mishalak: A fantasy version of myself drawn by Sue Mason (Default)
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More Snarking On Off the Shelf Fantasy Kingdoms

(Previous Installment: Gays in Fantasy Kingdoms)
Life was quite hard for everyone, but it was especially hard upon women in centuries past. Women typically had a status that was lower than men, but it seems that it was most often so in agriculturally based societies. Indeed I cannot think of a single example of a culture that was primarily agricultural in food production where women having power were anything but exceptional. (This is the cue for hundreds of you to post counter examples that I don't know about.) I suspect three culprits making this so were biology, hierarchy, and poverty.

Women do not have the same potential for muscle strength that men have. This was a much greater handicap when so much labor was of the backbreaking sort, and more importantly all the weapons relied upon muscle power. So at first it is the men with swords and the physique to be warriors that dominate their neighbors. This is a simplistic explanation, but where I am going is to say that because women would have an exceptionally difficult time starting out on the bottom the tradition of male power becomes entrenched and it makes it difficult for women to jump in higher up or to get a start on the ladder.

Poverty, which is more common in agricultural societies, makes the bad situation worse. Poverty means there is more need for work than there are workers. No end of work on a farm, so someone is going to get stuck doing more. This isn't always true, but it is quite common because of the difficulty leaving. Living with another person or a lot of people makes life easier. So as hard as it is life outside the family or group might very well be impossible, so someone who can be physically dominated may feel or in fact be trapped. Plus human nature being what it is there would be a huge temptation for the physically stronger man to force the women to do work he doesn't want to do. Again this becomes entrenched in the society before technology has a chance to make life easier, and so the tradition continues beyond where economics is making it more likely.

None of this excuses bad behavior. This is me being like a criminologist. I hate that women have been oppressed and I would like to know why it happened and why it became so widespread. I think it is unlikely to have become the majority way of doing things without there being some reason. I think better of people than that. So it is totally possible that a fantasy kingdom could have women with a better status than they got in most real world kingdoms.

For one this could be the one exception. Though I would like an explanation as to why it is. Maybe there was a great respected religious reformer and also women are just as strong in the force/magic or whatever as men so that tips the balance in this one place, even if women with magic are hunted to preserve the order of things in others. If magic is just replacing technology giving a more modern society it isn't going to be medieval, as the standard off the shelf fantasy kingdom is, but it will be more equal. Or perhaps in this world women are just as strong as men physically. Why? Magic, the gods, whatever, this is fantasy after all. And it would make for a very interesting society in my opinion.

So there are lots of options, but not many (any?) if the writer wants to make it just like England 1300 (as a random example) with magic and without the lower social status for women. Because in my opinion such a setting will have the women in lower status except for the few with magic and those will probably have a similar status to noble women with power. They get to be exceptions if they don't challenge the order of things.
mishalak: A fantasy version of myself drawn by Sue Mason (Default)
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Mishalak snarks about off the shelf fantasy kingdoms.


Yes I know about the Rough Guide to Fairyland. I keep on meaning to read it and perhaps I'm duplicating some effort here. But I've had a number of conversations about fantasy and what is realistic for fantasy. First of all anything is realistic for fantasy because anything is possible. Except sometimes I sit here saying to myself, "Wait a second, unless there is stuff going on that I don't see this doesn't make any sense."

One of the first things is the standard SCA medieval setting. Now I like this SCA, and I do like learning about the Middle Ages and recreating aspects of it without the nastiness of the setting. But the fact is that it wasn't just because men sucked (though they were literally forbidden to suck) that women, gays, and so on were oppressed. And so I often roll my eyes a bit when I see openly gay men and women living equal lives when otherwise the setting is obviously trying to evoke Europe sometime from A.D. 700 to 1500.

I know that there have been historical times and places where homosexuals were not persecuted, or at least not very much. It is certainly conceivable that the religion that the equivalent of Christianity in the pseudo medieval setting, there's nothing particularly required that homosexuality would be a sin. However the homosexuals would not be gay in the same sense that they are in the modern western world. The subculture that we have with its various stereotypes, in jokes, gay neighborhoods, and so on are a product of these times. It happened because openly homosexual individuals were very strongly persecuted. That produced an underground culture that eventually came out into the public as the influence of religion over the culture started to wane a bit and because the gays were inspired by the actions of blacks.

Because the modern sense of being gay, rather than just sometimes having sex with the same sex, is so linked to modern history I have a hard time figuring out a way to have a gay historical character. It is like having a science fiction fandom in medieval times. Unless there is a gate open to the past for the SCA members I really doubt it would happen.

The historical reason of the persecution of homosexuality was a tribe trying to expand and increase. The Israelites needed lots of children, because otherwise they could not hold their land and have enough people to fight in wars. Many, many children used to die before a better understanding of hygiene and slightly better medical technology. So the religion of the tribe had rules intended to cause the birth of as many babies as possible. Obviously if a guy is having sex with a guy there won't be children of that relationship. Since Christianity came from Judaism the old rule got carried over with the help of a healthy dose of bias in the culture it went into.

Next Time, Why Being A Woman Used to Suck

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