Historically Authentic Sexism in Fantasy. Let’s Unpack That. – sexism in history vs sexism in fantasy, and why an author shouldn’t justify being demeaning/dismissive/sexist towards women and girl characters in their fantasy novel just because historic societies treated women and girls in many demeaning/dismissive/sexist ways.
[My rant is] about history, and this notion that History Is Authentically Sexist. Yes, it is. Sure it is. We all know that. But what do you mean when you say “history?”
History is not a long series of centuries in which men did all the interesting/important things and women stayed home and twiddled their thumbs in between pushing out babies, making soup and dying in childbirth.
History is actually a long series of centuries of men writing down what they thought was important and interesting, and FORGETTING TO WRITE ABOUT WOMEN. It’s also a long series of centuries of women’s work and women’s writing being actively denigrated by men. Writings were destroyed, contributions were downplayed, and women were actively oppressed against, absolutely.
But the forgetting part is vitally important. Most historians and other writers of what we now consider “primary sources” simply didn’t think about women and their contribution to society. They took it for granted, except when that contribution or its lack directly affected men.
This does not in any way mean that the female contribution to society was in fact less interesting or important, or complicated, simply that history – the process of writing down and preserving of the facts, not the facts/events themselves – was looking the other way.
In history, from primary sources through most of the 20th century (I will absolve our current century-in-progress out of kindness but let’s not kid ourselves here), the assumption has always been that men’s actions are more politically and historically significant to society, BECAUSE THEY ARE PERFORMED BY MEN.
Then she gets down to the specifics of various sexist fantasy tropes. Tansy’s post has been linked all over, and has now been republished at tor.com, where there’s a great discussion happening.
Let’s use this thread to recommend fantasy novels which manage to treat women and girl characters as interesting people with goals of their own who make valued contributions to their communities, even when they’re not the primary protagonists of the novel.
This post by Foz Meadows makes a neat companion piece: PSA: Your Default Narrative Settings Are Not Apolitical