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In human cultures around the world, most wars are fought by men. There are many theories as to why this is the case, first and foremost that females are simply less expendable than men when it comes to propagation of the species, and as such we have evolved to keep them out of harm's way when it comes to conflicts.

Many fictional settings contain cultures where this norm is reversed. Females form the bulk of the army, going forth and fighting, while males are either relegated to housework, or else absent altogether. The Amazons, for example, were a band of all-female warriors from Greek mythology.

In the real world, there exist some types of animals, such as bees, in which female workers form the bulk of what would be considered "warriors". However, while they may be genetically female, worker bees are ultimately drones that are incapable of reproduction. Would it be possible for female warriors to exist that aren't just drones? What biological or behavior changes would cause this sort of reversal? What would cause a culture or race of beings to favor females as their primary warriors?

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    $\begingroup$ There is no way to have a successful army made of women unless the technological level of the society is sufficiently advanced. Until the end of the 20th century war was a very physical business, where bulk and physical strength were essential. Today, when war is much less physical and more cerebral one can easily imagine female soldiers pushing the buttons and actuating the joysticks; moreover, the 2nd World War showed that not being on the frontline is not necessarily conducive to longer life expectancy -- see Dresden, Hamburg, Hiroshima -- so that the expendability of males is irrelevant. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Jun 15 '17 at 0:36
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    $\begingroup$ It's not a duplicate, but you may be interested in my old question What evolutionary factors can contribute to large sexual dimorphism in large mammals? Some of the same mechanisms could easily be relevant. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Jun 15 '17 at 13:01
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP ckersch was open to changing the biology of the species, as such it's entirely possible for females to be the best suited to combat because his species could have females the stronger more aggressive sex. $\endgroup$ – dsollen Jun 15 '17 at 13:22
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    $\begingroup$ This question currently seems very broad and/or opinion-based. Would you be able to narrow down what you're asking for, or provide some criteria by which answers can be judged? $\endgroup$ – DaaaahWhoosh Jun 15 '17 at 14:04
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    $\begingroup$ More directly related to the question, consider birds (and all other animals but mammals). With egg-layers, there's no lengthy gestation and lactation. You'll find some species where the male does all the work after the egg is laid, others where there is completely equal sharing of child-raising responsibilities. So that's my answer: your female warriors lay eggs, and the males incubate and raise the young. (Had that asteroid not killed off most of the dinosaurs ... who knows? ) $\endgroup$ – nigel222 Jun 15 '17 at 14:39

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Testosterone.

Hyenas are real world examples of a species where the female is dominant and have high levels of testosterone (among other hormones), and their physiology is different enough from other animals that hyenas' brains seem to process hormones differently – it's not "just" a lot of testosterone, they are physically different.

They live in large family groups with a strict social order. Leadership seems to be inherited, with pups of the lead female ranking highly from birth. Clans consist of sisters, aunts, daughters – matriarchies are a sure thing, patriarchies are not so clear. Male lions kill existing cubs (sometimes even their own) to send the females into heat. Hyenas have no such patriarchy problem. Their men stay home to watch the children.

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    $\begingroup$ This wouldn't look quite human, as females would look pretty different. In the case of hyenas, females are slightly larger than males, and female genitalia are all but indistinguishable from male genitalia. A human-like group like this wouldn't be a race of sexy Amazon warriors; it would be a race of androgynous monstrosities. Whether or not that is acceptable depends on genre and audience :) $\endgroup$ – Cheezey Jun 15 '17 at 18:37
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    $\begingroup$ Most animal groups are lead by the oldest female. The dominant-male/silverback/stallion/lion is not 'in charge' of the pack. They are in charge of keeping other males away but not of where the pack goes next. The difference is boy hyeanas is don't even have that job! $\endgroup$ – Daron Jun 15 '17 at 19:50
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    $\begingroup$ @cheezey There is a bit of misconception however regarding the structure of Hyena's genitalia, regarding testosterone. The external, penis-like clitoris of the spotted hyena has nothing to do with testosterone levels, and is present even before hormone production starts. It's a morphological difference unrelated to sex hormones. $\endgroup$ – T. Sar - Reinstate Monica Jun 16 '17 at 14:42
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Scarcity.

