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Most developed country have made great progress toward a better equality between men and women even if it's not yet perfect. Throughout history, some societies where more equal than others and some where even matriarchal societies.

I'm wondering what factors either form real world or invented but plausible would contribute to shape a more equal society between men and women in a fictional world? Put aside birth control.

Regarding genders, I will limit the scope to men and women for this question.

Clarification:

Taken form the Office of the High Commissioner for Humans Rights

Gender

At conception we all start life as equals, but at birth we are immediately treated differently based on whether we are a boy or a girl. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights acknowledges that men and women are not the same but insists on their right to be equal before the law and treated without discrimination. Gender equality is not a ‘women's issue' but refers to the equal rights, responsibilities and opportunities of women and men, girls and boys, and should concern and fully engage men as well as women.

However, after 60 years, it is clear that it is the human rights of women that we see most widely ignored around the world, from female infanticide, sexual slavery and rape as an act of war, to exclusion from education, health and the right to compete equally for jobs. The right to be free of discrimination on the grounds of sex is specifically embodied in Article 2 of the declaration, but even a cursory reading of all 30 Articles is enough to remind us that in much of the world, the Declaration has yet to fulfill its promise to women.

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    $\begingroup$ Could you please define 'gender equality'? It's a pretty subjective term, and could generate very different answers depending on what you mean. $\endgroup$ – DaaaahWhoosh Feb 12 '15 at 18:44
  • $\begingroup$ I think @DaaaahWhoosh 's question needs to be answered before we can effectively answer this. Please define what your intent or understanding (or desired state) of equality means. $\endgroup$ – James Feb 12 '15 at 19:54
  • $\begingroup$ @James Is it clear enough ? $\endgroup$ – Vincent Feb 12 '15 at 20:08
  • $\begingroup$ Nice and clear. Can't argue with that. $\endgroup$ – James Feb 12 '15 at 20:09
  • $\begingroup$ Actually, I need a bit more: are you talking about gender or sex? Do you want 'masculine' and 'feminine' to be equal, or 'male' and 'female'? I assume the latter, I just want to point out there's a difference. $\endgroup$ – DaaaahWhoosh Feb 12 '15 at 20:15
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I will focus on how to avoid male-dominated societies here, as they are generally the more common issue in the majority of history, primarily due to their size advantage over women and the side effects of child rearing. I'm only going to address the biggest issues BUT FIRST:

TL;DR Technology! There are many causes, but increased technology tends to fix all of them, and so the more advanced the less social ills become an issue. And if your trying to create a world that is more mideveal enviroment you can easily fall back to my good friend Clarke's unwritten rule, "sufficiently reliable magic is indistinguishable from technology" All the below factors can be remedied with a magical solution as well.

The biggest factors which bring equality are:

  1. remove reliance on physical strength. In the past physical strength was important. Strength allowed the ability to do work and produce food and protect your homes. In today's world that's not really true. It doesn't matter how strong I am physically, I come to work and sit in front of a computer all day (some of that time spent answering world building questions), then go home and do the same. I may engage in physical sports in my free time for fun, but I provide for myself without the need for any more physical strength then what it takes to lug my laptop to work and my groceries to home. Since women statistically have less physical strength then men then the more that getting work depends on strength the more men have to be the breadwinners, leaving women subservient and dependent on them. Likewise the Gun was a huge turning point for women equality, now the ability to defend yourself is not dependent on strength so men can not dominate (well, not nearly as well) women physically.

  2. Child, and childbirth, survival rates. Generally the harder it is to have children the more women get pushed into a 'broodmare' position. In times when infant mortality was high women were far more likely to be 'at home making babies'. When birthing of children was critical child brides were also more common, women were pushed into starting the baby-making game long before they had time to get an education. As mother and child start to survive childbirth, and children survive to their teen years, there became less of a need to keep popping them out to make up for the ones that are lost. This gave women more time to focus on education, work, providing for themselves, and in turn earning proper equality. For that matter places where war,or disease that tend to kill large numbers of people also tend to push women in to the 'broodmare' position more.

