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Runes are used to enhance the human body's capabilities. They are inscribed onto the skin through a ritual and work by the individual accessing the rune when needed, creating the effect. These incantations vary and focus on attack and defense spells. Effects range from throwing fireballs to summoning sheilds to shooting lightning bolts from fingertips.

The strength of runes are linked to the amount of testosterone in an individual. Males are the prime candidates for becoming battle mages, as they produce hundreds of times of testosterone more than women and produce the strongest magic. Females are capable of using these runes, but at a far weaker level.

This empire has a cadre of all-female battle mages separate from the men. However, there are a few problems with this scenario. This would be that the process of making runes is expensive and time consuming, and are therefore generally limited to specialist groups within the army. There is also the issue asking an empire to depend upon and maintain a group of battle mages that are far weaker than traditional candidates.

These problems seem to make this idea economically unviable for an empire. What would make an empire invest time and effort to create this kind of force?

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    $\begingroup$ Although it's a nitpick, the production of testosterone in men is (save in truly extreme cases) at most 20 times that of women, not "hundreds of times". $\endgroup$ – jdunlop Apr 6 at 16:26
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    $\begingroup$ @Incognito jdunlop's comment is not a nitpick, but a major point. The difference in testosterone levels is not nearly as extreme as you assert, which means that the disadvantges of using female battle mages are real, but far less extreme than you claim, making the solution to the problem much easier. $\endgroup$ – M. A. Golding Apr 6 at 17:54
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    $\begingroup$ "Males [...] produce hundreds of times of testosterone more than women": in their mid to late teens or early twenties they may produce much more testosterone than women (but nevertheless nowhere near "hundreds of times" more). As they push forty or fifty the ratio comes down to single digits, and it only goes down from there. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Apr 6 at 19:46
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    $\begingroup$ These questions always make me wonder - if your goal is to have female battlemages, why choose that your runes work using testosteron in the first place? Or even if the bulky testosteron-filled male battlemages are important to your story, why can't there be a second set of runes powered through something else? $\endgroup$ – xLeitix Apr 7 at 8:44
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    $\begingroup$ I'll agree with previous comments and go further: Abandon this idea. There's no indication that this is going to lead to anything but a perpetuation of sexist tropes. Change to "insulin" or one of countless other body chemicals. $\endgroup$ – Greg Martin Apr 7 at 16:55

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A spear has a lot more force than a needle, but that doesn't make it more useful. If you want to skewer an enemy, the choice is obvious; but try knitting with the larger instrument.

Runes may be more powerful, the more testosterone the wielder has flowing through their bloodstream, but sometimes you do not want power; you want delicate and concentrated application of force in just the right spots. Raw, unfocused power, could yield a decapitation spell, but power concentrated in just the right places can squeeze the right brain artery and kill with instant aneurysms. It could even be the preferable method, if you really want to sell the otherworldliness of your witch army and scare the opponent shitless.

For a non-combative example, try to produce a lock-picking spell when everything you do has the force of a cannonball behind it. You would blast the mechanism to bits, rather than preserve it for future use. Healing is also a possibility; it doesn't have to be total, "wave your fingers and the body repairs itself" healing magic, but just the perfectly sterile scalpel that is precise application of magical force will be tremendously useful for any operation.

Less powerful displays of magic are also likely to be less of a display altogether; they could be less noisy, or less radiant; meaning the user goes unnoticed. And how do you distinguish someone assassinated with an instant aneurysm in his sleep, from someone who died of natural causes? Plus, depending on the culture and prevalence of female magicians, women are less likely to be suspected of these acts and could more easily slip away from the crime scene. The top spies and covert agents would basically have to be either ladies or eunuchs.

So by really tying magic to testosterone, you can not just justify the existence of female magicians, but make them all but required for any monarch with a well-rounded military.

