SO YOU WANT TO WRITE A FANTASY:
How exciting! Fantasy is so fun! You can do anything you want to your universe, because it’s fantasy - which is really great, because you’ve always wanted cats to talk and everyone else to share your distaste of squash. Plus you could have magic! Or not, you know, low-fantasy works too. Maybe it will be another Epic/High fantasy, and surely you’ve got a trilogy in the works, or perhaps you’re writing steam punk…anything your heart desires! This is so fun!
What’s that you say? You say you have a hero in mind? Wonderful! Your hero is a strapping young farmboy? Yes? Well, okay. It’s been done before, but I trust you. He’s an orphan, you say? And the Chosen one? Oh, well alright. (Hey you steampunk novelist. Don’t walk away. I noticed you were writing about a young boy who wants to be an airship mechanic. It’s okay, just keep following along.) There’s a great big evil he must defeat in order to save his town, village, country, or the world? Well yes, there does need to be some antagonism in this story, so I’ll let that go, and of course your big evil needs monster or henchmen or something, and yes, this kid really does need a wiser, more experienced person to hel-he’s a man too?
Well you know it wasn’t uncommon for older men and younger male warriors in training to carry on relationships in certain societ- hmm? Oh they’re not gay? Are you sure?
I suppose. If you really feel that way. I just thought it would be interesting and realistic is all, but let’s get back to your story. So he needs a mentor, because he’s only a farmboy, and this older man actually knows what’s going on, but he can’t explain because…well you can think of why later.
What’s that? Oh! There’s a girl character? Lovely! What’s she like? I’m sure the hero here needs a friend, perhaps, or maybe a sister, or another advisor, and maybe just maybe- oh.
She’s the love interest?
Are you sure?
She’s particularly beautiful. Sweet, giving, and has been eying the hero now that he’s gone through some warrior training, and of course she’s graceful. (Is she an elf?) Oh, you gave her a sword. Well that’s a relief, those monsters/henchmen we tossed out into your world are crawling all over the place and so it’s a good thing to keep- she can’t wield it, can she?
No, no, you gave her a broadsword. Her fingers are soft and smooth like silk, you just described this two pages ago. A swords woman has callouses. And even if you lie about that, or gloss over it, you just gave a petite blonde a broadsword. (Do you know what a broadsword is? Have you ever tried lifting one, and then swinging it around for a half hour? Nevermind, don’t do that. You’ll hurt yourself trying.) She just lost the fight. So the hero could save her.
Let’s do this over again.
Particularly beautiful, blahblahblah, no broadsword. Okay. Good. She can’t fight? Well no, she couldn’t fight, she was trying to wield a broadsword on foot. That’s just not practical. What, you mean she really cannot fight? Well that seems stupid, she needs to do something-embroidery?
She’s going to embroider things? And do what, make the perfect cross stitch?
It’s because she’s a woman?
She’s a woman so she can’t fight, but she likes to embroider-
STOP. STOP STOP STOP STOP!
We’ve gone too far! This is absurd. She lives in a world where danger is at every turn, and the worst she can do is bat her eyelashes and faint? Nevermind her craftiness, it’s not like she gets to use it to stitch wounds on the battlefield.
What do you mean it’s realistic?
This isn’t realistic! How is she alive when you’ve painted a big red target on her back that says “Beautiful noble thing the hero cares about - steal me, I’m helpless to stopping you!”? Well but she’s a woman, and women were supposed to be cooking and cleaning and having children in this time. What time? Whatever do you mean, dear novelist? It’s unrealistic to have her be powerful, she’s a girl!
But this is a fantasy novel! There’s no such thing as having to stick to one time period, and remember, we were so excited to do whatever we wanted to in the world because of this being a fantasy novel and all! But this is like Europe! It was a misogynistic society! There was patriarchy! I am trying to be accurate in my portrayals!
THIS IS “EUROPE” WITH MAGIC AND THE UNDEAD. OR STEAMSHIPS. AND FIRE BREATHING CREATURES. THERE ARE DARK FORCES INVOLVED. THIS ISN’T GOING TO BE ACCURATE.
Fine, you know what? You want accuracy. That’s cool. It’s okay to base your world off of stuff in the real world. So that’s why she can’t fight! Why are you arguing with me on this?
Well because maybe it’s why she can’t fight! But maybe it’s not. Let’s just FORGET Europe. Look at Japan - women in Samurai families could train with weapons in order to defend their homes! that was a patriarchal society, and they still trained those women to fight. Or how about Mongolia? Not only were women in charge of the supplies, home tents, and animals, but they could choose to marry and were supposed to initiate sex. And they could fight or be a battle strategist too! And hey, Genghis Khan actually made selling, kidnapping, and raping women illegal under his rule! Maybe we can avoid implying that all brown people have mandatory rape festivals!
Get this, she doesn’t even have to fight to be powerful! Crazy, huh? A woman wrote the first modern novel, remember? Maybe she’s a novelist, and wrote the equivalent of the Tales of Genji. Maybe she’s a diplomat, some of the Mongolian women acted like that. Or maybe she’s an adviser - a political adviser. Maybe she’s the Queen! She’s not the Queen? Well, maybe she’s running the show behind the scenes. Or she’s a spy.
Want to hear something even crazier? Not all societies function/ed under the western notion of what equality should be! Sometimes being the woman of the house means a whole hell of a lot because you run the place where people eat, sleep, and live. And the men have a totally different separate function in society that is not greater or lesser in standing. You remember seeing all those reblogs on why its not okay for white girls to run around in Native American war bonnets, right? They’re worn by men who have earned that right in battle, and women generally don’t wear them. They had their own regalia. A lot of non-western/white cultures don’t have the same norms, traditions, domains split between men and women but that doesn’t make it misogynistic or even unequal. Try looking up stuff like dual-sex/dual-gendered systems, female husbands, and matriarchies and patriarchies existing in the same culture or society. Not all cultures function the same way white Europeans do! Remember that when world building.
So your girl could totally be in charge of the household and not be a simpering helpless blonde. That household may put her equal to her husband or the hero who goes out and fights without a domain.
Remember that hero we had at the beginning? He’s now without supplies, transportation, food, a place to live, or any money or support. All he has are weapons. Because the women of your world are in control of the households. Men are warriors. Whoops. He’s not going to get very far without supplies. Now he has to learn to deal in this society by protecting the female domains who keep him supplied and clothed. Maybe he has to take up quests in order to afford the way to defeating the bad guy.
You want to write women who do stuff besides have babies? Awesome.
You still want her to be good at embroidery?
Fine by me. Just fine by me.
What do you do with that farm boy now? Don’t ask me, I don’t have the damnedest idea.