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The setting is one where only women can use magic. All females can access it as it is naturally inborn. It requires training, some females being stronger than others. Magic takes the form of spells and rituals, is time consuming, and requires multiple components. However, it is very powerful and forms the bedrock of society. It is often combined with technology to form a sort of magitech civilization. The question is how to make men relevant in a society like that? Have I made them completely useless? Does there need to be limitations on what magic can do?

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    $\begingroup$ Consider that there are many things - farming, hunting building, &c - that either can't be done by magic, or are easier to do "by hand". For a parallel, consider that some of us here probably do 'magic' (AKA computer programming) which is time-consuming and employs many spells and rituals. Most people either can't or won't do this magic, so we are generally well paid. Yet even as wizards, we obtain many of the things we need, like food, by trading with non-wizards. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Mar 2 '17 at 19:42
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    $\begingroup$ Hmm. Let's imagine for a moment that only women could be, say, doctors. Are men suddenly irrelevant? Or let's imagine that only men could be engineers, or scientists. Are women now irrelevant? I was not aware that not being a part of a certain profession makes one "completely useless". Mind blowing. $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM Mar 2 '17 at 19:44
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    $\begingroup$ The Wheel of Time series has a similar concept, where only women can use magic without going insane (therefore all male magic users either die or are captured, then die). However anyone who's read the series can tell you that males in that world were supremely relevant. Then again, it is a medieval setting, so that might influence it too. $\endgroup$ – IronWaffleMan Mar 2 '17 at 19:54
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    $\begingroup$ ...you still need men to make more people. $\endgroup$ – James Mar 2 '17 at 22:01
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    $\begingroup$ Just make it so no spell exists to open jam jars. $\endgroup$ – colmde Mar 3 '17 at 9:38

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How do deal with different skill levels in our present society? Some people are good at math, some at humanities. Some people fix engines. Some people create paintings.

OP says that among women you have varying skill levels of Magic. So even amoung the women there is variation in ability.

Another example: Several percent of men are red/green colour blind. A much smaller fraction of women are. This is a case where a disability is sex-linked. Men who have it live with it. Hemophilia is another sex linked problem.

Consider that men on average are much stronger physically. While women can make good soldiers, step back to muscle powered combat, and they didn't fare so well.

If magic is time consuming you have a situation where a man can do something that requires strength right now.

Consider that on the average men cooperate better -- coordinated hunting is more difficult than coordinated gathering. So exaggerate this in your culture: Women wield magic, but interact like cats. Men interact like dogs.

One of the flip sides: Women tend to multitask better. I suspect to allow them to grind corn or tan hides while also keeping the toddler from wandering into the creek. Perhaps part of a woman's Magic skill is the ability to keep many things in mind at once.

Perhaps you have a split society: Men show up to mate, but otherwise lead a separate life.

It adds narrativium if magic has a price. No free lunch. You don't have to have the same conservation laws as physics, but you need mechanisms to prevent Magic from being the constant solution. You have some of this in place with Magic requiring extensive preparation and effort.

Niven's fantasies were powered by Mana. This was a limited resource, and when it was used up spells failed.

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    $\begingroup$ "Even among women"? $\endgroup$ – JFL Mar 3 '17 at 9:50
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    $\begingroup$ @JFL I think he is contrasting against varying skill levels between women and men -- he's saying that even [within the category of] women you have varying skill levels, not just that skill levels vary between men and women. $\endgroup$ – Doktor J Mar 3 '17 at 16:36
  • $\begingroup$ @JFL OP says that magic ability is not evenly distributed amoung women, but has substantial variation. $\endgroup$ – Sherwood Botsford Mar 3 '17 at 18:27
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It has probably already been mentioned here, but let me put in my 2 cents:

Wheel of time is a series where only women could use magic without going crazy. This had been the status quo for around 3,000 years by the time the story starts.
The mind of the people was very interesting to see into when the story starts off... where men who can use magic were feared and were hunted by the female magicians.
Even most men would be afraid of becoming magicians as it would lead them to becoming crazy and killing themselves or their friends and family.

You can give this a read to give yourself some ideas.

