Feminist gaming blog with a heaping dash of science and politics

Tropebusting: Matriarchies in gaming and Sci-Fi/Fantasy

It’s Tropebusting time! Yes, like Mythbusters, but with Tropes! Sadly, there will be no gratuitous explosions ala the Savage-Hyneman team, but there will be pictures! Maybe even pictures of explosions! Ok, that’s enough exclamation points, onward to the busting of the Matriarchy tropes that exist in Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and gaming!

First, you may be wondering what exactly a matriarchy is, let alone what a Matriarchy would be (yes the capitalization makes a difference). In anthropology, there are many terms for categorizing the way a culture/society is structured: matrilineal/patrilineal means land, property, and inheritance are passed down through the mother’s line (matri-) or the father’s (patri-); matrilocal/patrilocal means that new family units move in with (or move closer to) the mother’s family or the father’s family; and, lastly, matriarchal/patriarchal means that power is usually held by the mother (or women in general) or by the father (or men in general). Now in sociological and feminist theory, there is a concept called the Patriarchy that takes that last anthropological category and expands upon it to describe a culture that consolidates all (or nearly all) of the power in men and promotes sexism and discrimination against women. There is a contrasting, hypothetical concept called Matriarchy, which would theoretically be the exact opposite of a Patriarchy. It’s purely hypothetical, though, because such a culture has never existed (at least on a large, global scale like the Patriarchy). Because we live in a Patriarchy, and Patriarchal cultures have been the norm for most of recorded history, the idea of a Matriarchy is interesting territory to explore in Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and the games that belong to those genres. Sadly, most of time that this particular territory is explored, we only ever get some really bad and problematic tropes instead of the good speculative fiction that is (or should be) the hallmarks of those genres.

The Drow are fiercely Matriarchal. Men are treated as second-class citizens, are ritually killed without a second thought, and just generally have a crappier go of it then women.

The most prevalent of these tropes is that Matriarchies are Evil, like really, really super-duper EVIL. The Drow, of DnD fame, are one of the best examples of an Evil Matriarchy (and a Sexy Matriarchy, but I’ll get to that in a moment). For those not in the know, the Drow are the dark elves of the Forgotten Realms that live underground and are EVIL. Very EVIL and very Matriarchal… and not by coincidence. Their evilness is in their Matriarchy: they worship an evil demon god, Lolth the Spider Queen, who revels in torture and murder; they have a competitive Great House system led by the house Matrons wherein house prominence is gained by exterminating one of the higher houses; and relegation of men to the lesser valued status of Warriors, Mages, and sperm donators while women get to be the powerful Matrons and Priestesses. There’s whips and chains, ritual sacrifices, and more backstabbing than you can shake a poisoned dagger at. They are evil because they are Matriarchal and ruthlessly subjugate half of their population. However,  there is also a very strong sense that they are a Matriarchy because they are so unbelievably evil, that a society run by women is just inherently evil. The inter-house competition is based around jealousy, vanity, gossip, and frenemy-type alliances that always end with backstabbing, all of which are heavily gendered to be the stereotypical not-so-fair traits of the ‘fairer sex’. Sexism is still sexism, and does not look any better when it has a fantasy veneer painted over it.

The leaders of the highest House of Menzoberranzan. They got there (and stay there) through subterfuge, assassinations, and the ruthless extermination of houses that pose a challenge to their rule.