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    $\begingroup$ Light power applications such as tending to wounds, stealthy magic attacks, and espionage are perfect. No one suspects the common women to be battlemages in a testosterone fueled world. $\endgroup$ – IT Alex Apr 6 at 15:08
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    $\begingroup$ Great answer, you wouldn't want 100% force behind everything you do. Also this would make women perfect assassins. They aren't generally expected to use magic, and can so precisely kill someone it will be near impossible to tell what happened until after the autopsy (and their escape). $\endgroup$ – Plutian Apr 6 at 15:12
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    $\begingroup$ I like @ITAlex 's addition - what if you want magical surgeons? You never hear surgeons bragging about how hard they can jam their scalpel into a patient. If males are brute force and females are finesse, only female mages could possibly perform delicate (and importantly, touchless and sterile) battlefield surgery to preserve your army. $\endgroup$ – jdunlop Apr 6 at 16:24
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    $\begingroup$ Add another component: the more powerful the magic, the easier to detect. So your male battlemages are basically walking around with a big-ass flag loudly announcing their position every time they cast a spell. So a scouting party with a male battlemage who wanted to quietly take out a sentry they wanted alive for interrogation couldn't use a male battlemage with a lightning spell (tasering him, basically), because not only would the sentry be unable to talk, being reduced to a charred steak, but it would announce their position to everyone, whereas a female battlemage could quietly zap him. $\endgroup$ – Keith Morrison Apr 6 at 18:11
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    $\begingroup$ @KeithMorrison Nice analogy. The real life analogy to "testosterone and magic" would be your testosterone limiting what kind of guns you can possess. The guys will be walking around with LMGs, RPGs, Assault Rifles, and the like, while the ladies would have access to conceal carry. $\endgroup$ – Nelson Apr 8 at 2:30
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As an alternative solution I would like to add that you have written yourself in a corner by making testosterone so valuable. But that doesn't mean you can't solve this issue.

For example: Testosterone is all about power. The more you have, the more accurate that power is. But that doesn't mean other hormones can't be valuable. For example imagine if estrogen allowed you greater control over your magic? It's great when your mages can throw big fireballs, but if they have trouble firing those fireballs correctly at their target it becomes much less useful. Or imagine if they have less control over the amount of power put in. They can't throw smaller fireballs as they risk throwing a dud with barely any power, but throwing larger fireballs means exhausting yourself quicker especially when you accidentally throw much larger one's than you intended.

But a woman on the other hand would have a lot more control with less power. She has the accuracy, she can pump in the right amount of power, but she will exhaust herself quickly with her lower testosterone.

Now you have perfect trade-offs with a convergent conclusion to that of KeizerHarm: Men are brute artillery and women are scalpels. Women would be ideal to hunt down male battle-mages, officers and crucial supplies as they have the accuracy to actually hit them. Men are ideal at taking on large battlegroups as their accuracy is less important and with any luck they can last longer in a battle. And if Men use close-quarters spells that accuracy is a lot less important. This means that men focus on CQC more often and women at ranged effects.

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    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure of the last point, as I would suspect that being unable to control your magic's power or accuracy with finesse would lead male mages to want to be as far from the point of effect as possible. It'd be much easier for a witch to spice up her CQC options with spellwork if she doesn't have to worry so much about setting herself on fire ;-) $\endgroup$ – Morgen Apr 7 at 5:57
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    $\begingroup$ @Morgen I think I read earlier questions of the same person and those included spells to enhance the person itself, I was thinking of that more than giant fireballs that might set the caster on fire (which also happens if you are accurate but standing close). Also spells like lightningbolts would suit a melee fine even with less accuracy, as long as it winds its way away from you in a 180 degree towards the enemy you are facing, you'll be fine. $\endgroup$ – Demigan Apr 7 at 13:02
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    $\begingroup$ When going with this approach, additional care should be taken, to not fall into the trope of men being brutes and women being tricksters. Just as not all male soldiers are strong men and not all female soldiers are snipers, or reconnaissance specialists. Otherwise the other group could become a horrible investment. If you have savvy female magic users, why waste runes on men, whose brute force can be more or less replaced with giant cannons or 10 non-magic units. $\endgroup$ – Minix Apr 7 at 17:56
  • $\begingroup$ The part where you suggest tieing something else to estrogen offers a huge well of options and side effects that could be further explored. If estrogen is its own kind of power, you could make the balance anything: power vs precision, destruction vs creation, physical vs mental, etc. Also, it could create an odd demand for gender non-binary mages which could lead to an extreme androgyny standard in your mage corps. So male and female battle mages may often be very hard to tell apart. $\endgroup$ – Nosajimiki Apr 8 at 13:57
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What if they're not a good investment, and that's the point? Maybe they're a show of power, an intimidation tactic. "Look at us, our people have such strong magic that even our women can beat your men!" Or as a way of getting enemies to underestimate them.

