There’s been a bit of a dustup on RPG.net (a major online community for role-playing games). Kynn Bartlett, writing as Caoimhe Ora Snow, started a Kickstarter project (see the update below) to attract funding for an RPG she wishes to write and publish, called Heartbreak & Heroines. Y’know how most RPGs focus on men, and primarily depict male characters as agents of action (as opposed to sex objects), while grudgingly allowing you to play a woman if you want? Heartbreak & Heroines will focus on women, though you’ll be able to play a man if you want.
There’s a 60-page flamewar thread, but you can probably reconstruct most of it in your heads, sight unseen, based just on what I’ve told you, except maybe for the part where a guy claimed that the existence of “black clerics” in official D&D settings indicates that “D&D has gone to silly lengths to ignore racial and gender inequality”, and continued to defend that claim as people brought up North-African Islam and Ethiopian Coptic Christians. I didn’t see whether anyone mentioned Pope Miltiades.
Anyway, that argument makes this the perfect time for someone to have discovered that maybe half of the Vikings who invaded England around 900 AD were women. Turns out archaeologists had just been assuming that anyone buried with weapons and armor was a man. Osteological analysis showed otherwise. Six of 14 skeletons analyzed turned out to be female, and one more was indeterminate; the remaining seven were male.
All of which is eloquently summed up by David J Prokopetz’s observation that: “Your average tabletop fantasy setting isn’t particularly medieval; the default setting of D&D itself […] culturally resembles your average early 80s Renfaire much more closely than it does any real-world society.” Real history is often far more surprising, complicated, and interesting then the simplified Ye Olden Tymes cartoon we’re fed in movies and TV shows. I don’t see any reason to constrain our imaginations to invented limits of our less egalitarian cultural forebears.
Update: I’m leaving the Kickstarter link there for information purposes, but I can no longer recommend contributing due to the issues Jim Henley discusses on his group RPG blog, which I wish I’d found some happier occasion to link to.