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Historically, most occidental cultures (and many other ones) were strongly biased against women. Women were effectively barred from the vast majority of occupations - sometimes actively, and sometimes more insidiously. Women who defied this (eg. Joan of Arc) were rare, and often suffered greatly for their efforts (eg. Joan of Arc).

I enjoy writing "history-adjacent" stories based around such western cultures; my question is, how can I write a male-dominated culture without implicitly supporting it?

Just to be clear, I don't want to write a story focusing on that inequality. I just want to accurately portray that type of culture, warts and all, within the greater context of my story - but without giving the impression that I consider it "normal".

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    Let me ask a slightly different question using the same framework. "How can I write about someone killing another person without implicitly supporting it?" Consider the kind of answers you might get to that. Now consider how that question differs from (and the ways in which it is similar to) the one you're asking here. – user Jun 22 '18 at 9:39
  • In Robert Merle's 1974 novel Les hommes protégés (Published in US as The Virility Factor in 1977) an infectious disease affects only men with active spermatogenesis and wipes almost all of them out; only a minority survives in carefully guarded sites. Women gain all kind of control, primarily political, and consecutively build two types of matriarchy. At first, they establish a segregationist heterophobic society. By the end of the novel, heterosexual women conduct a revolution and establish a more balanced but still highly matriarchal society. Maybe you can do the same, but with men. – Double U Jun 22 '18 at 21:24
  • In your fictional society, men have all kinds of control. Girls are kept in the house and raised to become future mothers. Boys are sent to school to become men. Marriage takes place, when a man makes good connections with a family and picks a girl that he likes. The man pays the girl's father a sum of money, and now the girl belongs to the man and is used as a baby-making machine. Women also can't divorce, because if they do, they lose their status. Yada, yada, yada. – Double U Jun 22 '18 at 21:33

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Surely this issue comes up on a lot more than the role of women in society. I can think of many things wrong with every society, including my own. How can you write a story set in a society where there are poor people, or thieves, or cancer, or politicians, without giving the impression that you support these things?

Any reader who supposes that just because you say that something exists that this somehow implies that you think it is good or acceptable is being very foolish. I don't suppose that people who write murder mysteries think that murder is a good thing just because they write about it. Etc.

The issue is how you present it. Have you ever seen the movie, "Birth of a Nation"? It's all about how evil black people are trying to rape white women, and how shifty and disreputable white people are siding with the blacks against their own race, until finally the noble and courageous Ku Klux Klan come to the rescue. It doesn't simply portray racism as it existed. It glorifies racism. The good guys are all racists and the people who oppose racism are the villains.

On the other hand, consider the Star Trek episode, "Let This Be Your Last Battlefield". The star ship crew encounters two people from another planet who are of different races, and who hate each other. The Earth people are at first confused because they look alike, until one of them says, "Are you blind?" and he points out the subtle difference in appearance. And at the end (need I give a spoiler warning for a 50 year old TV show?), they return to their planet and discover that the two races have annihilated each other in a war, and these two are the last survivors. The show was about racism, but it certainly did not condone racism. The whole point was how these people hated each other for a difference that outsiders didn't even notice, and how they completely destroyed each other in their hate.

Somewhere in the middle are stories that recognize historical reality with being "about" that reality. Like if you wrote a story set in the American South in the 1800s, it would likely be very unrealistic to not have slaves around. (Depending on the details of the setting.) But if the point of your story is not to write about slavery, you can have the slaves come and go without really talking about them. They're just there. If I read a story like that, I wouldn't conclude anything about the writer's opinion on slavery. If no one talks about it, I suppose you could say that the character's silence indicates acceptance, but seriously, no it doesn't. It might just indicate that that's not what the story is about. I suppose if I was writing such a story and I was really worried about it, I might toss in some scene where the hero makes a comment about opposing slavery, or where we highlight the evil of the villain by having him do something cruel to a slave.