I don't know if you play or know anything about the MOBA League of Legends, but one LoL gamer, Tilterella, is known for winning with deliberately bad strategies. His video on Yuumi top is a prime example. Top lane is typically solo, while Yuumi is designed to be nearly-useless unless she's accompanying a teammate. But that's actually why he wins - his choice of champion for his role is so obviously bad that his opponents get overconfident and take unnecessary risks, and he has the necessary skill to punish them for their mistakes. He also benefits from enemy players getting irrationally angry when he is succeeding at something that shouldn't work, and making mistakes out of sheer rage.

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The problem is finding people who can accept runes.

Put runes (or perhaps too many runes) on someone who can't take them and they go mad, or die, or both. Paying for the rules is easy, it's too expensive for a person but the empire can easily afford this, especially for a war.

You go to war with what you have and not what you would like to have. Ideally you'd have 10x as many mages and they'd all be men but you'll take anyone and be glad for them.

That female mages are weaker just means you'll make different tactics and uses for them. Spies. Assassins. Healers. Teams have lots of roles, not all of them require brute force.

Also Skill Matters.

How big an energy bolt you can throw matters, but whether you can hit the other guy with it matters more. That issue comes up a LOT.

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I think the first big question is: What is the goal of this empire's all-female mage unit?

Male Incompatability

How about a slightly different approach to the matter: There are some runic arrays that are incompatible with males, but function just fine with women. The runic arrays are needed for the army because they fulfill a useful role to the empire for whatever reason.

A possibility to explain that is that there is a class of runic spells that are actually hampered by a male's higher testosterone levels and/or are more beneficial with a female's higher estrogen levels or anything else that a female has in a higher quantity.

The gist is that some arrays are more powerful when applied to a female in defiance to the normal.

Traditional Obligations

Another possibility is that the unit was started when a number of old nobles only had daughters to contribute to the empire's war efforts. The Empire could not refuse the offerings as they know the nobles did not have sons and to refuse risked insulting those that supported the empire, yet at the same time the women offered weren't as powerful and all parties knew it.

Thus the idea was born to group these female mages together into their own unit. This fulfilled the empire's obligations to take them and train them and the noble's obligations to send them and allow the empire to train them.

Over time with training, research, and a bit of gumption by some of the more disgruntled women of the unit did they claw themselves up from what was basically a squad of low-powered casters into a force that can be reckoned with.

Unit thoughts

If a woman's weaker spells can be cast faster, then it might be plausible that their unit has evolved into a hybrid of magical and martial combat. Quick bursts of power with her runic arrays make for a dangerous opponent -- one can't assume that she is down and out when a quick word might enhance her enough to turn the tide of a battle.

This does not go into the idea of many women working together to create something that is greater than the sum of their individual parts.

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It might be a good idea to consider if you really need to explain this using hormones. Instead just handwave the effect in a way that's going to be intuitive for your readers.

Young guys have power to burn, but tend to prefer loud flashy magic, rather than something quieter and more effective.

This could be testosterone making their power uncontrollable, or it could simply be another way nature provides young men an avenue of showing off their fitness.

As they age and calm down a bit, and certainly after they've become dads, their magic settles down as they settled down.

This could be testosterone dropping with age and the arrival of fatherhood, or it could be nature favoring control over power now that flashy displays aren't as needed and reducing the chance an errant fireball will cook the next generation.

Now you've got a system which is tied to something most readers intuitively understand, while allowing for the same sort of outliers that we're familiar with in real life: the tomboy witch who goes for flashy spells like her bros, the calmer guy who's always preferred to go the subtle route, and the older teacher who's unflappable control lets them take apart the hotheaded rookie.

What's particularly nice about this is that, if you want to have these more complex magic users as a villain, it'll be easier to avoid inadvertently coding them as gay if how they choose to use their magic isn't so explicitly tied to gender.

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In warfare, you take any advantage you can

Women historically were vitally important to all wars. You could say actually that all wars required them, even if they formed mostly a support role.

This is because warfare is:

  • multifaceted - it requires not just 'fighting', but logistics, intelligence, command, food, transport, clothing, scouts, support, training and medical care.

