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A World without the Patriarchy

A pet peeve of mine is the permanence of the patriarchy and sexism in fantasy worlds. You're telling me you can imagine a world with dragons and magic and weird little gnome people, but you can't imagine a world where all genders are viewed as equal? BS. So I'm creating that in the story I'm writing now, and let me tell you, it's telling. Every time there is a character who is either in leadership or is an aggressor, it's automatically a straight male in my mind, and I have to consciously walk that back. And then this little voice in my head is like "don't you think there are too many female characters?" and "you already have one non-binary character, why do you need another?" Talk about internalized misogyny. Anyway, I would love to hear more about others process in leveling the gender-based playing field.
 

pmmg

Vala
I can imagine it, sure.

But adding dragons to the world does not change enough factors to make a lot of difference in gender roles. I would still find it unlikey.
 

M. Popov

Scribe
I'm afraid my answer to the thread is rather simple for now. Men and women in my first novel in the works, nicknamed Eternity, have access to equal opportunities, for the most part. The only exception being the military portions of the novel which involve universally male characters but that's not because of a deep-rooted belief on my part, but rather as a way to develop one of the themes and because the military portions are mimicked after actual 17th century military cultures. It is there to serve a particular purpose.

Other than that, the world of Eternity is appearing to provide equal opportunities (and problems) to everyone. Not because of a drive for representation but as something that can make sense in a fantasy setting. Something that readers can understand and relate to. I think a huge reason why a lot of works are viewed as sexist or patriarchal, is because writers take direct inspiration from other, older works or decide to mimic portions of the work after values and events that happened centuries ago. For example, me modelling the military after actual 17th century military.

The rest is straightforward; everyone gets to be developed into a living, breathing person with ambitions and problems. It challenges the writer and makes the story interesting.

When you mentioned patriarchy and sexism in fantasy worlds, do you have any examples in particular? I assume there's a reason why you associate leadership and aggressors with straight males. I think if you shared some examples, it'd be a good point of reference for the discussion. Currently the start of the discussion is a bit general in my opinion.
 
When you mentioned patriarchy and sexism in fantasy worlds, do you have any examples in particular?
I mean, you can throw a rock and hit a book with inherent sexism. Kingkiller Chronicles: Kvothe is shocked to be exposed to a culture where women are considered better warriors because it's so foreign in his culture. Stormlight Archives: women aren't allowed to inherit until that gets challenged and there is a distinction between genders right down to what jobs they are allowed to do and what food they are allowed to eat.

I get why it exists, as you say that's how our world is, and so it makes sense for people to use similar points of conflict in our world as points of conflict in the world they create. I guess I just feel like it should be challenged and that it doesn't have to be the norm. And I'm wondering who else might be thinking similarly.
I can imagine it, sure.

But adding dragons to the world does not change enough factors to make a lot of difference in gender roles. I would still find it unlikey.
What if the dragons only could be tamed by women? 😛
 

Mad Swede

Maester
A pet peeve of mine is the permanence of the patriarchy and sexism in fantasy worlds. You're telling me you can imagine a world with dragons and magic and weird little gnome people, but you can't imagine a world where all genders are viewed as equal? BS. So I'm creating that in the story I'm writing now, and let me tell you, it's telling. Every time there is a character who is either in leadership or is an aggressor, it's automatically a straight male in my mind, and I have to consciously walk that back. And then this little voice in my head is like "don't you think there are too many female characters?" and "you already have one non-binary character, why do you need another?" Talk about internalized misogyny. Anyway, I would love to hear more about others process in leveling the gender-based playing field.
Well, when you write patriarchy, do you mean the formal legal/judicial structure of a country or do you mean the informal social structures and mores of a country? Because in reality these don't always match, as history shows. It's possible to create some quite interesting story arcs in settings where the judicial structures don't match the social structures. As an example, you might create a sort of fantasy equivalent of Mary Wollstonecraft and then follow that person on their journey to change the legal status and rights of one gender to match that which they have in practice...
 

Nighty_Knight

Troubadour
It’s your story, you can make it work. Im sure others have done or at least tried the same as you. When it works is cool. When it doesn’t it’s be used either answer is usually way too simple. A big factor is looking into actual societies that see the opposite sex as equals. Often the jobs are still different, men tend to be warriors and women more caring fields. It’s just that both are actually weighed in value equally as are the respect and the opinions on both sides.

