kaigou: so when do we destroy the world already? (3 destroy the world)
[personal profile] kaigou
So there's been another round of women-in-speculative-fic, and plenty of really good commentary. Highlights (if you missed them) include Fox Meadows' Realism & Outliers, which followed up on her masterpiece PSA: Your Default Narrative Settings Are Not Apolitical, Tansy Rayner Roberts' Historically Authentic Sexism in Fantasy. Let’s Unpack That. and Kameron Hurley's 'We Have Always Fought': Challenging the 'Women, Cattle and Slaves' Narrative and its especially awesome cannibalistic llamas analogy. [ETA: I thought someone did a roundup, but I can't find a link. If I do, I'll add.]

I guess I shouldn't have been surprised that someone would have to come along behind them and do the apologia, internalized misogyny reply. This time it was provided by Felicity Savage's Girl, You’re In the Army Now, which incidentally is also listed as Amazing Stories' 3rd most popular post in the past week. I would hope this is because there's a lot of people like me, who read it mostly to point and laugh, but my cynicism tells me otherwise.

I'm going to skip Savage's little apologia dance-moves. They're the same as what you'd find men writing, so nothing new here. What makes me roll my eyes the hardest are thoughtful observations like this: "It’s hard to imagine how any significant number of women could be spared from these vital tasks [of domestic duties like child-bearing/rearing], except for ideological reasons in a society that is violently breaking itself to remake itself, such as Maoist China (pre-industrial in the remoter regions then)."

Maybe war is different in Savage's reality. Anywhere else I can think of, war by definition is a break-or-be-broken situation. Revolution -- from Japan to Russia to France to the United States -- is just a domestic/internal version of the same. Ideology is a luxury; for those at the front lines, ideology takes a back seat to survival. The next generation is important, of course, but pretty much pointless if the current generation's about to get broken beyond repair.

A little more from Savage:
Ideology, I conclude, is what drives authors to retrofit equal opportunities into their fantasy worlds. They’re welding their own ideas about how things ought to be onto otherwise well-thought out worlds. And that’s a damn shame.

Actually, it's not 'a damn shame'. It's reality.

Set aside the exceptional ones, like Joan of Arc or Eleanor of Aquitaine or Queen Elizabeth, and take a look at the nameless humans who died in battle. We've got Viking women who fought, in which archaeologists finally realized that "sword" does not automatically mean "male skeleton". In fact, when the archaeologists set aside that assumption, they discovered
...six of the 14 burials were of women, seven were men, and one was indeterminable. Warlike grave goods may have misled earlier researchers about the gender of Viking invaders, the study suggests. At a mass burial site called Repton Woods, "(d)espite the remains of three swords being recovered from the site, all three burials that could be sexed osteologically were thought to be female, including one with a sword and shield," says the study.

In what's now modern-day Khazakstan, there were women warriors among the Sarmatians; 50 burial mounds have revealed women as well as men buried there.
In general, females were buried with a wider variety and larger quantity of artifacts than males, and seven female graves contained iron swords or daggers, bronze arrowheads, and whetstones to sharpen the weapons. Some scholars have argued that weapons found in female burials served a purely ritual purpose, but the bones tell a different story. The bowed leg bones of one 13- or 14-year-old girl attest a life on horseback, and a bent arrowhead found in the body cavity of another woman suggested that she had been killed in battle.

Yep. A girl of early puberty was among the warrior dead. I don't think ancient tribes gave a damn about Savage's first-world modern-day economics. We can range farther east, to Japan, where women also fought in battles alongside men:
Recent archaeological evidence confirms a wider female involvement in battle than is implied by written accounts alone. This conclusion is based on the recent excavation of three battlefield head-mounds. In one case, the Battle of Senbon Matsubaru between Takeda Katsuyori and Hojo Ujinao in 1580, DNA tests on 105 bodies revealed that 35 of them were female. Two excavations elsewhere produced similar results. None was a siege situation, so the tentative conclusion must be that women fought in armies even though their involvement was seldom recorded. [emph mine]

That "involvement was seldom recorded" circles back and underlines the points in the essays I liked to at top, that note that women's involvement was frequently erased -- but that doesn't mean it didn't happen, and we've got the bodies to prove it.