  • life-and-death - those that do not bring all resources to bear will be up against those that do, and will not survive. Therefore you use 'all you can get' including your women (which, in statistical likelihood would be 50% of your force).

Your female magic users would definitely be a major asset and any force that does not use them will be up against one that does, and will suffer significant disadvantage.

If your society is sexist, like in previous 'real life' societies, their role could be simply making clothes/uniforms, making food, transport/logistics and nursing care - however your magic using women would be much better at these tasks regardless.

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    $\begingroup$ To your life and death point : You involve as few women as possible in direct conflict because while dead men are expense, dead women can't raise the next generation of expendable men. It's not just sexism, it's country/culture/society survival in the long run. Modelization have been made where country raise their army numbers by inducting women. They get more victories initially, but attrition is harder on them. $\endgroup$ – MakorDal Apr 7 at 6:33
  • $\begingroup$ "If your society is sexist" it likely wouldn't survive for long against one that wasn't, given bullet #2 and the fact that rune users are so overpowered compared to regular individuals, be they male or female. $\endgroup$ – Mad Physicist Apr 8 at 23:15
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Collaborative work.

As noted by others, you got your power horses through the men and the women could be precision spellslingers.

But there is also another role that is important : leading the horses. By combining high power casters and precise casters in group ritual, you get the best of both worlds.

You want to be able to shatter only the gate of your ennemy town. You need an energy spear to break through the powerfull mana shield around your ennemy commander.
Both need a lot of power and a lot of precision.
So your spellcaster conduct ritual, with power lend by the male and directed by the female.

You can even get a system somewhat matriarchal : dumb brutes are providing a lot of power with an all-female cadre. Some rare brilliant men might get selected as specialists. (It can lead to treason, it can lead to reverse oppressive scenarios,...)

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Rage

One of the side-effects of high testosterone is rage (think: "roid rage"). That's great for fighting wildly, but not so great if precision is required. This is true even if major force is also required. Your team of battle mages may have enough power to break down the reinforced portcullis of the enemy's castle, but they need to make precision shots, because they don't have enough force to level an entire wall from a safe distance. If focus and concentration are required components of successful spellcasting, then there is an inherent trade-off between raw power and control.

Distraction

It could be the case that female mages serve a multi-dimensional purpose in battle. One of them could simply be to incite rage, as Ettina Kitten proposes: "How dare they send mage maidens to confront us! Aaaaarrrrggghhh!!!" And now your mages have trouble hitting the broadside of a barn.

And/or, they could serve to lower the focus and attention of the enemy mages, especially if their attire matches the typical outfits seen in video games marketed to horny teenage boys (perhaps the only legitimate justification for such outfits). "Whoa...check her out!" "What's she doing out here? Doesn't she know we're fighting a war?" "No, no, don't zap her yet. Let's find out what she wants." [Fireball to the face]

Bodyguards

Because the male mages are so powerful, they are considered offensive weapons only. They are reserved for the most difficult and challenging field missions. The females, however, are still more capable than non-magical soldiers, and are preferred for guarding high value targets. A female mage guard may, in fact, be a display of extreme wealth and prestige, in addition to the ultimate defense against assassination or coup. They may even be deployed to guard non-human assets, like treasure vaults or armories.

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    $\begingroup$ > they could serve to lower the focus and attention of the enemy mages Similar idea was in Lukyanenko's Draft/Proof dilogy, in an episode about alternate universe's equivalent of Vatican guard - ladies who were competent fighters, but dressed in harlequinnish costumes, puffy and loose and with contrasted-color stripes and waving strips and belts... When one like that dances around you (an intruder) with a halberd, sword or minigun, you don't even know which part of the silhouette to strike to hit a body. $\endgroup$ – Jim Klimov Apr 7 at 9:17
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So most answers in here focus in how a battlemage with less testosterone might also have advantages; the problem is that this doesn't help you bring women to the actual battlefield, but restricts them to support roles.

So here's a few alternative ideas:

1. Cheating the system

Could magic be used to just increase the testosterone level? If so, that might be your answer (unless you want tropey sexy battlemages, in which case it's a very suboptimal choice). Even if this doesn't completely even the field, getting them into the same order of magnitude could make them effective enough to throw them at the enemy regardless and hope that they will close the gap with stragegy and manpower.

