And the contentious history of gender power dynamics
Men are the fiber of the casterway diet. They don't bring much flavor to the party. But they're needed to clear all the waste out of the system.
Loya Dieudonne, Dinaisian assassin, 3683 AoG
Queendom is one of the many terms common amongst casterway societies reflecting gender norms that are vastly unusual for those from patriarchal cultures. Many terms that have customarily reflected patriarchal biases are routinely "flipped" when dealing with those who hail from the nations of Islemanoton and Islegantuan. Although it is overly simplistic to claim that men hold power on the western continent of Isleprimoton and that women hold power in the east, there is little doubt that gender-based power dynamics are distinctly different between the east and the west. There are two factors that have driven these radical differences.
Historical PrecedentsThe first is the historical basis upon which eastern and western societies were founded. Although she's been dead for nearly four thousand years, Cervia Polonosa was almost singlehandedly responsible for the creation of the first casterway civilizations - civilizations that primarily spread eastward from the central continent of Islemanoton and the first great civilization of Auld Cervia. Even to this day, her influence, and the matriarchal practices she implemented, still loom large over the cultural ideals of eastern nations. But in the west, Achto Kivelia founded the first civilization on Isleprimoton (that would be eventually be known as the Sontsu). His precedents have undermined women's rights since the earliest of days.
Plague of MenThe second is the biological imperative of the Plague of Men. Despite millennia of (fruitless) research into the root cause of the Plague, there has (as of yet) been no "cure" found for the Plague. As such, there has always been a significant imbalance between the proportion of male-vs-female citizens. Curiously, although all nations have populations that are almost-exactly 70% male, this single dynamic has fostered two opposing positions for women. In the east, they have leveraged their own natural "scarcity" to seize power and to establish themselves as the driving force of their cultures. In the west, the exact same natural law long ago inspired the forefathers of those societies to instill themselves as the inherent force of their nations. Western women typically find themselves having to work the levers of power subtly, in the background, while the men assert themselves as numerically and physically superior. But in the east, the women use that same numerical disparity as a sort of ideological cudgel with which they overtly control all the avenues of influence, largely based upon the fact that they are the "rarer" gender and thus, by extension, the more valuable.
LanguageMost eastern nations are known as "queendoms". (Even those which have "graduated" to higher, more-representational forms of government still tend to label themselves as the "Queendom of Prielia" or the "Queendom of Blepi".) To refer to them as "kingdoms" is, at best, to display a sense of cultural ignorance. At worst, it's seen as a deliberate attempt to antagonize the citizens of the those queendoms. In the west, the "man of the house" is the physical and spiritual leader of his arbyr. In the east, the exact same term is almost a pejorative - referring to a man who is merely a worker bee, serving at the behest of the women in authority. The eastern languages of Tallonari and Qoanesh typically avoid gender-specific pronouns. But when narrators in those languages do feel the need to assign a generic gender to a title or group of people, they nearly always default to she/her. Western languages tend to have few gender-neutral pronouns, and unless the narrator is specifically known to be speaking about a woman, the subject will always be referred to as he/his.
NocternsThe glaring exception to Excilior's divisive gender dynamics is the Nocterns. Most oplanders give little thought to Noctern notions of gender equality - because most oplanders generally dismiss the Nocterns as a subhuman species unworthy of political or social consideration. But for those who have bothered to understand the Noctern culture, they will attest to the fact that Nocterns are almost-shockingly egalitarian with regard to gender relationships. Their language, Nokmeni, is devoid of gender pronouns. Their leaders come in equal parts male-and-female (since they are as subject to the Plague of Men as any oplander, "equal" in this context means that roughly two-thirds of Noctern leaders are male). In the rare, unbiased, oplander accounts of Noctern life, they are routinely shocked at the extent to which men and women hold equal sway throughout the Ontorlands.
Those western blowhards can crow all they like. But if it weren't for little ol' Cervia, they'd all be beatin their meat and waitin to die.