The set of stories I’m working does have sexism. It’s not even a major part to the story. But it varies depending on the location, because in a full scale world there are going to be different societies that have different cultures and ways of thinking. So, not every culture in mine is patriarchal. I just like variety in my worldbuilding.

As for making every leader and aggressor male, that sounds more like a reflection of your personal experiences in our world. I have met quiet a few very aggressive gay men and straight women in my life. (My wife is far more socially aggressive than I am for example) I would say to remember in your world, where there is not a patriarchal system, overly aggressive men would not protected like they have in most of our societies. Ie old boys club situations. So I would keep in mind to think from a perspective of people who never had to deal with one, but still had to deal with aggressive people in leadership roles who probably still had a group of backers, but of all sorts of background. Don’t know if this helps, you may be waaay ahead of me on that, but just throwing helpful ideas out.
 
You're telling me you can imagine a world with dragons and magic and weird little gnome people, but you can't imagine a world where all genders are viewed as equal? BS.

Sure, I can imagine it.

But like you, I do feel myself slipping into old habits, biases, and all kinds of internalized...stuff.

I distinctly recall a discussion in school, probably elementary school, about the use of the pronoun he as the preferred pronoun when describing indeterminate persons; e.g.:

If one were to look closely at the issue, he would see the gender bias permeating every aspect of it.

Why? The teacher said "he or she," although a current fad, was usually too cumbersome or awkward. However, we could use that construction if we wanted. The traditional norm was to use "he."

I could probably find a large number of forum posts on other sites, written by yours truly over a decade ago, in which "he or she" clutters up everything, heh. I was trying, I really was. But sometimes I realized the awkwardness and so I chose "she" just to be a contrarian:

If an author wants to use they and them as singular pronouns, she's free to do so.

Awk! I've actually done that on this site lots of times. (Use "she," I mean.)

Another lesson from early elementary: Don't use they and them as singular pronouns!! But sometime in high school, that usage became almost acceptable. That was the 80s. Some teachers grudgingly admitted the singular usage was appearing even in published articles, from time to time, so "it wouldn't be long" until it became a norm.

All of this is just to say that the most recent decade has forced me to consider and reconsider many things. I'm fascinated by the direction we are heading, but I'm a little discombobulated also.

Concerning the specifics of your post....The question that rises to the top for me is, Why? What would be the purpose of writing one kind of society or the other? I don't believe there is a standard, universal answer. Different stories, different milieus. An author might even choose to utilize a fantasy milieu that is quite contrary to their own personal beliefs if the choice allows them to develop aspects that are important to the story.
 
well, testosterone is a thing, as is most of human history.

Men and women are different. They just are. For instance, in the Dutch military, there are no restrictions on gender, and there haven't been for a long time (with the exception of submarines, which is for practical reasons I think). However, less than 20% of all soldiers are female. Yes, there is definitely some social bias in there, and unconscious biases while raising children. But it's also because, in general, men are stronger and more drawn to conflict and proving they are better at physical activities than others.

That doesn't mean that women can't be your antagonist, just that if you have a woman being stronger than a man, you've got a lot of work to do.

Magic and religion changes things. You just have to make sure the changes make sense. If only women can bond with dragons, then you'll probably end up with a society where women are the default gender and the default rulers.

As for the Stormlight Archive, I actually liked how the roles of men and women were handled there. They have a very strickt set of social customs and they stick to them. And those customes affect both men and women. It's not a case of men can do everything and women have to obey them. It's more men do the fighting and women handle the science side of things. It's similar to the whole Lighteyes idea which runs through it. Lighteyes being the ruling class had a "historic" reason. The reason was forgotten, but the custom remained, leading to all kinds of social injustices. It definitely made sense to me.

Now, I'm not saying that men and women can't be considered equal. They definitely can. But I think you first have to figure out what equal actually means. Just legally? Or are they also physically equal? Or just that you have the exact same number of men and women in your novel? Or something else?
 

Queshire

Auror
Hm, I feel like everytime someone asks why it should be followed up by asking why not.

As authors we have a certain amount of willing suspension of disbelief to spend. Sometimes by providing an in universe explanation or appealing to well known tropes lets that willing suspension of disbelief go further than it would otherwise. At other times providing an explanation where one isn't needed can throw a reader right out of the story. *cough*Midichlorians from Star Wars.*cough*

Frankly at the end of the day the presence or lack of dragons is wholly unconnected to what cultures may arrise in my fantasy story.