More bodies, this time in ancient Cambodia. Thirty-five skeletons at a burial ground in Phum Snay; five in decent enough shape to identify. All five are female.
The five were found buried together with steel or bronze swords, and helmet-shaped objects, said Yasuda, who is from the government-backed International Research Center for Japanese Studies.

"It is very rare that swords are found with women. This suggests it was a realm where female warriors were playing an active role," he said. "The five skeletons were well preserved because they had been buried in important spots at the tombs..."

Lastly, a lengthy paragraph from Anthony Reid's Female Roles in Pre-Colonial Southeast Asia (a chapter of his book on the Age of Commerce), originally published in Modern Asian Studies, Vol. 22, No. 3. (Jstor URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/312601)
More specific to [Southeast Asia] was the habit of powerful rulers to surround themselves with large numbers of women, of whom some had the role of bodyguards. The King of Angkor was said to have had four to five thousand women in his palace (Chou Ta Kuan, 1297: I5-I6), Iskandar Muda of Aceh three thousand and Sultan Agung of Mataram ten thousand. At least in the two latter cases these palace women included a corps trained in the use of arms, who mounted guard on the palace and took part in royal processions (Beaulieu, I666: I02; Mundy, 1667, III: I3I; Van Goens, I656: 256-60). A women's corps (prajurit estri) drilling regularly with rifles was still maintained in late eighteenth-century Java by the first Mangkunegaran ruler (Kumar, I980: 4-6). Even as late as the I88os the Siamese palace guard was supervised by the King's aunt, who determined access to the royal enclosure (Bock, I884: I ).

Reid notes that it's an open question as to whether these female troops fought on the front lines, but then again, he doesn't say whether any of the countries were at war at the time. Me, I'd call "drilling regularly with rifles" clear indication that you were hedging your bets on those rifles being used. The bottom line is that involvement didn't come from one or two elite female exceptions. Women were a substantial, documented, part of the overall fighting force.

A few days after Savage's post, I followed a link to read Django Wexler's Female Warriors in Fantasy, which was linked from The G's guest post, A Secondary World Much Like the First. (Note: "The G", from biography pronouns, also appears to be male.)

If you've read the links I listed at top -- and if you haven't, you should, go read, I'll wait -- then you're aware of the general gist of the arguments: that women have always fought. That in fact, the argument that "fantasy shouldn't have women fighting because it's historically inaccurate" is fallacious -- and contradicted by enough archaeological and historical evidence to suggest that there were even more women fighting than the ones we can name.

But Wrexler's approach takes Savage's apologia, dismisses the ideology-argument, and tries to end up in the same place as Meadows, Roberts, and Hurley. I'd argue neither Wrexler nor the G get there, but first let's unpack Wrexler's argument a little. He's on a decent path at first, but he starts going wrong when he posits his thesis:
While women have earned their places in the halls of martial glory, it was often unusual, sometimes even transgressive, for them to do so. What’s remarkably uniform across history is that very few societies before the 20th century considered female warriors to be a normal part of the business of warfare.

Kick off with a consolation prize and end with a Eurocentrism alert! Color me not impressed.

Allow me to rephrase the concluding paragraph of Wrexler's first section.
The [medieval European] taboo against women fighting was also unbelievably durable. History is replete with examples of last stands, sometimes of a whole people; the Romans, cheerful genocides that they were, created this situation all the time. But even then, literally facing extermination or enslavement, the idea of sending [medieval European] women into combat was beyond the pale for a beleaguered [medieval European] tribe. Taboo isn’t even the right word — it’s not an option that would have crossed the [medieval European] minds of the men of those [medieval European] cultures.

The presence of Viking women in substantial numbers, buried with weapons, sets the lie to the notion that this was always a prevalent European tradition. I'd put the blame for this at the feet of the medieval concept of chivalry, and the assumption that women (and children) were automatically non-combatants. Men fought to take land, protect land, take women, and protect women, but women did not fight. They were bystanders, and plenty of European biographies make reference to how the properly chivalrous so-and-so was kind to the women (war captives), or let the women go before the battle began, or some other properly chivalrous behavior towards non-combatants.