That aside, to make men relevant in YOUR story, one of the things that you can do is to make certain components that are required by the magician something that cannot be grown/made in the presence of magic. Have these be controlled and sold by men.

You could also make it such that certain ingredients are too magical in nature and cannot be approached by women who are sensitive to magic. But men could either be immune to it to some degree or just don't have the magical organ, which could be the only one that gets affected by the ingredients in nature.

Since this is a world that combines both magic and technology, have it so that all women were brainwashed into only following the path of magic, leaving the technology side of things to the men.

I think that these 2 reasons along with the reason provided by nature would solve your problem, no?

You could go one step furthur and start a religion that only accepts men as the clergy, with a mandatory swearing in of everyone in the civilisation giving more power to the men making the power divide smaller.

Have the religion stress on cooperation and how only the yin (women and magic) and yang (men and technology) combination would be enough to help them defend against some outside force (real, but no longer exists or even imaginary).

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    $\begingroup$ Aha! Another great answer by a newbie! Welcome to WorldBuilding s5v. Your name implies you have an interest in technology and astronomy. I hope to read more answers from you in the future. Here's some +rep for an awesome first answer. $\endgroup$ – Youstay Igo Mar 3 '17 at 11:39
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It really depends on how powerful and versatile magic is in your world, and how advanced your technology level is.

However given this:

Magic takes the form of spells and rituals, is time consuming, and requires multiple components... It is often combined with technology to form a sort of magitech civilization.

It seems to me there are some rules for your world's magic and it is capable of interacting with technology. Given that, men can still have regular interaction with magic without being irrelevant to it.

There will be plenty of male technologists who only deal with non-magic technology, but there will probably be many who will work with women to create magitech. They can't be entirely ignorant of the rules of magic or else they'd be good for nothing but manual labor. Any amount of understanding means there will be those who choose to study further and learn more than is necessary. If the population of your world is large enough, it's quite possible for your world to have a few men who specialize in studying and creating new rituals and spells. Sure they can't perform that magic themselves, but I'm sure they can find volunteers to do it for them (think university setting. lots of students and other peons to do manual lab work while the professor does the theoretical work).

And that's not to mention all the things men can still do without magic. Also if magic takes women away from traditional non-magic roles, it's likely that more men will fill those roles.

Magic that's time consuming is also not very useful in close-combat. Sure a fireball spell might kill 100 people, but against an army (especially one that's likely to have its own mages)? If you're world has guns, then that further reduces the power level of magic, as guns are practically instantaneous and a bullet will still kill a mage just as dead as a fireball spell will.

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    $\begingroup$ Expanding upon this, since the women must devote a significant amount of time to study in addition to the time and components of casting, that leaves them less time to study and develop technology, so that's something that would tend to be male-dominated. Additionally, someone has to gather/manufacture the components for the spells -- something men could do while the women are studying and practicing their magic. $\endgroup$ – Doktor J Mar 3 '17 at 16:39
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Consider technology, which is the bedrock of much of Western society. And yet, although most of us USE the tech we can't really understand it and only a limited number of us are versed in the mysteries of coding and other techy things.

Sure, anyone CAN learn tech, but everyone doesn't. And somehow, all the people that don't are still relevant to society.

Women happen to be able to manipulate magic and men can't, but there's PLENTY of things men could be doing that women won't be as good at. This really depends on the magitech level of this society,however,there are some answers in what you've said:

It requires training, some females being stronger than others. Magic takes the form of spells and rituals, is time consuming, and requires multiple components.

What that means is that magic is expensive. It takes training, and even within women, not everyone is really good at it, even if they are female. Humans like to do things cheaper, faster, and better. There might be a way to get a load up a mountain using just magic, but if it's easier and can be done at less cost, you can bet there will be a man doing it without magic, or even a woman.

Now, if you have items that are built out of magitech that anyone can use regardless of ability to actually cast (like say, a lantern with permanent light cast on the inside, or a magi-tech car) then men will be using these in their jobs.

Like, I don't know exactly how the internet works or how a computer works, but here I am using one. I don't have to have skills or talent in tech to do that. Your magic tech may work in the same way.

