One excuse I’ve heard for gender inequality in Epic Fantasy is just that was how Medieval Life was, and they’re portraying medieval life realistically. But this, of course, ignores the big blatant lie and cover up that is going on here- no Epic Fantasy (not even gritty ones with all the anti-heroes, and all the shit and muck and disease of real Medieval Life) has ever portrayed Medieval Life even close to being accurate.
For one simple fact- there is never a Catholic church in any epic fantasy, and the Catholic Church (and its concepts on guilt, womanhood, etc) were key to not only what made Medieval Life the way it was, but also gave a lot of the gender biasness that these fantasy’s seem so eager to uphold. Secondary world epic fantasies either remove religion all together, or replace it with a simplified Zoroaster style psuedo-paganism, with one Big Good God and one Big bad god, and maybe a sad attempt at a pantheon, but usually not. The big good god is always good and always fighting with the big bad, and the humans are all caught up in this, and forced to act.
One could argue that this resembles Christianity, but I think that’s just a loose, simplified representation. Other than prophecies and healing spells, religious orders in Epic Fantasy don’t act like they do in the real world, they feel slapdash and more of a reason for large scale wars than an actual religion, or even a mock religion from our world. The structure, the clash of power with the government- none of that is really there. If it is there at all, because most of the time, it’s not.
Of course, it makes me wonder. I mean, if you want to portray a Paganized Middle Ages, you would have to go with the religion of the Bretons, Jutes, Angles, Welsh, Celtic, etc. And if you look at a lot of what we can ascertain from pre-Romanic Britain (before they influenced the religion of the islands, and created a sort of mock-roman religion instead of the original spirit worship, which was closer to Japanese Kami than Roman deities) we see that not only were a lot of women equal to men in stature, and not only did they fight in wars, but they were also leaders of war, generals in battle.
Take, for example, the story of Cú Chulainn, who was taught how to fight in battle by Scáthach of Scottland, a renowned warrioress in her own right. When you look at the battle in the Cattle Raid of Cooley, there was Queen Madb of Connacht, who was a fierce battle queen.
So I ask this- why, why must we insist on portraying fantasy worlds in Epic Fantasy where the only realism we have is that of misogyny? We ignore almost all aspects of that life, except maybe some plagues here or there, and the basic concept of feudalism without an actual understanding of it. I don’t mind the historical inaccuracy, because it’s fantasy. But at the same time- you have to question it. If it is fantasy, then why can’t we imagine a world with equality between the genders? There will still be conflict, I promise you. You can portray strong women in a work of epic fantasy, and still have the wars, still have the plotting and scheming, still have all those Epic Fantasy tropes, even if it is the new and gritty kind.