For my setting, I wanted my people to have entirely no concept of sexism whatsoever. To facilitate this, I have made it so that the females of my race are broad-shouldered and generally flat-chested, having the same upper body strength as males. The only way to tell they were female would be if they removed all their armor, whereby their slightly more prominent hips and feminine facial features would become appreciable.

However, there still remains one more issue, which is the problem of childbirth. Now, I have no issues with the conventional way of conception, but in my setting, it would be a notable evolutionary advantage for the mother if she were not overtly hampered in combat while she was with child. This is because many of the women do the same crazy, foolhardy tasks as the men, and nature/dragons/golems don't particularly care who they decide to mess up.

So in short, is there any way for the soon-to-be mothers of my setting to not be hampered by childbirth (if you could include a way around breastfeeding, that'd be grand)? I would prefer a non-sci-fi solution (e.g. no artificial birthing chambers).

Notes: Don't worry about how they raise the children afterwards. Different city-states handle children differently.

Some ideas I already thought of, feel free to argue against them or for them:

  1. They lay eggs
  2. They give birth to tiny little barely-recognizable creatures, ala Kangaroos.
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    $\begingroup$ Make their brain/head smaller ? It shorten the gestation time and it's easier to give birth. $\endgroup$
    – Vincent
    Feb 11 '15 at 1:23
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    $\begingroup$ I believe you are confusing racism with sexism. $\endgroup$
    – mcalex
    Feb 11 '15 at 6:19
  • $\begingroup$ @mcalex oh snap, brain fart! Corrected it, thanks. $\endgroup$ Feb 11 '15 at 6:32
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    $\begingroup$ Your solutions (eggs or very small children) are good and simple. Note also that relatively very small children can be well developed. A child as small as a kitty but more developed can be able to keep warm and walk on all four from the birth and then gradually raise body and brain to adult human size. $\endgroup$
    – BartekChom
    Feb 11 '15 at 8:12
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    $\begingroup$ I think you are overlooking one thing - most mammals don't look very differently between sexes, and even not show pregnancy that pronounced. Just take cats or dogs. Or take bears if you want human size. Just stick some clothes or armor around the genitals and it will be hard to tell. $\endgroup$
    – bdecaf
    Apr 13 '17 at 6:04

it's nearly impossible to have traditional mammalian live births without pregnancy and childbirth being major issues. I don't think any small or even moderate level of change can fix that without going into the realm of impractical. I can think of a few far more extreme approaches which would work, most of which involve doing away with mammalian reproduction for some other alternative.

  1. The simplest and most in keeping with traditional sexes is to have a uterine replicator. Females were originally evolved to carry children, but now of days the embryo is removed and grows within a replicator that better protects it then the mother can. This frees the mother from all the hardship of childbearing and puts her on effectively equal footing with the male. Of course this only works in a scientifically advanced society
  2. Biological uterine replicators. Perhaps the species has evolved to utilize another creature as their replicator. Think of how female kangaroo give 'birth' the the baby within weeks of fertilization, but what is born is not able to survive on it's own without living in the mother's pouch. Now imagine if instead of using the mother's pouch you used another species as the 'pouch mother'. This would do the same thing as uterine replicators, and be allowed in less advanced societies. Now how to justify this is still an issue. there are a few ways