Now, you might ask, “Wait, Zee, isn’t the Patriarchy like really EVIL too?” Well, yes, the Patriarchy is evil because it promotes the subjugation of half of humanity, but it’s not because men are inherently evil. What we see in the Drow society, and the many Evil Matriarchies depicted in literature and games, is not just a Patriarchy-flip though. Rather, they are grossly exaggerated reversals of the Patriarchy. Very few fictional Matriarchies accurately reflect the reality of contemporary, or historical, Patriarchies. There have been many horrible atrocities and greivous violations of basic human rights committed by Patriarchies, both current and ancient, but by depicting an exaggerated reversal, the Evil Matriarchy trope makes a farce of these tragedies. It sends the message that the ongoing  inequality and oppression faced by women today, and in the past, is not that bad because it could be worse, they could face the horrific fates of the men showcased in these fictional Matriarchies. Instead of getting insightful commentary on a Patriarchal system (or any hierarchal system), fiction that utilizes this trope only provides the audience with sexist stereotypes and belittling depictions of the plight of women who have suffered under real-world Patriarchies.

A Drow woman wearing... not much.

One of the other prevlant tropes is that Matriarchies are Sexy. Smokin’ hot babes, kink and fetish gear, random girl-on-girl action, and as little clothing as possible are all big parts of these societies. The Drow, are again, one of the best examples of this (and probably the progenitor of most modern hyper-sexualized fictional Matriarchies), but there have been many Sexy Matriarchies throughout literature and gaming. From the Amazons warrrios of Ancient Greece to the (mostly) benevolent Asari of the Mass Effect universe, as well as the Kelari of Rift, the Night Elvesof Warcraft, and almost every other iteration of dark elf, these Matriarchal societies range the gamut of good and evil, passive and aggressive, but they all share a large degree of sexualization. This trope stems from a couple of places. The first is that the overt sexuality of the women in the Matriarchy is a symbol of their power. This ties into the prevailing notion in our real-world society that much of a woman’s power and value lays in her sexuality and how she wields it, whether its as a good, chaste virgin or a dangerous, seductive spy (just to pick two of the many archetypes). It’s a really complex topic (and would double the length of this already long post if I delved too deep into it) but it’s the same notion that creates the sexual double standard of slut v. stud and the virgin-whore dichotomy. The Sexy Matriarchy trope relies on this Patriarchal idea of female sexuality as power to convey the message that the women of the society are powerful. This has some pretty unfortunate implications though when it comes to Evil Matriarchies that are also Sexy Matriarchies, like the Drow. The idea transforms from female sexuality is their power base to female sexuality is evil and corruptive, which is definitely not a great message to be sending out.

The Male Gaze in full effect in some artwork for World of Warcraft.

Of course, the other root to many Sexy Matriarchies is simply the real-world impetus to sexually objectify women, even when it makes absolutely no sense to do so. I highly doubt a real Matriarchy would have the women, the people in power, be the ones who make their bodies sexually available and pleasing at all times for the low-status men. Pretty sure it would be the opposite: men would be the decorative, ‘fairer’ sex. Instead, we get all-powerful women shoe-horned into chain-mail bikinis and sexy poses to titillate the presumed male audience. This, my friends, is what is called the Male Gaze, a feminist theory that describes how much of our media is framed to always view the world and its inhabitants through the male gaze. That means men are actors and subjects, while women, no matter how powerful they are in a supposed Matriarchy, are still only objects to be lusted after.

This ties into another trope: Matriarchies that look suspiciously like Patriarchies despite being ruled by women. A lot of Matriarchies have some aspect of this, mostly because they are imperfect reversals of a Patriarchy due to exaggeration or just misunderstanding of what a Patriarchy is or what traits are inherent to a gender. To use the earlier example of Drow, the fact that male Drow tend to both be fully clothed and have more career paths open to them (warrior+assassin+mage verses priestess) than their female counterparts is not exactly logical in such a ruthless and strong Matriarchy. An even better example lies in the Salarians of the Mass Effect universe. A supposedly strict Matriarchal race, the Salarians have conveniently designed gender roles that keep all of the women (who make themselves a minority by tightly controlling reproduction to make sure only a handful of women are born each generation) on the home planet while the men go off and do important manly things in space. Their Council representative (the ruling board of the entire galaxy) is a male, all of their ambassadors are male, their military commanders are male. In fact, you never see a female Salarian in either of the two released games. For a Matriarchy, that’s not a whole lot of female power being displayed outside of the domestic sphere (i.e. their home planet) or child-rearing and procreative duties, which is a pretty Patriarchal world view.