  3. Infant formula and other simplifications in childrearing. In the past the mother had to be the one wearing a child as she was the only one capable of feeding them for the first year of life. Even once a child reached the point of eating solid foods and could be watched by the father it still 'made sense' for the mother to be the one raising the child since she already been doing it for 1-2 years, during this time the husband had presumably gotten a stable job and the wife had developed the deeper relationship and experience caring for the child and it made sense to keep the status que rather then changing things by having the husband learn to be a full time caregiver and the wife find a job. Plus with the tendency to have many children as mentioned previously the wife was often breastfeeding a one of the children. The net result being that women almost always were the ones staying at home and thus got less education and job skills and were left subservient to husbands and males. With the advent of formula it's now entirely possible for husbands to be the primary care giver and wives to be the ones earning money, and so culture shifted to ensuring both sides had the education and expertise required to earn an income and generally became more accepting of the idea of a women as someone able to earn income and care for herself without a males aid. My first point also is relevant here, the increase in jobs that women can safely perform while pregnant means that women are able to earn an income without having to take off for months during/after a pregnancy if they so choose, again making them less dependent on husbands.

  4. comfortable lifestyle. social ills tend to decrease the more comfortable and easy our lifestyle is. When your fighting just to survive you don't have time to worry about gay marriage, rights of prisoners in jail, or rather your daughter deserves a proper education. As we reach a more comfortable lifestyle, with less death, more free time, and less of a 'kill or be killed' mentality we use this free time to look around, see how unfair the world is for some, and fix them. However, in societies which have regressed or collapsed (usually due to war) show when the simple stable lifestyle is removed social ills tend return. It's cynical to say, but we don't really get equality until the majority has a comfortable lifestyle

  5. increased communication. This is really only a factor in very modern worlds, but the sudden rapid communication makes communicating the existence of social ills to the world much easier. the whole "out of sight out of mind" mentality doesn't work as well when anything can be 'in sight' with a quick google search. Admittedly the really horrible ills of sexism tend to be largely addressed before countries reach the development level that makes rapid communication available to all, (no I'm not saying everything is perfect now, but it's a WHOLE lot better then it has been in the past), but we have seen that better communication has been associated with, and used to start addressing, many other social issues across the world. Places where communication are restricted by the government also tend to have horrible social rights; though that is not a direct cause and effect the point is that the governments with bad civil rights restrict communications because if it weren't people would fight harder to fix the social ills as they grow more aware of them.

  6. Dispelling of myths through research. As we start to use scientific method properly to research things we become capable of dispelling the myths and justifications people use to try to claim that their repression or mistreatment of other's is 'justified.' We can prove that women are just as smart as men, are not incapable of controlling their emotions, and do not need or feel more comfortable with a dominate male telling them what to do (all myths people have used in the past to 'justify' misogynistic attitudes). The ability to point out how stupid your justifications really are is always a powerful tool in getting you (or, more often your children who are more willing to listen to other's despite what you teach) to realize the wrongness of your actions. Incidentally I need to stress that this is a recent concept! the idea of applying the scientific method to prove or disprove a hypothesis seems simple, but it was not done with the sort of rigor required to make reliable deductions about psychology until very recently in human history. For the majority of history it was easy to sell a myth to others, especially if they had reasons to want that myth to be true to justify their actions.

I think now it's clear why my conclusion is technology is the godsend to human rights. Technology removes most of the physical differences between sexes (equalizing the strength difference by making both able to defend themselves and provide for themselves regardless of strength) and if not removing at least shrinking the difficulty that childbirth and rearing provides. It also frees society to focus on fixing social wrongs instead off propagating them, which is why we seem to have made rapid progress in equality issues in the last 1-2 generations, and why first world countries tend to have noticeably better equality then third world countries.

In terms of world building you may not wish to have a technologically advanced society. However, Magic is a good replacement for technology in these settings. Creating jobs relying on magic, fast communication via magical crystal balls, or an avada kedavra to replace the gun in helping women defend themselves from large males if required will help to even out the sex disparity in exactly the same way that technology did for us. You don't need wide scale use of magic everywhere, so long as you come up with minor magics that address some of the bullet points above.

These aren't all the issues obviously, but they are the ones I think are most relevant for why history has tended towards misogynistic systems (well that and biologically males are more prone to competition and aggression and thus more likely to try to take charge in situations where two sexes were equal, or exploit even minor advantages).