    • A) Domestication. Have a creator that evolved along a similar path to your protagonist species, but is not sapient itself. Think the difference between humans and monkeys. However, this species has evolved a pouch and a similar reproductive method. It could be domesticated and it's pouch used to raise the young 'joeys' of your species. If domesticated awhile ago it could be bred to be a better brood mare for your young. I actually really like this idea and think it would be pretty cool to see implemented now that I thought of it.
    • B) Symbiosis. The two species evolved a symbiotic relationship long before sapience occurred. This is actually difficult to do in a believable manner, but I could think of a few ways to do it. If you really are interested in this post a follow up question and I could explain some believable ways to have such a symbiosis occur. The key point is that the species has to gain quite a bit from your protagonist species for it to benefit from such a specialized symbiosis. Personally I think the domestication option is far more viable, and offers an interesting bit of world building without require rethinking the evolutionary psychology of the species.
    • C) Symbiosis again, but this time symbiosis with a plant that is not sapient. I think this sort of symbiosis is actually more believable, though still takes work to implement. The plant may very well depend on the protagonist species to care for and nurture it entirely. Strong symbiosis between plant and animal has existed, to the point that one can't exist without the other, before. Still, this idea works better if your protagonist species is smaller and tends towards having more than one at a time with a few of them dying. R-selective species are more likely to develop a system that is dependent on trusting an outside force then a K-selective species. It makes more sense if the species started out heavily R-selective and then adapted to more of a K-selective approach only after it started using plants for child-rearing. This implies many other species would also use plants for child-rearing. It also works better if the species still have some elements of R-selective species, such as having twins and triplets more often and possible being prone to one or two young dying at an early age.
  3. Have the species able to transfer the young between male and female, the way the seahorses do, and each trade off carrying the young. Maybe both male and female have pouches and regularly transfer the 'joey' between them. Perhaps it's difficult for one creature to carry the 'joey' to term, thus forcing a couple to have a child which could in turn have interesting effects on the concept of nuclear family and what a 'deadbeat dad' means.
  4. Have the species lay eggs, and take turns caring for the eggs.
  5. Have a species that employs a combination of R and K reproductive strategies, so they invest very little effort into rearing the child during the original vulnerable stage, and can provide equal effort into later rearing of the children that survive (see my edit below)

All of these are extreme changes from the norm, but these are the only ways I can see to keep pregnancy and birth from being a major difference between the sexes. Similar ideas can be come up with, but the key point is you have to move away from our sexual reproduction to a system where the female does not do all the carrying of the child as it develops.

Other approaches that are slightly different and lower, but not remove, the disparity of the mother are:

  • Have the children be born very undeveloped and tiny (but not nearly as bad as the kangaroo example where you still effectively need someone to carry the child in a pouch) so the mother doesn't carry the child as long or is as disabled by it, but the parents have to work together to care for such a week and underdeveloped infant. This is hard to justify except with species employing a hybrid R/K reproductive strategy (see below), but there is room to vary how much they lean towards R vs K.

  • Remove sexes and go with hermaphrodites that perform each role. This in turn allows the concept of mating leading to both carrying the child, to concious choice as to which will be the 'female', or to sexual conflict where both 'fight' to be the male when mating (look up penis fencing for an example). The latter would still have an interesting level of sexual conflict, the ones currently carrying children may even be seen as 'weaker' for loosing the sexual conflict.

  • Make it comparatively easy for one sex to change to the other sex, thus allowing them to pick their preferred sex. many fish and amphibians can do this so it's not impossible. Though again such an adaptation would require rethinking other aspects of culture and evolution that would occur due to it.

EDIT (indirectly inspired by falco comment):

I wanted to add an aside about R vs K reproduction. R reproduction implies having lots and lots of young, K involves having a few young that develop extensively. Generally sapience is something you would expect only from the K reproductive strategy. Our brains are a huge cost. They are what make childbirth harder, but more importantly they require a much higher energy cost, requiring us to consume far more nutrients, and take longer to develop. Instead of being born with instincts that let us survive on our own we need to learn everything. The smarter we will become the more helpless we have to start out as.

However, many of the reproductive strategies I listed are ones used by those that use the R strategy, having lots and lots of young that they leave to fend for themselves and expect to die out. The reason mammals carry their young for so long is because they have so few and are investing so much that they want to be able to help the young develop. Things such as relying on symbiosis with trees or other creatures as brood mares are very much R strategies, and even eggs tend a little more toward the R strategy, though plenty of species like penguins still lay eggs despite being a K species.