You meet many, many Salarians in the game but none of them are women.

Other Matriarchies that fall under this trope seem to pretty much be Matriarchies in name only. They have a female head of state or leader, some sassy girl power quirps, and that’s pretty much it for the “all (or almost all) power is consolidated in the women while promoting sexism and discrimination against men” part of the definition of a Matriarchy. Most of the playable-race Matriarchies you encounter in MMO’s will be of this category: the Dark Elves of Everquest, the Night Elves of WoW, the Kelari of Rift, etc. Next time you’re running around in one of these games, pay attention to how many more men of the race you see then women, especially with quest givers or people that are important lore-wise. You’ll quickly see that for the most part the women are more sexualized than the men more often, aren’t actually in more powerful positions, or are still subject to a lot of the double standards and stereotypes that women have to deal with in the real-world Patriarchy. With this trope of Not-Really a Matriarchy, the term is only applied to them, or they’re only given the most vague surface resemblance to one, as a shorthand to the audience that these people are kind of evil or alien or exotic.

Matriarchy tropes go way back to the Ancient Greeks.

All of these tropes, either on their own or used in conjunction, send out some pretty peculiar messages about women: that women holding power is bad or odd, that female sexuality needs to be controlled lest it be used for evil, and that even when women run things they are still held back by their gender and need men around to do most of the work. It’s been theorized that these messages were actually the main purpose behind the myth of the Amazons back in Ancient Greece. While the Amazons might have existed, tales and myths of their society were exaggerated for the express purpose of proving that women were inferior, irrational, vengeful, and vain and used as justification for their subservience. As for nowadays, I’m going to be generous and give the people who create these ficitional Matriarchies the benefit of the doubt that they’re not trying to craft outrageously sexist propaganda. Rather, I think that the messages at the heart of the Amazon mythos have made their way into our collective consciousness and these modern, fictional Matriarchies are simply playing off of these stereotypes in attempts to create races that are easily readable as evil or alien in our Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and games. Which, of course, is still very sexist.

Quinnae, over at the Border House, has a great post that articulates some of these problematic messages that the Matriarchal tropes bring up. Her post made an excellent point that many games are using these stereotypes to play on a reverse of the male-fantasy that most games and fiction cater to. Instead of the typical male-fantasy of nubile maidens whose affection they can earn with their heroic deeds, powerful Matriarchies force the male audience to come face-to-face with the male-nightmare. It’s the primordial fear all humans have of past wrong-doings coming back to haunt them; the what-if  of women finally gaining power and doing to men what was done to them. This is why most of the powerful Evil Matriarchies that are encountered are adventure material (so that they can be overcome or conquered as one astute commenter points out in Quinnae’s post), but most player-character or ally races are of the non-threatening Not-Really a Matriarchy category. The former is used to titillate, challenge, and reward the assumed male adventurer, the latter is there to provide an interesting, exotic backdrop for the player, but both scenarios rely on sexist stereotypes to cater to the presumed Patriarchal world view of a male gamer.

So, if these Matriarchy tropes are just sexist stereotypes, what would a real Matriarchy look like? We don’t really know. We know what some matriarchal (in the anthropological sense) cultures look like, but there have never really been any Matriarchies on a large scale. One would assume that a Matriarchy would look much like today’s Patriarchy: a nuanced and complex system of both subtle and extreme oppressions and privileges that can be simultaneously easy to identify but hard to untangle the root causes of. The speculative fiction of Sci-Fi and Fantasy, and the interactive nature of games, are great ways to deconstruct and analyze the Patriarchy through the metaphor of a Matriarchy. These tropes, however, do little more than support and propagate the Patriarchy (and really bad Sci-Fi and Fantasy stories).