I find the premise of the question fairly well flawed--your society may be different, but saying the men are not relevant is just not going to be true.

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No need to implement much changes, it will be simply a power reversal without making the men useless. The women will fight for dominance under themselves and take the more influential positions (leading, managing, planning, research). This will open gaps for jobs that the women do not want: the men will take more supportive, menial, dirty and physically demanding tasks which do not need to waste magic (assistance, farming, mining, significant other).

Because men will still have knowledge, secrets and rumors only shared between themselves (yes, men do that, too) and they will be dominating specific lower-class positions, they will be still an integral part of a story.

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    $\begingroup$ I like this, because it mirrors to some extent the position of women in male-dominated societies. Men would get the undesirable jobs, but their labor would still be fundamental to society. $\endgroup$ – Obie 2.0 Mar 3 '17 at 5:44
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    $\begingroup$ @Obie2.0 It should be said that still the most undesirable and unpleasant jobs like gravedigger, renderer (knacker in BE), sewage worker and tanner are exclusively men in our current (!) society. I am not aware of a single female worker in this branches. $\endgroup$ – Thorsten S. Mar 3 '17 at 20:44
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A few ideas come to mind:

  1. Make men resistant or immune to magic
  2. Create something that only men can do.
  3. Men can, if they choose, act as a lens for the magic to either make it stronger or to add finer control.
  4. Accept that men, in that society, are only useful for initiating the baby process. Design a culture around that.
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  • $\begingroup$ Isn't the 4th idea find of fetishy? How would you design a culture around that without it resorting to sex slavery? $\endgroup$ – user32862 Mar 2 '17 at 19:32
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    $\begingroup$ @shardmartin - fetishy? How about biologically accurate? And why would men allow themselves to be enslaved? $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM Mar 2 '17 at 19:47
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    $\begingroup$ You would not need to get fetishy unless you wanted to go that route. Here are three ideas: 1. Men are given dangerous jobs because their lives don't really matter. 2. Those who excel (sports, business, arts, science, etc.) are treated like celebrities and have a choice of mates. This also strengthens the gene pool. 3. Men are treated like pet cats (cuddly and nice to have around but they don't plan the family budget). #2 makes the most balanced society. I gave multiple options because they can all work depending on the story you want to tell. $\endgroup$ – ShadoCat Mar 2 '17 at 19:54
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    $\begingroup$ Actually, in my previous comment, #1 can combine with #2. If a man has no other redeeming qualities, surviving something dangerous gives him a chance. $\endgroup$ – ShadoCat Mar 2 '17 at 19:58
  • $\begingroup$ @AndreiROM, if the magic makes women powerful enough, then I simply see a gender role reversal. I agree that sex slaves would be unlikely in a modern society but may have happened in some cultures in the past. $\endgroup$ – ShadoCat Mar 2 '17 at 20:05
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Does there need to be limitations on what magic can do?

You have already set limitations.

It requires training, some females being stronger than others. Magic takes the form of spells and rituals, is time consuming, and requires multiple components.

If an activity is time consuming and expensive, then it's likely to be practiced by an elite and not by commonners. And you would need a much better reason than "men have no skill in a particular field (aka magic)" to have a society where all women are elite and all men are commonners. So you're going to have individuals of both sex in all social categories. Poor people are not going to waste ressources if there is a cheaper, faster way to support themselves and their families.

Also if you can't cast spells on-the-fly, magic won't help you in a direct fight. So men keep the advantage here. In a battle, you would have to protect your magicians until they can cast a powerfull spell.

Details to think about.

There are still too few details about your magic system. Can magic potentially do everything? Can it create life? In that case you could have some women-only communities or an 'amazon party' if your political setting allows it.

It is often combined with technology to form a sort of magitech civilization.

Can men use this magitech? If so it greatly promotes equality.

Does your magic has clear known rules to set up spells and rituals? If yes, you wouldn't need magic powers to actually invent spells, you just need to learn these rules. You would still need magic users to test them but men could take part to the engineering process.

There is another path.

