Interpreting historical gender relations

So, elsewhere on the internet, I've been sort of involved in a discussion about feudal fantasy cultures and whether it's 'unrealistic' to put gender equality into those. And, eventually, what would need to be considered in order to make gender equality 'convincing' to these so-focused-on-realism readers.

There's been a lot of rhetoric about how men are just stronger, and men want to consolidate power for their own sex and how it's just impractical to have women at war, in differently fitted armor, requiring more training to make up for their weaker bodies, etc. They keep talking about how physical considerations make up at least half of the issue, no matter how much other people talk about cultural consideration offsetting many of the 'practical' considerations.

You can probably guess how I feel about these discussions.

But what I find interesting is that all of their 'physical considerations' seem to spin around men being stronger and women being weaker. And not, for example, around the fact that women died and died and died in pregnancy and childbirth.

The more thoughtful among these 'realists' will admit that sufficient magic (or guns) can certainly equalize the sexes in a fantasy culture. But that's still focused on power rather than species (or cultural) survival. I think it's not a coincidence that some of the most egalitarian fantasies I've read have had easily available nearly perfect birth control and medical care equaling or surpassing late 19th century care. I even find myself wondering how much more magic is really necessary.

In any case, an interesting personal lesson in how bias in asking questions can lead to a very narrow set of answers.


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