Feb 14, 2012

The Dawnlands: Women on the Plains of Kadiz

Women comprise over half the actual Kadiz nomads and Hill People, as male fatality rates are extremely high. The disproportion becomes more extreme across age groups. While fatalities during pregnancy reduce the female population, once menopause arrives a female nomad has a good chance of living into her 70s or 80s. By contrast, even old men are expected to fight and to raid, and men are lucky to hit 55 or 60.

Nomad culture is ideologically misogynistic from a modern perspective. Power is theoretically concentrated in patriarchal heads of families who are allowed to deal with their wives and daughters as they please. Kadiz men are expected to have no compunctions about raping women from enemy clans, and are in fact expected to kidnap women and make them their wives. Beating women who disobey you is condoned by the law. There is no specific method by which one can be formally divorced. Women are theoretically just another form of property, worth about as much as a horse is, and useful mainly for the production of sons to inherit one's name and daughters to be traded for alliances.

In practice, of course, these are a set of ideological positions to which individual nomads may refer to legitimise their behaviour, but which are not uniformly held by all members of the Kadiz society, men and women alike. Women, like everyone else, have relatives who love and care for them, both men and other women. One may theoretically be permitted to beat one's wife, but doing so can provoke her family against you. This is not always true (the Kadiz are at least as problematic in blaming of domestic abuse victims for their own treatment as modern societies are), women are allowed to shame their male relatives if they do not protect her. While there is no specific method of divorce, a woman who wishes to de facto divorce her husband goes and lives with her male relatives (usually her father or her oldest adult son). Her relatives may put pressure on her to reconcile, but if the two cannot be reconciled, they will often marry her off to another man.

Women's roles in the clans are extremely important. Men spend most of their time ranching, trading, raiding, placating the gods and engaging in other high prestige fields (adventuring) while women and children do the vast majority of useful economic production. Weaving cloth, tanning hides, preparing food, and manufacturing most of the goods (clothes, tents, wagons, etc.) are almost entirely in the hands of women. Many also produce the weapons and armour the men use and wear, though smithing is mostly a male profession. Women also have a powerful informal say in the economic objectives of the clan because of this. If the tribe's prominent women tell the chief they need more furs for winter clothing, then they can expect that hunters will be sent to obtain the furs. Women tend to be sorcerers at the same rate as men, and this gives them additional importance and power.

While having many wives is idealised, most Kadiz men and Hillmen have at most one wife, at least if they are under 30. In fact, due to the high mortality rate, the opposite case is generally true. Most women will have more than one husband over the course of their lives. The nomads practice leviratic marriage by default, where a woman marries the brother of her dead husband, but many women take this opportunity to find another man in the clan or sept that they like and arrange a marriage with him. Some women also choose to remain widows, especially if they are post-menopausal or have adult children to care for them.

While most women are first married off after menarche, either when their mother(s) finds a suitable match or when they are abducted, there are multiple options available to the woman who does not want to be. The first is to change gender, which involves getting a name-tattoo, dressing as a man, and acting like one. Former women who pursue this course typically try to prevent the development of typical secondary sexual characteristics by binding their breasts and pursuing vigorous exercise to build muscle and reduce body fat. This is uncommon but not outside the accepted norms of behaviour. A former-woman doing this who pursues a relationship with a man is considered his catamite rather than his wife. Most former-women who choose this course take herbs and other concoctions believed to be contraceptives and abortifacents to avoid pregnancy.

The second is to either have sex with, or to be believed to have had sex with a ghost, devil, god or other spirit. Kadiz conceptions of female sexuality are strongly bound to notions of reproduction, and having sex with spirit entities calls the male lineage of any future progeny into account. Such a woman can continue to live as a woman, and even have lovers and be married, though most families will not pressure her to do so, since they are obligated to mention the fact when arranging the marriage, and most potential husbands find it a deal-breaker.

The third is to have some unique set of circumstances that interrupts the course of ordinary life. For example, most women's marriages are arranged by their mothers with minimal input from their husbands (though theoretically the husband has ultimate authority in the matter). A woman whose mother is dead and whose father has not remarried will often be free to choose her own mate when she pleases. She may experience gossip and judgment from other nomads until that time, but she is under no obligation to follow their wishes.

The fourth is to be a shaman. Both male and female shamans are forbidden to marry by custom, and are clearly tattooed on the face so that no one does anything as stupid as raping them. They may take lovers, although this is often seen as transgressive.

Kadiz society does not stigmatise rape victims (this is due to how common rape is), nor does it esteem virginity in men or women. Women are expected to enjoy sex as much as men, and allowed to express their sexual desires as openly as men do. Fidelity is important in both genders, though only men are allowed to have multiple wives simultaneously (and fidelity for them is interpreted as not sleeping with women in the clan or sept).

Abduction, often followed by rape, is unfortunately common on the plains. Kadiz and Hill People septs are exogamous, and there are often a shortage of available women within the clan to marry. This leads to raids. Kadiz rarely raid other Kadiz, and Hill People rarely raid other Hill People, each preferring the other as a target. Women are often carried off during these raids to become the wives of their kidnappers, and from a legal perspective, they do become the wives of these men whether they want to be or not.

While the paradigm of the practice is as above, the actual practice often varies from it. First, when Kadiz and Hill People specifically go raiding for wives (as opposed to other kinds of raids, during which they may simply grab women along with livestock and valuable objects), they rarely attack what will become their future relatives.

Instead, a group of Kadiz will approach a Hill People village in a large group, and make a show of force, typically including shouting, firing arrows in the air, brandishing weapons, beating shields, feats of derring-do, etc. The intent is to demonstrate that they are fearsome and deadly. At this point, the Hill People (or the Kadiz as appropriate) will send out a negotiator. The negotiator will meet up with the leader of the band, find out which young men are looking to be married, and what their families, wealth, and prospects are, and then arrange for an equal number of unmarried women to be given to them as wives. The negotiator may, of course, refuse, in which case the nomads will attack and carry off anyone they can as slaves or wives. And the young men may be unhappy with the women sent out to them, in which case they will either demand others, or accuse the negotiator of holding back the most beautiful women and attack in hopes of finding them. But usually it works out so that everyone ends up happy, with the men carrying their new wives back to their families' yurts to introduce them to the sept.

Even if a nomad does participate in a regular raid during which he captures a woman, only the most brutal immediately rape them. Most take the women and keep them as domestic slaves. The custom is to keep them until either the start of spring or the end of autumn, the times for trading and settling feuds. This gives the woman's family time to attempt to buy her back, and for the man and woman to get to know one another. If they cannot afford to, or if she shows she is willing, she will become the man's wife. The conditions of domestic slave are hardly idyllic. Some women will be raped during this period, and it can be hard to forgive a man who injured or murdered your family members. Or the man may be ugly, or poor, or abusive or disagreeable for another reason, and she may not want to marry him. These relationships are usually less successful.