Janis Maria Cortese on Matrilinial

Janis Maria Cortese

The ideas being advanced about polyandry are interesting, but I think
that we are a little shaky on what we CALL polyandry.  In matrilineal
cultures in the past and in the present, there is frequently not even
any marriage.  The woman will have many partners, but since the
paternity of the child is not important, the subsequent activities of
the men are not regulated.  This is fundamental in cultures that reckon
lineage through the mother; you prove it's your kid by giving birth to
it.  Assuring the father's fidelity is just not needed.  You find a guy
for whatever reason, have a blast with him, and the kid is then yours
and his cooperation is not needed.  (I know there are going to be
exceptions to this; there always are when you're talking about human

However, in a patrilineal culture, the sexual freedoms of the mother
MUST be ABSOLUTELY restricted.  Were she to have sex with ONE other
man, that would throw the paternity of the child in doubt, and this is
catastrophic in any culture that reckons lineage and passes possessions
through the father's line.  Even in today's culture, a child without a
definite father is termed "illegitimate," despite having a definite
mother.  Hence we get things like stoning non-virgins, marrying women to
their rapists (it happened), and instituting a set period of mourning
for a widow, to insure that she does not carry the child of the dead man
before she marries anyone else.

Since we live in what is for the most part a patrilineal culture, the
restriction of sexual freedom for AT LEAST one side is basic to a
modern definition of marriage.  In some really old cultures, they called
it thigh-friendship, offerd by the woman to whomever she liked.  The
restriction of sexual liberties was not part of the deal.

Janis C.