Suy Sita, Golian mortician, 2923 AoR
It is no exaggeration to state that, before Cervia Polonosa crashed in her helioskimmer, there simply was no civilization to speak of on Excilior. In those ancient times, the only inhabitants of the planet were those men who had fallen directly into the Dropship Seia via excilation. From what scant records we have of the time, it's believed that these early savages lived either solitary lives, or banded together into small and brutal packs of roaming tribes. The savagery they displayed may have been driven by their innate nature before they were jettisoned from Absentia, but it was also fueled by the fact that they were all men. Because there has never been an acknowledged case of a female arriving in the dropships, it didn't take those early casterways long to realize that there could simply be no procreation. And with no prospects to build any kind of generational legacy, every man on the planet at that time was doomed to live a life solely dedicated to their own wants and needs - worldly imperatives that would eventually become meaningless once they inevitably passed away.
The First MotherIn one of the more amazing biological coincidences(?) of history, Cervia didn't simply establish Excilior's first true civilization, she also earned her hallowed stature as the First Mother - by birthing no fewer than eight daughters. It was those daughters who eventually became, in a very literal sense, the foremothers of the entire world's population. So great was Cervia's influence over all casterway traditions that, some time after her death, her memory even inspired the cult of the Children of Tallon - a religious organization that has waned in influence, but has never truly died.
Establishing MatriarchyThroughout her life, and in the many pages of her voluminous journals, Cervia went to great lengths to establish women's role in her current-and-future civilization. She was clear in her view that men's natural tendencies toward aggression, coupled with their overriding imbalance from the Plague and from the male-only passengers who arrived via dropship, could easily spawn a situation where women are routinely oppressed and marginalized if they did not forcefully assert themselves from the very start. She outlined many strategies by which current-and-future women could beat back the aggression that they were bound to experience at the hands of their male counterparts. And yes, these strategies even included the coordination of nationwide strikes, during which all sexual relations would be withheld, if the men in those nations ever decided to begin systematically subjugating the women in their presence.
Cervia's BiasThere are many western cultures that unapologetically paint Cervia as a power-hungry, man-hating bitch. (Unsurprisingly, openly voicing such opinions amongst eastern nations is an effective way to spark a violent brawl.) But for those cognoscenti who have endeavored to study her legacy with a fairer eye, the truth of her dictates is far more nuanced. Cervia appears to have held many men in high regard. And she trusted many of them with significant power and responsibility in the embryonic city-state of Auld Cervia. Indeed, for most of her life, the only other females on Excilior were her own daughters - and for most of her time those daughters were too young to entrust with much authority. Nevertheless, for those who are ensconced in the patriarchal ways of the west, they find it difficult to measure Cervia's legacy without ultimately branding her as a "man-hater".
Achto KiveliaFor all of Cervia's outsized influence on gender dynamics in the east, the situation could scarcely be more different in the west. And the saddest part of the equation is that Cervia's own daughter, Sorealia the Lost, was forced to play a tragic role in the millenia-long oppression of western women. One of Cervia's earliest antagonists was Achto Kivelia. The two clashed many times when Auld Cervia was nothing more than a single city-state - Setrinano. He had designs to start his own colony, which would eventually blossom into his own civilization. But Cervia had absolute control over the most valuable resource on Excilior. For she and her daughters were the only women on the entire planet, and without women, any fledgling breakaway colony was doomed to become nothing but a withering outpost of aging men waiting to die.
Something in Cervia broke that day. She was too proud to let on. But from then on, her back arched farther, her head hung lower, and our once-proud little city-state was never quite the same.
Aule Uvilane, Auld Cervian scout, 35 AoC
Kidnapping SorealiaAchto hatched a daring scheme when he realized that the young Sorealia had fallen in love with the dashing young casterway known as Ido Howrmander. Achto had long since been banished from Setrinano by Cervia. But what no one (not even Sorealia) realized was that Ido was allied with Achto, and in 32 AoC, Achto hatched a daring plan to kidnap Sorealia. With Sorealia, Ido, and a few dozen sympathetic men in tow, Achto loaded his pioneers onto a rickety katmaran and sailed westward. At the time, there were no records to suggest that any casterway actually knew if there was any land west of the Sister Seia and most cognoscenti now view it as a minor miracle that the entire crew didn't simply perish at sea. But they most certainly did not perish, and they managed to make landfall in present-day Torholmaa at the southeastern tip of the Sontsu Peninsula.
The First SontsuAgainst all odds, the outlaw settlers managed to establish a colony of their own. And while there were several episodes that threatened to wipe out all early human life on Isleprimoton, over the course of centuries they did in fact command a foothold on the uncharted continent. Just as Cervia would come to be known as the First Mother, theoretically spawning all human life on Excilior, Sorealia would later be recognized as the Second Mother, giving rise to all of the early Sontsu peoples.
