Was it possible to have a feminist society?

I had a radio interview with Grant Stone on Faster Than Light today. (That’s in Western Australia). I don’t think I was very coherent on one question he asked, which arose out of my portrayal of the main protagonist in Heart of Mirage as a strong, powerful woman.

DSCN8105The point I was trying to make is this, that if a writer wants to portray a society where women have equal opportunity (not a particular accurate definition of a “feminist” society, I realise), and the work is a fantasy set in a pre-industrial world, they said author is going to run into problems of believability.

I’m not saying it can’t be done – but the writer has to understand the dynamics of such a world and adjust their plot accordingly.

Think about a pre-industrial world and this:

  • Muscular power is exceedingly important in any non-industrial world (as anyone who has tried to mend something without proper tools knows)
  • Physical protection probably involves physical strength to a large degree.
  • You have to have some kind of birth control. Women can’t be equal if they are forever pregnant or lactating or child caring. They find it hard to be the explorers and adventurers, too, if they have a toddler clinging to their skirts – yeah, I just got reintroduced to the curtailing effect of a two-year-old.
  • If she doesn’t have access to really good health care, a woman is at a disadvantage because she is childbearing and often dying as a consequence.
  • If there is any basic inequality in a society, who is usually the loser – the group that is the inherently physically stronger? Not in my book…

Probably the only way you could achieve a truly equal opportunity land, would be to develop the magic to even things up.

Of course, women did achieve power in non-technological societies, but they were the exceptions, not the rules.

And women often did achieve a certain level of cultural and social and even financial clout in some societies, for a variety of reasons – sometimes religious, sometimes because of the way men worked or warred (when men marched away to fight, they could be gone for years). It’s an interesting exercise to consider just why women achieved high status. (Often it was at the expense of other women – i.e. the servants or slaves.)

And interestingly enough, my husband was born into a matriarchal society. That’s right, even in today’s Muslim world such things exist. Property is passed down the female line. A man moved
into his wife’s house, not the other way around. Just to make it even more curious, the head of the clan, of which my husband’s family is a part, is always a man. In fact, it would have passed to my husband, except he didn’t want it.


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