A couple of weeks ago, someone posted a link to a discussion about gender equality in the Forgotten Realms. I didn’t read much of it, but what I did read, I didn’t see anything there resembling a real answer.
Nor, frankly, did I care much at the time. But, as I am wont to do, I started thinking. The history/sociology minor in me decided to come out and play.
So the question was, why is there such gender equality in the Realms? (Ed: Forgotten Realms, aka Baldur’s Gate, Neverwinter Nights and Icewind Dale’s world) The answer, I believe, is simple.
No, no, I don’t mean someone waved a magic pen – er, wand – and made it so. I simply mean, in the Realms, there are three ways to gain power; divine might, arcane might, and physical might. Sure, there’s something to be said for intelligence without magic, but that doesn’t usually do the trick alone.
However, in the history of the Earth, two of those ways have never existed. That has left the might-makes-right method of power acquisition all too prevalent. And while history shows plenty of exceptions, generally speaking, men have been physically stronger than women. Members of both genders have shown that physical might isn’t exactly a necessity, but it sure helps. (C’mon, Napoleon?)
Beyond the actual acquisition of power, however, is society’s perception. A generation that is raised to believe one gender is more powerful than another will pass that training on for a very, very long time. Look at our own society for evidence of this.
Today’s senior citizens were raised in an era where the races weren’t supposed to be mixed; whites were raised to believe they were superior, and blacks were raised to prove them wrong. The baby boomers were taught in limited ways that equality was necessary, but they were raised by people who didn’t necessarily think so (and yes, I know there are glaring exceptions; I’m generalizing here).
People between 30 and 50 are generally much more accepting, though some of the old views still pervade, often inadvertently. And the under-30 crowd has grown up having equality beaten into them; I honestly think it won’t be until that generation reaches senior citizenhood that you’ll really see racism fade mostly away, and it’ll probably take a couple more after that before it fades. In this country, anyway. (Ed: US)
But I digress. Back to the Realms.
In the Realms, deities can be male and female. That applied in Rome and Greece and Egypt, too, but it was strictly an ideology. Not so in the Realms. In the Realms, men and women can be clerics, and they can channel divine power. With rare exceptions, they can achieve the same levels of power. Societies are based around religion; therefore, unless the religion itself promoted one gender over another, equality was a given. And even when the religion DID promote one gender, there were other deities that were just as strong, or stronger, that didn’t feel the same way.
Arcane might is even more equal; anyone with the money, the intelligence and the training can become a wizard. Enough said there, I think.
And physical might? Well, that still favored the men, at least in human societies. But one good wizard can best 100 warriors in the right situation, and gender is irrelevant.
Therefore, societies for thousands of years have grown up in cultures that knew, whether they liked it or not, that anyone, male or female, can bring power to the table, and therefore can lead. Most cultures that still are male-dominated also tend to fear magic (see the Uthgardt barbarians, for example). So even if the average man is stronger than the average woman, the very culture breeds a healthy respect for power in general, and from a magical standpoint, that’s perfectly equal.
So… it’s by magic. Shazam.