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  • $\begingroup$ Why so many spelling mistakes? $\endgroup$ – Piomicron May 17 '17 at 15:34
  • $\begingroup$ Nice answer, just one thing though - that wasn't how Arthur C. Clarke put it down. The actual quote is: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." There is an important difference: It's not about how a writer can integrate technology into his story in guise of magic - it's about how a person will hypothetically react when encountering a technology advanced enough to be beyond his grasp. $\endgroup$ – Fingolfin May 18 '17 at 15:24
  • $\begingroup$ @Fingolfin that's why I called it his unwritten rule. Call it a corollary of the existing one :P $\endgroup$ – dsollen May 18 '17 at 16:44
  • $\begingroup$ Interesting that somebody who feels that all of this and more is required to 'overcome' inequality, still proposes that inequality is unjustifiable and 'bad.' That answers like this achieve acceptance is damning of the SE, imo ;-) $\endgroup$ – Giu Piete Nov 30 '18 at 10:25
  • $\begingroup$ @GiuPiete I can describe the social, evolutionary, and economic principles that lead to things like racism, crime, and poverty; that doesn't mean I approve of any of them. There is a large difference between describing how something happened and saying that it's a fair and just situation. Besides even if I did somehow concede that sexism of the past was just (which I don't), that doesn't change the fact that my conclusion was that modern technology invalidates all the justifications listed; thus there is no way you could argue sexism to be fair in modern society that has this technology. $\endgroup$ – dsollen Nov 30 '18 at 14:04
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The main reason men and women are different is because they've become specialized for certain jobs. Men hunt and women gather, men defend the children while women raise them, men show off their strengths and women pick the best candidates for reproduction. Of course, these binaries don't always work out well for everyone, especially the last two: if men are built for defense and shows of strength, the skill of subjugation becomes almost inherent, and suddenly women no longer have the ability to choose their mates, or have much freedom at all.

The best way to stop this inequality is to break down the binaries before they begin: perhaps both men and women hunted and gathered, both raised their young together, and choosing a mate was a communal process. This sounds a lot more like modern society, but the reason we're here now is because the physical differences between men and women no longer matter; in short, you don't need to be big and strong to get meat, you don't need breasts to feed your children, and, well, the last one still happens, maybe once we get rid of that one we'll achieve equality.

There are three ways I can see of achieving this state of equality in an ancient world:

1. Men and Women are the same. Make women stronger, give men breasts, and make childbirth way easier. This may solve the problem, but now you've got a species that hardly resembles humans. Plus, you didn't want a biological answer.

2. Kill Off/Incapacitate The Men. Just look at all the things women got to do in America during WWII. When men are off getting killed in wars, the women get to hold sway. Keep this up for long enough, and eventually women will get to keep their jobs even in peacetime. This is a tenuous solution, though, as history has shown that whoever has control of the army has control over the government, so men will still be on top. That's why I said to kill them: if there's more women than men, they'll have control by sheer numbers. Add in the fact that women will still be raising the young, you're on the way to a matriarchy, which would probably still be more equal than a lot of patriarchies.

3. Make Woman's Domain More Important. Honestly, I'm not sure how this would work/has worked in an ancient context. Women seem to deal more with things related to society, while men excel at savagery, giving the latter a big initial advantage. Perhaps the environment favors feminine skills, like providing more edible flora than fauna and more scarcity to encourage trade and cooperation between tribes. Maybe the roles of farming or herding fell first to women, and thus they were more important for food production. Maybe a subgroup of humans was enslaved by another group that needed more females than males for their labor, making women the chief breadwinners. Basically, anything that makes the men depend on the women for their survival in such a way that gives women the upper hand would go a long way to encouraging equality. No war and/or no hunting would be great.

Source: "Built for the Stone Age" by Lindybeige (on Youtube), plus quite a lot of interpolation and speculation on my part.

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    $\begingroup$ After reading dsollen's answer, I might add 4. Make women's domain less important, so they can focus more on other things. $\endgroup$ – DaaaahWhoosh Feb 12 '15 at 21:20
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    $\begingroup$ Probably worth editing that into your answer. $\endgroup$ – James Feb 12 '15 at 21:39
  • $\begingroup$ No, I still think it is a matter of valuing some things women are good at. It gets called "emotional labor". Remember all the birthdays and doctor visits ad to bring a gift for the hostess. When women's traditional task extend into the workplace it ends up with pink collar jobs that are notoriously well paid. Men can be good at this stuff but they are shamed away from it. Pay the nursing and teaching staff well whether they are male or female and your world will move toward equality. This article gets at it better than I can. $\endgroup$ – Mazel May 17 '17 at 18:56
  • $\begingroup$ theguardian.com/world/2015/nov/08/… $\endgroup$ – Mazel May 17 '17 at 18:56
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My apologies ahead of time for this potentially offensive answer.