That said, I do have several elements of my setting that should logically affect gender perceptions.

1) Magic is the great equalizer and not just because you can fireball someone before they get close. Warriors basically use their mana as ki instead of shaping it into spells, paladins essentially ignite their mana to get a power boost and there's a dozen other different applications. Generally by time someone is strong enough to actually matter any purely biological difference due to race or sex is pretty insignificant compared to the skills and techniques they've mastered.

2) The higher one goes in magic the more important one's individuality becomes. Someone with a fiery personality using fire magic isn't necessarily just a matter of preference, but by embracing that part of their individuality they can get more out of their magic and reach higher heights. It can be something of a chicken or the egg type deal at times however.

3) Cultivating your magic comes with a variety of benefits such as an increased life span, improved senses, improved resistance to hostile magic and eventually the possibility of becoming an immortal demigod. While this doesn't promise capability the advantages do mean that plenty of those in positions of influence were magic cultivators to begin with or start in order to obtain the advantages that come with it.

All together this tends to mean that all the heroes, princes/princesses, military generals and so on are larger than life figures that either buck norms or have been around long enough that they're the ones who set the norms, and, by jove, with enough training you can be just like them.
 

PirateMorg

Acolyte
Wait.

Fantasy stories....meaning it's your story, how you want it written. I'm a female and I've never once felt left out or singled or anything negative by reading books such as Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Amber, The Pern series, Good Omens, or anything like them, even though most - if not all - of the main characters are males. Every time I read books, I've never stopped myself from using my imagination by saying "oh wait, the main characters are boys, I can't imagine I'm with them". Gender is a construct for a character, and the personalities matter more. So when I was reading and imagining myself on these missions to save the world, there was literally nothing regarding my gender or the gender of the characters in the book that made any kind of difference whatsoever.

But if all these stories are fantasy stories....isn't the author allowed to write their fantasy world how they want to?

And for people who want blatantly sexist things (like only women being able to control dragons - yes, I know it was tongue in cheek, but it's an example), couldn't you just write the fantasy story YOU want and make it a matriarchal society?

I mean with forums like this and independent publishing so readily available to the average people, I'm still wondering why everyone who feels under represented hasn't filled the void with stories of their own fantasy worlds by now.
 

Queshire

Auror
Isn't this thread in support of just that? Jasnah wants to write it in their own right and has come to the fine folks here at Mythic Scribes in hopes that seeing how other people tackled the problem they're facing can provide some inspiration for tackling it.

...
Oh, and pray tell, just how did you tackle it in your work? I can't seem to, er, find that in your post.
 

Mad Swede

Maester
Well, the reason I asked the question about what Jasnah meant by the patriarchy is because to me this is about world building. To me it isn't enough to say that I want to have a more level gender-based playing field. I have to think through what that would mean. It's people who misuse power, not a gender. It's people who mistreat others. And for me that makes it mostly about characterisation. But the setting and the society in that setting still matter. There will, presumably, still be some things which are socially unacceptable, or at least some behaviours which can be used to coerce others into doing what someone wants them to do. These behaviours might not be illegal, but that might not mean they are accepted. As I pointed out in the thread below, it's these types of social issues which add even more depth to the characters and and provide some of the reasons for their actions.

Is there an issue with gender representation in my novel?
 
well, testosterone is a thing, as is most of human history.

Men and women are different. They just are. For instance, in the Dutch military, there are no restrictions on gender, and there haven't been for a long time (with the exception of submarines, which is for practical reasons I think). However, less than 20% of all soldiers are female. Yes, there is definitely some social bias in there, and unconscious biases while raising children. But it's also because, in general, men are stronger and more drawn to conflict and proving they are better at physical activities than others.

That doesn't mean that women can't be your antagonist, just that if you have a woman being stronger than a man, you've got a lot of work to do.

Magic and religion changes things. You just have to make sure the changes make sense. If only women can bond with dragons, then you'll probably end up with a society where women are the default gender and the default rulers.

