Imagine you were creating a world.
If you can’t, then you’re probably not a writer of science fiction and fantasy. We create worlds on a regular basis, from those that are completely, enormously different, to those that are slightly different.
If you’re working on big differences say “imagine the Earth is always cooler” then one thing you need to worry about is a consistent history and how it influenced your present day characters.
So, imagine you created a species with sexual dimorphism. This means that the sexes are different. Men and women are not the same. Men are generally larger, stronger, more muscular, and able to survive body blows better. Women are smaller, more agile, more fragile, capable of enduring pain better. (No, ladies, when your husbands are being such babies with an illness it’s not their fault. They feel pain more than we do.)
Psychologically, the body imposes certain psychological differences. The sex hormones have different effects on the brain from the time of gestation on. I’m not an endocrine specialist, so I can’t go into all the details, but I do know testosterone makes you think “clearer, faster, more incisively” and estrogen makes you think “deeper, more connected and layered.”
So in this species men and women have different but covalent specialties. If you intend — we assume you do — for this species to eventually develop science and technology, then both modes of thinking are needed and complementary. Sure, because any individual exists on a continuum, some men’s thinking will more layered and deeper and more connected, but men will be on the women’s low range for this, so having women in a project probably makes it better.
This is complicated by evolution which molds men’s and women’s social styles in different ways. While both men and women work in groups — we are a social ape — they work differently in groups. This is probably because men in hunting parties needed to respond well to overt hierarchy while women in gathering parties were more likely to have their children survive if they have deep sideways connections and sort of a behind the scenes power. Because if you don’t have connections, everyone is going to let your kids be eaten by a bear while you’re picking berries.
Which means that men and women don’t have similar social styles. We do interact well enough in romance, but we have serious issues when working together. We’ll leave that aside for now. (It’s not true in all cases, and what is required is a more male-working-mode, which is why as women go into work there is a push to function as men. More on that later.)
Anyway, in this world you created, before technology, everyone lived a rather miserable life. How?
Um… hunting and gathering or even scraping by on agriculture was a miserable life. Men died early because of hunt accidents or later work accidents or deformities or illnesses acquired while working under all weathers. Seriously, if you haven’t read about how banged up male skeletons we unearth, you can’t even imagine.
Being a woman was also a miserable life, in many ways, but it was differently miserable. Most women worked at as safe a job as there was, and these jobs were often menial and monotonous. That meant they were less likely to die of their work, which was good because for species survival women needed to be spared for child birth which in pre tech days killed a huge number of them.
Now for women who weren’t having children for whatever reason, or who were past the age of having children, their work was monotonous and usually more intricate then men’s, but far less likely to kill them. There is a reason the civilizational hypothesis resting on old age passing on its knowledge is called The Grandmother Hypothesis not the Grandparent Hypothesis.
Men endured harder work, that was more likely to kill them early. They were also more likely to die in war.
Introduce some tech and the resultant prosperity and for a brief moment in time, men’s work becomes SOMEWHAT easier, (it’s still harder than women’s because of it takes advantage of men’s greater body strength) and less likely to kill you. Industrialized war, though, will kill men in batch lots (see WWI and II or heck the Napoleonic wars.)
The brief prosperity might (NOTE MIGHT) enable oppressive patriarchy in certain places and for a brief time (except in cultures where, because desert cultures it was always the safe path: for reasons like protecting women from raids by enemies, which I don’t have the time to cover right now) men, due to higher body strength could impose a sort of subjection on women, which was supposed to keep them safe, but also kept them in their menial, lower-impact, more-boredom roles. Note this was only possible in certain societies and cultures. That subjugation of women in Victorian age that all the feminist writers are obsessed with was only possible in the wealthy classes.
Nor were women there or in China and Arab countries (where the subjugation came earlier and stronger, for other reasons we have no time to get into but which tie in with the danger of existence in those parts of the world) without resort. There is a reason poison is a woman’s weapon, but beyond that, anyone who comes from a very patriarchal culture knows how much mom rules the roost behind closed doors. This is something no feminist writer from the US seems able to GET. They don’t seem to understand the more covert forms of power, but only the in your face, overt and open forms of power.
Which brings us to today in your world building.
All of a sudden the sex that was kept protected and in boring work, the sex that was kept from war and pain as much as possible, is up in arms and screaming they must be liberated of these restraints and they must be given compensation for centuries of oppression.
As your mentor, reading your world building, I’m going to tell you “Waitafargin minute, why are the females the ones that’s considered oppressed? The men were the ones killed in batch lots both by war and by trying to make a living. It was the men who endured hard and dangerous work in all weathers. Arguably it was the women who oppressed them by convincing them to go out there and to it. Your worldbuilding doesn’t work, son. This is highly implausible. Even if you add in that period where in upper class western societies men could really oppress those women under their power, you’d have to be a ninny not to realize the women fought back with subversion and indoctrination. See the myth of the woman as angel, for instance. Non western societies are more complicated but there, too, life was horrible for men. So let’s talk about this. Your world just won’t work. Shouldn’t men be clamoring for redress of the evils perpetrated on them through centuries.”
And then you’d point out women are deeper, more connected, more layered thinkers, and mass communication and more importantly story telling for entertainment on a level that never happened before is what created the myth of the oppressed women. Mostly because women were freeing themselves from the restrictions imposed upon them by nature (the pill; labor saving devices; etc.) and felt how free they were by comparison to their grandmothers, and therefore back-cast their grandmothers into vile and oppressive submission.
And I’d admit your world building MIGHT work, but dear lor, that’s a dystopia. these women who don’t know the history of the race will push forth into men’s roles*, and in the process try to get revenge for ills that really never happened (except through the unforgiving hand of mother nature) by making men more feminine, and trying to subjugate them. Neither of which role reversion will work well with the human animal, and will lead to miserable women, miserable men and a dramatic fall in reproduction which means putting the future in jeopardy except in those areas in which, for other reasons, women really are held in vile subjugation and their condition held to be less than human. Which means, because the future belongs to those who reproduce, the truly oppressive patriarchy which subjugates women and twists men into caricatures of themselves will inherit the world, after your civilization’s comedy of errors runs its course.
Fortunately, this is just an imaginary world, and it will never happen here. Right?
*Note, I’m in no way implying women shouldn’t work, or even work outside the home, or that women shouldn’t do things we traditionally view as “male” because technology now enables women to do these, and note that I said above a lot of it, such as scientific endeavors, can benefit from having a different perspective. I’m objecting to the “OBLIGATION” to do these and do them in male fashion, which is a great part of social pressure. Same as the femininization of men. Neither are needed to have the sexes take advantage of tech to cooperate in life and work.