Simply put if you want a sapient species they almost have to rare a very small number of young with a high childcare cost, R strategies are not viable scientifically.

The easiest way to address this is to imply that the species started out as an R strategy and later evolved into more of a K strategies as sapience developed. However, this should still be evident. If the species uses R strategies they will likely tend to have twins and triplets, perhaps with a larger time span between litters, rather than one child at a time.

Another option is to say the species has a combination of R and K strategies. Maybe the species produces a massive number of young and force them to survive on their own originally, and only later does higher parental involvement occur with the remaining young that survive. Imagine a frog-like species with an intermediate tadpole phase. The mother births a massive number of young the same way frogs do, and they are left to develop as 'tadpole' like creatures on their own, with many dying to predation or even competition with their siblings. The parents then take a small number (no more then 5, more likely 2-3) that survive this phase and begin to invest effort into raising them. Thus there is little effort from either species in original childbirth, and equal rearing expense after they adopt the surviving 'tadpoles'.

I suggest a separate tadpole phase because brains are expensive, and R strategies don't work with highly intelligent sapient species. Thus they would have to have one phase where they are not sapient, animals like tadpoles, where they are simply trying to survive physically, followed by a metamorphosis into a creature the emphasizes intellect and brain power that still requires a high parental commitment to develop that brain power before it's self sufficient.

Many animals in nature employ strategies that have siblings compete against themselves to select the strongest to survive. birds will sacrifice their weakest, the weak pups often die in litters, hyena young will try to kill each other when their mother isn't looking, and there are species of sharks that actually fight and kill each other while still in the womb so that only one is born. It's plausible that this could evolve, less likely than traditional mammals, but could be done. It works best if you can explain why the survival as tadpole helps to select creatures that are more likely to have reproductive success as adults. The simplest strategy that comes to mind is imply a world with high mutagens, like radiation, so that the 'tadpole' phase is to filter out all the young that are born with birth defects or mutated to find the few that managed to be born 'normal' and healthy.

An even more interesting concept would be to have a species that doesn't always metamorph. Perhaps sapient adults birth hundreds of young which grow as smaller 'tadpole' like creatures. They pick a few of the strongest and somehow trigger the metamorphosis of those young into their sapient phase, these young will get high parental involvement and rearing into sapient adults. The remaining young are allowed to continue to grow and develop, and are even capable of eventually reproducing; but won't reach sapient. They are left to live in the wild and survive on their own, with little or any parental involvement, but can still become part of the non-sapient species breeding pool. This strategy combines both R and K strategies and offers some extremely interesting world building options. However, creating a world where this would evolve is difficult, and the implications for their psychology must be considered. I may post a world building question about this since I think it could be very interesting if done right. :)

  • $\begingroup$ I think this answer more or less covers all the bases. Let me see if any other answers crop up, otherwise this will probably be my accepted answer. $\endgroup$ Feb 11 '15 at 2:19
  • $\begingroup$ I especially like the hermaphrodite approach. Nothing equalizes the sexes quite like having only one sex in the first place! $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Feb 11 '15 at 2:55
  • $\begingroup$ @CortAmmon I think hermaphrodite approach is the most equal, but it does away with sexes entirely. I listed it lower only because it seemed like the OP preferred to have sexes. I think hermaphrodite's could be very interesting to create a culture for. $\endgroup$
    – dsollen
    Feb 11 '15 at 3:09
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, I would prefer to have sexes, but a suggestion is a suggestion :) $\endgroup$ Feb 11 '15 at 6:33
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    $\begingroup$ @falco thoughts of the implication of your comment and my reply to it lead to my doubling the answer length above. good job making me waste work time, I blame you if I don't finish all my examples by the meeting tonight :P :) $\endgroup$
    – dsollen
    Feb 11 '15 at 19:55

To keep things somewhat like they currently are (once again, a bit of a dark answer)

Physical change:

  • Shortened pregnancy, and birthed humans are significantly less developed
  • Increased fertility, increased chance of twins and triplets

Ethics change:

  • Women would not be as attached to their offspring and the connection they make with a baby/child would not be as strong as it currently is.
  • It's understood that most children/babies will never make it to adulthood

The idea here is to aim more towards the 'litter' mentality...if 9 in 10 children/babies die either while in their mothers womb during combat or as exceedingly undeveloped newborns, then the mother would need to get pregnant 10 times in a year to ensure one child makes it to adulthood while the other 9 most likely perish along the way

There is a bit of an ethics change here as it challenges the sanctity of life value we hold today where we try to give every child some fighting chance of making it to being adults. But it works in a medieval environment where combat and death is more frequent.

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    $\begingroup$ I... I don't know why, but I like this answer somehow. It seems to fit my world perfectly. I don't know why I never thought of this. $\endgroup$ Feb 12 '15 at 1:13
  • $\begingroup$ ..and make males to be able to nurse. $\endgroup$ Feb 12 '15 at 2:15

Have them be hermaphroditic - each individual having both male and female sex organs. It doesn't negate the downside of childbirth, but it applies it equally to everyone instead of just the females.

You're already making them appear very similar, so it's a small step to make them totally identical (on average).


I have an idea for negating the effects of childbearing, and in fact, it may even make pregnant women even more martially deadly. We have all heard of the stories of mothers becoming strong enough to lift trees off their children, so why not extend it to their unborn children instead.

Only Spartan Women can give birth to Spartan Men

My solution is to make it so that while childbearing, the females generate more hormones, which toughen and bulk them out, which makes them even tougher than before, in order to be able to protect themselves and their child. This makes them better, faster and stronger than before.

This hormone surge would allow your child bearing women to be so strong they are capable of defeating anything they can not run away from. You could also say that their abdomen also toughens, so to protect the baby.

So yeah, child-bearing she-hulks. This means that child-bearing women are no longer martial liabilities, but could also be used as an elite force. One dark spin on this you do, then, is to have a squad of elite warrior women, who go out and fight, while not truly caring about their child. If their child survives her fights, good for her, if not, they can always make more

  • $\begingroup$ This could lead to some odd behaviors, as it suddenly becomes important for your females to be pregnant as often as possible to increase your warfare capability, leading to population booms. $\endgroup$ Feb 11 '15 at 1:52
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    $\begingroup$ @DanSmolinske Which I suppose is good, considering how warlike and inhospitable his setting is, so now they are more able to survive as a species $\endgroup$ Feb 11 '15 at 2:05
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    $\begingroup$ from an evolutionary/biological standpoint I don't think this is scientifically justified. If it's possible for the species to 'she-hulk' all the time they would do it, thus there must be downsides to 'hulking up' the obvious ones being a significant increase in nutrients required to survive and added strain on the body. The problem is that these are exactly the opposite of what you want when carrying a child, which also strains the body. It's very hard to think of any reason why one would evolve to bulk up while carrying a child but have less bulk when not pregnant. $\endgroup$
    – dsollen
    Feb 11 '15 at 2:30
  • $\begingroup$ If you did go this route the only way I could see justifying it is if you imply that the females need the extra bulk to survive pregnancy. For instance if a pre-birth infanticide was common, where males would try to induce miscarriage in order to make the female available to mate sooner. However, a species which evolves from one with infanticide will have significant sexual conflict and be the opposite of the gender-nutural one you imply. Plus there would still be the issue that pregnant women need MASSIVE nutrient intact to support baby and own bulk, which puts more strain on them. $\endgroup$
    – dsollen
    Feb 11 '15 at 2:32
  • $\begingroup$ I agree with dsollen. She-hulking feels rather arbitrary, and were it possible, there would be no reason why the nutjobs in my setting wouldn't make some drug that triggers it on command, which is something I'd rather not get into. $\endgroup$ Feb 11 '15 at 6:34

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