I've been thinking about the role of women in the world I'm slowly building up for my Arthurian-inspired skirmish game. As False Patrick talks about in this post, gender roles are rather strong in the chivalric romances I'm taking inspiration from. Courtly love, questing to win the favor of a particular lady, damsels needing rescuing and so on are central to most of these stories. On the other hand, I'm a bit of a lefty, and I like playing chicks in the games I'm in, and this is a skirmish wargame about knights fighting each other. The normal roles of women in these tales would keep them from the battlefield. So, if I'm to find a place for women in the setting beyond 'the object of the main characters' quest', what should it be?
Right away, I rejected the idea that we just make the setting gender-blind. I've seen this done well; for example, the larp Empire has the nation of dawn, which are strongly Arthurian inspired and feature a lot of themes of courtly love and so forth, in a setting which doesn't distinguish along gender lines. However, I wanted to stick to the narratives seen in the stories I was emulating more closely.
In the end, I decided to flip the assumed power structure in the setting, making things essentially matriarchal. Essentially, the business of leadership is seen as a woman's task; the setting is ruled by queens and princesses rather than kings and princes. Men (at least as far as the nobility are concerned), are essentially subservient to female rulers. Their place is to serve a queen or other (female) liege.
Of course, with women in all the positions of political power, the status of noblemen depends entirely on their queen's favor. This, naturally, leads to men jostling to attract the affection of their rulers. Which, in turn, leads to the quests for a lady's favor that make up so much of the canon of chivalric romances.
This, of course, contrasts with the ideas of knightly orders as a more exclusively male arena. Like with many esoteric societies (medieval mason's guilds, the cult of mithras, etc) there's probably quite a strong gay undercurrent here. Probably nothing worth going into in much depth, but in the same way that IRL the Navy has a reputation for being the gayest of the armed services...
Interestingly, in the historical medieval period, there was actually a similar phenomenon with monasteries and nunneries. People for whom normal marriage wasn't at all appealing often got out of it by joining a cloistered community, so the number of gay individuals in cloisters seems likely to be quite high. Indeed, the catholic church even had particular recognitions for pairs of male monks with 'a particularly strong brotherly love for one another'. Whilst not recognised as gay in the sense a modern audience might, the parallels are clearly there. But I digress.
I'm also writing the setting so that breaking expected gender roles is more possible than it was historically. A nobleman who's driven to rule as a seneschal can do that, it will just be seen as effeminate and out of place. Providing he's good at the job, though, nobody's going to stop him. Likewise, women who want to take up armour and become knights can do that, they just open themselves up to all sorts of scandalous gossip. At least a few of the example PCs I'm writing up subvert the expectations of their sex in this way.
So yeah. That's where my thoughts are on the matter.
Incidentally, anybody who starts shitting up the comments by shouting about the culture wars/SJWs/pol/whatever is getting blocked and deleted. This is far more about creating the atmosphere I want for the game than any sort of political agenda.