Your setting does not automatically mean that women are all powerfull, it could even mean the exact opposite. By giving them magic powers you're giving them value. What have value can be sold. And since magic requires time, it can hardly be used for self-defense. In the end you can have a very misogyn society in which women are treated as valuables, where great magic power is more of a curse, where women are concealed for their own safety.


As you can see there is a whole world of possibilities. Keep in mind that societies don't pop out of nowhere, they have a history, a culture and rules that are not always made of pure logic.

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Take a step back and examine how society would develop, especially prior to technology being nearly as effective as magic.

Men would be relatively useless other than as cannon fodder compared to spellcasting women. On the other hand, you can afford to lose many men in a society and maintain birth rates, so losing them doesn't cost much.

Magic would be used to save women in child birth (as a wizard, I'd want to make childbirth safer, it would be a high priority). Magic using soldiers would be far more effective than non-magic using soldiers; societies that made the women march to war would wipe out ones that did not. On the other hand, spending women's lives cheaply would cost you your next generation of soldiers.

Finding ways to use relatively useless men to fight effectively would be highly useful; creating magical weapons and tools to give men a chance against female wizards would be useful. The loss of the magic-clad soldier could be cheaper than losing the powerful wizard who equipped them.

We should expect the usual hyperbolic social power curve. So we'd have many women who, despite using magic, are peasants, prior to the equivalent of an industrial revolution. Hedge magic to grow crops and the like. Again, being able to enchant tools to have the men do grunt work becomes useful here, boosting male productivity beyond the simple mundane.

Such tools would be benieth the notice of master wizards, a chore for lesser wizards to work at to provide the expendible cannon fodder and serfs increased productivity. The use of men in bondage would reduce the number of socially acceptable mates for higher status women; possibly you'd have a few "breeder" men selected for their appearance, social status (parent), or other reasons (maybe men carry the blood of being a powerful wizard; so the male offspring of powerful wizards becomes valuable that way).

Such a society, where armies of expendible men fight for their wizard-queens, and lesser wizards generate weapons for them to use in these proxy-wars, while women who where less good at magic get relegated to hedge-magic, could go on for a while.

The creation of better enchanted tools, where a guide of (possibly male-dominated) artificers who design and build mundane items to be enchanted, could lead to a technological signularity.

As these tools become able to rival and eventually exceed the productivity of a competent wizard at doing various tasks, not only does half of the population become no longer a dead weight on society, but the ability to store value longer than a wizard concentrates on a spell grows the economy. First at a few percentage points faster than population growth, and eventually faster.

The society that embraces this technological revolution and (limited) men's liberation ould experience an increase in power. The art and craft of using magic and technology efficiently together, making lesser wizard's and mere men able to produce goods, weapons and resources at increasing rates, could raise a backwater isolated community to being a regional, then world power in the matter of centuries or decades.

Locally, socieities that mimic this technomagic revolution keep up; those that do not are overwealmed. The leaders of this revolution start to spread over the world, drawing on magical and technological resources via a growing trade network. The increased agricultural productivity and reduced death rate from pointless wars gives them a large population, and their trade craft can destroy entire wizard-citadels if they don't bow down and obey.

Still, remnants remain. The idea that men are more expendible and women are in command (the matriarchy) is part and parcel of religion, society, military and trade.

Men carry the enchanted weapons of war and are the blunt edge of the knife. Women command and maintain these weapons and tools, and are only used in combat when everything else fails. Safe "core" zones are built (be they ships or forts), with soldiers deploying out from it in conflict. Women only engage in combat in extreme situations, or in defensive war; it is better to waste a hundred men clad in moonshine and steel than one combat wizard.

With a tradition of a large female:male ratio, the binary family is unlikely. So, women form "covens" of family support. These covens have a variable amount of men in service to them, of varying status, and the men are considered possessions of the coven that own them.

A naval vessel will have one or more covens on it, with the crew being owned by that(ose) coven(s). Men can be traded or lent from one coven to another; but men without a coven are considered unnatural and unsafe (feral).

The magictech revolution resulted in men having more rights than they used to; covens can no longer do whatever they want to their men, they have some limited human rights. In some societies men may even have to actually consent to being owned by a coven.

