Accepted Paper:

Goddess and whore: why does matrilocality matter?  


Yasuko Sato (Lamar University)

Paper short abstract:

A society with matrilocal residence is a world apart, allowing women to live like goddesses. In stark contrast, women are objectified and treated like whores in societies where patrilineal-patrilocal practices prevail. Matrilocality, therefore, throws valuable light on gender egalitarianism.

Paper long abstract:

Matrilocal marriage customs are the indispensable basis of matrilineal societies. What difference does matrilocal residence make in women's lives? Why does patrilocality lead to the downgrading of their status and perpetuate their subordination?

This paper compares these two residence types through the pathbreaking work of Takamure Itsue (1894-1964), the most distinguished pioneer of feminist historiography in Japan. Drawing upon Bronislaw Malinowski and other anthropologists, she inquired into the matrilocal nature of ancient and early medieval Japanese society. Her privileging of Japan's "backwardness" resembled the anthropological search for egalitarian gender relations on the most extreme fringes of civilization.

Takamure's point of departure was the stunning heights of women's intelligence and beauty in the ancient classics of Japan, including mythology and poetry. From them she derived inspiration for a historical investigation of their material conditions. Tracing the transformation of marital customs from matrilocal to patrilocal systems, she examines the historical process by which women became subjugated to men. Duolocal and matrilocal households ensured women's social, sexual, and financial autonomy, the collective care of children, and female bonding and solidarity. Uxorilocal residence enabled women to participate fully in public life and embody goddess-like qualities. On the other hand, virilocality secluded and objectified women. Under patriarchal authority, women were exploited, whether they were wives (vessels for procreation) or prostitutes.

In matrilocal cultures, Takamure finds a vision of the future. Through the principles that govern uxorilocal institutions (love, trust, cooperation, and community), she envisions one world family in opposition to competing, patriarchal, and hierarchical nation-states.

Panel RM-KG03
Matrilineal societies in today's world