I'm wondering what factors either form real world or invented but plausible would contribute to shape a more equal society between men and women in a fictional world?

The other answers provide good ideas to help balance the genders from a physical and developmental perspective, but ignore an unfortunate but highly important decision that has lead to gender inequality: Eve.

It is clear in the Bible that Adam was made in God's image and Eve was second. Eve was the source of Original Sin. That sort of explicit inequality influenced the Christian and Muslim world for millenia.

If you were looking for a single, simple thing to create an alternative reality with more gender equality, changing the Bible to be less explicitly man-centric would be a start.

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  • $\begingroup$ Good point but it does not explain why some societies with the same religion were more egalitarian. $\endgroup$ – Vincent Feb 12 '15 at 22:07
  • $\begingroup$ @Vincent - certainly not, there are tons of influences of a society after all. $\endgroup$ – Telastyn Feb 12 '15 at 22:14
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    $\begingroup$ I have the feeling that cause and effect are reverted here: The story of eve being the source of original sin was already a justification for misogynistic and male-dominant behaviour. $\endgroup$ – Burki Feb 13 '15 at 12:55
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    $\begingroup$ The myth of Adam, Eve, the serpent and the tree of knowledge can also be read in a feminist key; after all, if you think about it, it is Eve who has agency and strives to lift the first pair of humans out of their ignorance, while Adam just follows sheepishly. Myths are flexible things, they adapt to the society which creates and molds them; they are the ultimate expression of the social superstructure, they are never part of the basis. $\endgroup$ – AlexP May 17 '17 at 22:06
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You'll notice the gender of God generally represents the dominant sex in any society.

Horticulture times - Prior to agricultural, we were a mix of hunter/gather and horticulture...best way of thinking of horticulture is same scale gardening. In this setup, men and women contribute to the gathering of food relatively equally and an examination of their gods around this time will show a pretty even mix of female and male deities. Most men were split between providing necessities and food, while women tended to the children and provided food through horticulture.

Agricultural times - The woman's role remained somewhat consistent, still relegated to the home with the children and still providing some gardening. However the shift to agriculture meant a fewer number of male hours were required to provide food. This sudden free up of male hours allowed men to enter all the other roles of society, specializing in anything from culture (music/art/drama) to crafts (metal smith, bowyer/woodmaking/gemology) to religion and education/scholars. Examinations of religions post agriculture show an extremely skewed view towards male deities, and even a shunning of women (including sending them off to the woods while they bled...at one point in time a male wasn't even allowed to sit in a chair that a menstruating women had previously sat in). Women and children at this level became possessions of their men and remained that way until the woman suffrage and woman rights movements took hold in the 1700's.

A fictional world that lacked or changed a few spots in our development could have seen a much different outcome:

1) never adopted agriculture to the extent we did and allowed the craft/art/religion/scholarly domains to be entered more evenly when they were first being created

2) Posessed a gender neutral diety in the case of monotheism or a 50/50 split of male/female deities in a polytheistic society.

The second one is a value shift. There are differences in gender for a reason...a woman is capable of developing a bond with a child that men aren't designed to for a variety of reasons. However current patriarchal society puts heavy value on the male sphere of traits...strength over caring (a caring/kind man is often looked down upon compared to a man driven by strength). This is a bit of a rabbit hole of a debate, but I will point out that what is considered the 'masculine' sphere is valued heavier than the feminine sphere. A simple proof of that is found in the reference of female genitalia to represent weakness in a man.

These values are deeply driven into a society over time and are not easy to change. Never allowing them to become that dominant in the first place is an easy step for a fictional society to take to remain much more gender equal.

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  • $\begingroup$ You are aware of how many agricultural societies were matriarchies right? the shift to patriarchy does not happen with agriculture but much later. $\endgroup$ – John May 17 '17 at 14:14
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One solution would be to have very strict and formalized gender specific roles. And then require every person to have two public persona, one male with a male specific role who is treated as male in every way, another female with female specific role who is treated as female in every way. Every person would then split their time equally between the two public persona with different gender roles. In private people would still be treated based on their physical gender, but publicly everyone would functionally be of both genders. This would require a strict separation of public and private domains.