Trope go BOOM!


26 responses to “Tropebusting: Matriarchies in gaming and Sci-Fi/Fantasy

  1. Ladebug May 26, 2011 at 6:19 pm

    Interesting article. There was one story written by Jean Auel – The Earth Children Series. The first of her many books was the Clan of the Bear Cave. Part of the story is with the Ayla, the herione of the story falling into a tragedy, and then how she not only overcomes the tragedy but excels. At one part of the story she – oh did I mention that the setting of this story is before written history takes place! So it is a fantasy and a sci-fi. It’s fictional. Jean Auel took great pains to bring to life the world in which a child of this type would grow up in from the plant lift to animal life to the societies she would be come a part of. In part of th story, she is with “The Clan” their society was patriarchal – no doubt about it. The women of the Clan weren’t even allowed to touch hunting knives, bows, etc… The knives they used were considered inferior thus something a women could use. Whatever the leader of the Clan decided, it was law and no one questioned it.

    As the story progresses, Ayla leaves the Clan in search of her people know as the “Others”. The Clan is what we would refer to has a cave man, big burly brow, even bigger head, long of arm, short of leg, not much in the way of reasoning. Jean gifted them with other attributes. The Others however are homosapien. Just like you and me. In the story line, Ayla finds her people. Their society is much different than the one in which she grew up in. The men have their councils and the women have theirs. And then there is the council of the people. Depending upon the group, a women may be in chage of the council of the people or a man. The women’s council maintainined the laws of the society. Someone broke their laws they didn’t go before the men’s council they were brought before the women’s council. It’s been a while but I don’t really recall what the use was for the men’s council. But they dealt with particular matters as well.

    The important thing was that possession followed the blood line. A blood line is from the mother. When a child is invertro they share the same blood. Sometimes it’s not alway evident as to who a childs father is but you know who birthed you! The mothers belonging were hers and she left them to her daughters. This is some what reminiscent of the American Indian from what I recall from stories told by my mother and from her mother. The Great Plains Tribes were nomadic, the rules of the tribe were the men, the Chief and the warriors. But the belongings of the tribe, from the massive teepees to the flint knives used to skin the buffalo belonged to the women of the tribe. Not sure what type of tropy that would be. Some what symbotic, the men need the women to provide the shelter, the women need the men to provide protection and to hunt the dangerous buffalo, which provided the shelter. The men typically didn’t do anything that the women didn’t approve of. So, there was a somewhat dualality to their system.

    So there are some story lines out there that do show women in the chair of power without being all sexed out (not that the Earth’s Children wasn’t without it’s sex) – but it was used as a form to in most cases further the story – not to make someone a goddess.

    I do appreciate your article. Thanks for brining this to the forefront.


  2. Osbo May 30, 2011 at 4:07 am

    This is definitely an interesting read, thank you. I understand how you focus on commercial science fiction and gaming tropes, but not necessarily the wider range of speculative fiction. I’d like to take a look at the history of this particular tropes.

    The hypersexualization of Matriarchal societies seem to come from pulp science fiction of the 50s and 60s. Written largely by men for an audience of young boys. Plenty of these tropes in video games today seem to come from this very fiction (particularly, Mass Effect and my personal favorite Star Control – but also fantasy games such as D&D and the resulting MMOs)

    MMOs seem to come down to player choice, and the gaming world, unfortunately, has a patriarchal audience. While the majority of Wow players are women (statistically, about 51%). Yet, it’s still a world in which women feel afraid to BE women for fear of cyberstalking, cyberbullying, and the like. It’s an unfortunate side effect of the young male privilege that’s taught through the “trash talking” culture behind gaming.

    Yet some of this imagery have evolved into less sexualized attempts at imagining these societies, and far more open minded.