As for the Stormlight Archive, I actually liked how the roles of men and women were handled there. They have a very strickt set of social customs and they stick to them. And those customes affect both men and women. It's not a case of men can do everything and women have to obey them. It's more men do the fighting and women handle the science side of things. It's similar to the whole Lighteyes idea which runs through it. Lighteyes being the ruling class had a "historic" reason. The reason was forgotten, but the custom remained, leading to all kinds of social injustices. It definitely made sense to me.

Now, I'm not saying that men and women can't be considered equal. They definitely can. But I think you first have to figure out what equal actually means. Just legally? Or are they also physically equal? Or just that you have the exact same number of men and women in your novel? Or something else?
I think you're confusing equal with the same. Obviously testosterone is a thing. Obviously most men can physically overpower women. Is physical strength all that matters? I would argue no.

Also what about the Amazons? What about islands in the Pacific where women dive and hunt and men stay home taking care of the children? Just because empires and white people have always chosen to lay power along the lines of physical strength doesn't mean it's the only way.
 
Isn't this thread in support of just that? Jasnah wants to write it in their own right and has come to the fine folks here at Mythic Scribes in hopes that seeing how other people tackled the problem they're facing can provide some inspiration for tackling it.

...
Oh, and pray tell, just how did you tackle it in your work? I can't seem to, er, find that in your post.
Thanks for redirecting, I've been surprised to see the amount of people arguing for sexism in fantasy work.

I'm currently tackling, to what degree of success, I'm not sure, which is why I wanted to open up the topic 😛

First of all, in the story I am writing, the entire gender spectrum is accepted. I think this takes the pressure off the constant tug of war between male and female.

As I'm writing, I'm finding a lot less political maneuverings through violence in general, which I don't think is a coincidence. Power is shaped and structured by not just physical strength but also intelligence, cunning, the ability to sway people to your side, whether through honesty or to see, and sorcery.

You see genders represented everywhere from business ownership, to craftsman, to the city watch.
 

pmmg

Vala
I object to the opening statement of this thread. which asserts there is a permanent patriarchy and sexism in fantasy, I would argue that the patriarchy is mostly a myth, and that sexism is not some big dragon to be slain, but a thing with both good and bad aspects. And I would suggest that the solution to all things equalizing for females is not lets get them in more combat and leader roles. but to keep them female and let them be whoever they are while being that.

I strongly agree with its your story, write how you want. But its not really as simple as that. The problem you are facing is one of plausibility, credibility, and acceptance. To which, I can only suggest, that if you are going to write things that bump up against those three aspects, you have to expect they wont be pushed down easily. My solution is to write it well, which probably means not doing things that are implausible, or accept that it will get challenged for its credibility.

My own story is female heavy. I did not intend that, but the female characters have a lot of agency, and are moving the story. They are not in the story striking blows for female anything, and don't care about most things that I would equate with 'today's values'. They are just trying to do what is needed to solve the problem of the big threat to everyone while not losing themselves in the process. Most of the rulers of the lands are male, and that has not impeded them at all. Occasionally, there is some pushback on them over gender, but they acquit themselves well. There is no part of the story where it is just 'Female, so I win', and most often, when they meet bigger opponents, it is bad for them, just as it would be for any.

My suggestion, would be to tell a story, and let the characters be who they are, accept that some of them are not strong, appreciate that its really their flaws and weaknesses that make them interesting anyway, and avoid approaching any of it with an attitude of stuffing in 'the message'.
 
I object to the opening statement of this thread. which asserts there is a permanent patriarchy and sexism in fantasy, I would argue that the patriarchy is mostly a myth, and that sexism is not some big dragon to be slain, but a thing with both good and bad aspects. And I would suggest that the solution to all things equalizing for females is not lets get them in more combat and leader roles. but to keep them female and let them be whoever they are while being that.

I strongly agree with its your story, write how you want. But its not really as simple as that. The problem you are facing is one of plausibility, credibility, and acceptance. To which, I can only suggest, that if you are going to write things that bump up against those three aspects, you have to expect they wont be pushed down easily. My solution is to write it well, which probably means not doing things that are implausible, or accept that it will get challenged for its credibility.

My own story is female heavy. I did not intend that, but the female characters have a lot of agency, and are moving the story. They are not in the story striking blows for female anything, and don't care about most things that I would equate with 'today's values'. They are just trying to do what is needed to solve the problem of the big threat to everyone while not losing themselves in the process. Most of the rulers of the lands are male, and that has not impeded them at all. Occasionally, there is some pushback on them over gender, but they acquit themselves well. There is no part of the story where it is just 'Female, so I win', and most often, when they meet bigger opponents, it is bad for them, just as it would be for any.