If your society has almost no men, then you do not want to risk the few (or one) you have. He will be busy. But why would a society have no men?

  • They died of a disease to which females are more resistant. Maybe a lot of females died too, but almost all the men did.
  • They were taken by another group or power that only wanted men. The Venusians, it stands to reason.
  • They were killed. Maybe by some society who thought they would teach these people a lesson. Surprise! The ladies you left behind turned into badasses.
  • They all got together and did something really stupid. This is the one that is most believable.
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    $\begingroup$ Yeah, thats pretty much it. Besides women becoming impowered like the amazons, scarcity is the only real reason. Honestly it is much more common and logical for males to be wariors, though whether women are just supporting or take on a matriarchal role should really differ allot more $\endgroup$ – Necessity Jun 15 '17 at 0:38
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    $\begingroup$ Like @Necessity said. Maybe have something like Haemophilia but make it much more common. That would pretty much rule out male warriors. $\endgroup$ – Frauke Jun 15 '17 at 16:30
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    $\begingroup$ There's a Polish film from 80s called "Seksmisja" ("Sexmission" en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sexmission) with premise built on points 1,3 and 4: there was a war, and one side developed bomb which was able to "paralyse" male genes. It worked too well and most of males died. Protagonists of the film are two guys who were test subjects in hibernation experiment, and thus survived the war to be awakened after 50 years, instead of 3. Film is a pastiche of totalitarian regimes (here, totalitarian matriarchy where absence of males is strictly enforced by various means), and a great action-comedy. $\endgroup$ – M i ech Jun 15 '17 at 19:15
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    $\begingroup$ You could just have an extremely low male birth rate. Maybe only one in 1000 children is male (the equivalent of there being only ~330,000 men in the US - about half the population of Washington, D.C.). $\endgroup$ – Chris M. Jun 15 '17 at 20:15
  • $\begingroup$ @FraukeNonnenmacher -- that'd be a great answer if expanded on -- a X-linked recessive condition (like haemophilia A or B) that's fairly common and debilitating to one's combat ability would indeed force women into combat $\endgroup$ – Shalvenay Jun 16 '17 at 2:20
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Pregnancy being a 10 month investment on the part of the woman, with the last couple months being almost immobilized, traditionally limits women's ability to become dedicated warriors. And then there is breastfeeding which ranges from 6 months minimum (as recommended by the medical establishment) to up to 4-5 years in hunter-gatherer societies where cow milk isn't available.

The huge investment of time and energy a mother puts into her baby is worth it to her because she is guaranteed to have 50% of her genes pass along into her baby. Meanwhile, before the advent of genetic testing, a man had no guarantees the child he was providing for were of his own genes. Simultaneously, a man could impregnate many women, while a woman could bear the child of only one man at a time (barring fraternal twins).

These factors make the risk tolerance (such as tendency towards violence) greater for men than for women, in order to achieve the payoff of having a mate or multiple mates who would bear one's own children.

Counter these biological underpinnings and you create the conditions where women may gain more by becoming warriors. The foremost invention is the uterine replicator per Bujold's Vorkosigan series - a woman can make a child whenever she wants, at minimal cost to herself! She could even make a child from multiple fathers using genetic technology. With enough resources, she could create as many children from as many fathers as she wanted.

With strong, liberated women (literally liberated from the task of childbearing), who achieve equal or greater economic power as men, all it would take is another societal shock to reverse the warrior-gender imbalance. Maybe the population of men is drastically reduced, which creates competition among women for the men. Or maybe men are determined to be not very necessary since with proper handling a single man can produce plenty of sperm to fertilize many eggs.

Your world would probably need to be high tech because in low tech settings, sexual dimorphism favors men for wielding muscle-powered weapons.

