Welcome to the matriarchy
Sixty years after a virus has wiped out almost all the men on the planet, things are pretty much just as you would imagine a world run by women might be: war has ended; greed is not tolerated; the ecological needs of the planet are always put first. In two generations, the female population has grieved, pulled together and moved on, and life really is pretty good – if you’re a girl. It’s not so great if you’re a boy, but fourteen-year-old River wouldn’t know that. Until she met Mason, she thought they were basically extinct.
At a Sydney Writers’ Festival panel, Roxanne Gay and Durga Chew-Bose described the general attitude of men towards woman as similar to colonisation. This may seem like a strange and rather daring comparison, but with thought, it is more and more intriguing as well as more and more accurate! Men (as a generalised whole) are seemingly always trying to ‘discover’ women’s true selves, with the expectation that they are the first to truly know us. Little do they know, this ‘true self’ they seek, this sense of identity and womanhood has been here the whole time… There is nothing to ‘discover.’ We have already been self-discovered. I feel like this idea is articulated as an undercurrent through the fictional construct of the Matriarchy in Virginia Bergin’s Who Runs the World?
I’ve read a lot of negative reviews about this book that say it’s troubling because the Matriarchy as an idyllic society is equivalent to ‘man-hating.’ For me, I saw the long-line of female writers who have written about similar all-female societies in the past that are ‘discovered’ by the male outsider (Sarah Scott’s Millennium Hall and Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland to name a couple), and the questions that it raises about gender binary within our society. These other classic novels are explorations and I think that’s also what Who Runs the World? is… It’s an exploration of an identity that rejects socially constructed and media constructed ideals of femininity, and an exploration of what womanhood would be like if we were allowed to discover ourselves without the bombastic influences of these outside forces. I don’t think the book portrays ‘man-hating’ at all, but rather uses the absence of men as a construct for the absence of gender binary.
As well as this, Virginia Bergin’s writing is clever and seems highly calculated. Each word feels meticulously chosen, which, for me, packed an immense punch with each tightly constructed sentence. Animalistic terminology turns Mason, and the male construct by extension, into creatures of instinct and desire. But Bergin unpacks these attitudes, deconstructing each layer with care. Again, these are attitudes that are being explored not ‘man-hating’. It actually troubles me that when people have reviewed this they seem to have adopted the widely accepted viewpoint that sees forms of expression by women as ‘anti-men’ in some way.
Who Runs the World? is a fast-paced and unsettling read that definitely gives us something to think about. Who does run the world? Should they? And is there any way to change this?