It seems important to me that TRP should strive for truthfulness. If we are to undertake actions upon these theories and embark upon self-improvement, the base upon which we build should be firm. It is my opinion that Briffault's Law is a falsehood and should not be relied upon.

I have no agenda in debunking this concept other than an intolerance for sloppy science and myth-making on the Internet.

Background Briffualt (1876-1948) was trained as a surgeon but became a prolific writer later in life. Amongst his many hobbies was anthroplogy. He had no formal training or experience in that field.

Briffault's Law "The female, not the male, determines all the conditions of the animal family. Where the female can derive no benefit from association with the male, no such association takes place." — Robert Briffault, The Mothers, Vol. I, p. 191

The contentious portions of the theory Briffault took the above statement and expanded upon it to posit a theory that females similarly establish the conditions in humans and that a basis for the observation could be found in a historical record of matrilineal (female lead) cultures.

The first difficulty is that it is well established in anthropology that matriarchal cultures are exceedingly rare and that there is a lack of evidence to support their existence. Instead there is an overwhelming record of patriarchal culture throughout history, all over the planet. If you think about it for a moment, this should be rather obvious.

The second difficulty is that it is a fundamental mistake to transpose animal behavior onto humans. The differences in brain structure and functioning preclude any such assumption. Further, human behavior is much more complex. The field of Operant Psychology has thoroughly deconstructed this premise.

Source: Behavior and Its Causes: Philosophical Foundations of Operant Psychology -- T.L. Smith

Briffault's work was rejected by eminent anthropologists from the outset Long before this theory entered into any debate centered on gender or before the advent of political correctness, his work was rejected by experts in the field. If you go to the following website there is a safe download of a pdf of a review of Briffault's The Mother's by anthropologist E.M. Loeb:


Edwin Meyer Loeb was an american anthropologist most known for his book The Blood Sacrifice Complex, which examines the history of ritual human sacrifice in various cultures. He also researched patrilineal and matrilneal histories in a number of pacific cultures. His most lasting contribution is towards the creation of the field of psychological anthroplogy. His writings and theories in this subject inform modern opinion on the evolution of human psychology.

He states:
"Mr. Briffault, in a manner similar to that of his precursors, came upon the idea of a former matrriarchate as a convenient tool on which to hinge the idea of social evolution. The concept was, of course, assumed not only a priori, but even in contradiction to all known ethnographic facts."

This has not changed in the field of anthropology. The existence of a primordial matriarchate has never been convincingly established and even where hinted at, it is exceedingly rare.

"In looking at Briffault's work as a whole, it seems strange that a writer who was able to trace the interplay between culture and transmitted ideas so clearly in European civilization, should have failed so uttterly to grasp the rudiments of scientific principles in dealing with primitive cultures."

He then goes on to recite the many failings of Briffault's conceptualization of basic anthropology.

"It is perhaps because Mr. Briffault has never understood the significance of the psychology of one primitive group, that he has failed to organize one acceptable theory to cover all primitive groups."

What follows is a deconstruction of Briffault's musings on 'mother love' and 'father altruism' demonstrates the historical impossibility of the theory. The concepts did not exist within the time period from which it was drawn.

The Revival Ironically, it was feminists who first resurrected Briffault's debunked theories. They used it in an attempt to demonstrate a prior record of matriarchal cultures that were benovelent paradises. Camille Paglia, Andrea Dworkin and others at least partially relied upon this theory to promote a return to the female archetype as a means to promote civilization.

It first appeared in the men's rights realm on a blog called which is interesting but not exactly loaded with scholarship and scientific credibility. From there it spread from site to site in this realm, seemingly without any skepticism or fact-checking. (Note: this is not limited to TRP; the internet is both a blessing and a curse when it comes to ideas. The lack of critical analysis at times is astounding.)

Briffault arrives at TRP Someone found the stickman blog and made a post on TRP. They then tacked on their own additional principles for which no source or basis was provided. All of this was then sticked and placed on our sidebar.

It is now accorded status befitting a law, as though all of these principles and the founding 'law' had been scientifically demonstrated. When I first saw it posted on the side bar, I remembered hearing of I vaguely from undergraduate days some 20 years ago. I assumed that the science had advanced and that there had been a change of thought on its validity. Perhaps there was evidence of these mythical matriarchal cultures. In fact though, absolutely nothing had changed. Briffault was still dead in the water and his 'law' still lacked a shred of proof to justify its acceptance.

Briffault's Law is demonstrated and explained here on TRP on a regular basis. However, it is done so with confirmation basis and other unreliable methods of inquiry such as obervational evidence. If you assume it, as a priori, you are able to see it all sorts of female actions. This is what happens when we look for proof after accepting a principle as the truth. Unfortunately, wishing does not make it so.

"The plural of anecdote is not data." -- Marc Bekoff

Tl;dr: there is no scientific basis for Briffault's law and in fact, it has been discredited.

Edit: here is a previous post wherein the data provided by /u/kerosina runs counter to what one would expect, informed of Briffault's Law:

Hierarchy of love and capability of sacrificial love

Edit (ii): I think that people enter into relationships in anticipation of a benefit and may abandon them if the association becomes disadvantageous is a useful heuristic. I mainly have a principled objection to Briffault's Law because of him being so wrong in his basis for it. I do not think there is any evidence to say it applies to females only or that is a biological determinant. I think it needs a revision that better reflects these qualifiers.