Extremely liberal covens exist that let their men have lots of freedom. Some women take a man into a coven and don't manage them at all, as part of "men's liberation". This satisfied the law, while thumbing its nose at tradition.

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I would advise considering the real world. Education (or knowledge or learning or however you want to put it) is time consuming, powerful, and forms the bedrock of society. Yet, there are places where women's access to education is highly restricted, and even places where women are killed for trying to attend school. Even in those places, or arguably especially in those places, women are far from irrelevant - they are valuable as commodities and useful for functions that don't require an education.

It's not a good deal for these women, of course, but unskilled labor, having children and romantic or sexual relationships are all roles held by women in these real-world, misogynistic societies. And make no mistake, these societies would not function without the same women they oppress, mistreat and ostensibly hold in such low regard. You could simply flip the gender roles - powerful female mages spend their fortunes amassing harems of men, common families pay dowries to marry off their sons into higher status families, men who can't make it as boy toys toil in unskilled, non-magical professions to make a living, and so forth. Even a magical world is going to need ditch-diggers and maids and sexual relationships, after all.

And of course, that's based on the most extreme real-world examples where deliberate, extreme discrimination is the norm. You could also take the model of Western societies from the early and mid 20th centuries. Because of the lack of opportunities afforded to women, they were extremely under-represented in positions of power, and the best paying prodessions, but they were nurses and secretaries and waitresses and clerks housewives and so on. Again, no reason you can't flip that script. Non-magical men can't expect to be business executives or congresswomen or anything powerful and important, but they can certainly make a living wage and be an essential part of society as a common working stiff.

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I don't have the required reputation to leave a comment so this will have to go as an answer:

There is a novel by Naomi Alderman called The Power in which women develop the power to control electricity. I highly recommend you read that book before continuing with your world; it will give you a lot of insight into how one author thinks this power imbalance would shape society. Her book mainly focuses on the transient stage of this process as the power imbalance is suddenly introduced into the present day real world. Your world sounds like it would be in some kind of steady state and therefore the later stages of Alderman's novel will be of more use to you.

It is also worth casting a glance to medieval Patriarchal societies. If you replace "magic" in your world with education and strength and give it to men instead of women then you will be able to draw a lot of parallels. Where reproduction is necessary neither gender can be entirely obsolete but by having your power in the same gender that bares children you will encounter some challenges given that and house work were the only roles afforded to medieval women. Perhaps consider some system child birth from an artificial womb rendering men responsible.

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  • $\begingroup$ Excellent answer by a newbie! Definitely deserves a +rep. I only wish you would have added some more detail to what that novel portrays. Also a bit more information would have helped a lot about which societies to look into, when you mention medieval Patriarchal societies. Very precise and helpful otherwise. Keep writing! $\endgroup$ – Youstay Igo Mar 3 '17 at 11:37
  • $\begingroup$ I didn't want to spoil the novel for people that hadn't read it! If I can find the time I'll edit to give more details without major plot points and add references for historical context. $\endgroup$ – Duke of Sam Mar 6 '17 at 10:30
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You mention "some females being stronger than others". If this is the case, you could make it such that males are the 'carrier' for whatever genetics or other factors determine the magical strength of their offspring.

This would mean men would be responsible for maintaining the legacy of the families and a male whose offspring were powerful in magic would probably tend to gather a high status, perhaps taking up teaching and guiding roles for their children and the next generation.

In fact if you look at many societies today and in the past, you will quickly see that being the strongest, smartest or somehow most useful does not necessarily mean high value and power. Frequently circumstance of birth, family, genetic traits and dynasty play an equally if not more important part.

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There are many solutions to the more general version of this question: Magic is only available to a part of the population, how does the rest of the population still matter?

While the most common answer is to make the number of magic users low, the male/female split is not the only one where the number is high.

In general, the non-magic-users can only continue to matter if they offer something that the magic-users don't have. That means magic cannot be all-powerful. If it replaces all other abilities, in other words, if there is a spell for anything, non-magic-users are useless. In the case of a gender-split, they would be kept for breeding only. To matter in society, magic has to have a cost and/or limits.

