The Cultural Difference

The other day, I read a comment about my portrayal of women in a Recluce book, which said that my political leanings resulted in an unrealistic view of women in a lower tech society. This isn’t anything particularly new, although such comments are not common.

I definitely understand that sources of power, particularly physical power, affect societal relationships, but there’s also another, often overlooked, factor. For at least the last few hundred years, particularly in western cultures, there’s been a misrepresentation of what women actually did and accomplished on our planet in earlier societies and cultures.

Far more women were battlefield warriors than are mentioned in either historical tomes or most historical fiction. The remains of more and more earlier societies are showing that women were anything but “fireside sitters” and cave homemakers. The Mongols used quite a number of mounted women archers, and the female elders managed the logistics of one of the most effective fighting forces in history, and from fairly close to the fighting. Scythian tombs containing remains of warriors, once thought to be men, have been determined to be women. The same has also been found in Celtic and other tombs. In the early years of Islam, there were women scholars and rulers. In the early United States, Benjamin Franklin’s wife Deborah, ran and controlled all of his enterprises in Philadelphia for most of a period of twenty years, and who ran all those plantations and farms during the revolutionary and civil wars?

I’m not saying that the “traditional” gender representation was “wrong” so much as it was woefully incomplete and created an inaccurate portrayal of societal structures and gender roles in many instances. There have always been women who didn’t fit the stereotypes largely created by men; it’s just that the mostly male historians and politicians overlooked or actively tried to erase the records of their accomplishments.

In addition to that, while accomplishments in any society are indeed affected and shaped by power, in fantasy worlds, the scope and use of magic should also affect roles and power, just as technology is reshaping gender and sexual roles today. At the same time, while brute force can impose gender-based roles on a society, history shows that such imposition usually handicaps that society.

So, in commenting on any fictional view of a society’s structure and gender roles, it’s more accurate to look at real history and/or the way the author has structured the basics of his/her world, rather than relying on inaccurate and fact-outdated stereotypes or beliefs.

8 thoughts on “The Cultural Difference”

  1. Daze says:

    Even today, there are those who believe that women cannot be agents of their own destiny. So, in the most ludicrous recent example, Taylor Swift couldn’t have possibly decided on her won that she doesn’t like Trump, so must be under the control of the Pentagon. (And also, her opposition is ‘secret’ having only told her 534 million social media followers).

  2. Postagoras says:

    To me, one of the most interesting things about your books is the you really think through the effects of the magic.

    I very much like the fact that your wizards all work for a living, they don’t just wander the countryside being wizards (cough Gandalf cough).

  3. AndrewMut says:

    Elon Musk was star guest this year at an annual conference organized by Italian PM Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party.
    He arrived against the backdrop of an ice-skating rink and an ancient castle in Rome with one of his 11 children to tout the value of procreation.

    Italy has one of the lowest birth rates in the world, and Musk urged the crowd to “make more Italians to save Italy’s culture,” a particular focus of the Meloni government.
    Meloni has been a strong opponent of surrogacy, which is criminalized in Italy, but there was no mention of Musk’s own recent children born of surrogacy.

    The owner of X (formerly called Twitter) was slightly rumpled with what could easily be argued the least stylish shoes in the mostly Italian crowd since Donald Trump’s often unkempt former top adviser Steve Bannon appeared at the conference in 2018.
    Meloni sat in the front row taking photos of Musk, who she personally invited. Meloni founded the Atreju conference in 1998, named after a character in the 1984 film “The NeverEnding Story.”

  4. Tom says:

    Congruent to LEM’s post is an old lecture that I still find of value regarding the realty versus the impression of gender and humans;

    Arnold R Weinstein PhD 1997 Instant Audio: $379.95
    (Amazone states: ©1995 The Teaching Company, LLC (P)1995 The Great Courses Buy- used: $77.32)

    Was Shakespeare making a conscious statement about race and gender in Othello, or are contemporary audiences merely reading into the play?

    1. Darcherd says:

      I’ll chime in with a hearty endorsement of courses by The Teaching Company. I’ve been a fan for years and have upwards of 200 of their courses in my library now.

      Using that as a segue into the main topic, I recently completed a course from them called The Scientific Wonder of Birds, which provided the fascinating tidbit that Darwin’s most controversial theory wasn’t that of evolution. No, it was his theory of evolution through sexual selection propounded in The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex. That theory was based on Darwin’s observations of birds, which in nearly all species, it is the female who chooses which males to mate with (also true of many other vertebrates). This theory was utterly rejected by the (male) scientists who were appalled that women might ‘get ideas’. The kicker is that the theory of evolution through sexual selection didn’t finally start to gain scientific credence until the 1970’s.

  5. KevinJ says:

    “…the scope and use of magic should also affect roles and power…”

    Absolutely. If, for example, the society has discovered asepsis, or magic has reduced/eliminated disease, then women will die far more rarely in childbirth, and men will have less incentive to treat them as precious, fragile baby-carriers, too.

  6. Jim M. says:

    The Apache tribes had women warriors. To capture one was considered a great feat by enemy tribes,”taming” one without losing your life was very difficult. The Chiefs had to pull them out of the war parties against the U.S. Calvary because they were being gang raped and murdered.

  7. Wren Jackson says:

    Humorously, you show women very accurately. I think Fall of Angels and Armscommander focus on this. That it’s a different process to turn a woman who is generally smaller than a similar man into a warrior. They have to drill harder, be a bit more ruthless and accept that they don’t have the luxury of disabling or disarming unless they’re VERY good.

    But the Sword and more so the rifle, makes that gap start to fade quickly.

    It also ignores history. There are a fair number of societies where women taught martial skills, the reason they stayed behind wasn’t because they were weaker or needed protection but because they were MORE valuable and more Important. But you attack an actual town in places and the women would fight, and win.

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