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I have decided, upon due and proper consideration, to put All-Female Species in my book. However, if I want to have them as developed as Legend of Zelda's Gerudo, I'm going to need some help in determining how they'll fit into society. So, information below:

Mermaids

  • Extremely social, survive through teamwork (each mermaid acts as part of a greater unit, moving in sync, to defend, feed, or watch over the school)
  • Known for care and loyalty; mermaids tend to save sinking or wrecked ships, as well as castaways. Their loyalty is such that people have observed mermaids taking fatal blows for their schoolmates, or charging at a predator to distract it so the others can get away. Their 'school mentality' causes them to tend towards cooperation and submission instead of conflict.
  • Known for physical affection; fish nuzzle and rub against each other, so do mermaids-they're a touchy culture (literally, their love language is touch)
  • Generally mate with sailors or pirates (which will have a distinct nautical influence on their society); at least half of their society's development occurred due to their having to prove they were trustworthy to seafarers, which led to them learning how to be helpful to sailors (this link explains it better than I can.)

The question is, How Will They Fit Into a Medieval Fantasy Society? This society is based off of medieval Europe. The different aspects of this question are as follows:

  • 1. Involvement in Society It's a given that mermaids would have inherited the spatial memory and navigational ability of their fishy forebears, which will make them revolutionary for the nautical world and therefore ensure their nigh-universal presence in said world, but what about non-nautical society?

Mermaids are at a major disadvantage on land; even if they can travel on land, as a lungfish or mudskipper does, I don't see that being efficient, and I certainly don't see mermaids being on land for long. And, according to my research so far, medieval people rarely went to the beach as they were scared of the ocean, which would make the beach an unlikely place for humans and mermaids to interact.

This leaves the possibility of a sailor taking a mermaid they like onboard and keeping her with them from then on, or the darker possibility of mermaids being sold at market. The best answer will determine how involved mermaids are in this society, to help determine not just what role they play but their level of importance.

  • 2. Trade: Mermaids may not have what it takes for metalworking, but they can offer a lot as far as trade is concerned. Fish is an obvious one, as are pearls and shells-both those that come from mollusks and those the mermaids make themselves (through magic). However, treasure from shipwrecks, sea monster parts, and coral are also potential trade goods.

And trade, if I recall correctly, is actually a pretty good medium when it comes to cultural exchange, so the best answer will take trade into account when determining how mermaids will fit into society.

  • 3. Abilities:

A person's role in a given group is often determined by their abilities, if not by their birth. Mermaids are good swimmers (they can swim about as fast as dolphins), strong (while carrying someone on their back), and using their magical abilities, they can mold a seashell like it's clay (and fuse seashells into a seamless whole), form pearls, or magically link pearls into strands that can serve as rope. I am unsure how a medieval society would use this, aside from the obvious use of creating art, but the best answer will take mermaid abilities into account when determining their role in medieval society.

Note: By 'medieval society,' I really mean 'medieval fantasy society,' the stereotypical kind with elves, dwarves, orcs, princesses, adventurers, and of course dragons. There are differences between the archetype and my setting, but for the purposes of the OP, those do not matter and so I have not included them.

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  • $\begingroup$ I should heavily preface this as my opinion - but I really don't like all female or all male societies - they can't exist, on a basic biological level. A matriarchal society of course is entirely possible, but I ask - why do you want a fully female society? Is it to investigate the interesting traits of a one gender society, or is it because merfolk are traditionally female? $\endgroup$ Oct 27, 2021 at 20:39
  • $\begingroup$ @WasatchWind: don't worry, I respect your opinion. It's actually both. I like to explore societal and biological traits, plus I like to take traditional tropes and either use or twist them in my stories. As for the biological problem, I believe I have addressed that in the OP. $\endgroup$
    – Alendyias
    Oct 27, 2021 at 21:03
  • $\begingroup$ @WasatchWind funnily enough, it actually can, at least up to an extent. $\endgroup$ Oct 27, 2021 at 21:35

1 Answer 1

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They are sailors!

No, seriously!

Mermaids are awesome sailors, provided their ships are adapted to someone without human legs. The traits you are proposing make them awesome for that role:

  • They never mutiny. Since they are so school-oriented, they put the entire crew of the ship before themselves.
  • Falling on the water is a non-issue. They can just hoist themselves up on a rope ladder if that happens.
  • They don't need supplies. Since they can simply dive and hunt for fish - their primary food source - and don't need to carry drinkable water with them (because they can drink saltwater), every little bit of the cargo space of the ship can be used for cargo. They are also immune to scurvy, since they are used to the life on the sea already.
  • They can scout underwater. If you need to navigate a complicated bit of sea, they can just dive underwater and explore, them signal the people above what is the safest route to take. They don't need to take risks while sailing their ships!
  • They can hide precious cargo - like gold and silver - underwater, to avoid being raided by pirates. They can pick that up later. Human pirates can't. What's the point of raiding a ship if the crew can just toss everything out and fetch it later once you're gone? More so, they can't be sieged - they just dive and go away to come back later. No need to enter messy fights when you can win by patiencing out your enemy.
  • They can make and repair their boats even on high ocean. With their magic abilities, they can create specialized ships made out of seashell - and repair those ships - even when they are very far away from land. Give them the ability to weave sails out of seaweed via a similar ability, and they are set to be awesome shipmakers.
  • They can find mates while sailing, by meeting up with the crews of non-mermaid ships or by visiting harbours - those are guaranteed to be full of horny sailors willing to give "the gals" a visit.

So, what's their role in society? They are sailors. Mermaid-crewed ships are logistically way easier to repair, can travel farther, are safer, easier to manage and can carry more cargo than similar-sized ships (since they don't need to carry food or drinks).

They are the best damn sailors and traders out there. And that's awesome.

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    $\begingroup$ Whoa, this is genius! They really would make great sailors, and that really is awesome! $\endgroup$
    – Alendyias
    Oct 28, 2021 at 0:13
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    $\begingroup$ This is an excellent answer. $\endgroup$
    – Daniel B
    Oct 28, 2021 at 0:18
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    $\begingroup$ Alright, I've accepted your most excellent answer! Sorry for the delay. $\endgroup$
    – Alendyias
    Nov 9, 2021 at 23:02

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