    Star Trek: The Next Generation took a lot of these ideas and attempted to update them. These despite an executive production staff who felt a female captain wasn’t marketable (see the origin of Voyager)

    Betazed, at first, holds the obvious ancestor in the fact that it’s both a “sexy matriarchy” full of women with “empathic powers”. This is the stuff of 50’s adolescent fantasy, and yet, TNG took that trope and expanded upon it by daring to ask how such a society could even work. The character of Lwaxana Troi is an interesting example. As an older woman, she frankly isn’t the stuff of adolescent male fantasy. She is at once a patriarchal “mother-in-law from hell” joke and a powerful woman who owns her sexuality. She comes from a powerful family (as she continues to repeat throughout her first visit to the Enterprise) from a position of power, and yet has a very matronly feel to her While she continues to have multiple lovers, as per the fantasy, she owns her sexuality and uses it as one (not the only) tool in her arsenal to maintain it. It is a natural extension of a trope that began as a patriarchal example of “women in power”, but it takes a much more mature stance to it.

    Bajor, on the other hand, isn’t a matriarchy per se, but its women were viewed as more powerful. It is definitely a more feminist culture as women took an active part of the recent resistance to Cardassian occupation. It is a strongly religious culture where a female figures quite strongly as a pseudo-Pope. Women, therefore, have more positions of power than most other societies seen in TNG. Analogies to real world include the women of the french resistance, Jews and Israel, and Golda Maer. Still, the Kai (the female Papal figure to Bejor) shows very “feminine” traits, many of which are considered “bad” in our society. Stubborn, overly zealous religious thinking, and a willful attack on logic being several.

    Finally, there’s the J’naii, who are probably close to the “evil matriarchy” examples you gave, save that they are androgynous. The idea was to flip the stigma of gay and transexual relationships on their head, and instead have an interex oppressive culture. It involves a relationship between Riker and Soren, a shuttlecraft pilot. According to Jonathon Frakes, they originally looked into a male to play the role, but the network nixed the idea early on. Soren is an androgynous person with inclinations toward being female, which is an idea considered heretical in her society. It’s much like the Dark Elf Evil Matriarchy that you’re talking about, only militaristically intersexal.

    It could be argued that the Evil Matriarchy was a method to put

    Back to you article –

    With Mass Effect, Bioware has been petty public about having not created female models for Salarians, Drells, and Thorians, and no male Asaris (cause there aren’t any). I also found it rather disturbing that the Salarians are reportedly a Matriarchy, and yet the women “stay at home”. While this is explained due to their young life, the responsibility of reproduction is almost sacred to them (but can’t males share in this?). With the Asari, they simply made them genderless (and yet obviously female) to get around making male Asari assets, and Thorians claim to have females in their ranks, but you don’t see them around (unless females and males look very similar, safe for scaling and feathers due to their bird-like / reptilian look).

    Anyway, these were some rambling thoughts I had to this article. Look forward to more.

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  4. Zaewen May 30, 2011 at 12:35 pm

    @Ladebug and Osbo:

    Thanks for the other examples of other Matriarchies! There are some great, non-tropish Matriarchies out there that can be great commentaries on our own, current society, but for the most part I think a lot of fictional Matriarchies end up falling into these tropes. For my post tho, I just stuck to the examples I know well (or could think of off the top of my head) because I didn’t want to mis-characterize a piece of literature or game lore. Sadly, all of the ones I know of fall pretty strongly into these tropes (which is kinda the reason I wrote the post).

    As for the Mass Effect ‘no female models’ thing, that’s a whole other barrel of fish. I’ve never been overly accepting of the ‘we just didn’t have time’ excuse for why women didnt make it into a game, even less so when very sexist lore is created to explain away their absence like the Salarians and Krogans (and you, too, Brink *shakes fist*).

    • Osbo June 1, 2011 at 10:55 am

      Agreed. I love the series, but they’re on their third game of the “trilogy” and had they had any time for female Turian and/or Salarian models?

