Years and years ago, when I first thought up a fantasy world, it was a cliched mess, but in fairness to myself, I was nine. It consisted of long-lost princesses, talking animals, and more cliched dreck. And the men were mostly in charge. This country didn’t have queens; it had kings–even though the primary religion had a goddess. Storywise, it wasn’t a terrible gender dynamic. Throughout history, we’ve seen a similar story play out; no matter how friendly to women a society might seem at first, men have generally ruled the lands. For an author who wants to write history-based fantasy (think Game of Thrones), gender roles like these are a great idea. It is not, however, the only model available. The point of fantasy is imagining what could be different, be it dragons, chimeras, or gender equality.
In between drafts of the current project I’ve been working on, I rethought my childhood assumptions. It was easy to create a world where male leaders are the default because that’s all I knew at the time. Now that I’ve gotten older, I was able to consider the implications of technology and magic and how they affect society. I’ve noticed that as technology has improved, so has gender equality (in certain countries, at least), and I don’t think it’s a coincidence. Men are physically stronger than women, and back when life was more labor intensive, it must have been easy to assume that women were worth less overall. At least, that’s one explanation of the birth of sexism. Insert standard I’m-not-an-anthropologist disclaimer here. As technology improved, physical strength was no longer an absolute must-have to get through life, and more jobs opened up for women. (Note that, historically, women have generally been far more capable of “men’s work” then society gave them credit for. I’m talking about perception of women’s abilities.) If technological progress has had such effects on societies, imagine what magic, which presumably has been accessible since the beginning of existence in our hypothetical fantasy world, would do to gender dynamics.
Depending on magic’s capabilities, women could have a role in combat. Or they could be healers. They could be assassins. They could be Supreme Empresses. Not that women can’t fulfill these roles without magic, but it’s undeniable that it would change the way a stereotypical medieval fantasy works. Just like technology, magic erases the need for physical strength.
With these ideas in mind, I decided to go with a matriarchy. I’m a lazy worldbuilder, so I repackaged my original fantasy world and turned it into women’s paradise. I don’t think matriarchy is inherently better than patriarchy; it’s just more interesting as a set-up.
During my teen years, I spent way too much time writing terrible pirate novels about girls who disguised themselves as boys so they can participate in a man’s world that’s full of senseless violence and hard liquor. As I got older and saw more of the world, I realized an important truth: violence…is not the answer.
The days of beating someone up to prove yourself are over. Nowadays, you discredit your enemies and take all their money. This is the era of the cat fight, in which men and women alike are welcome to participate.