When I was young I called myself a feminist. Remember the culture I was born into, though it changed when I was in my teens — in law, but the underlying culture remains of course — did make women second class citizens. A woman needed permission from father or husband to work outside the home, for instance. Women didn’t have the vote. And women were assume to be dumber than men, a myth I enjoyed exploding. And, and, and–
So I called myself a feminist because I wanted women to have the same rights as men. That was all.
I did not have a mythos in my head as to why females were superior and males evil, nor as to why women had had an “inferior” position throughout history.
Part of this is that I didn’t necessarily see women’s position as inferior, except for the injustice of laws against them. Sure, in the world outside women were at danger of being attacked if they were out after sundown (and it would be considered her own d*mn fault for violating the unspoken curfew) and there were only male clubs, and most women worked at home (and I mean beyond being stay at home moms and wives.
But, look, it’s complicated. In many ways it was an archaic society, partly national culture, partly just the area and class. There were male spheres and female spheres. And in each of their spheres, each sex held themselves as superior.
I was indicted early into the sphere of women, because as a girl child, I often ended up sitting under tables or int he corners of the kitchen while women cooked or sewed. (I was usually hiding and reading. I didn’t say I was good at the female thing, just that I was in the general area.) Also of the adults in my life, the one who walked on water was female: my paternal grandmother. And you know exactly what I mean by walking on water. In every child’s life, if things are even vaguely healthy, there is an adult who is assumed to “be able to do anything.”
I followed grandmother around a lot, and a lot of her talk was about how annoying and incapable of doing things men were… In the female sphere. While being given all possible respect and leeway in their sphere.
I think the best way to explain this, is that a lot of men in the village (though not all. Some were artisans or small time farmers) had jobs, and worked for a salary. But at the end of the month they came home and handed the money to their wives. From that they received an allowance.
All money decisions from there on were the woman’s. Not just what to buy for the house and children, but what to invest, how to invest, what clothes to buy for the husband, and whether to get them ready made or make them.
If a couple floundered financially, barring abuse, it was the woman’s doing.
In the same way, she was responsible for making sure the kids were learning, or if not were apprenticed at something outside formal education. She kept the lines of communication not only between family members (which in that time and place might be all over the world) but also between households in the village. She jockeyed for prestige, position, and precedent for her husband and entire household. Where a family stood and whether it rose or fell was the woman’s doing. Unless she was a “poor thing” “almost a man” (I’m afraid if I’d stayed there and the village endured, I’d have fallen there.) in which case she ignored all of that, and the family got the dirty end of the stick.
Men? You went and got your man to help if you needed to: deal with bureaucracy; buy or sell in a large scale; hire someone skilled or degreed, make a complex investiment you weren’t sure how to structure. Oh, men also kept track of politics, and had opinions on economics and macro issues. Women just knew if the price of bread rose and fell and had opinions about that.
So, it never occurred to me back then that men and women were one superior and one inferior. Just different specialties, and fairly idiotic at the other one’s job. Though mind you, things were in flux when I came in, so I was expected to get a degree and function in the world of men. (And yes, there were women doing that by the time I was born.) So I was tolerated to hide and read, and while taught some housekeeping, it was assumed I’d have servants for that (university degrees used to be valuable) and that my function would be closer to a male’s.
As such, I was very interested in the laws, and wanted equality under the law, and called myself a feminist.
Until I came to the US and realized it meant something completely different, and weird. Look… I’m not saying everything feminist was or is like this, just that …. most of what that said struck me as nonsensical. If this were a novel, it would be really bad world building.
So, some of the things I’ve been told by earnest and exquisitely educated women who apparently never bothered to analyze received wisdom.
“There were always the same number of women fighters at all levels as men, it’s just that men have suppressed knowledge of them.”
<Holds aching head. Yes, there were always “Maidens who went to war.” You can’t throw a stone in folklore without tripping over one of those. I’ve often wondered if it’s a reflection of reality or just a wish fulfillment, because frankly men like stories of women fighters.
BUT we know some women were “fighters” for a definition of fighters. There were a lot of soldiers found not to be male when they died. Now, most of those we know for sure are in the modern era, when guns make the whole thing easier. But we know from bios and other stuff that there were women in the ranks at every major battle we know of.
These were usually not commanders or famous fighters, but women who for some reason or another found it expedient to run away, pretend to be male, and engage in the dirty and dangerous business of war.
Their stories are usually exactly what you would expect, too: big and ugly, widowed, without visible means of support. In societies where a woman either depended on others to survive (look, there’s physical and biological reasons for this) or became whores, becoming a “man” could be very attractive.