2. Expanding the rules

So you explain in your post that "Runes are used to enhance the human body's capabilities". So it makes sense that they'd be more effective at enhancing anything related to testosterone in males, but what about abilities that aren't linked to testosterone? Women can compete with men in long-distance running, and after a certain point even outrun them.

To me it seems believable that certain attributes could be enhanced just as effectively in women than in men, given how you described it.

And of course, most armies would still prefer men, as raw strength is just easier to use in battle than other skills.

3. Some different type of magic

This depends on whether your world has other types of magic and whether they are known to the cultures you're talking about. If so, you could just have the women use those different types of macig instead.

Maybe making a man a lot stronger with runes is just cheaper than throwing a proper fireball, just as equipping lots of men with rifles is cheaper than just shelling everything with artillery in real life. But that doesn't mean artillery doesn't have its place on a modern battlefield, and in the same way, some more expensive types of magic could still be present in your world in the form of a few specialized groups within each army, and this one nation just happens to make use of the females who can't use runes effectively but still don't want to be limited to support roles.

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If testosterone enhances capabilities, why not make estrogen do the same? Testosterone enhances strength and speed but it’s not like female hormones do nothing. Estrogen in real life enhances survival and memory. Perhaps an estrogen rune can use this?

Maybe your empire trains women for specialty missions that don’t require brute force but are still incredibly dangerous. Women, in real life, tend to survive famine, disease, injury, and radiation better than men. Estrogen makes women generally more metabolically efficient* and they tend to outlast men in harsh conditions. Women have stronger immune systems** (see: coronovirus, tuberculosis, ebola, etc), their wounds heal faster, they are at 40% less risk of dying from cancer, and females tend to live longer even taking into account lifestyle differences. If testosterone enhances offensive abilities in your world, maybe estrogen could enhance defensive capabilities or endurance?

*because of fat distribution, less muscle mass, and smaller size

**admittedly only partially due to hormone differences, the extra DNA from the X chromosome plays a bigger role here

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  • $\begingroup$ Picking up from this scientific reasoning note, for evolutionary mechanisms a majority of females are the stable average - the peak of the bell-curve distribution of the population in the species, best adapted to survive in recent generations' average external conditions. They care for the offspring, they should live long enough to carry it until birth (and often help later for a considerable portion of lifespan). Males on the other hand have a wider-ranging variability of features, good and bad. Those who survive in changed conditions leave offspring and move the average for next generations. $\endgroup$ – Jim Klimov Apr 7 at 9:12
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    $\begingroup$ @JimKlimov if you are referring to the male variability hypothesis in terms of cognition, that’s based on some questionable science and is still up for debate. Evolutionary psychology is a guilty pleasure of mine and great for worldbuilding but it’s not usually very accurate or provable in the real world... $\endgroup$ – syrupstitious Apr 8 at 8:09
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I notice a lot of people either ascribing extra to women like more control or putting them in a spy or healer role. You can already have a group of combat ready women without changing what you have you.

A man could crush you with a heavy bolder. A woman instead could fire a small pebble into your head or neck. Both are just as effective as each other when it comes to killing somebody.

People are squishy and have a lot of weak points which don't need a lot pressure applied to do massive damage to somebody. Rather than go for a display of testosterone with lightning bolts from fingertips, instead a metal crossbow bolt tethered with a wire could easily shock someone to death without much power.

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Generalists v. specialists

Testosterone increases magic power, but estrogen increase magic control. Thus men are able to channel great power into their spells, but they can only have one or two different runes inscribed. That makes them very valuable as specialists with lots of raw power, and in a diverse group they can overcome any obstacle, though a single man rarely has the whole solution to a complex problem.

Women on the other hand, have less power, but much more control. They can accept and use 10 to 15 different runes on their bodies, making them incredibly versatile. While groups of women lack the raw power men-squads have, individually they can overcome most obstacles.