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    $\begingroup$ I think you mean dimorphism rather than bimorphism here. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Jun 15 '17 at 9:29
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    $\begingroup$ Can we have this world today, please? $\endgroup$ – insanity Jun 15 '17 at 11:23
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    $\begingroup$ Even with uterine-replicator technology, women would not become the primary warrior sex. Male physiology is VASTLY superior for all of the basic challenges of combat. Not just physical strength, speed, and stamina (which is a huge differentiator), but psycho-social adjustments, like the "pack behavior" men are capable of engaging in with groups of other men that leads to highly effective combat teams. Any society that relied on primarily female warriors would be at a SIGNIFICANT disadvantage against any society that did not. $\endgroup$ – JBiggs Jun 16 '17 at 13:40
  • $\begingroup$ Someone has clearly not seen a gang of high school girls. $\endgroup$ – Keith Morrison Sep 4 at 16:57
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The big problem with female warfare (for humans) is a fairly simple logic problem of breeding ability. Yes, there's selective pressures for men being generally stronger, but that's more of a result of the following than anything else; solve this problem, and the selective pressures move the other way.

Say you have two tribes, each of 100 people, 50/50 men and women.

Tribe 1 has male led warfare. Tribe 2 has female led warfare. The two tribes go to war. It's pretty nasty, and 80% of the warriors on each side die or are permanently incapacitated.

Tribe 1: 10 men, 50 women
Tribe 2: 50 men, 10 women

You can probably see the problem already. The men in Tribe 1 can impregnate all 50 women. The men in Tribe 2 can only impregnate 10 women. Let's say relations between the two tribes cool down for 25 years, and each woman is able to successfully raise two kids to adulthood (on average, 1 boy, 1 girl).

Tribe 1: 60 men, 100 women
Tribe 2: 60 men, 20 women

The war heats back up. Tribe 1 has 60 warriors. Tribe 2 has 20 warriors. Tribe 1 annihilates Tribe 2.

Bees can have female soldiers because those females are reproductively expendable: they can't breed at all. Humans do not have that luxury.

So how do we solve this?

I'm not sure you can without significantly changing how humans work. In early societies, it was common for women to have 10-15 pregnancies and raise 5-10 surviving children. Given that a pregnancy takes you out of the action for at least 5 months, then (if the baby survives) you have to worry about feeding the baby for the next 5-12 months, 10 pregnancies is going to eat up the entire period of your life that you would be fit enough for warfare.

Some possible ideas:

  1. Post-family warfare: your warriors are people who have finished having children. Problem: they are not as fit as younger people.

  2. Sterile women. Most of the women in the society are sterile, and more sterile women are born than men. This is your "drone" situation, makes me a little uncomfortable talking about it.

  3. Strictly enforced mating-for-life. And I don't mean, "Puritan Christians will shun you and put a badge on your clothes if you're caught cheating." I mean some kind of biological switch whereby, once you're with someone, you are fully repulsed by anyone else. In this scenario, you'd want an equal number of men and women to die in war, since any imbalance would cause a breeding bottleneck. Also, all widows/widowers are drafted into military service.

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  • $\begingroup$ If you're uncomfortable talking about drones, use the work of others who aren't. Eric Flint's first published novel, "Mother of Demons", had a society which was basically that (kind of like bees?) - warrior sterile females; non-sterile mother females, and physically weak males. $\endgroup$ – user4239 Jun 15 '17 at 16:18
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Different Male/Female Birthrates

Biologically speaking, humans have roughly one child per gestation (twins, triples, etc. being relatively rare don't bump the average up by much) and the odds of male:female birth are basically 50:50. If the ratio were skewed such that female babies were much more common than males, then society as a whole would view females as much more expendable for war than we ever have in the past. (i.e. if only 1-in-100 children born were male, then "men and boys first" would make much more sense than "women and children first" in disaster/survival situations.)

The societal roles, expectations, values, etc. could all change very little or quite significantly depending on the ratios involved and their causes/prevalence. Most of those changes can be plausibly tweaked for your fictional setting, however. You can assume a matriarchal society could be a perfect war-free utopia, or you could assume that the womenfolk would be the ones to take up arms.


