Apparently having a female-lead religion centered on a holy woman makes no difference whatsoever to culture and society! Oh wait no.
It’s like they wanted to have female player characters, which is good, and female NPCs who are warriors and stuff, which is also good, so they felt like they needed to have an explanation for why it’s normal to have lady soldiers in this world so they developed their lore just enough for that (look over there! Andraste!) and STOPPED THERE.
As if it wouldn’t impact the entire society and the way different genders interact and attitudes towards sex and family and lineage. As if a female savior who was married to both a man and the Maker would somehow produce the exact same social mores about chastity and fidelity and heteronormativity. The entire origin myth of the religion is that Andraste’s husband got jealous and betrayed her. The original sin is not sex, it’s sexual jealousy! So why is there still slut shaming? Why is monogamy still enshrined? Why there no same-sex marriage, when there’s no proscriptions against homosexuality in their religion? None of this makes any sense!
Besides being a huge missed opportunity to imagine a more egalitarian society, it’s lazy writing. It’s not thinking through the implications of your own canon, which is a fatal flaw for worldbuilding.
Personally, I think the misogyny in the Dragon Age world is intentional, and not just the result of lazy writing. I’m not denying the fact that having such strong misogyny exist raises questions - like just how much power does a female-dominated religion have if misogyny exists on the level it does? What is the importance of women in the Chantry if women aren’t as important anywhere else?
But there are some writings that make it hard to believe that the Andrastian religion is intended to do anything beneficial sexism-wise. Anders in particular drove me to conclude that the Chantry’s strong female presence is just a pretty picture.
According to Isabela, the world of Thedas is “not kind to women”, and the male Templar Emeric doesn’t deny this claim. He only bitterly says “I hope you’re wrong, madame.” Isabela also describes her personal experience with what was probably an abusive relationship with a husband that only ended when the husband was killed. It’s possible that women in abusive relationships aren’t supported or cared for, even if they receive sympathy.
Ser Aveline (Aveline’s namesake) was the first female Orlesian chevalier and was murdered because she defeated all her male opponents. This was 250 years ago, and is specific to Orlesian culture only. However, a female Warden in Origins will hear both skepticism and distain about their ability more than once. Origins takes place in modern Fereldan, which means that women in battle is still a relatively new/misunderstood concept worldwide. Despite, you know, Andraste being a warrior.
If Isabela doesn’t come back to give the relic back to the Arishok and you take Fenris with you, Fenris will put you up to a battle to the death, the reward being that the Qunari surrender. If Hawke is female, the Arishok will say to Fenris that he cannot battle a woman, and Fenris will respond with “but she is no women, she is a warrior” (paraphrased.) This case is less nuanced, because it’s possible that Fenris is just playing to Qunari mentality, and doesn’t actually see Hawke as “powerful in spite of her gender.”
Anders interactions with a female Hawke are sometimes very different from a male Hawke, and he makes a couple of misogynistic remarks about women throughout Awakening and Dragon Age II; flirting with Velanna upon first meeting her and then sarcastically telling others years later that “all Dalish women are crazy” as a reference to her, snapping at Aveline by taunting her dead husband’s sex life, and sneering at female Hawke with “little girl" if Hawke threatens him upon first meeting, compared to just "boy" if Hawke is male.
I would put it up to Anders having difficulty seeing women in a professional, non-romanticized perspective, which might be a direct result of the female-dominated Chantry.
For example, flirting with a female Hawke will prompt Anders to cheekily snark back (“Sweetheart, I’m not letting anyone lock me up - you included.”), but with a male Hawke, he’ll speak with a more equal, less detached manner (“They’re not so much interested in destroying me as destroying my kind and all I represent”).
This detached way of interacting with women also exists in the way he talks about his past relationship with Karl to a male Hawke, but not a female one. His writer claimed that she didn’t think a bisexual man would bring up the topic to a women, but why not? Loosing Karl was devastating to Anders, why wouldn’t he share his grief with someone willing to listen, female or not? This, along with his attitude towards women in general, makes Anders a man who doesn’t trust, rely, or communicate with women as much as he does men.
Alistair has much the same problem, except less antagonistic. He’s not quite as comfortable interacting with a female Warden compared to a male one, and at points it’s clear he’d rather consider the Warden the ‘cute girl next door’ rather than a fellow soldier. EDIT: I just remembered that his disposition towards the female Warden will actually drop if you respond to his itty-flirt of “there has never been many women in the Grey Wardens. I wonder why that is?” with the response of “I would prefer that you stop thinking of me as a women”. This tells me that heteronormality is common amongst the Andrastian religion, and that a man is expected to see women in romantic lights, even if they’re your fellow soldiers.
In Dragon Age II, seven years later, he’ll jokingly refer to being reprehended by Meredith as being ‘emasculated’ and his marriage to the Warden as the ‘ball and chain’, also joking with Teagan in the flavor of the Warden being the ‘man’ in their relationship. So, you know, the misogyny is there, just not aggressive or violent.
To me, both Alistair and Anders being followers of the Andrastian religion is no coincidence. The way I see it, the strong presence of women in their religion is nothing more than having all female Saints, still governed by a male-associated higher power. Fans of Dragon Age sometimes like to think that Andrastians appreciate or even revere women because of their religion, but I don’t see any evidence to prove that this is the case. Maybe some people do, but it wouldn’t be because of their religion.
Overall, I think that the Andrastian religion is a male-focused religion with multiple female figureheads. Women aren’t appreciated or communicated with, but the statues and paintings will portray their likeliness for the sake of culture.
To me this only further highlights the inconsistencies of this world. Because yes, Anders is enormously sexist, and the entire Alistair storyline is dripping with patrilineal nobility crap. But I feel that your examples are all things that should not exist in this world, given the lore we have. Except maaaaaybe in the Qunari tradition, but even there it’s presented pretty inconsistently.
Anyway. The Divine, the head of the Chantry, is a woman. The Grand Cleric is always a woman. ALL of the priests in non-heretical branches of Andrastianism are women. Per the religion women are the ones who make doctrine, the ones who appeal to Andraste for guidance (because the Maker, if you’ll recall, is gone, he’s an absent father figure and Andraste acts in his place) and female authority figures are the ones who call an Exalted March,
And yet for some reason men in the story can’t picture a woman in a position of authority. Where did that come from? From thin air? Why would that seem at all outlandish when they see it literally every day? Because in a Chantry-dominated society all of these characters were surrounded by women running things from birth, and yet they go around acting otherwise. Is there some other cultural tradition that states that women are naturally inferior? Which one is it then? Where is it? We never see one.
There is no plausible reason for this, it’s just this free-floating thing that makes no sense, unless you happen to think of the inherent weakness of women as a biological necessity that requires no explanation.
Then you can act like this sort of behavior just naturally happens anywhere that people are, because sexism is normal and just going to happen independently of the history and culture of a people.
I do not believe that this is how things work. I think this is a normalization of sexism not to mention heteronormativity and the gender binary and thinking that’s the natural way of things rather than a cultural construct. I don’t think ideas just appear everywhere simultaneously without explanation or origin and I don’t think these ideas in particular reflect any kind of natural law.
What we have here is a pretty spectacular failure of imagination. To still be leaning on male chauvinism and the rape and abuse of women for storylines when it flies in the face of the world you’ve created is to me the very definition of lazy writing, when you could be creating something completely new and different instead. It’s really too bad.