The Kingdom of Women
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 12th April, 2017
For most of history and in most of the world, men have ruled the roost. All sorts of explanations have been put forward for that, ranging from men’s physical strength to women’s traditional obligations to bear and raise children. In the post-modern age, with its emphasis on gender equality, such “justifications” for patriarchal systems have been fundamentally challenged. But there have always been a few societies that rejected the norm and developed matriarchal structures and/or matrilineal patterns of inheritance One such ethnicity is the Mosuo people of Yunnan province in south-west China, where a woman is head of the household and decides which male partner (single or plural) she will relate to, on a short- or long-term basis. In the matriarch’s house, ideally, each girl will have a room of her own (so important for independent action and thought, as Virginia Woolf understood!). Not surprisingly Mosuo women have a marked self-confidence from an early age — most unusual in patriarchal China — and that was one of the things that appealed to Singaporean Choo Waihong when she first visited remote Mosuo country, with its beautiful mountains and lake. Dissatisfied with aspects of life in ultra-modern Singapore and emerging from an unsatisfactory marriage, she became enamoured of the place and built a second home there. Out of that experience over several years came material for a book, The Kingdom of Women (I. B. Tauris, £17.99), which recounts both the author’s experiences and what she learned about the customs of her new neighbours and friends. Engagingly written, the book will be of interest to both sociologists and armchair travellers alike, as well as to self-confessed feminists who believe that women can and should control their own lives. But there is also an air of sadness towards the end of the book as the twin threats of modernity and tourism (most of the latter from Han Chinese) inevitably are leading to change.