Matriarchy is a social system in which females (most notably in mammals) hold the primary power positions in roles of political leadership, moral authority, social privilege and control of property at the specific exclusion of males - at least to a large degree.
While those definitions apply in general English, definitions specific to the disciplines of anthropology and feminism differ in some respects. Most anthropologists hold that there are no known anthropological societies that are unambiguously matriarchal, but some authors believe exceptions may exist or may have.
The Hopi (in what is now the Hopi Reservation in northeastern Arizona), according to Alice Schlegel, had as its "gender ideology ... one of female superiority, and it operated within a social actuality of sexual equality." According to LeBow (based on Schlegel's work), in the Hopi, "gender roles ... are egalitarian .... [and] [n]either sex is inferior."[k] LeBow concluded that Hopi women "participate fully in ... political decision-making."[l] According to Schlegel, "the Hopi no longer live as they are described here" and "the attitude of female superiority is fading". Schlegel said the Hopi "were and still are matrilinial" and "the household ... was matrilocal". Schlegel explains why there was female superiority as that the Hopi believed in "life as the highest good ... [with] the female principle ... activated in women and in Mother Earth ... as its source" and that the Hopi "were not in a state of continual war with equally matched neighbors" and "had no standing army" so that "the Hopi lacked the spur to masculine superiority" and, within that, as that women were central to institutions of clan and household and predominated "within the economic and social systems (in contrast to male predominance within the political and ceremonial systems)", the Clan Mother, for example, being empowered to overturn land distribution by men if she felt it was unfair, since there was no "countervailing ... strongly centralized, male-centered political structure".
The Iroquois Confederacy or League, combining 5–6 Native American Haudenosaunee nations or tribes before the U.S. became a nation, operated by The Great Binding Law of Peace, a constitution by which women participated in the League's political decision-making, including deciding whether to proceed to war, through what may have been a matriarchy or gyneocracy. According to Doug George-Kanentiio, in this society, mothers exercise central moral and political roles. The dates of this constitution's operation are unknown; the League was formed in approximately 1000–1450, but the constitution was oral until written in about 1880. The League still exists.
In our society, women are the center of all things. Nature, we believe, has given women the ability to create; therefore it is only natural that women be in positions of power to protect this function....We traced our clans through women; a child born into the world assumed the clan membership of its mother. Our young women were expected to be physically strong....The young women received formal instruction in traditional planting....Since the Iroquois were absolutely dependent upon the crops they grew, whoever controlled this vital activity wielded great power within our communities. It was our belief that since women were the givers of life they naturally regulated the feeding of our people....In all countries, real wealth stems from the control of land and its resources. Our Iroquois philosophers knew this as well as we knew natural law. To us it made sense for women to control the land since they were far more sensitive to the rhythms of the Mother Earth. We did not own the land but were custodians of it. Our women decided any and all issues involving territory, including where a community was to be built and how land was to be used....In our political system, we mandated full equality. Our leaders were selected by a caucus of women before the appointments were subject to popular review....Our traditional governments are composed of an equal number of men and women. The men are chiefs and the women clan-mothers....As leaders, the women closely monitor the actions of the men and retain the right to veto any law they deem inappropriate....Our women not only hold the reigns of political and economic power, they also have the right to determine all issues involving the taking of human life. Declarations of war had to be approved by the women, while treaties of peace were subject to their deliberations.
Influence on the United States Constitution (Some historians, including Donald Grinde of the University at Buffalo, The State University of New York, have claimed that the democratic ideals of the Gayanashagowa provided a significant inspiration to Benjamin Franklin, James Madison and other framers of the United States Constitution. They contend that the federal structure of the U.S. constitution was influenced by the living example of the Iroqouis confederation, as were notions of individual liberty and the separation of powers. Grinde, Bruce Johansen and others also identify Native American symbols and imagery that were adopted by the nascent United States, including the American bald eagle and a bundle of arrows. Their thesis argues the U.S. constitution was the synthesis of various forms of political organization familiar to the founders, including the Iroquois confederation. )