It's not often these days we hear about the good things men are doing to bridge gender inequality and support women's advancement. Seems every conversation is dominated by #metoo, #timesup, or the myriad ways women try to punish other women for our perceived inadequacy or displaced insecurity. Who really knows?
I just want to take a second here to appreciate a good man and share my gratitude because this man took the time to get to know us (women) better.
When J and I met he was a war correspondent covering various global conflicts. Granted we've covered a number of issues together over the years -- reproductive rights in Central America, labor rights and sexual violence in southeast Asia, and so on -- but this last year he surprised me by taking the initiative to travel to China and explore one of the longest living matrilineal societies, all on his own. This is what he learned while he was there.
By Jason Motlagh -- published in Marie Claire -- January, 2018
It’s almost lunchtime, and 29-year-old Sadama Rada is helping her mother and aunt prepare a meal of salt pork, potatoes, and fresh greens pulled from the family farm in the village of Shekua. Seated by the hearth fire between a carved wooden bedchamber and hand-painted Buddhist mural is Ku Mu, Rada’s grandmother. Dressed in a traditional wool jacket and pantaloons, her head wrapped in an indigo turban, she sips a glass of homemade corn wine with an air of detached authority while the rest of the women make small talk. As the head of the household, or dabu, 80-year-old Ku Mu is the undisputed boss, in line with the traditions of the Mosuo, said to be the last matrilineal society in China and one of few left in the world.
Hungry male relatives file through the door: first an uncle, then a younger cousin, and finally Rada’s father, Wang Ji Zengheng, on break from his job as a boatman guiding tourists on the nearby lake. He’s just visiting. The Mosuo practice a custom called zouhun, or “walking marriage,” in which most men live separately from their wives and children and do not play a significant role in the children’s upbringing, though they do financially support their families. Apart from brief “walking” visits to the women’s home—for sex at night or meals during the day—men largely keep to themselves. Sons, including Rada’s 33-year-old brother, live at home until they are in their 30s, when they opt to live alone or leave to find work. Walking marriages are monogamous, and most women only accept visits from their child’s father, but affairs are not unusual, so long as they are discreet. In the Mosuo language, there are no words for husband or jealousy. Lunch is spiked with tingling Sichuan pepper and eaten in comfortable silence. Zengheng, 52, is quiet and shows no outward affection toward Rada’s mother, which is standard practice. As soon as the men leave the room, the casual chatter picks up again among the women. Dabu turns to me with a sly grin. “Men speak a different language from us,” she whispers. “We like them and we need them, but we also value our freedom.”
"Men speak a different language from us. We like them and we need them, but we also value our freedom."
Chinese families have long preferred boys to girls, leading to a troubling surplus of men in the world’s most populous country. Not so in this pristine community spread across a high plateau in the Himalayan foothills between Yunnan and Sichuan provinces, where the legend of Shangri-La was born. In the pinewood villages that ring Lugu Lake, the jewel of the Mosuo heartland, girls are preferred over boys. An estimated 40,000 members of the ethnic minority cling to the belief that everything vital in the world originates from a woman, earning the region the nickname Kingdom of Daughters.
At the core of Mosuo tradition is the belief that women are more valuable and intellectually superior to men. Family life revolves around a matriarch who owns property, controls inheritance rights, and has the last word on domestic decisions. All children are raised by the mother’s side of the family and take their mother’s surname. Maternal uncles live under the women’s roof and help care for the children, essentially playing the role of father. “In our culture, girls are very important,” explains Rada. “But we don’t push away our men.”
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