Depending on the fictional world you want to create, there are a few ways that a female-skewed gender imbalance might occur:

  1. Infanticide - This is basically how China's gender gap became so pronounced. If society wants all boys then aborting lots of girls will adjust the ratio directly.

    The problem here is that back in "warrior" times gender determination occurred after birth, and childbirth itself was a rather dangerous and costly (energy intensive) undertaking. Throwing away half of all living offspring only raises the average societal investment per child.

  2. Magical/Herbal Remedy - Pretend that you can take a plant/pill to guarantee female offspring.

    Unlike the infanticide method above, this method wouldn't put would-be-mothers through an exhausting nine-month coin-flip. Instead, society could push the gender-gap as far as they want or need. If a small nation could somehow guarantee itself relative safety for a generation or so, then heavily skewing the gender towards female would be the fastest way to grow the population. Although men may be physically stronger warriors, if your population can double in less than half the time you should be able to field larger armies and/or bounce back faster from bouts of famine/disease.

  3. Genetic Birthrate Factors - Humans don't birth at exactly 50:50 male/female because fetal mortality is slightly worse for girls on average. If fetal mortality weren't slightly different, but drastically different, then birthrate ratios could shape society at large.

    If a dominant X-chromosomal trait makes viable female embryos very likely to twin, then the female birthrate could increase (provided of course that death-during-childbirth doesn't become significantly more likely when carrying twins) and those offspring would out-breed non-twinning mothers until the trait became widespread in the population. Alternatively, if the only Y-chromosomes in the gene pool are very sickly, and for example cause Y-chromosomal sperm to swim very poorly or have cause male embryos to have very low early viability, then those factors could similarly raise the female birthrate (by lowering the relative male birthrate).


Ultimately, it would all depend on what you want for your fictional world. Is this some Amazonian island in a male-dominated world, or is female-army the worldwide norm? Is the female birthrate something that society engineers, or something natural? If the Amazonian army wins and starts to take over the world, do they dominate the gene pool or do the Amazonian genes become watered down?

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If warfare emphasised the ability to multitask, that would be a trait that would tend to favour human females than males. This is increasingly the case, with technology multiplying each person's fighting ability at the risk of overloading the war fighter's attention to pay attention to everything happening in the combat zone.

Having said that, we're talking about changes to the species, so anything that increased mental acuity and speed, aggression, bravery and ability to sacrifice the self in favour of the greater good in the females would be great. Much of these can be achieved by changes in hormones or development, and group bonding would help with the self-sacrifice.

Alternatively, or perhaps in addition, it's possible that there are corresponding changes to the males. If their primary biological role was to provide sperm (as in some fishes), they might be physically small and weak. Or perhaps they take more after seahorses, and possibly incubate the babies or take care of the young.

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  • $\begingroup$ A very minor multitasking advantage in one very specific, arbitrarily generated, multitasking example in a study doesn't equate to a meaningful multitasking advantage in real life. Besides which men have been shown to be better at multitasking when it involves spatial tasks, as any multitasking in combat likely would. I don't see how any change in multitasking could have a noticeable difference in effectiveness giving how minor the possible advantage women have there vs the more blatant male advantages of size, strength, and general aggressiveness. $\endgroup$ – dsollen Jun 15 '17 at 13:15
  • $\begingroup$ The OP wasn't asking about why men would be the superior warrior or form the bulk of the army as that's pretty obviously the situation that is the case now. As it is, we don't (yet) have any definitive answers as to whether women's ability to multitask would outweigh men's spatial abilities in their ability to wage a technological war (and may never get one as the nature of war changes), so feel free to posit an alternate reason. $\endgroup$ – Pak Jun 15 '17 at 17:28
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Several other answers mention the biology of breeding, so there's you answer - flip the breeding behavior, flip the gender roles. Or at least alter them.