      For me, it may even be acceptable to make the differences between male and female Turians minimal, as the difference in lizards and birds aren’t overtly noticible outside of pheremones (to our mamallian eyes) or “feathering” to an extent. Salarians would make far more sense as an intersexual or asexual race, but it really isn’t.

      As for Krogans, there ARE female Krogans, they just don’t look at all different. I remember running across one in dialog, and it was kind of a joke (again, another problem with the sexism here) It’s revealed only in dialog. I believe the genocide also limits the amount of females, part of the reproduction problem.

      It IS unfortunate.

      As for Brink, they originally stated they were to have female models, but scrapped due to time. It sounds as if the game was still unfinished at release, so I’m sure the publisher rushed them. I have a feeling EA does the same for Bioware games in general.

      BTW, what was your feeling toward the “neutral” animations for Shepard in Mass Effect? My femshep has great voice acting, but her actual animation isn’t quite “feminine”, largely because male Shep was obviously the models. However, I see no reason for Shepard not to act this way, either. FemShep’s voice acting still makes her actions plausible – though it was so obviously not thought about or worked on.

      The “model problem” is a whole other can of worms. What they are literally saying is that female modes are not a priority (btw, I’m a male who normally plays female avatars when possible, with the notable exception of my first playthrough of ME). In a game where customization is supposed to be an issue, it should be a part of customization to begin with. Your point about Fable 2 vs. Fable 3’s animations are a great example – a neutral animation is enough for the use of resources.

      • Zaewen June 1, 2011 at 12:53 pm

        I’m quite alright with the idea of not being able to tell the difference between the males and females of other species. It makes perfect biological sense that we wouldn’t be able to discern those differences (I mean apart from visible genitalia how many of us can tell the difference between male and female dogs or cats at a glance?). It’s also nice to not see femininity forced on to non-human characters. Breasts, flared hips, make-up, and high-heel-like feet are not necessary markers of femaleness, no matter if we’re talking about female humans or female aliens.

        So, yea, ME could easily have gotten away with not having seperate models, they just needed to include the women in the game. We never hear their stories or their perspectives, not even from second-hand sources. It’s all in the third person, objective sense like in the database or when talking about the genophage. They’re experiences or lives are never made real for us in the way that the plethora of male characters get by default. And that’s really the point of it: not having obviously female-people running around being feminine, it about getting to hear the full story of the galaxy instead of just the male perspective.

        As for the gender-netural animations, I love them. Shepherd is a soldier first, man/woman second (like many soldiers in the real-world are).S/he is competent, strong, and powerful and that shows through the gender neutral animations. I tend to get more annoyed when my female avatars are forced into hyper-feminine movements but the male avatars arent forced into equally hyper-masculine movements and are just allowed to be normal. This was actually one of things I enjoyed most about Saint’s Row 2: I got to pick a female avatar, pick her vocals, and pick her animations. She was such a posh badass.

        Also, I give no quarter to Brink. Everything about their lack of female avatars is insultingly sexist and I don’t care to make excuses for them, which is a damn shame cause that game looked like awesome amounts of fun.

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  6. guy27 May 30, 2011 at 11:47 pm

    Hi. I was linked to a copy of this article on the Border House by a family member. I read it and have some issues with parts, namely the Drow and Mass Effect portions.

    So, the Drow. Yes, they are written as an evil Matriarchal society. I would disagree strongly that they are portrayed as evil *because* they are matriarchal. They are evil because they worship Lolth. Further, Lolth is a goddess of spiders. Her usual form on earth is a giant black widow spider. This fictional entity seems built (at least originally – I’m using what I think is the first DnD appearance of it as source material here. ADnD module Q1 – Queen of the Demonweb Pits copyright 1980.) on the fact that female black widow spiders are highly unsettling. I’d even hazard to guess that the lethality of its poison was the point of such a portrayal, as opposed to the whole “eating the male after mating” bit.

