I have spent a lot of time reflecting on sexism in the Drow society, how it reflects on our own prejudices, and specifically, how certain authors ignore the set world in order to better be able to relate with the society.
For those of you unfamiliar with drow society in Forgotten Realms, a quick overview. The Drow have a matriarchal society that is principally Chaotic Evil, but often tends towards Lawful Evil in practice. They are led by a cruel goddess who speaks to her followers and demands things of them, and she knows their thoughts. Disloyalty to the spider queen goddess Llolth is met with death, torture, and eternal torment in the after life.
The loyal sometimes fair little better.
Because of this, the society is cruel and dangerous, without love or affection or any softness whatsoever. The women are taller and physically stronger than the men, though most women become priestesses while the men in their society become mages or warriors. There are relatively few mages and warriors that are female, as females are typically relegated to the priestesshood caste that reigns over society. Why women rarely become warriors is poorly explained as a result of most women being priestesses, and it seems to have been an out of character decision, as women are physically stronger and trained as fighters, even through the priestesshood.
So this brings me to my first issue with the sexism in the drow series of books and how the authors perceptions of reality have influenced the lore. Drow women are taller, stronger, and more powerful than the male characters. Male authors, however, tend to write their male characters to be taller than the females, as well as stronger and more physically capable.
This is also seen in a lot of drow fan art, especially by fans of Salvatore’s series and Drizzt Urden (the most popular drow character in the Forgotten Realms franchise) in particular.
So let’s talk about Drizzt.
In a world without love, where the Drow don’t have a word that means ‘trust’ or ‘love’, where priestesses are trained to have sex with demons, where orgies and nudity is common, where men are taken and raped and beaten and killed. There’s a phrase for when a woman has sex with a man and then kills him – the Spider’s Kiss. Men do not have the option to refuse a woman.
But Drizzt did. Drizzt didn’t feel that someone should have sex without being in love.
Nowhere in Drow society has sex been linked to love, as the concept simply does not exist; this is explicitly stated by Salvatore himself, the author who created the character. Drizzt somehow survives living with the drow, refusing sex without love. Because it’s Drizzt.
So how much of this could possibly be written with the drow world in mind, and how much of it is written with the idea that our society is the default and deviations of it slowly move back towards our own?
Surely there’s plenty of evidence in the novels that men seem to feel as if they naturally should have the power and prestige in the society. And they succeed. These themes tend to be stronger in books by male authors, and focus more on this idea that men being in charge is the ‘natural’ order.
Men in drow society have every right to want to stop the women from being in power – they are downtrodden, abused, assaulted, and killed for no other reason than a passing fancy of a woman. That’s a pretty strong reason to rebel, to want power for yourself so that these women can’t hurt you, to want to not be in a position of weakness any more.
But where did this idea of men being in charge ‘naturally’ come from? Vhaerun taught ‘equality’ between men and women, as did Eilistraee, the two other deities often worshiped in drow society, but both the men and women warped this idea to their own ends. The male worshipers of Vhaerun often felt women were beneath them, and the Priestesses of Elistrae didn’t allow the men to join in their rituals.
It struck me as curious reading through the series I did, and just finding this idea of men naturally being in power as off-putting, not because I didn’t sympathize with the male’s plight, but because it just didn’t seem to fit in with the lore of the society.
It’s really important to be aware of these natural prejudices we all face, especially when writing or creating our own fiction. It’s easy to subconsciously give characters traits that they might have if they were in the real world, rather than their own fictional one, but that’s why it’s so important we remain conscientious about it so that our works can be properly interpreted and discussed according to the lore and not our biases.