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  • Excellent examples, with Birth of a Nation and "Let This Be your Last Battlefield"! upvote! – De Novo Jun 22 '18 at 18:45
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    I'd add, though, that your example about a story set in the American South that is written today can't avoid commenting on slavery, whether it does so explicitly or not. Spending time with a subset of your characters and not another subset of your characters, and including their internal perspectives and not others, is a specific narrative choice, and will be noticed. It's tricky, but the solution of including a comment from a (white?) character about the slaves", unless you include the perspective of a slave, doesn't help that much. – De Novo Jun 22 '18 at 18:55
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    There are many examples of works that don't include developed characters of certain classes of people. The absence is a narrative choice; it is noticed and remarked on when it is made – De Novo Jun 22 '18 at 20:39
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    The beginning of this answer is excellent. But you can't write a story where a vast moral crime is part of the fabric of the story and pass it off as neutral just because you don't remark upon it. The lack of remark becomes it's own comment. The fact that you, as the modern day author, choose to write an wholly uncritical story about life in a setting that is entirely created and maintained by slavery can and will rightly be viewed as damning evidence about you and your attitudes. – Chris Sunami supports Monica Jun 25 '18 at 16:23
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    @ChrisSunami I disagree. There are all sorts of evils in society: from murder to drug abuse to schoolyard bullying to insider trading. Every story can't be about all of them. If I write a story that is all about condemning racism, would you say that because I failed to mention drug abuse I must be condoning it? Ditto for every evil. If I write a story about a beautiful romance, would you say that because I never mentioned poverty I must be condoning it? – Jay Jun 25 '18 at 18:04
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While there are injustices in every society, and the rich and strong oppress the poor and weak in every society (including our own), current ideas about what is biased or unfair treatment can't be projected back on past societies. Modern society is highly anomalous in its individualism and in the central, even defining, role that career plays in people's lives and how they understand their value.

  • Most people in most societies until the very recent present were farmers and the whole family, men, women, children, would have work to do, all of which was essential to the survival of the family. It was a family enterprise. Everyone worked and everyone had a role suited to their physical capacities. The farm kitchen was a factory that produced all kinds of goods, and if the women worked largely in the factory rather than in the fields it was, before anything else, because she had to supervise the children in their tasks. But women and children did also work in the fields at times, weeding, harvesting, gleaning.

  • The idea of a woman not working was a middle class conceit. In the aristocracy, no one worked (though the men fought, occasionally). With the rise of the middle class, it became a mark of status for a family to be rich enough for the woman not to work. But in poorer families, everyone worked, and the professions were closed to the entire class, not just to the women. When idleness ceased to be a status symbol, the demand for access to high-class jobs increased.

  • Most prior societies were extremely social in orientation. Families and communities were the center of life and everyone had a role to play. The kind of individualism that is universal today would be unknown to most societies. Most people would know the names of everyone they met in the average day. Strangers would be rare. People by and large depended on particular people for the necessities of life: the baker, the miller, the smith. They did not get their goods from institutions, they got them from individuals that they had known all their lives. When we depend on individuals, we expect those individuals to play their role, because if they don't the entire village suffers. That kind of society can't afford modern individualism. We depend on institutions, not people. This means we have no real stake in the actions of individuals and so can become less concerned with their behavior and their conformance to social norms. If the baker gets drunk and falls off his roof, I will still have bread for my family in the morning.

  • Up until the invention of the police force in the 19th century, there was no formal government protection for individuals. Husbands were responsible for the physical protection of their wives and children (individually and collectively), and they really did need protection. With rampant disease and population growth that was slow to non-existent, the survival of women and children was key to the survival of a clan. Raiding to steal wives and children was common in early societies, because it was often the only way to maintain or grow your tribe. Thus the relationship of husbands and wives was one of protector and protectee. The father giving the bride away to her husband at her wedding symbolizes this handing over of protective duty. This asymmetrical relationship between spouses may appear as simple inequality today, when the protective function is provided by the state, but it served an essential social function for most of human history and so it is unlikely that many people of either sex resented it as an institution, though they may have resented how it was practiced by particular spouses.

  • The kinds of lives available to men and to women, nevertheless, differed considerably from one society to another. You would probably have been more likely to find women involved in medicine in medieval times than in the 19th century, for instance. Monasteries offered the opportunity for learning and for various kind of professional work to both women and men.

  • Along with our individualism, our careers have become the center of our lives. Our workplaces are our communities. They are were we find the company and the esteem of our peers. To be denied a career opportunity, therefore, is to be denied a social role, to be denied access to the sources of social esteem. But in most previous societies, for the vast majority of people, family and community were the center of their lives. People would gain the company and esteem of their peers through the contributions they made to the life of the community. Certainly some crafts would have greater prestige and wealth associated with them, but one's careers was usually not so much at the center of one's psyche it way it is today.