    And now begins the part which is my own thinking. So, start with a portion of a race that’s been driven underground by its fellows. They worship a giant, highly venomous cannibal spider. This thing rewards evil, particularly evil women. Evil women get the magic spells of doom and naturally rise to prominence. They promote a society that keeps them in power on earth and in the favor of their diety. This includes keeping the general population from banding together to oust them from power, hence the whole Great House bit.

    Regarding the whole bondage and minimal clothing bit, I see it as written in a way to show the society as generally evil, decadent, and degenerate, but illustrated in such a way that only shows the female members as such.

    Something that I may or may not be connecting correctly – “I highly doubt a real Matriarchy would have the women, the people in power, be the ones who make their bodies sexually available and pleasing at all times for the low-status men. ” If this line is supposed to be referring specifically to the Drow, it really doesn’t make sense to me, since I’ve only seen the women written as evil sorts who use dressing in very little to deliberately have an excuse to punish any man who lusts after them in an obvious way as just one more tool to be evil and get bonus points with the giant spider cannibal goddess.

    Regarding the Salarians of Mass Effect – My impression of them is that they are practical to a level that real people would regard as absurd in humans. They live short lives. Male offspring are more common than female offspring. Only female offspring can continue the species. Survival of the species is paramount. Therefore, males are sent out into the galaxy because they’re easier to replace than females and also less crucial to the continuation of the species. Now, this is based mostly on my recollections of dialogue with the salarian npc in Mass Effect 2, and I haven’t played it recently, so I’m not as certain of my argumentative footing here.

    And if I’m incorrect/flawed in my facts or reasoning, I look forward to the corrections.

    Also, yes, WoW female artwork/character models/armor/etc gets ridiculous (occasionally laughably so). Haven’t seen the same level of absurdity in Rift yet (ok, that elven boss priestess npc for the guardians…), but I’ll keep an eye out.

    • Zaewen May 31, 2011 at 6:07 pm

      Hey guy27, you bring up some good points, but I think they all point towards a lot of the things I talked about in the article.

      The things you bring up about the Drow all play on the ideas of sexuality as power and evil women. The black widow is a potent symbol not just as a poisonous spider but as a female animal that devours her male mates. There is a long history of using the black widow as both a label for real-world women and as a symbol for fictional female murders and serial killers. That Lolth was written to be represented by a large black widow plays off of these symbols of an evil female sexuality. The Spider Queen is the canonical reason why the Drow are both a Matriarchy and evil and that doesn’t negate the Tropes I was talking about in the article, but only adds to it. There’s no reason outside of a deus ex machina for them to be Evil, or Sexy, or Matriarchal. They just are because it was a quick way for the writer to get the point across (which is the point of a trope).

      As for the Salarians and the kinky sartorial choice of Drow women, these both still buy into Patriarchal world views as explanations for why a Matriarchy would do certain things. Its in Patriarchies that you find a huge value placed on women’s reproductive abilities and sexualities to the point that they are tightly controlled and policed, even if it seems like its for the women’s own good or in their favor.

      • Osbo June 1, 2011 at 11:01 am

        An interesting character would be a rebelious space-faring female Salarian, though as it’s been emphasized, Salarians do not even have a concept of “family” in the same way we mammals do.

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  9. Lahoma Holtberg June 3, 2011 at 8:33 pm

    A good discussion can be started on this post,as I do not fully agree with you, but nevertheless,good post.

  10. Mike June 4, 2011 at 9:00 am

    While not a matriarch exactly, the Dragon Age games Chantry is a great example of one handled nicely. Its founder, Andraste, was a Jesus/Joan of arc analog that fought against the corrupt magi empire of her day, and founded rules to prevent magic abuse and freedom for all men. All the major roles of the church are run by women, with men who can only aspire to be scholarly monks, and wear colorful robes- nothing sexy or scantily clad.