They were not usually commanders (though Queens did command armies, but that’s different and of course, not common or average) and they weren’t anything so complex as “knights” which had rules and groups and–
I mean, there might have been a half-mad woman roaming the back country in found Armour and calling herself a “knight” — but if so, she’d be passing as a male.
Oh, and women who stayed behind in their cities often found themselves forced to defend the garrison with the old men and the kids. And some of them became heroes. But that was “hazard of war” not a career.
Yes, women have always fought, in the sense that war — particularly primitive war — doesn’t respect sexes. And you either fight or die.
But think about it. Think about women throughout the ages fulfilling exactly the same role as men in war, but “Men kept it secret.”
How would men even do that?
“Well, men wrote the histories.”
Not strictly through. We do know that several women were erudite and wrote, also throughout history. They could have preserved the lore of women fighters.
But let’s say that every woman writer was also suppressed. (Leave the now for a while.)
How do all the men — all the men int he world — keep a secret? No, seriously. Think on it five minutes. This means keeping secrets from their moms, their sisters, their daughters, their WIVES.
Every intelligence service in the world knows men leak like sieves to women in their lives.
But let’s suppose men had decided to forever keep women down. HOW would they keep this secret conspiracy forever?
And in fact, we know of maidens (and queens) who went to war. Which means no one is policing this.
It’s bad worldbuilding, get over it.
“Men can decide to impregnate whoever they want at any time.”
Uh. What? Wait a fricken minute. My husband had that super power and let us go through six years of infertility? That male conspiracy must be bigger than I thought.
“If men made sure other men wouldn’t attack women, women would be safe anywhere at any time.”
Hold, time out. Any decent man I know would risk his life to defend a woman (or anyone) being attacked. What more are they supposed to do?
Do they think men have superpowers and can each connect to each other’s brains and turn switches on and off? (No, there isn’t locker room support for rape and attacks. EXCEPT in the sickest pockets of culture. And that’s different. Sick culture is sick culture, and that affects men and women both. Most men are just as disgusted as sexual or other assault as most women.)
They believe this about the past too. “Humanity used to live in a peaceful matriarchy” (I never understood how this connected to women being amazing fighters. Bad worldbuilding. Keep on trucking.) “And then men overthrew it, and instituted patriarchy and capitalism.”
I swear this is like the myth of onthogeny recapitulates phylogeny, except inverted and for society. In all of our lives there was a time the mother was central. And in that world, all was peaceful at least according to us, because we were small and dumb and had no clue what went on beyond the nursery walls. But eventually we entered the larger world where there are — ick — men and things became more complicated.
For the species as a whole, it doesn’t hold. Maria Gimbutas just straight up made up things, and anyway, except for small places with weird customs (and those not matriarchies, but matrilineal descent or inheritance places, which is not the same) the more primitive the society, the more women have fewer rights, because women are weaker than men. And in a society that prizes brute force to survive, that matters.
Also matrilineal descent tribes — the ZULUS — aren’t peaceful.
Again, think about how this would work: Men took over, using their psychic powers, I assume, and thereafter women could never restore the great and peaceful matriarchy.
Look, at this point I’m thinking if men can do all this they’re obviously superior beings, and we should all shut up and have more sons.
“Ah, but women would be exactly the same as men, as strong, etc, if we fed them and educated both the same.”
Let’s ignore the fact that we’ve been doing exactly that in the west for fifty years and got a whole lot of soyboys for it, but no amazing doughty fighting women.
Forget that we know the role of testosterone in bone and muscle formation.
How does the worldbuilding work again? Go back as far as you can go, even in pre-history. Women are smaller and more gracile, and therefore physically weaker then men.
Women are also, as far as we can tell far into societies without writing, the ones who gather and prepare food.
… They were intentionally starving themselves?
When they could instead have gone hunting, because they were just as big and strong as the guys?
…. Boy, that male mind control must be powerful. It even got the women to cooperate, even before there were PROPER women, back to homo erectus and such.
If this were a book and I were writing, I’d have to make men a superior alien race, gifted with a collective mind, and powerful mind control to make any of this work. (In fact, some of the crazier of my colleagues have done that.)
And again, in the face of that powerful and omnipotent a race, all you can do is surrender and hope they treat you kindly.
Or you know, you can admit that men and women are different and complementary, and that men fighters who were the great majority of the combatants in any war depended on women to feed them and defend the homeland while they went to war.
And that men scholars often worked together with women scholars.
And that every couple one has competences the other lacks (sometimes not necessarily stereotypical masculine-feminine.)
Men have greater strength. Women have greater pain resistance. Men have greater force. Women have greater patience.
Together we achieve more and we secure the future.
Why engage in bad worldbuilding to explain this away?