  • Finally, another way in which our current society is anomalous is that the cult of character, which had been paramount in the west for centuries has given way to the cult of personality. We no longer judge or value people for their character but for their personality. This has led, among other things, to the glorification of the extrovert, the celebrity, the star. Too feel valued, we often feel we need to stand out, to make a mark, to be noticed and celebrated. The means to gain such celebrity therefore become vital to our sense of self and our self esteem. Where people in the past would have gained the respect of others, and therefore their self esteem, for their character, for the way they did their duty diligently and without complaint, the way they served their neighbours, this is not enough for us now. Access to roles that allow for the exercise and display of personality is therefore a more pressing issue.

It is an old saw to say that you have to judge the people of the past in the context of their time, but to a large extent it misses the point. The world of the past was very different and people had different expectations for their lives. The essential things we all crave -- food, protection, love, the esteem of our peers -- came from very different sources.

People chafe at the injustice of the things that keep them from meeting these needs. But when those needs are met in very different ways, expect that people will chafe at very different things.

Part of writing realistically about the past is conveying this sense of things to your reader, and of situating your characters, their desires and their complaints, in that kind of society. Their notion of what were the greatest injustices of their day would be very different from the notions of injustice that many people have today.

People's sense of injustice is largely engaged with the thing that is preventing them from getting the thing that most occupies their thoughts. For most human for most of history, the thing that most occupies their thoughts was, is there going to be enough food to last the winter and are my children and animals safe from marauders. We have the luxury of feeling injustices because we mostly don't have to worry about those things.

Don't project the anxieties and resentments of today onto the past. They had their own anxieties and their own resentments. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

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Implicit support

how can I write a male-dominated culture without implicitly supporting it?

This is tricky, but here are two simple things you can do that will help

  • Include fully developed female characters that are important to the plot.
  • Meet the Bechdel test.

If you think you can't do this while writing within the setting of a male dominated society, than you're not going to meet your objective.

The crux of implicit support of cultures of oppression in fiction is the absence of personhood and humanity in the representation of the oppressed, or the use of the oppressed exclusively as a narrative tool for exposition or character development of characters that are members of some other group.

Explicit support

The answer to this question is different:

How can I write a culture that oppresses some group without explicitly supporting it

Don't glorify oppression, control, and violence against members of that group. @Jay's example, "The Birth of A Nation", explicitly supports oppression.

Does this mean my story has to be about the oppression?

If it's part of the world, it's one of the things your story is about. The only way for it not to be is to have it not be part of the world your describing. But it doesn't have to be the main thing your story is about.

A story that includes fully developed characters that are members of an oppressed group (whether they are slaves, women, individuals with a disability, or anything else) is no more about that oppression than a story that doesn't fully develop those characters.

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    +1 I didn't realize until after I had posted my own answer, that it duplicates much of yours. – Chris Sunami supports Monica Jun 25 '18 at 19:55
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How can I write a male-dominated culture without implicitly supporting it?

As I often say here in Writing, it is important for nearly all of what you write to have consequences, some effect on your characters, their attitude, humor, decisions, emotions, etc. (Some of what you say is to manage or orient the reader.)

In this case, if you believe (as I do) that a male-dominated culture is inherently unfair and creates hardships (or advantages) where there should be none, answer for yourself, What are these hardships? Where is the imbalance?

Sexual harassments and exploitations that men do not experience? Denial of financial opportunities, jobs, promotions and investments that go to men instead? Being forced to choose between children and career, when men are not? Being underpaid for doing the same jobs? Being automatically labeled homosexual for wanting to pursue a "man's" job? Being treated like stupid children that need male guidance, at work, by police or the courts? Losing credit for their professional accomplishments if they work with or for a man, in situations where if they were a man it would not happen? Being labeled a slut or a whore if they have casual sex, or a screaming bitch if they complain about something (including being treated unequally)?

Answer for yourself, I am sure I missed some. You don't have to figure out everything that is wrong, but pick some things you find egregious (or a woman you know finds egregious); and write it in, showing the consequences in a negative light; for a character we like, so we can see the pain this discrimination causes.

The people that see such discriminations approvingly are generally those doing the discriminating and enjoying their unfair advantages, they seldom bring up the hateful pains and hardships they are causing to reap those privileges, because it is a losing argument.

If you bring them up, and show the pain and hardship in a character we sympathize with; then nobody will think you approve of this discrimination. Your character may even prevail over the situation, find away around the discrimination, carve out her own niche, whatever.