Competing NarrativesSorealia's "kidnapping" is portrayed in wildly different lights between the east and the west. In the east, to this day, the story of Sorealia is viewed as a tragedy - one in which she was taken as a hostage to serve a woeful life as the brood mare for all future Sontsu. In the west, the story is told as two young starry-eyed lovers who escaped under the daring leadership of Achto Kivelia to become the progenitors of the completely new Sontsu culture. Although there is little doubt that young Sorealia was indeed smitten with Ido, most "neutral" accounts surmise that there is no way that she would have willingly abandoned her family and set off for the utter wilderness without the undue influence of Achto and the lovestruck Ido.
Sorealia's LegacyRegardless of the historical interpretation, there is little debate about the divergent historical paths forged by this event. Cervia never saw her daughter again. (In fact, it wasn't until long after Cervia's death that the citizens of Auld Cervia confirmed that Achto's party of settlers actually succeeded, and that they had manage to establishment the burgeoning Sontsu nations.) Sorealia's loss is widely acknowledged as having a hardening effect on the First Mother. She became more strident about codifying matriarchal supremacy into law. She grew quicker to banish any rebellious men from her colony. And by the time of the splintering of Auld Cervia, all of the resulting nations were founded with clear advantages for women woven deeply into the fabric of their societies.
Achto's PrecedentsSontsu customs were not driven by the ideological directives of Cervia Polonosa, but by Achto Kivelia. And just as Cervia Polonosa was keen to establish a strong legal doctrine supporting women's rights, Achto was determined to ensure that Sontsu culture would be a male-dominated one. Amongst the Sontsu (and eventually, the Jontzu and the Lumidari), women were confined to an existence "behind the scenes".
Entrenched TraditionsGiven that Excilior is now home to more than 175 million people, spread across 3 continents and 80 separate countries sharing nearly 4,000 years of history, it would be a gross oversimplification to imply that all eastern men are oppressed and all eastern women hold all of the political, economic, and social power. Conversely, it would be ridiculous to state that western women enjoy no agency of their own or that western men have a monopoly on influence. But the ripple effects of the conflict between Cervia and Achto have proven to be stubbornly resilient. Nearly all eastern nations are still known to be strongly matriarchal. And nearly all western nations are still known to be strongly patriarchal.
I had high hopes that we could strike some kind of trade agreement. But when Arinoch spied their negotiating party and told them to bring in the men so we could start the "real" talks, well... I knew that nothing productive would come from the session.
Solmon Hailmuth, Cheian merchant, 2082 AoE
Diplomatic FrictionIn more modern times, with casterways spreading out across the continents, and with cross-border diplomacy and commerce steadily increasing, the stark contrast in gender roles repeatedly rears its head in international affairs. Many a treaty has faltered (or failed to emerge) when male, western rulers refused to treat their female, eastern counterparts on equal terms (or vice versa). Fortunes have been scuttled when the merchants of Islemanoton and Islegantuan refused to bow to the patriarchal prejudices of the west. Western men tend to portray their eastern counterparts as cuckolds and cowards, deriding them as being controlled by their "weak" women. Eastern women tend to lump all western men into the category of oppressors and misogynists.
Although the gender dynamics in eastern and western cultures are quite clear, the way these dynamics manifest themselves are far from uniform. In some countries, it is formally codified in law that only members of a particular sex can hold specific offices. In other countries, the restrictions are more subtly understood. And cultural norms vary wildly as to what are "acceptable" roles/tasks for each gender. For example, an Elladoran woman is more likely to take the lead on physical activities, with the logic that "if you want something done right, you need to get a woman to do it". Conversely, Inqoan women are more likely to leave the majority of physical tasks to men, under the belief that such manual labor is "beneath" them and should be avoided unless there are simply no men available to do the work.
Exceptions Prove the RuleEven with regard to leadership and high office, gender roles can become muddied based on the current realities. Over four millennia of history, there are certainly numerous examples of men who have seized leadership opportunities in the east (or had such opportunities thrust upon them). Many women have managed to capture incredible power - and even formal titles - in the west. But while these counter-cultural examples can and do arise on occasion, the underlying societies tend to return to their deep-seated gender ideals over time.