    They are, for the most part, a force of good. Still they control the Circles of Magi, part university and part prison camp as all Magi must go there or else they are proclaimed an apostate and hunted down by the Chantry’s military arm – the Templars. The Templars are trained to fight magi, and are fed a magical element to protect themselves from magical control, which leads to addiction to said element, even though signing up to the Templars is voluntary and the element’s sale is controlled by the Chantry. Their treatment of said mages is shaky at best, but when you have magi capable of warping mens minds and contracting with demons that can blow up cities, the situation is very nuanced.

    This group could have easily been portrayed as yet another absolutely mouth frothingly oppressive theocracy or just super sugar honeydew good “because women run the show” and yet it’s a balanced group with many different opinions.

    • Zaewen June 4, 2011 at 4:29 pm

      Eh, I’m a little hesitant to label the Chantry one way or the other, especially since I haven’t played Dragon Age 2 yet. They’re definitely not a Matriarchy, though they are matriarchal. There’s just too much of a Patriarchal backdrop to Andastre’s story to really push it over into a capital M Matriarchy like some real-world religious institutions are definitely Patriarchies.

      You are right though, the Chantry seems to be (from my knowledge of them) a good example of a morally grey (or black or white depending on your perspective I guess) organization led by women that doesn’t rely on absurd stereotypes about women.

      P.S. using the word ‘men’ to mean humans, people, persons, humankind, or humanity is really aggravating, basically means that women, i.e. people like me, are not apart of humanity, which is definitely not a nice thing to be saying on my blog 😉

  11. Pingback: Tropebusting: Matriarchies in Gaming and Sci-Fi/Fantasy | Games 247

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  15. Nico November 29, 2012 at 4:00 pm

    “The Male Gaze in full effect in some artwork for World of Warcraft.”

    Except this isn’t an official artwork of the game, but someone else’s drawing. Next time try to have some knowledge about the subject you are writing, instead of dumping images you found in the Google about games you barely played (or not even played).

    • Zaewen November 29, 2012 at 4:41 pm

      Really, person? A slightly misattrubited picture (yes, that perhaps should have said ‘of’ isntead of ‘for’) and I suddenly have no knowledge of gaming and just Google dumped an entire paper’s worth of gaming knowledge and opinions. Yup. You caught me. Gooood job. A+ effort.

      • Arsley December 7, 2012 at 5:29 pm

        What a surprise, someone looking for a way to discredit someone with a vagina when it comes to videogames. I know your nerd rage can’t allow you to reflect on a thoughtful and valid piece of writing that illustrates only part of it’s content with fanart vs. the official art– because its so distracting and CLEARLY that makes the whole article moot, right? Last time I checked (aka played/logged on and/or used the “too complicated and scary for my XX chromosomes” interwebs) the official art is not far off from this fan art (if at all). Valeera Sanguinar is still running around in underwear and heels, and weird, SHE has a f**king blizzard ‘action’ figure. And, Sylvanas wears a bra. Your ‘argument’…er, ‘distraction’ from the point has about as much depth and sensibility as:

        Gawd, stupid girls and our fake gaming. We are just trying so hard to make dudes like YOU like us…Oh wait..

  16. January 15, 2013 at 12:05 pm

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    Zee’s Blog” ended up being a remarkable article, can’t help but wait to look over more of your articles. Time to squander numerous time on the internet haha. Thank you -Boyce

  17. Mauricio August 31, 2013 at 12:09 am

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  18. Dfox520 January 27, 2014 at 8:50 am

    This is dumb you know nothing of the drow race. And frankly you know nothing of women. In my experience women do use sex to get what they want shit my wife does it all the time and she doesn’t even have to. Yes there is a lot of sexuality and that is actually because women are sexual creature just as men are and in these societies they don’t hide it like in our society. Oh yeah and you never addressed the fact that the men in drow society are just as bad as the women always fighting to get to the top befriending and backstabbing people so they can be on the top of there slightly smaller totem pole.

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