My suggestion, would be to tell a story, and let the characters be who they are, accept that some of them are not strong, appreciate that its really their flaws and weaknesses that make them interesting anyway, and avoid approaching any of it with an attitude of stuffing in 'the message'.
Again, you're joining the masses in equating male with strong and female with weak.

But I think our viewpoints differ enough about how sexism and the patriarchy manifest in our world that we might not see eye to eye on how they might be challenged in the fantasy world, so we may have to simply agree to disagree.
 

Mad Swede

Maester
Thanks for redirecting, I've been surprised to see the amount of people arguing for sexism in fantasy work.

I'm currently tackling, to what degree of success, I'm not sure, which is why I wanted to open up the topic 😛

First of all, in the story I am writing, the entire gender spectrum is accepted. I think this takes the pressure off the constant tug of war between male and female.

As I'm writing, I'm finding a lot less political maneuverings through violence in general, which I don't think is a coincidence. Power is shaped and structured by not just physical strength but also intelligence, cunning, the ability to sway people to your side, whether through honesty or to see, and sorcery.

You see genders represented everywhere from business ownership, to craftsman, to the city watch.
I'm not sure where you get the idea that there is a constant tug of war between male and female in fantasy literature. I can think of quite a few examples where that isn't the case.

I also don't think gender balance will necessarily have an impact on violence. We've had a discussion about the use of violence in Ankari's thread about the tutility of violence:

The utility of violence

I argued there that violence needs to have both a reason for its use and consequences for having used it. And that's about characterisation and setting more than it is about gender. I can think of quite a few examples (in both real life and in fiction) where women were every bit as inclined to violence as men - they just didn't always have the opportunity to use it.

I'm not trying to be critical of you here, I just wonder if you're not trying to kick down an open door.
 
I'm not sure where you get the idea that there is a constant tug of war between male and female in fantasy literature. I can think of quite a few examples where that isn't the case.

I also don't think gender balance will necessarily have an impact on violence. We've had a discussion about the use of violence in Ankari's thread about the tutility of violence:

The utility of violence

I argued there that violence needs to have both a reason for its use and consequences for having used it. And that's about characterisation and setting more than it is about gender. I can think of quite a few examples (in both real life and in fiction) where women were every bit as inclined to violence as men - they just didn't always have the opportunity to use it.

I'm not trying to be critical of you here, I just wonder if you're not trying to kick down an open door.
Really I'm just trying to have a discussion, not prove a point, but I feel more than a bit set back by the replies.

It's more seeing the power struggle between male and female in our world reflected in fantasy worlds and having it be normalized there as well.

An example of this is rape and intimate partner violence. We know that sexism heavily drives both of those crimes in our world (of course they do happen along the lines of other gender dynamics, but primarily speaking). In a world built specifically to be sexism free, both a young woman and a young man could walk down a dark street at night with much more equal amounts of trepidation. A woman in a heterosexual relationship would have just as little fear of violence by her partner as a man would. I guess it's tiring to see dynamics to the contrary of this show up readily in fantasy stories.

But I do believe there has been a lot of digression, and I think maybe this thread has lost the entirety of its point.
 

Queshire

Auror
I wouldn't call it a tug of war. An oversight perhaps? Or a blind spot?

Now, when I was a little baby Que the standard after school cartoon on. DBZ, Pokemon, BLEACH, Naruto and One Piece were formative in my youth. Each of these has prominent female characters, most of them have female characters in positions of expertise and authority and each has a power system (or the equivalent of a power system in Pokemon) that should largely make strength differences between sexes meaningless. Yet if you look at the main protagonist teams of each there's a noticeable trend in who generally gets what sort of plot beats. Yes, of course the primary target audience for them consists of young boys, but it gets a bit tiring when you start a new manga series and the main female character winds restrained by tentacles, threatened to be turned into a naked stone statue by the arc's villain or whose big dramatic legendary power is the ability to jump back in time so that she can save the actual fighters instead of something more suited towards directly solving the problem at hand. *cough*Eden's Zero*cough*Eden's Zero*cough*Eden's Zero*cough*Yes, all three examples are from the same series.*cough*
 
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