Think big cleaver v. Swiss army knife

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You Can't (right now)

The system you have devised is unfair to any kind of low-T individual, in terms of shear output. It has to, since all systems are inherently unfair. However, I attribute this to the idea being relatively young, rather than some kind of bias, one because I have a few remaining specks of good faith to give out today, and two because everyone has things they are inherently good at even down to a genetic level (see: China doing screenings for Olympic athletes at ridiculously young ages). With a few additions to the system, and maybe your world, you can create a much more fleshed out (hard) system, and thus write much more interesting encounters.

Brush up on Endocrinology

You have established that you want power to be tied to testosterone levels. Great, you have one aspect of your power system. But there are many more hormones than testosterone that contribute to somebody's functionality. According to this source, there are around 50 hormones in the human body. That means that you have 50 different aspects to play around with, before you even start looking at other physical attributes.

For example, maybe a high level of epinephrine allows a support mage to have better control, because the higher levels of other hormones won't get to them. Perhaps galaninallows for faster casting times. Perhaps a mage with high levels of osteocalcin would suffer fewer negative effects from sequential casting.

If you come up with maybe around 10-20 different effect son the output of magic based on the different hormones, then you can allow your military to have specialized soldiers suited for the right task, which brings us to...

Your Magic Military Academy

Your system is based on runes. Since "runes" implies that they are written in characters besides common script, that means that your cadets have to learn them. Thus, I propose the existence (whether your characters are students or not is up to you) of a magic academy, that teaches to these specializations of course, not everyone can get in, and most certainly not everyone can get into the program they want - instead, a hormone test determines if they can even join as a mage, as well as what programs they can get into in what priority. This allows students to become specialized in their fields, and thus low-T individuals and high-T individuals no longer compete only in terms of testosterone.

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For starters, I agree with the principles raised in other answers: using testosterone might write you into a corner, forcing the use of sexist tropes. If it absolutely must be testosterone, then giving women advantages such as finesse and precision instead of raw power can be a good solution (though even that smells of sexist tropes to some extent).

But it's also worth remembering something: testosterone doesn't give ordinary people any magical powers. So it's no wonder etching those runes is "expensive and time consuming": the runes need to make significant bio-magestric changes to the host's body. And given how much testosterone men have, those changes are sudden and dramatic. No wonder the etching death rate is so high!

Thankfully women have much lower testosterone levels. Sure, they therefore can't open a volcano beneath an enemy's capital, and maybe this gives them the precision to cause silent aneurisms. But it also means the bio-magestric changes are smaller and slower, leading to much higher etching survival rates for women, too.

So while the etching for women is still expensive and time-consuming, the cost/benefit analysis for them is far more beneficial. With men you might get a nuclear bomb, but you're more likely to simply have a disfigured corpse at the end of the process. With women you'll have a super-scalpel (or simply a conventional warhead, if you don't want to use the "finesse" approach), almost guaranteed.

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Fighter vs. Rogue

Male (strong) mages burn bright. Any other mage can sense them from miles away. Sneaking is not an option.

Female (weak) mages do not. They can sneak up on an unsuspecting enemy and kill them before they know what is going on.

In this special force of female mages, everybody knows invisibility and noise cancellation. In addition they specialize in various spells useful for assassination and sabotage.

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For an example of this from fantasy literature, you could read the Witch World books by Andre Norton. They're set in a world where the some women of a particular nation have magic/psionic powers, and men do not. These powers can overcome physical strength (women can be physically overpowered by men, but only if they men can get close or make a surprise attack). The powers are a huge power multiplier for the women, who are clairvoyant (they can scry on enemies and spy on them). They also have mind-control and other powers that can wreck enemies from a distance.

If you're a battlemage who gets attacked by a guy in armor, his size and strength don't matter if you can shoot him, blast him with artillery, order him to commit suicide, or just fly away...

Your female rune-mages could employ magical protections, strength enhancers, or field war-golems which they control remotely (maybe they could pilot the things like magical gundams?)

A little more about witchworld: To make things interesting, women in this world only keep their powers if they eschew physical relations with men, so it's a major life decision. Women to "settle down" to bear children, transition from being in the leader social class, to a protected mother/child-rearing social class.

This does mean that some of their most vile enemies will use sexual assault as a war tactic to nullify the witches' magical powers (these are mature adventure stories with game of thrones-style power struggles, masquerading as pulp fiction, written by woman).