It could be that males carry and support the child, or must care for them when young, like seahorses where males carry the unborn, or emperor penguins where males brood the eggs. Or it could be, as in David Weber's series March Upcountry, that for whatever reason, the one depositing genetic material gives a single large gamete (egg), and the one receiving said material (and incubating the child) has an environment with many competing gametes (sperm) - in which case the "male" vs "female" might be pretty academic.

Or in a situation where parenting duties are, by some required necessity, more evenly split, and shuffling pairings very rare (like a monogamous species) there would be no particular pressure to gendered armies, since a child cannot survive without both parents. After all, it's better for a pair to fight and die, and loose their future possible offspring, rather than two of the same gender fight and die and loose the potential of two breeding pairs.

In that case, I would expect to see armies evenly split between genders. But culture could fill in the gaps to nudge these equal-opportunity armies into more female ones - maybe something giving a higher fatality to males (so more widows able to fight), or something where specialization leaves the females with more tools suited for a fight (who is in nearby, who has tools, who has other duties) which can snowball through culture to expect fighting to be done by women, instead of men, and thus demand from one and prevent the other till that tendency is treated as fact.

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  • $\begingroup$ In March Upcountry, the males are still the dominant warrior sex, but I get your point. $\endgroup$ – Josh Taub Jun 20 '17 at 22:53
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Size.

If females are, on average, larger/stronger than their male counterparts, then it would make sense for them to engage in hunts or battles.

One such example is the Tyrannosaurus Rex, where the female is much larger than the male.

Another example is the Anglerfish, where the males are so much smaller than the females that they instead function like parasites and latch onto females who do the hunting.

Finally, female spiders can grow to be much larger than their mates, and will even eat them after mating (i.e. after the male has provided the necessary reproductive utility and is now useless).

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First, it is important (but not so easy) to separate true biological factors from society-imposed gender roles. In real history, women were not supposed to serve as soldiers, even if individually they might have had a greater talent for it. So, for argument sake, I assume that in your society all such stereotypes are removed and soldiers are judged entirely on their ability.

We can look at this question in two ways - one with having human biology preserved as it is, and one where we are allowed to play with it.

  1. No changes in biology. Female soldiers are in big disadvantage. They are smaller and weaker, have less stamina and have extra physiological needs that men don't have. In modern warfare, those disadvantages can be alleviated, but in cold weapons era, women, in general, could not be a match for men. A common trope with female archers is not realistic - you need a very good strength to shot from a longbow. So, even if women can serve in the army, only a few can be better than men.

  2. Change in biology. If we allow females to be physically superior to males in at least one aspect, whole picture changes. Strength, speed, endurance - any of these factors can turn females into superior warriors.

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Females are generally smaller than males: less muscular, shorter, lighter frames, often half the weight (if fit). They consume fewer calories. Make the war require small soldiers for tight spaces; due to the equipment, or to reduce the energy of sending them to space and sustaining them there, or having chronically poor supplies of food and thus requiring females on the small end of the spectrum as the only candidates that can really do the job.

Under physical or nutritional stress, women will tend to stop menstruating and are not likely to get pregnant in an army full of females; so these are not big concerns (and menstruation is not disability anyway).

Their brains and autonomy will remain intact: Think of it as two soldiers for the price of one (if the 'price' is food, shelter, and transport costs). Women can also be highly trained in martial arts (and armed martial arts; involving knives; guns, etc). This will offset most of the muscular advantage of males in battle: A woman can use a knife to fatal effect as well as a man. Plus, the vast majority of modern warfare does not demand any physical wrestling or tests of sheer strength.

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In real history, most armies and war bands were mostly composed of young men mostly in their twenties with some older and younger men. Female warriors and soldiers have been comparatively rare. But even a comparatively minor part of military history would contain many thousands and probably millions of examples.

This list may be useful for examples of individual woman warriors and maybe a few all female military units.

http://www.rejectedprincesses.com/women-in-combat1

However, there have been military units composed of females.

The Dahomey amazons were apparently an rather elite unit in the mostly male forces of Dahomey.

https://www.google.com/search?q=dahomey+amazons&oq=Dahomy+a&aqs=chrome.1.69i57j0l5.6207j0j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-82

And during the desperate last stages of the Paraguayan War of 1864-1870 there were units of boys and units of women.