I wouldn't hide it, or gloss over it. If you want to be a neutral observer:

Even a neutral observer can see a woman crying.

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Historically, occidental cultures were not as biased against women as you might think. Look, for example, at this source on trial by combat between men and women. It suggests that at least some women learnt how to fight, and were able to do so. Furthermore, a noblewoman in the middle ages would be administrating her husband's castle, as often as not managing its defence against enemies, while her husband was on crusade / fighting in some war of the King. Some women wielded considerable political power: Isabella I of Castille and Madame de Pompadour are just two examples of different kinds of power. A medieval literary example of strong women would be the Nibelungenlied: two women, Brunhilda and Kriemhild, are the main characters, holding de-facto power, manipulating the men around them, eventually wreaking destruction aplenty for the revenge they sought. The men in the story, even the great hero Siegfried, have little will of their own. Society was by no means equal, but women were not as powerless as you might think.

Female characters can be strong and interesting without challenging the laws of their society. A wife can be a strong presence in her husband's estate. (In fact, she was expected to be a strong presence.) She can be wise, learned, astute, have a political and a strategic understanding. A lover can have a strong influence on her patron, quietly giving advice. A mother can shape and counsel her son, and worry about him when he goes to battle. A woman can find herself in charge of her own estate if her husband is absent, or if she is widowed and has no adult son. For literary examples, consider the roles of Galadriel and Éowyn in male-dominant Lord of the Rings.

Female characters might suffer under the rules of society, and express the unfairness of the situation. Jane Austen's heroines speak out against the unfairness of the inheritance laws in England. Fantine in Les Miserables suffers because of the way society treats single mothers.

A woman might come into conflict with societal rules, and suffer the consequences, either prevailing or not. Jeanne d'Arc is one example, Ada Lovelace is another (her work wasn't taken seriously because she was a woman). Medieval romance is chock-full of women cross-dressing a men for various reasons. Alexander Durov is one real-life example from the Napoleonic Wars (although perhaps we should think of Alexander Durov as transgender instead - hard to say, understanding of gender having been different then).

All those are viable options. Another viable option, if you are writing fantasy rather than historic fiction, is to just have women in strong "male" roles. If we can accept dragons, no reason why we shouldn't accept women riding them.

What is not acceptable is having women only as tropes - the princess who must be rescues from the villain, the princess whose death is the hero's motivation, etc. If your women have no agency, if they could easily be replaced by a golden chalice for all the role they play in your plot, that's bad.

There are, however aspects you should consider, whatever choice (or combination thereof) you make: there are reasons for women's position being as it was throughout a long period of history. First, a woman is physically weaker than a man. I am talking here both "on average", and of the peak that we can reach: the strongest and fastest woman would necessarily be slower and weaker than the strongest and fastest man - that's just our anatomy. (A particular woman can be stronger and faster than a particular man, even than most men around her.) Thus, as long as being able to provide for a family (both food and safety) relies mainly on physical strength, men would hold more power. (In a fantasy novel, magic can act as an equaliser, shifting the power from physical strength to something both genders have equal access to. In real-life Viking society, there is evidence that power came with strength and military prowess, not with gender, allowing some women to become military leaders.)
Second, until effective contraception, a woman spent long periods of time pregnant or breastfeeding - aspects that reduced her ability to take part in other activities. This is an issue even today - a woman who has children would by necessity give less of her time to career-building. (Today it is a consideration for having children later in life, for example. Back then, it could be a consideration for a woman not to marry, provided she had that choice in the first place.)
There was also the Christian doctrine regarding a woman's place, but I'm not sure which is the chicken and which the egg here - whether doctrine supported existing custom, or the custom was shaped by the doctrine, or both.
Those aspects don't disappear just because we want them to. Those are things you'd have to address, one way or another, if you want your story to be logical.

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There are, generally, four roads that you can follow:

  1. Historically accurate, positive. Have a woman character(s) who is enjoying success within the confines of society. It can be through one or combination of factors like noble birth, wealth, intelligence, wit, supportive husband, or even being a nun.
  2. Historically accurate, negative. Have a woman character(s) who is trying to buckle standards and make success in "man's field", like Joan of Arc. There is a good chance that this story would end in a tragedy, though.
  3. Historically inaccurate. Have Brienne of Tarth or Themyscira Amazons in your book. This way you might be able to take revenge on all the social injustices against women.
  4. Historically accurate "glossing over". Accept historic inequality as a given reality. Ignore women characters' larger problems and focus on different things. This is what most "period authors" seem to be doing.
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You can treat your female characters with respect, and make them fully realized, three-dimensional personalities, even in a male-dominated setting. And conversely, even a setting that is superficially female-dominated can be entirely populated with stereotyped, paper-thin, male-oriented women. Your setting doesn't determine how you treat your characters.