Europe was pretty much alone in this conceit. There were no non-combatants in other cultures; in Japan, if a castle fell, every person was put to the sword. Men, women, and children. The same in the cultures of Southeast Asia, Africa, Central Asia, and the Americas. What gets historical mention is the rare woman who's exceptional either by virtue of her great beauty or her fierce military prowess who is taken as a wife by the conquering general. Otherwise her lack of mention seems to be because she's dead, along with all the rest of the losing side.

More from Wrexler:
Imagine now that, as leader of the tribe, you need to send a war-party to fight over some resource.  In order to secure the future of the tribe, do you send out a group of young men, or a group of young women?  In this context, the question answers itself.  If, say, half the men of the tribe were killed in a hostile encounter, it would be a serious loss, but a single generation would go a long way toward replenishing the tribe’s numbers.  If half the women were killed, it would mean disaster — a new generation half the size of the previous, and a permanent reduction in the size of the tribe and its chances for survival.

This is the fundamental asymmetry behind the great taboo, and the reason why in almost all human cultures, and even in our cousins among the primates, it is the males who go to make war.  This is a cultural norm programmed by evolutionary necessity.  The men don’t go off to fight because they’re stronger, more violent, or more aggressive, though evolution has in fact equipped them with all these traits in order to fulfill this function.  They go off to fight because they are expendable, from the tribe’s point of view, while the women are not.

I call this a cousin to the Opression By Pedestal maneuver: you're so valuable that we're not going to let you do anything, lest you lose your value.

This is also kind of ridiculous, when you unpack it. The gist of Wrexler's argument is that the historical shift from "women non-combatants" to "women combatants" is rooted in technological changes whereby "population size [was no longer] critical to military power". In other words, as long as technology was otherwise equal (spears to spears, guns to guns, etc), then the army with more boots on the ground is the army that won. Once boots (numbers + physical strength of those numbers) stopped being the same as winning power, the door was opened for weaker/women combatants.

Ignoring the remarkable exceptions to this "boots equals win" rule (Yi Sun-sin and Robert the Bruce spring to mind, among many others), I'd say when greater military numbers have greater chance of winning, this is actually an argument for greater female participation, not an argument against.

Let's say your enemy's got a population where a thousand people are between the ages of 15 and 35: old enough to hold a weapon in some formation, young enough to march all day and kick ass before nightfall. Barring extreme prejudice in infanticide, that 1,000 people will be roughly 50-50, male-female. So, the enemy's actual male force will be about 500 people. Let's say you've also got a thousand people, too. Do you send out 500 men and hope your 500 men are as good as your enemy's? Or do you round up all thousand people and send them out in hopes that your combined male-female thousand will absolutely crush the opposition two-to-one?

I don't know about you, but if boots on the ground is the dominating factor in winning, I'd want as many boots on the ground as possible. Men, women, and children, if it comes to that. Because if our side loses, then the life faced by the non-combatants is probably going to be equally short.

For most of history, winning has been predicated on three things: strategy, technology, and numbers. Strategy and tactics come from the general's skill, so that's a separate element (and one that could sometimes outrank the other two). The technology's been developing from the get-go, and it's always been a race for wartime technology. Iron against bronze. Crossbows against spears. Incendiary cannon against fire lances, long rifles against hand-cannon. As long as I'm comparing tech, it should also be noted that cannon (then hand-cannon, then gunneries) developed in China in the twelfth century; Iberia/Spain, the 13th century; Islam and Russia, the 14th century. Guns were not far behind. While guns may level the playing field (as in, requiring discipline more than individual physical strength), this playing field's been level for almost six hundred years.

As for numbers? If women aren't discounted, you could increase your fighting force to almost double. The only generals so short-sighted as to discount this third factor would be those who knew that their opponents were discounting it, too -- ie, between European and European.

When you look at the historical and archaeological records of non-European cultures, what I see in the texts is the conclusion that Europe's chivalry-based women-as-non-combatants is not the rule. It's the exception. The fact that the West currently dominates -- and has only recently begun to shift to women-and-men as equally combatant-potential -- does not mean this is true of everywhere. It only means the West has finally shifted to see what everyone else knew, all along.

Another point in Wrexler's arguments:
When the next round [of world warfare] started in 1939, it was clear that industrial capacity, not population, would be the factor that determined victory. Raw bodies were useless without guns, artillery, tanks, ships, planes, food, and an enormous world-wide support structure. Going forward, it was clear that larger populations were no longer the most important factor in winning wars.

