reign. Most notably, the temple at Deir el Bahri. This was an enormous project and accomplishment brought on by one of Egypt's leading women.
Societies such as these embrace and highlight women as what they are, equal to men and capable of doing the same things, without perpetuating the sexist old and new ideas that still try to limit the progress of feminism. They illustrate the strength, courage, and significance that they have in our society. For all of these reasons, Women’s History Month celebrates women’s contributions to history that brought us to where we are today.