Regardless of the setting, I always notice how the author treats the lower-status characters --the servants, foreigners, female characters, aliens, slaves, pixies, or whoever it is who happens to be in that bottom bracket for that particular setting. And I do feel an author who is content to write those people entirely into the background and make them nothing but instruments for the higher status characters is betraying things about his or her own attitudes.

Here are two contrasting examples that have stood out to me:

  1. Master of the Five Magics (Hardy) is in many ways a classic fantasy adventure about a lone male hero triumphing over immense odds as he swashbuckles his way across a fantasy landscape. There are not many female characters in the book, and they aren't on the page for very long. They stand out, however, especially given the genre and the era, because they aren't helpless damsels in distress. In particular, the love interest is a strong, smart woman who never needs to be rescued, comes to the relationship as an equal partner, and does as much, in her way, to bring about the happy ending as the hero. Hardy strikes me as an author who wanted to tell a story about a man, but who wrote from a place of genuine respect for women.

  2. Conversely Jonathan Lethem's Gun, With Occasional Music is a near future science-fiction noir, where genetically engineered intelligent animals have become the new servant class --or more properly, the new slaves. Although the setting is wholly divorced from reality, the animal slaves are treated with such disgust, contempt and abuse by the human characters, and there is such a complete absence of critical comment on this from the author, that it's difficult --for me-- not to view this as a thin disguise on real attitudes by the author towards those who are placed in servile roles. In general, Lethem strikes me as an author whose fantastic conceits and superficial liberality consistently provide cover for the expression of his own hidden (and quite probably subconscious) racial hostilities.

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  • +1 for an example illustrating how this isn't a question of who your protagonist is, or how much time you spend with one class of character vs. another. – De Novo Jun 25 '18 at 20:48
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There are many roads leading to Rome. So I'll see if I can suggest a few. Keep in mind, all opinions expressed herein are my own. Some views are expressly overdramatised for the sake of bringing the point home, not as a social commentary or to wag the finger at anyone. (with the disclaimer out of the way...!)

Fact is, in historical fiction, it's jarring if you don't treat women as second class citizens. Look at Game of Thrones. One of the biggest complains I hear about is women leaders--that just wasn't done. (usually that complaint gets bulldozed by bringing up dragons... but that kind of adds to the point).

Let's look at another example. Bram Stoker's Dracula. Now, it's been a while since I've read it, so forgive me if I misremember. But, as I recall, Ms Harper is treated as a dainty little waif, no matter that she has the better idea on what to do. And the two men that 'ought to handle this' are constantly (if unintentionally) belittling her and telling her to let them handle it.

So, the reader sees that Ms Harper is right, that she knows what she's doing. And then sees the men being oafs about it.

I personally advise against this approach. Because it has a Hollywood effect. See one view on Hermoine's characterization differences from book to movie. Basically, if you treat women as perfect or hold us to a higher standard, you are creating an unequal society, for good or for ill.

However, while I advise against it, this was commonplace in Victorian England. Women were 'too good for this world', and all that.

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  • Umm... Game of Thrones is not historical fiction – De Novo Jun 22 '18 at 15:54
  • @DanHall Oh? That's interesting, being set in Medieval Europe... err, right, Just the Middle Ages. Just shift the names of the places around, and you get England, with the Norman Conquest of 1066, travelling across the English Channel. It's fantasy, I know that. But consider George RR Martin's expertise--a Medieval Historian. – Fayth85 Jun 22 '18 at 16:17
  • And that kinda begs the question... Is Dracula historic fiction? You sidestepped that, but vampires and dragons are kinda in the same boat...? – Fayth85 Jun 22 '18 at 16:25
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    and The Lord of the Rings has a lot to say about WWI, but also, not historical fiction. If anyone can suspend disbelief for dragons, a magical ice wall, and the otherworldly seasonal patterns, but finds women in power jarring, the problem is their own. – De Novo Jun 22 '18 at 16:40
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    @DanHall That I can agree to. But if we were to follow 'historical truth' within the genre historical fiction, then every movie with 'based on a true story' should have an asterisk, then explain which parts are wholly made up. – Fayth85 Jun 22 '18 at 21:45
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how can I write a male-dominated culture without implicitly supporting it?