Oi. The supporting infrastructure has always been a major factor.

It takes a certain amount of ignorance to assume that "army" is the same as "those who fight". Anyone walking into battle thinking the army consists only of the fighting force -- well, that was probably their one and only battle. Even a cursory reading of historical battles demonstrates that the winning generals were aware that an army consisted of all those things that Wrexler seems to think were a twentieth-century invention: weapons, transport, food, and support.

The scope of WWII was worldwide (duh) but even on a country-wide scale, the same holds. You need a supply train to feed your army, unless you plan to eat every stalk of grain, every rabbit and every cow between here and there (and that's if the retreating army didn't burn it all to the ground before you got there). You'll need blacksmiths and gunsmiths to create, repair, and maintain the weaponry; you'll need people to oversee hauling the ammunition and other supplies behind the fighting force. In a siege situation, you'll use every hand available -- including women and children, even in Europe -- to feed, support, and sometimes even assist the fighting force. Even if you're limiting your actual weapons-carrying force to only those 500 men of sufficient age, stamina, and skill, it's going to take a second force almost as large to keep that fighting force in fighting condition.

What, did you think all those camp followers were traipsing along behind the army for their health?

Certainly, there were camp-whores who made their money selling themselves. But there were also women to cook, to launder uniforms, to mend clothes and boots, to chop wood and carry water, to run messages from the front lines to the rear guard, to be nurses and even surgeons; they even sometimes were the ones making bullets to resupply the army's needs. Oh, and even in chivalrous Europe, women often ended up near (or even at) the front lines by sheer chance, because battle lines move and what was the washing-ground yesterday is the center of battle today.

A fighting force is not solely the people with weapons, and it didn't take twentieth-century brains to know your true force is the army and its entire support system. When you look at it holistically, it's downright absurd to argue that only men fought. Define "fought".

(This is ignoring that in siege situations, only the most elite of women could expect to be non-combatants, realistically. Like officers in the wars of the 17th and 18th centuries, those women could expect a certain genteel treatment -- if taken hostage, they had some hope of being exchanged. Everyone else, including women and children, had no such idealism and thus were likely fighting for their lives. Literally.)

Anyway, history lesson aside, what Wrexler and G are arguing is an extension of Savage's little dance-step. They're doing a turn-around that sort of gets the same answer but does it by positing a completely different question. The G makes vague hand-wavey motions at the original premise (that women have always fought), when he writes:
The prevalent counter-argument, as I understand it, is this: for biological-evolutionary reasons (lesser upper body strength, necessity for the slow human reproductive process, greater empathy, etc.), women in our world are less likely to be soldiers; therefore, they should be less common as soldiers in fantasy worlds. ... Even if you put aside, for the moment, problematic assumptions of biological determinism (and ignoring what social construction processes and social institutions do to constitute and maintain gender “roles”), there’s still one thing I just can’t understand: why on earth would a fantasy world have to conform to the (supposed) rules of this one?

To Wrexler and G's credit, their conclusion is the same -- that fantasy should/could show women in equal numbers amongst the fighting ranks. Their argument appears superficially supportive of Hurley, Roberts, Meadows et al solely because their conclusion is the same, but underneath their logic is completely opposite. They're saying that nope, women didn't fight because babies, and because economics, and because whatever -- but that it's SFF, we don't have to be realistic. Or, the tl;dr version: "sure, it's unrealistic that women would fight, but hey, who said SFF has to be realistic? Because dragons!"

The one point in agreement is that for fantasy to work, it can't forget its internal consistency, its plausibility, and its grounding in some kind of realistic foundation -- even if it leaps from there into a world where magic is possible, also, unicorns. For Meadows, Roberts, Hurley et al, women-in-warfare constitutes part of the grounded-in-reality foundation. Wrexler and G are saying the opposite. They're claiming women-as-warriors to be as unrealistic as dragons. Their conclusions might be to encourage writers to include fighting women, but they're not doing it by recognizing that women have, do, and will always fight. They're doing it by pushing women-as-warriors out of the realistic foundation and into the fantastical never-was.

And that, in my opinion, is the real damn shame.
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kaigou: this is what I do, darling (Default)
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to remember

"When you make the finding yourself— even if you're the last person on Earth to see the light— you'll never forget it." —Carl Sagan

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