The world as we know it has historically been ruled by men. But when it comes to fiction, writers can choose what power structures they create and how they are depicted. Despite the free rein this allows authors, most simply replicate the patriarchy.

When authors do step outside the familiar societal structures and present us with matriarchies, what do we see?

Aristotle condemned societies that placed women in power, known then as gynaecocracies, for threatening masculine supremacy. Since then, men have often used representations of matriarchies as a way to demonstrate that women are incapable of exercising, or should not be trusted with, power.

Thankfully, the tide is turning. Early feminist speculative fiction writers like Joanna Russ explored all-female worlds and paved the way for modern writers to explore diverse power structures in their fiction as something more than projected male anxiety.

One such writer is Aliette de Bodard, who joined us to discuss matriarchies in speculative fiction.

Mentioned in this episode:

  • The Power by Naomi Alderman
  • The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo
  • When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain by Nghi Vo
  • The Bones Ships by R J Barker
  • Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky
  • The Descent (2005)
  • Frozen (2013)

credit: Lou Abercrombie

Aliette de Bodard writes speculative fiction: she has won three Nebula Awards, a Locus Award and four British Science Fiction Association Awards, and was a double Hugo finalist. Her most recent book is Fireheart Tiger (, a sapphic romantic fantasy inspired by precolonial Vietnam, where a diplomat princess must decide the fate of her country, and her own. She lives in Paris.