I have heard of units of Russian female warriors in WWII, though that was more modern warfare than fantasy stories depict.

Women in Battle by John Laffin (1967) probably contains many stories about individual female warriors. But it might mention other units of female warriors.

https://www.google.com/search?q=John+Laffin+Women+in+battle&oq=John+Laffin+Women+in+battle&aqs=chrome..69i57.8727j0j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-83

The thought has occurred to me that woman archers should be quite dangerous. I think that anyone shot by a woman or a child isn't going to complain that the arrow didn't hit hard enough.

Of course the average man could probably draw a bow more powerfully than the average woman and thus should be able to shoot at a woman at a distance where an average woman could not shoot back at him. But if the available materials for bow making limit the draw strength of bows enough that an average woman can draw and shoot a bow as well as an average man, women can be as good as men as archers. Mounted archers have been an important part of many armies in history. And if your world's horses are very small and light, perhaps average women could ride longer and faster than average men could and thus would be preferred as mounted archers.

In more modern and more push button warfare, women should be as effective as men despite differences in average strength.

I can imagine that in primitive aerial warfare where airships or airplanes cannot carry heavy loads, female pilots, navigators, and bombardiers may be preferred to males to save weight.

Similarly in early and comparatively low tech space warfare females could be preferred in order to reduce crew weight.

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In terms of normal ground combat, human women are going to be inferior to men on average because women tend to be smaller and have less upper body strength. Modern weaponry evens out the advantages somewhat, but when you are marching down the road, that 11kg GPMG isn't going to magically become lighter because a woman is carrying it.

enter image description here

Still weighs 11kg plus tripod and ammunition....

But women socialize differently than men do, and there is a battlespace where they do have advantages.

Looking at how people interact on social media, women can be both better "friends" and far worse "enemies" than the average man. Men generally are solitary, or work effectively in small, task oriented groups (much like the Ancestors would go hunting in small groups for their family, clan or tribe). Women's socialization is different, and there are even entire memes and generalizations like "mean girls" to provide a "rule of thumb" to how women behave. (YMMV).

The Israeli Defence Force (IDF) has channeled this behaviour by recruiting women to form "Twitter Platoons" which are charged with monitoring the internet and engaging social media platforms to present Israeli messaging to the world, and counter anti Israeli messaging. This can be considered a form of PSYOPS, and evidently they are quite good at it, since there seems no signs of this unit disbanding any time soon.

enter image description here

Member of the "Twitter Platoon"

So for fighting on the cognitive plane. women may be capable of fighting at a much different level than men can.

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Cultural beliefs are not necessarily rational

Look at the many examples of sincerely held sexist or racist beliefs people have had throughout history. A hundred years ago a typical American (of either sex) would have been doubtful that a woman could drive a motor car. They would also have probably believed that certain races made better soldiers than others (Irish people were thought to be natural warriors and Africans not). All of this was nonsense of course but people were slow to question these received ideas.

War can be an expression of culture

War has not always been seen as competition between two sides to reach maximum military efficiency - this is actually quite a modern idea. In the past warfare has often been defined and limited by cultural norms. For example, the ultimate expression of medieval warfare was the clash of armored knights of horseback. This wasn't necessarily the best way of winning a battle in every given tactical situation, but people of the time were to some extent limited by their conceptions of the "proper" way to fight a battle.

So to answer your question: Imagine a warrior culture that celebrates something other than raw size and strength where men would be obviously superior. Imagine their form of war emphasizes cunning, dexterity or discipline (the Romans are a good example here - they believed that the discipline of the legionaries made them better soldiers than enemies like the Celts who they conceded were physically larger). Now let's suppose this society is matriarchal and has disparagingly sexist ideas about their menfolks' martial qualities:

"Of course mean can't be soldiers - they are too stupid to understand the tactics. They are only good for working on our farms"

"You could never trust a man in battle - they are all cowards who would run away at the first sign of danger"

These ideas need not be scientifically true because if people were raised from birth being told these things over and over they would conceivably be as slow to question them as we have been in the past over similarly sexist ideas.

