A Matriarchy Would Be Anything But A Utopia: “American Horror Story: Coven”

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The world would not be a better place if women ruled it. There’s this idea that’s been around since the ’70s, and even before, that a world ruled by women would be more peaceful, just, and all around better. That is bull.

It’s bull because it’s based on the idea that women are intrinsically different than men, or that because of their femininity or upbringing they would be more resistant to power and its corruption than men. But we know from history that that just isn’t true, that women are just as complicated and multifaceted as men, just as capable of corruption, violence, and evil.

The idea of an “enlightened matriarchy” is exactly what “American Horror Story” is ripping to shreds this year. The season centers around a matriarchal, matrinlineal group of female witches, who live semi-cloistered from the patriarchal world. Men do not have major roles in their world. They are consorts, accessories. If you reversed the Bechdel test and demand that men talked to each other in each episode about something other than girls, the episodes would fail.

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Power is female in this show. Women have different kinds of power, different gradations, and among themselves have a complicated dynamic of power. But one thing they always have is power over men, because of their magic. It’s what makes their parallel society matriarchal.

A show that didn’t acknowledge how ridiculously complicated and different women are would suggest the Coven was a peaceful, hippie, wise group of women living in a better way than us. But “Coven” gives us a group of women who fight and love each other, who revolt against or embrace their powers and positions. There are women who rape, and women who murder. There are women who are kind, and women who are lonely. The women battle each other, struggle, and sometimes fail.

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There’s nothing Utopian about a matriarchy. And we all need to stop pretending there is.

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