Men still do the heavy lifting as soldiers/builders etc. The men serve as front-line troops in their army, pinning enemy armies in place, while the women serve as clairvoyant leaders and magical artillery. There's plenty of war and intrigue in the books, and you'd be missing out if you didn't read at least the first couple of them.

To make things even more interesting, they feature a male hero who travels there from earth. He can also use the psionic powers, and because of this, women who have romantic relations with him do not lose their powers. The books deal with how his appearance in the world affects their society.

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  • $\begingroup$ The Power by Naomi Alderman has a similar concept, although minus the sexual assault. At least by men; sexual assault on men by women becomes a thing, but that's part of her worldbuilding. $\endgroup$ – Graham Apr 7 at 13:59
  • $\begingroup$ I have to say that I haven't read Norton's work, but your description isn't exactly selling it to me. "Male Earthling lands on planet full of magical sexually-frustrated women" is not a concept which grabs me with its maturity. Adding sexual violence in there so that the hero is clearly the hero just because he's not a rapist, that doesn't make it mature, it just makes it immature and rapey. I may well be doing Norton an injustice though - is it actually better than the impression I'm getting? $\endgroup$ – Graham Apr 7 at 14:00
  • $\begingroup$ @Graham That quick description of one minor part of a novel is something that shouldn't prejudice you against the series. The series reads well for children as well as for adults. One thing in particular: the women with power don't come off as sexually frustrated. The "rape" is only contemplated by one group of villains against one particular witch, who is rescued by the hero. Also, please remember that this story was written in 1963. And don't think of this as a story of a powerless woman being rescued by an ultra-male hero. $\endgroup$ – NomadMaker Apr 8 at 4:04
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What would make an empire invest time and effort to create this kind of force?

It wouldn't, because you've stacked the deck.

You've picked a characteristic to hang magic on which is specifically discriminatory against women. That doesn't make you a bad person. :) But it does mean the worldbuilding you come up with can never have women involved in front-line warfare as a matter of course. Women cannot compete on physical strength, and they cannot succeed through magic. In a swords-and-sorcery environment, this very much relegates women to the position of stuff being done to them, not having agency of their own.

Our world does have a few examples of women who could fight alongside men on equal terms. Caster Semenya famously has relatively high testosterone levels, for example. These women are extremely rare though, and whilst they outclass other women and most men, they still cannot compete at the same level as elite men. Tennis is a relatively good comparison here, because it requires significant strength as well as skill and endurance, and we do have some straight match-ups for comparison. Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs in a straight contest, but that was pitching the best woman in the world against a 55-year-old. Against any seeded male player, King would have been comfortably beaten, and she was perfectly well aware of this; the point was to take down the arrogant Riggs, not to prove she could be competitive against a top-ranked male player such as McEnroe or Borg. In 1998, Karsten Braasch (ranked 203) beat both the Williams sisters (then ranked 5 and 20) in straight sets, back to back.

Women can compete at the same level or even beat men in ultra-endurance events - but this is because they do not have quite the same blood chemistry and body composition as men, and the lack of testosterone is a positive advantage. We also have plenty of examples of women historically who were notable military commanders and strategists, but this is not the same as fighting on the front line.

Of course this all assumes that the empire invests the time and effort. Historically it was certainly common for rich people to have high-quality, highly-ornamented armour made, in spite of them not being particularly skilled fighters. You could certainly make a case for this being a fashion statement adopted by trend-setting aristocratic women, in the same way as women wear military-inspired outfits today. They would not actually be fighting, but they would have the money to buy the best equipment.

You could also make a case for aristocratic men setting up their own group of all-female bodyguards for their own reasons, as Muammar Gaddafi did. The common male fantasy of being surrounded by powerful women willing to die for him could well be a reason! It's not a fantasy of mine personally, I should add, but it's definitely a thing which some men like. Bodyguarding also is more about deterring attacks by regular citizens, and often spotting trouble before it starts, so raw power is less important than intelligence and situational awareness, and women are equally capable here.

What you can't make these women though is a practical front-line fighting force.