Of course, all this begs the question of how that society might have got into that state in the first place as admittedly there aren't many examples of matriarchal societies.

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  • $\begingroup$ That society would de destroyed by the first horde or aggressive empire that appears near it's borders: How long would female warriors, that are weaker and suffer more muscular injuries then males, last against, say, the assyrians? $\endgroup$ – Geronimo Sep 5 at 14:56
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    $\begingroup$ I don't disagree with your observation, but I think you miss my point - societies don't always organize themselves for maximum military effectiveness. Would it not be quite historically realistic for this society to be defeated in battle by the Assyrians? After all, the Assyrians defeated lots of different people. $\endgroup$ – Ravi Sep 6 at 11:47
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In order to make a situation in which women are favored over men, you need to implement the physical differences. The biggest difference between men and women is physical size/ strength. This may seem like a disadvantage for women, but it can be an advantage in some places. For example, on a ship crossing an ocean, travelling thousands of miles, storing food and conserving space are imperative. An all-woman crew could require less food, and take up less space, allowing for more sailors.

So any situation in which supplies/ space is limited, women may have an advantage logistically.

I do not know the era of your world, but another advantage is that women breathe less air. So in a submarine or in space, women could be logistically more efficient.

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Religious/Cultural habits

If you don't want to change anything biological, you could go down the road of some sort of religious belief or cultural trend.

A religious commandment directly forbidding men from violence or they won't get into the afterlife, this should be enough of a reason to dissuade men from joining the army unless they want to go down the Mulan route.

Or, you could by proxy use religion to make men useless in an army. A religion enforced malnutrition or sickness. Perhaps men are outright forbidden to eat certain foods and thereby are all malnourished, or all men ritually eat certain foods which cause illness. This makes men weak, and people are just used to men being weak and sickly as their natural condition. Perhaps only men are allowed to take drugs, which makes them unreliable warriors. Or men habitually take opiates while women take khat or something.

The options are endless really.

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Replace live birth with eggs

This one's pretty simple, actually. Much of our presupposed notions of social order come from biology. A big one is that with mammals, the females are often vulnerable for a long time just to create - in the case of human beings - one child.

Elephants take much longer than humans to produce children and twins are extremely rare.

An egg-laying species would not have this problem. Once the eggs have been laid, the males can watch over them while the women hunt.

Culturally, this could evolve into a kind of gender-swapped harem, where males are valued for their abilities to raise a large number of youths.

In addition, because the males do not have to gestate for any period of time, they need not worry about muscle strain, therefore freeing them up to perform more labor-intensive tasks required of a domestic setting. This could be very useful for a species engaged in agriculture: the women run the show, while the men work the fields and raise the young.

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I feel like some answers here take a great deal of experience of pregnancy for granted. That is where I would make changes. Shorten the fertile period of a woman's life. Make it age 15 to 25 or so. Human female anatomy is stupidly designed for having babies. It is far too easy to get caught in the birth canal. Look at one of many animations of childbirth. See all those rotations. Each one is necessary to get through the birth canal and is an opportunity for the mom to tear (and be more vulnerable to infection) and for the baby to get caught. Pregnancy and childbirth shouldn't have to be so deadly. Don't just widen the hips because that messes with knees. Smaller babies might help. Eight month pregnancies. Never have women laboring on their backs, more movement, standing, or on all fours. I've researched medieval obstetrical practices (for fun!). Even elite medieval women have evidence of severe bone loss because of pregnancy after pregnancy. They were likely using a wetnurse. Make sure your society has many sources of calcium in the diet.

My point is that if pregnancy and childbirth take less out of women they have more time and energy to devote to being a warrior.

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X-linked recessive issues

So-called "X-linked recessive disorders" are caused by a mutation in a gene on the X chromosome -- as a result, they are much more prevalent in men than women because even if the daughter gets a broken X chromosome from Mom, Dad provides a working one (provided he doesn't have the disorder himself), while the son is stuck with whatever Mom gives him for an X.

