Blood and Jazz
Drow Gender Norms
Drow gender norms are a complicated and multifaceted subject, despite the common belief that they are simple matriarchal inversions of the patriarchal gender norms of other nations; they have their own history and their own traditions behind their conventions, and are much more than a mere “topsy-turvy” social mirror of Ërdin’s other gendered cultures.
Drow women have greater freedom than the ruling men of other societies in some respects, but far less freedom in others; vice versa for drow men and nondrow women. Notably, many drow gender norms carry the same vague sense of passive femininity and active masculinity which patriarchies do—the key difference is that drow culture constantly emphasizes the usefulness and superiority of such passive strategies and behaviors in its media and daily life. Intellectual pursuits in mathematics, science, the arts, religion, and even politics are all characterized as passive behaviors for which women are better-suited than men, while active (i.e., masculine) pursuits are characterized as brutish and unsophisticated.
Some more specific common misconceptions about drow societal norms include:
- Drow militaries are primarily composed of women. This is patently false, a testament to the power of expectation bias and the androgynous facial features of most elves; the vast majority of drow soldiers are male. Drow society does perpetuate a stereotype that women are inherently better fighters than men (lacking the vulnerability of external genitalia, possessing greater long-term stamina due to metabolic differences, and possessing greater agility due to lighter average weight and a lower center of gravity). However, drow women are also generally considered too valuable to spare on the front lines. Their combat training is typically reserved for siege and point defense near civilian areas—an aspect of war at which the drow are notoriously skilled. It is true, however, that women are greatly overrepresented among drow military officers at the ranks of colonel and higher.
- Drow bastards inherit before legitimate children. This misconception is predicated on a misunderstanding of drow family structure and a presumption that drow possess the same notion of “legitimacy” as do patriarchal societies. The lifestyle of the middle- to upper-class drow bachelorette commonly involves producing one or more offspring with various lovers before marriage; these initial bastard children are commonly known as “freechildren”, are often associated with ambition and femininity, and are more closely associated with the mother than any children conceived after marriage. A freechild is often doted upon and encouraged to succeed to a greater extent than other children. Unlike in most monarchies, drow heads of state may choose the sequence of their heirs from among their female offspring as they please, and they are usually inclined to pick freechildren to inherit before other children, barring circumstances in which diplomacy demands otherwise. However, in the rare event that an order is not specified, inheritance defaults to the eldest daughter born into wedlock, and freechildren inherit last.
- Drow men are forcibly castrated after conceiving their second child. Drow surgeons perfected the art of vasectomy almost two thousand years ago for the express purpose of avoiding castration, which usually leads to loss of sexual potency and often causes feminine secondary sex characteristics to develop, both of which are considered undesirable by the drow women for whose benefit such operations are usually performed. Drow society generally puts the burden of birth control and the greater share of stigma over unwanted pregnancy upon men, while allowing women relative sexual freedom; this creates a strong social pressure for unmarried men to undergo vasectomy voluntarily in order to avoid the social consequences of a sexually active lifestyle. Married men do not always have this option; they must usually obtain the permission of their wives to do so legally.
- Drow men are expected to be thin, uneducated, and effeminate. On the contrary, the “ideal” sexually objectified man in drow culture tends to be rather muscular, intelligent, and masculine by elf standards. However, they are also expected to be submissive, loyal, humble, and willing to face whatever hardships their female lovers require of them without complaint. In extreme cases this extends to only speaking when spoken to; it is not unheard of for a drow wife to criticize her husband’s incessant chattiness if he speaks more than a few sentences at a formal event. Drow men exhibit symptoms of learned helplessness at rates nearly matching those of women in other societies and are exceptionally prone to recklessness and suicidal ideation, both in fiction and in life; there exists an ideal of the drow man who dies young for a noble cause (most typically, a dangerous struggle that is the penultimate challenge of a much longer woman’s quest), often contrasted with less sympathetic elderly men who have lived longer but less glorious lives and who die unmourned, unloved, and miserable. Reinforcing this, drow women are often encouraged to view men as transient characters in the stories of their lives, characters who will ultimately be of little significance.
- Drow men are saddled with child-rearing duties. This is often true of married drow men, but not of the fathers of freechildren, who are generally expected not to become involved in their children’s lives unless specifically requested to do so by the mother. A father who attempts to connect with his freechildren without the mother’s consent is considered to be in violation of a sacred mother-child bond and will face social and possibly legal repercussions in most jurisdictions. In essence, drow men are expected to be exactly as involved in child-rearing as drow women wish for them to be.
- Drow men are executed if they look upon a woman’s face without an explicit invitation. Although violent retribution is still sometimes taken by vigilantes, this has not been true in a legislative sense for centuries. Indecency laws in certain jurisdictions within Svergurd mean that it can still be punished with a fine, however, if the look lasts for more than a glance. Respect and modesty demand that men look only at a woman’s feet in most types of social interaction; failure to do so may be interpreted as promiscuity and tacit consent to sexual activity, which may provoke varied prudishly hostile or sexually aggressive responses from different drow women depending on their political and social inclinations. (Perhaps related: studies indicate that drow men self-report higher rates of fetishes relating to feet and/or ankles than all other humanoid races of Ërdin combined).
- Elderly women are generally the most high-status members of drow society. Elderly drow women are usually sterile, and sterility is considered tremendously shameful (not quite on the same scale as castration in patriarchal cultures, but akin to it). Menopause typically begins at about 250 years of age; drow women will usually make an effort to have at least one final child before the process is complete and raise it to socioeconomic independence. Once this is done, a drow woman may retain some status through influential female children, through younger generations’ respect for her experience, or through important achievements that she made in her youth, but on the whole she is likely to be marginalized in favor of the fertile females. Young women who are naturally sterile from puberty—or who became sterile through injury or disease in times before knowledge of the spells Regenerate and Remove Disease was widespread—face even worse stigma, considered shameful and nearly as expendable as men. An abundance of children is essential to high social status for women in drow society, as it is proof not only of past sexual conquests but also of possessing the socioeconomic power necessary to sustain a large family.
- Drow women are often openly lesbian or bisexual. Drow society is extremely homophobic, and lesbian/bisexual women actually tend to face slightly worse stigma than gay/bisexual men (if only because the idea is less appealing to heterosexual drow women).