The reason for this would have to be religious. A shape-shifting patron deity of variable gender, belief in reincarnation with alternating genders, belief that everyone has two different spirits within one male and one female and that unless you act out both the suppressed half will weaken causing an imbalance of your vital energies...

A society would need to be relatively affluent and peaceful for something this elaborate and time consuming to be practical. But it should get you pretty close to gender equality...

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     Gender equality is by the definition unnatural. Genders evolved as a specialization for certain tasks, with different (sometimes very different) morphologies and somewhat genetics. As those tasks are usually essential for survival of the species (procreation, care for offspring, gathering food etc... ) you would need society that stopped caring about that . Or, in other words, you would need abundant but decadent society . Wealth of society could be achieved let's say by previous conquests and existence of large slave population (think ancient Rome). Or it could be achieved by technology (modern Western civilization).

     What is important is that members of society become egoistical and do not care about survival of said society. In terms of genders, for example both female and male members would want sex without obligation to form family (marriage) . Males would not want to risk their lives to defend society. Females would not want to raise offspring . Both males and females would create excuses for their wishes (emancipation, liberation etc..) All those who oppose would be declared as primitive, backwards, misogynist etc ...

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    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure if you are answering the question here, or playing real life politics. If it's the later, please delete it. This site is about fiction. $\endgroup$ – Mołot May 17 '17 at 17:24
  • $\begingroup$ @Mołot Life is sometimes stranger then fiction, my friend ;) $\endgroup$ – rs.29 May 17 '17 at 17:40
  • $\begingroup$ I think I have an idea where re.29 is going, but right now you're just circling the drain. Take the plunge and turn this into a proper answer! You bring up some interesting points, but how are you going to tie them together and explain us how these ideas are going to contribute to a more equal society? $\endgroup$ – elemtilas Jun 3 '18 at 1:48
  • $\begingroup$ I agree with @elemtilas there are interesting points here, but it needs developing into a more coherent and cogent answer especially how appropriate changes can lead to greater gender equality (as specified in the question). Just go for it and good luck. $\endgroup$ – a4android Jun 3 '18 at 4:48
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One thing I wanted to add to the answers already given...

A strong government is essential for women's equality. Why? Because it's a neutral arbiter a woman can go to if she has been mistreated. Let's say we live in an anarchic Mad Max zone. If some guy beats his wife, nobody is going to step in and intervene. In a strongly-governed zone, she can complain to authorities and the guy gets arrested.

Parallel to this is social pressure. If popular sentiment is against mistreatment of women, there is enormous pressure on potential woman-mistreaters to stay in line.

The examples of women's status in our own world suggest to me that both factors must be present.

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Another aspect is economics.

It's widely believed that the advent of property led to the rise of patriarchy. As people began to carve out stable plots of land to tend, or animals to herd, they deployed family members for those things and a greater emphasis was paid to biological-familial ties. Rather than children being raised by the tribe, and loose, interwoven social and family relationships, these early landowners needed and used their kids to maintain property and began to police women's reproduction for that fact. "Who's" kids were who's became a lot more relevant.

In short: a more propertarian society will tend to less matriarchal political structures and less gender equity.

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This reeeeeally depends on a multitude of factors. The species being the first. On our world, when it comes to pack strength, brute force, food provision, it's the LIONESSES that make the difference. Our male-dominated society just sees the genitals and fluffy mane of the lion and decides he's DA KING, while he's just a lazy bum taking advantage of his harem. Wolves create a strong hierarchy around the alpha couple, and when the female is conceiving, it's HER that decides where the pack must go so that the pups can be given birth in safety and in a prey-rich area. For a society to start with true equality, meaning starting from the prehistoric times, when the basis for the social dynamics are being set, you need the species being of PHYSICALLY EQUAL males and females. No exception. They must share the same response to the environment, equally capable of hunting and fighting, to a level that even interpersonal fights could be reconsidered unless one of the two is wounded or too old to fight back. No sexual differentiation, either: This is important, we could have a species like the Seahorse, where the female first conceive via mating but then the male too carries the babies. This will help a society to evolve toward a respectful partnership rather than confining the female home. Both males and females should be able to breast-feed their children, so that, again, what we call 'maternal role' is interchangeable. This is the raw basics to consider a gender-equal society, where social conflicts are, at least, not sex-triggered

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