Why do you think you're implicitly supporting it, to begin with? Many fantasy stories (too many to list) include killing and pillaging. A lot of them include religious fanaticism, and it's not always presented as a bad thing. You can have not a single female character that ever achieves anything, and all of those that try to fail, with the story, seemingly validating inequality, and you would still not be supporting inequality.

The fact of the matter is that writing about a topic doesn't somehow mean you support or condone it. In fact, many books are set in settings or feature protagonists that epitomize what the author does not support so as to clearly show the problems. The Great Gatsby is one example. Animal Farm and Brave New World are others.

If you're saying that what I've said doesn't really apply to historical fiction - why, the only defence you need in the case of historical fiction is a history book. "This is what things were like back then - I'm not supporting it, just telling it like it was." Did the writers of HBO: Rome support slavery? No, but it was a fact of life back then, so showing military slaves and gladiators simply added to the atmosphere.

I understand that this last section is slightly tangential, but I thought you might be mixing up writing about a society as endorsing that society. You're not part of that society, you've never experienced that society, and you're fundamentally a writer using a fascinating setting as a basis for your work. Just because you think that Medieval France, Imperial Rome, or Ancient China are fascinating settings to work in doesn't mean you agree with their policies and social reality - but it does, more or less, give you a blank cheque to write about their social reality, because that is the setting you're working in. Saying that you can't use parts of the setting would be like saying you couldn't write a book in a hypothetical public-domain Star Wars setting that includes Darth Vader.

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    I can't agree with this. Even the most carefully (or the most seemingly) neutral historical reporting always has a point of view and carries with it the biases and the assumptions of the reporter. To ignore that fact is to abdicate the responsibilities of the author. – Chris Sunami supports Monica Jun 25 '18 at 16:28
  • @ChrisSunami It has a bias, for sure, but the writer's doesn't need to be broadcasted. It is not (necessarily) the writer's job to "clean up" distasteful bits of a setting - that there is a real values dissonance can be part of the appeal even if you never come out and say "by the way, I think this is wrong". The audience, frankly, doesn't care what the writer thinks - they're there to have read a good story. To play by the rules of the setting is to work with what you're given. – Almadel Jun 25 '18 at 18:23
  • If you're writing historical fantasy then a major part of the appeal is that this is 'something that could have happened here' and that it's relatively amenable to historical fact, as we know it. Otherwise, we call it alt-history. It's important to know your audience - to a historical fiction fan, you might come off as too pushy and too eager to insert your idea of what 'should be' into your fiction, and too unconcerned with what 'is' and what 'was'. – Almadel Jun 25 '18 at 18:23
  • Modifying a setting simply because it doesn't reflect social reality as it "should" be today is not, in my eyes, the hallmark of a good writer. The writer has no responsibility to correct history - leave that to the historians. And yes I know this is probably not a good idea to have a full counterargument in the comments section but I have to object to your concept of a writer's responsibility. To me, a writer's responsibility is to deliver a good story. Oftentimes the best stories are those that present sometimes-familiar, sometimes-alien faces in a world not quite your own. – Almadel Jun 25 '18 at 18:23
  • How can you write a "good story" in a setting without engaging the issues of that setting, whatever the setting is? Even Cinderella engages issues of wealth and poverty. Even Snow White engages the issue of expectations of appearance for women. And those are fairy tales. If you aren't actually engaging the setting, what is it, except ornamental? – Chris Sunami supports Monica Jun 25 '18 at 19:48
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If your readers don't care about the issue, it is a non-issue. For those who are, I would expect that you could make the story more palatable by making sure that your protagonist doesn't support it.

That doesn't mean he has to rise up in arms or start a war to correct it, just that he behaves in ways that indicate that he does not share the prejudice which his society espouses. Is it a male dominated society? He behaves respectfully toward women and shows contempt for those who abuse women. Is it a society with slavery or a caste system? He is fair to even the lowest, and openly does not tolerate the worst of the abuses that society inflicts on them, at least so far as he has the power to do so, especially for those in his "power".

Unless your story is going to focus on those issues that readers will see as injustices, I'd suggest you keep them as casual and fleeting as possible. And if you feel you must make them a major issue, be prepared to lose a lot of potential readers unless your protagonist is on the "anti" side.

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