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    $\begingroup$ @DavidCram Not so much. Magic is often used as a way to give women agency in a world where muscles would otherwise be the defining factor. Honestly that's too often the author lacking in imagination and taking an easy (and boring) way out, instead of figuring out something less predictable. One of the great things about The lies of Locke Lamora for example was that it didn't try to excuse women being effective in their own right. And a key (and shocking for its realism) part of Game of Thrones was its portrayal of what roles women normally would have open to them. $\endgroup$ – Graham Apr 7 at 23:23
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidCram ... The OP could still have an interesting story to tell, which isn't sexist or whatever. My issue is just that how he wants to make women "powerful" is badly thought out, and frankly is showing a lack of imagination and originality. My beef is with not telling a good story. :) $\endgroup$ – Graham Apr 7 at 23:24
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    $\begingroup$ When George R. R. Martin was asked in an interview how he writes such great female characters he replied: "You know I've always considered women to be people.". The fact that the OP has to ask the internet how to make women as effective as men, does not bode well for the story. The fact that the OP has to ask how to make female battle mages worth investing time and effort....doesn't seem like it springs from a healthy perspective. I'd advise the OP to carefully examine their own views before tackling this topic $\endgroup$ – David Cram Apr 7 at 23:39
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidCram it isn't inherently sexist. OP has developed a system for magic, a weird system, yes, but still a system. This system favors certain aspects, like all systems do. To have a system where everyone is equal isn't really a system. Men and women have had different aptitudes since there have been men and women. Men are bigger, stronger, and specialized towards spatial awareness due to their hunting history, while women have been better at things involving cognition and socialization due to history as gatherers. $\endgroup$ – awsirkis Apr 8 at 0:12
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidCram OPs system is underdeveloped at the moment, and that is why they are looking for help on how to make the system more equitable. Perhaps you could suggest an edit to the question, or provide an answer looking towards the idea of a system that isn't inherently sexist, rather than berating a single answerer without providing an alternative. OPs question has a real-world basis - males make up the bulk of the fighting profession, tend to be better geared mentally towards fighting, and tend to be more ferocious when fighting. OP wants to have viable females in this system, so help them $\endgroup$ – awsirkis Apr 8 at 0:17
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Raw power may kill the wielder

While men may be much more successful once they complete their training most of them die when they try the limits of their powers, sometimes inadvertently causing harm to others. There is only some much your vessel of a body can take. Even after training not many male power wielders can live to an old age, one mistake is all it takes after all. What makes them particularly bad from a strategic perspective is that they tend to drop dead at times of need by trying too hard.
Women on the other hand have a lower mortality through training, they can safely develop their skills to greater intricacies. Most don't die even when they are pushing it to the limits. They establish witch schools where seasoned witches can pass on their knowledge. They do not take male students as they are mostly a waste of resources and could accidentally kill their instructors.

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Others have pointed out that the testosterone or estrogen could be sources for different kinds of magic.

A specific kind of magic very well could be Anti Magic. As in, women are, with their lower magical strength, much more uniquely suited for combating battlemages.

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OP's Premise: Testosterone Grants Magic Power

If I were writing this in a magical world, I wouldn't use testosterone by name, but let the reader figure it out by showing him that the powerful magic is created by younger men.

And to answer his question: why would there be female battle mages?

Estrogen gives the mage control over their magic.

Both sexes have both hormones, but men tend to have more testosterone, while women tend to have more estrogen.

I still wouldn't use the names of these hormones. To me, they'd break the mood of a fantasy. But it would still be easy to let the user understand men have more raw power, women have more control.

Could men, especially the younger men, have enough power to destroy themselves and everybody around them? Huge explosion, not enough control to put the explosion at a far enough distance.

Women, on the other hand, might not be able to create such an explosion, but perhaps they could make a small explosion inside the enemy commander's chest? It's not very exciting seeing the enemy commander just drop dead, but it is safer than having a mage who might just kill everybody around him by accident.

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Take example from real-life, the body-builders? I am sure there are some, especially maybe of the less honestly competitive sort, who were born as ladies but had so much training and diet and "supplements" or outright doping, that you wouldn't be so sure what gender these hulky mountains of muscle are today.

Especially if coupled with other replies above, like handwaving that in this universe women are intrinsically more capable to precision work vs. raw power, and then getting women who are still precise AND have a lot of raw power, this can be a reason to have such army divisions. It can also explain why getting them is a long and expensive process (you raise and train and feed them for this all their life) and so they are a scarce resource, maybe not available to all sides of conflict depending on what the "food supplements" are sourced from.

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