A common cost is time.

Either learning magic takes so much time that you cannot learn anything else, so all professions that need considerable skill will be done by non-magic-users. If you cannot build a house or bake a bread or forge a sword by magic, and learning magic is a full education, then those builders, bakers and smiths are still important to society.

Alternatively, casting magic could be the time-consuming process. If it takes more than a few seconds to cast a spell, magic is useless in melee combat or any full-contact situation. If it takes minutes or hours, many things can be achieved faster and easier without magic than with. This is obviously the direction you are taking.

Another common cost is resources.

You have this in your description as well. If a spell takes components, those components can be rare/expensive, limiting magic. Sure, the witch can fly over the city to visit her aunt, but if the spell consumes a special type of frog that takes hours to find, it's faster (factoring in search time) and easier to just walk. By the same metric, non-magically produced goods can be cheaper, faster and easier to make then magical ones.

That leads to a common type of limit. In many magic systems, there are broad classes of what magic simply cannot do. For example, if magic cannot create or change anything permanently, all crafts, food production, etc. is limited to non-magical means. You can fly and fight and move things around with magic, but if you want to eat, if you want to wear clothes, magic can at best offer temporary workarounds.

And finally, you have the whole area of culture, education and arts. Even if magic can do everything, cheaply, you still need teachers, painters, artists, musicians, writers, actors, prostitutes, politicians, traders and a million others whose work may be supported by magic, but not obsoleted (fine, the trader may have a flying carpet instead of a horse-drawn waggon, but he still needs to haggle, find good buying and selling spots, etc.)

Once you think about how society is actually built, you realize that unless your magic is instant, instinctive and without material costs, there are always areas where the mundane remains.

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You could make it so that the most powerful mages are considered to be sort of toffee-nosed, airy fairy, pie-in-the-sky people, out of touch with the ordinary people, locked away in their universities and parliaments debating higher philosophy, and thinking high opinions of themselves.

Sort of like the legal / political professions in real life (or at least how they are stereotypically regarded) - yes the law and politics affect us all, and form the bedrock of society, but most of us aren't practitioners and that hasn't made us redundant. The vast majority of people could go their entire lives without ever thinking about what some senator or lord or supreme-court judge thinks, even though what they say and the decisions they make end up affecting society and those people.

So while all females can perform magic, they are, as you say, at different levels - commoners are able to do magic, but only stuff like simple tasks, kind of "magician" level - stuff that helps them with their day-to-day life.

The more accomplished they become, the more interested (and encouraged by their peers) they are in magical academia and their magical accomplishments. They become more interested in angels dancing on the head of a pin than fixing your car.

The upshot of this is that men are still highly relevant in every-day life.

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Just to add a separate answer into the mix:

Perhaps using magic requires energy - as much as doing manual or intellectual work. So if you ask a woman use her magic to fix your car - she may be defying the laws of physics to do it where an actual mechanic would not - but it's still work to her, and so she may not be willing, or may still charge money, or may still get it slightly wrong. She might also be forced to introduce a magical component to your car which you might not want (because then you will have to ask / hire a mage to fix it in future)

It might work out just as effective to get a mechanic to do it (or even more so if it's a highly qualified mechanic)

Even if he does end up using tools that are partially powered by magic (i.e. was made by a woman or team containing women).

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I think what everyone is trying to get at is "division of labor." In today's society, we have a number of people who are practically wizards at their job, and can do incredible things with finances, with the law, with money, with engineering and programming. These people still need support and to collaborate with people inside and outside their field. For example, I worked for a woman who owned a business. The husband was the CFO, and he worked with the creative side as well, since it was a small business.

In many cases, pooling finances and time are beneficial to division of labor and are less formal in spousal relationships where the benefit is greater than sum of the parts. In other words, they have a symbiotic relationship with each other, mutually beneficial to both parties.

So what would men do in this society? Whatever needs to be done, whether its maintain technology, or just plain finance, logistics, home care (although this is an extreme case). And do all women perform magic simply because they can?

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protected by Serban Tanasa Mar 3 '17 at 13:52

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