This book review differs from the others as I actually never finished reading the book. I lost interest in it after chapter 14, yet a few things in this book stuck with me.
Ugly Ways, by Tina McElroy Ansa, brought on a lot of introspection as it made me think of my own relationship with my mother and the long-term effects of the quality of our relationship.
It also made me question matriarchies: are they remedies from living in a patriarchy world, or they just as bad, if not worse?
In this following post I’ll be dissecting the history of the matriarch and explore whether it’s actually helpful for our society, or not.
The Unknown History of the Mythical Matriarch
Contrary to many beliefs, matriarch societies are purely mythological. An article on Ancient-origins.net titled, “Uncovering the Truth Behind Matriarchal Societies in the Ancient World” by Philip Jamieson, retired academic and researcher, broke it down:
“So understood, [Dr. Goettner-Abendroth] has found “abundant evidence” for many matriarchal societies, to be found today in Asia, America, and Africa. All, she notes, are gender “egalitarian societies, and many of them are fully egalitarian”, with “no hierarchies, classes, nor domination of one gender by another”. Most academics exclude egalitarian societies from the concept of “matriarchy”. In my view, they are mistaken in doing so.”
Intrigued, I did further research and learned that up until 5000 years ago, for tens of thousands of years, humans had been living in egalitarian hunting-gathering societies where decision-making and leadership were only done when necessary and wealth and status were nonexistent, according to an article on newscientist.com titled, “Inequality: Why egalitarian societies died out”, by columnist Deborah Rogers.
Inequality simply did not spread because egalitarianism was better for their survival.
Fights between individuals happened, but no organized conflict between groups existed. There were just small sporadic hunting groups who relied heavily on sharing and cooperation.
Anyone who thought of themselves higher than the group was subjected to ridicule, or ostracized.
The exact breakdown of an egalitarian society goes completely against many forms of society today. Since we consider many of today’s societies more on the patriarchy, it’s safe to say that an egalitarian is considered what a matriarchal society would be had it actually existed.
The reason being is that if a patriarchal society is one ruled and controlled by men, it’s exact opposite wouldn’t be one controlled by women, but one where both genders are balanced and both empowered equally.
A Toxic Matriarch
Now that I’ve unlearned what matriarchy really is and allowed the concept of egalitarianism to take its place, time to breakdown the book.
Author Tina McElroy Ansa beings the story with the Lovejoy sisters: Betty, Emily, and Annie Ruth. They’re all returning to their hometown of Mulberry, Georgia, for their mother, or Mudear’s (a contraction of mother and dear), funeral.
Told in the third person POV, the dysfunctionality of the relationship between mother and daughters are very clear from the start.
Betty, the oldest sister, blames the suffering conditions of her middle sister Emily’s often suicidal and depressive state, and youngest sister Annie Ruth’s emerging anxiety, as the result of enduring years of Mudear’s toxic parenting style.
She too acknowledged that she was struggling with resentful feelings towards her mother. Ones that caused Betty to feel neglected, dismissed, and responsible for the caretaking of Mudear, herself, and her sisters.
The sisters weren’t the only victims void of healthy emotional connections in the home. Their father, whose manhood was crumpled by his wife’s constant nagging, discrediting, and selfish behavior towards her husband, became deliberately avoidant of his daughters, and remained uninvolved in their lives (or at least to where I read up to).
Clearly the dysfunctionality of the family is owed to the specific individuals and their mental states, not any societal structure of gender-based power.
Mudear lacked empathy for her family, and even after her death, as the book captures her family’s troubling dialogue, Mudear, who’s able to hear and see this just as we are, still refuses to sympathize with them.
Too caught up in her own stubbornness and pride, she couldn’t see the pain she enacted on her loved ones, nor could she bother to care.
That my friends are not a matriarchy in progress, but a broken home.
There, the parents put their own issues to the forefront while love, understanding, responsibility, and respect, values needed from them to secure the upbringing of the children, didn’t even play second fiddle.
I like how Ansa explored toxic parenting.
We laugh at characters like Tyler Perry’s Mudear, but when you put in into perspective and under a different light, the pain of having one hits more closer to the truth than comedic fantasy.