In particular, a commonplace X-linked recessive mutation that has negative effects on fitness for combat (such as the classic example of haemophilia A and B, or some type of dystrophy or hemolytic disorder), while helping the men survive some other threat in order to reproduce (like how G6PD deficiency protects those with the mutation against malaria), would drive women (who are less likely to be affected) into combat due to many of the men simply being unable to fight well (or even at all).

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My own fictional setting is similar. Women dominate warfare, particularly cavalry - and even where most footsoldiers are men - as is the case in the navy - women are still predominant among the higher ranks. I mostly handwave it, but where I have to explain something, I refer to contraception; it is free or cheap (the seeds of the plant called margan), widely practiced, and makes women able to not only control whether they get pregnant or not, but to decide when and to whom they will get pregnant. The matriarchal system then makes sure that if they say that some man is the father of the child they are expecting, the burden of evidence falls upon the man, not upon the woman. Therefore they don't fear rape - rather the men fear being married against their will - nor singlemothership, for they will be able to force marriage upon practically any man they wish (exception being, of course, already married men and priests, which to them are the same thing, as priests are "married" to the Goddess). As a consequence, higher class men tend to marry very early; pre-natal marriages are even common. There are several contradictions and non-sequiturs in this tale (how does it happen that low fertility doesn't hamper their military strenght, allowing some marginal patriarchal society to overcome them, or how greater physical strength doesn't make male soldiers a natural choice, etc.) But if I was going to explain each peculiarity of that society, it would not be a fictional work, but a sociological tractatus on an inexistent society (I do work upon that eventualy, but it is not the kernel of the storytelling).

Evidently, we do not know everything about our own species and civilisations, and they - being stuck at a kind of late feudalism - know even less about their own; so sometimes it is useful to just say that "nobody knows for sure; Arta the Grammarian thinks it is because this and that, but Gisliin the Nitpicker derides her 'incompetence' and says it is obviously the other way round".

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As long as they contribute the egg, they are female. Feminine warriors, however, might be a little hard to cook up if you define femininity in the classical sense.

You can assert that they are,on an essential level, feminine by virtue of a particularly recognizable similarity, like a desire to shape their environment rather than adapt to it, which is highly constructive in caregivers and all around considered womanly. It would definitely give them a unique way of fighting.

On the physical side, they might be biologically configured to have stronger offspring if exposed to conflict in their lifetimes, leading to a belief that that's what "God intended".

Mammals, monotremes specifically, can lay eggs but that might make things a little too different.

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For primitive cultures:

To make female armies the norm, you have to find some way to make women more expendable than men.

Egg Laying (rm -rf slash) is a start but it doesn't go far enough. 1 male can impregnate a large number of females. The female can only gestate the offspring of 1 male. This can be overcome to some extent by having the females experience triggered ovulation with litters. Cats can have kittens from multiple males in the same litter. This only reduces the discrepancy, not eliminate it.

Before modern medicine giving birth was very dangerous. Killing off women through other means was just socially suicidal.

For advanced cultures:

Overpopulation reduces the issue. A good war killing off the women will do more for long term overpopulation elimination than killing off the men. If overpopulation isn't a problem then female armies will work in the short term but would still have long term consequences.

Artificial wombs will eliminate all of the above arguments. Then the only issue will be cultural.

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Women can only be as good as men in the battlefield if that battlefield doesn't demand too much physical activities. Women are weaker and suffer more lesions then men because testosterone. But if your battlefield depends upon knowledge and intelligence, the dimorphism won't matter. It doesn't matter if the crew of a nuclear submarine is male of female: it still sinks other ships and launches nukes.

So, you need knowledge warfare, that means modern and near-future warfare, dominated by drones, hacking and machinery that takes years to learn how to operate, like subs. Or magic, if magic is knowledge-based. Won't matter if it is a sorceress or sorcerer, the lightning bolts will fry you dead the same way.

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