Women on Nova
Women on Nova have distinctly different rights, powers, and social roles than do men.
Women are their own legal person under Novan law. They have their own estate status, may sue and be sued in their own persons, and sign for contracts (subject to their property rights, discussed below). However, a married woman’s husband has the right to act in her name (a right that it is not reciprocal except in House Felicin lands).
Women on Nova may not own property, except for sisters of the brotherhood. In practice, even women of lesser estate are said to “own” personal property, but legally they require a male to own their property and permit them to use it.
Marriage and Divorce
Women on Nova generally marry between the ages of fourteen and sixteen, usually to men four to eight years their senior. Women of the brotherhood typically marry slightly later, between 16 and 18.
Marriage is the most socially important task a Novan woman of any estate can undertake. Marriage brings prestige to a woman, as well as material assistance – no small matter when nine out of ten people struggle to put food on their plates. Novan women tend to have a keen eye for a potential mate’s ability to provide, and young women spend much time gossiping over such characteristics of young men as work ethic, property, professional or family connections, and professional talent.
Novan courtship customs tend towards the nebulous and informal. Nova has no concept of “dating” per se. Young people evaluate each other as mates in the course of their daily interactions, which may involve much flirting but does not culminate in couples being recognized as exclusively courting. Making time for the purpose of allowing a couple to spend time together alone – i.e., a date – is considered intimidatingly, even menacingly forward. As a result, social occasions that naturally throw crowds of people together, such as harvests, market days, and court functions, are major events for marriageable young people.
Novan women accept or refuse an offer of marriage in their own rights, rather than having matches made for them by their families. However, a bride is expected to provide a dowry, and as young women’s dowries tend to come from their fathers (as few women are even legally able to own their own dowries), family influence is keenly felt. Just as young women judge men as much on their future prospects as a provider as on their looks or personality, so too are women closely judged by young men on the basis of their dowry.
The Ecclesiarchy is relatively lax on the subject of divorce, and secular law takes its cue from the Church in this matter. Women as well as men are permitted to initiate divorce for failure of some part of the marriage contract – for instance, if a spouse will not work, will not bear or sire children, is sexually unfaithful, is a mutant or heretic, and so forth. There is no great stigma to being divorced by itself, but the reasons that one was divorced (or the allegations, at any rate) may seriously affect one’s future prospects. Similarly, although women are permitted to divorce their husbands, few can afford to do so – as a woman marries in her name rather than her father’s, it follows that most women receive no property upon divorce, because most women cannot own property.
Women on Nova are expected to work. However, prior to marriage, young women are expected to spend their time primarily attracting a mate. This includes practicing social arts such as music and dance. Too great a focus on the “passionate” arts is impious, so single women also demonstrate their desirability through conspicuous religious acts and mastering home economics.
Once a woman has married, all but the wealthiest are expected to begin learning their husband’s trade and work alongside him. Men have no such explicit social expectation regarding the art of running a home, but many come to learn home economics in the course of marriage regardless. Young couples thus tend to have fairly specialized work roles, while those who have been married for some time tend to split their work more evenly. Because a work ethic is considered attractive in a woman, there is no stigma attached to a woman who is an expert farmer or artisan. Indeed, such women are admired. All guilds accept women as masters, and many widows continue their husband’s business or farm after his death.
Women rarely learn the arts of war from their husbands because few husbands other than knights or lords know the arts of war in the first place, and the wives of such men tend to have their hands full “merely” running the household. However, women warriors are merely rare on Nova. There exists no sense that women are too delicate for battle, or that warfare is “men’s work.” The three most common ways that women become warriors are:
- As the wife of a mercenary, who is expected to learn her husband’s trade like any other (though whether the couple can afford two sets of arms and armor is quite another matter).
- From experience as the de facto leader of a castle when her husband is not in residence (which he rarely would be in times of war or turmoil).
- As an “axe maiden,” the eldest child of noble parents who have no male children.
The custom of the axe maiden derives from the Church doctrine that the faithful’s first duty is to hate and destroy the mutant, the alien, the heretic, and the daemon wherever they are found. It follows from this doctrine (or so it is commonly thought) that a House must produce knights to literally combat corruption. If a branch of a House produces no sons to take up this mantle, its eldest daughter may be dedicated to the God-Emperor as an axe maiden to ensure that her House’s martial traditions do not die out. Axe maidens are typically dedicated between the ages of eight and ten. They are trained as knights and, so long as they continue to bear arms, treated exactly like a male knight under law.
“Bearing arms” involves more than simple martial training. To maintain her legal status as a man, an axe maiden must act like a man in the feudal sense. An axe maiden must wear a sword, collect rents, establish laws and enforce justice, answer her overlord’s calls to arms, and personally protect her tenants against threats to their persons or property such as bandits or orks.
An axe maiden may thus continue to practice arms without “bearing arms” in the legal sense. In fact, it is not uncommon for axe maidens to cease to bear arms at some point in their lives (sometimes continuing to practice arms for personal or pragmatic reasons, other times abandoning the practice of arms altogether). The most common reason for this is for a younger brother to be born, allowing an axe maiden to surrender her legal maleness without leaving her family bereft of a male heir. It is also not uncommon for an axe maiden to give up her maleness after marriage, thus allowing the title and property that were hers at marriage to pass to her husband. Many husbands are otherwise reluctant to marry an axe maiden. Even axe maidens whose husbands are content with their own property and titles, however, may hang up their arms in favor of motherhood or a more traditional female role. An axe maiden who ceases to bear arms is said to have “hung up” (as opposed to having “laid down”) her arms, as the dedication itself cannot be undone short of excommunication. It is thus possible (though rare) for an axe maiden who has hung up her arms to resume her maleness by bearing arms again.
The Ecclesiarchy does not devote a great deal of dogma to separating man and woman. For instance, while sexual infidelity and promiscuity are both serious sins, no special religious or social value attaches to female virginity specifically. From the Ecclesiarchy’s standpoint, any sexual behavior that smacks of self-centeredness is corrupt. There is no need to single out women’s sexual behavior.
At the same time, the Ecclesiarchy does have distinct gender roles. Women may join the Black Sisters, but never the white priests – and both orders are celibate. The Mechanicus’ clergy are also celibate, but the red priests accept both male and female into their ranks without discrimination.
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