Robust women (bohsa maahm in the Middlelander tongue; literally: “big person/woman”) are people who fall on one extreme of the Middlelander fertile-robust spectrum. Females in the Middleland culture come in two wide gender-esque categories called “fertile women” and “robust women,” though there are shades in between.
Like fertile women, robust women are born with a female reproductive tract, but it is usually non-functioning, so they do not contribute directly to child birth. They are generally taller and stronger than fertile women, and traditionally served an important role in farm work, the raising of children, and the protection of men.
It is not always visually obvious if a woman is robust or not (though it often is). Since the trait falls on a spectrum and there is no hard line between “fertile” and “robust”, some individuals are ambiguous and may not even know how to categorize themselves. However, most robust women have a distinctive voice pitch, a taller-than-average stature, and a top-heavy body shape that serves as an indication.
History of Robust Women
Originally, the existence of robust women was an accident of circumstance, a result of the effects of yaw root on the Middlelander population. Female Middlelanders evolved to be extremely tolerant to the overabundance of phytoestrogens in the plant and slightly less tolerant to the weaker amounts of phytoandrogens.
Robust women represent an over-correction of this trait, being extremely sensitive to the phytoandrogens, and hardly sensitive to the phytoestrogens. As a result, most do not ovulate and cannot become pregnant. Their external reproductive organs may also include a small phallus, though they have no male internal reproductive structures and therefore cannot impregnate their partners.
Over the eons, robust women came to occupy an invaluable role in society. Early in the history of the Middleland, farmable land was sparse, as yaw root could only be grown in a certain region (Samma Valley) prior to later advances in farming technology. Violent clashes between family groups were common. Due to a similar scarcity of males, the kidnapping or seduction of young men was also a constant threat, with some high-status women taking on male brides and monopolizing the most attractive mates.
While Middlelander women in general evolved to be large and aggressive in order to protect these resources, families with a population of robust women had a huge defensive advantage, as long as they produced an adequate amount of fertile women and men as well. This, coupled with the fact that boys who share the womb with robust females are more likely to survive gestation, led to the persistence of the “robust” trait, which appears in 15 – 20% of females.
Relationship Between Men and Robust Women
Because of this history, there exists a special relationship between men and robust women. Even in modern times, robust women are born with an unconscious instinct to protect male-sized individuals, and will rarely attack people who are smaller than fertile Middlelander women. (Though she is not fully aware of it, this offers Kanna Rava an advantage many times in Goda’s Slave.)
However, as the Middleland culture unified into a theocracy, the role of robust women became less defined. This ambiguity only increased further as land ownership became more centralized and farm work was overtaken by slave labor. Mating customs also changed as the Middleland industrialized, and instead of coordinating the use of males through favors and violence, often money or other resources began to serve as exchange, rendering the protective presence of robust women less important.
Modern taboos also limit contact between robust women and men. As the Middleland culture developed a basic scientific method, it was discovered that fertile women cannot become impregnated without having sex with males (which was not at all obvious before, as most Middlelanders are pansexual and maintain multiple partners of any gender). After this discovery, sexual contact with men evolved into even more of a traded commodity, and sexual contact between men and robust women came to be increasingly viewed as “wasteful.”
A robust woman who has fallen in love with a man is considered especially troublesome, as she may violently mate-guard him and monopolize his time. Great pains are taken to avoid such situations, since they create social disharmony in a society where less than 30% of the population is male and monogamy is unusual.
Nevertheless, men will instinctively seek out robust women for sex, protection, and friendship–albeit discreetly. Most Middlelander males are attracted to robust women.
The Modern Role of Robust Women
Many instincts are frustrated in modern times and there are increasingly fewer channels to direct the natural aggression of both types of women. Robust women in particular have a reputation for criminality in the Middleland and make up a disproportionate percentage of those who are arrested and enslaved.
While a robust woman can technically hold any job a fertile woman can, and is considered equal to a fertile woman under the law, there is unofficial job discrimination in certain fields, especially in child care, education, and temple work. Though all non-male Middlelanders may officially become priestesses, few robust women successfully join the clergy due to these social barriers, and of those who join, few attain high status positions. A robust woman has never held the position of High Priestess.
More often, robust women are encouraged by the government to join the military. This provides a productive outlet for any aggressive energy and–for those who are stationed in foreign countries–a convenient way to direct robust female sexuality towards foreigners rather than Middlelander males. (While soldiers are officially instructed to remain celibate when stationed in foreign territories to avoid conflict over local sexual norms, the Middleland government rarely enforces this.)
As a result of all of these developments, modern robust women face a sort of collective identity crisis which remains unresolved.
The Robust Subculture
Being a minority, robust women have developed a subculture among themselves, along with unspoken social norms and in-group slang.
Most robust women will avoid calling the authorities on one of their own kind unless absolutely necessary, and will often lie to avoid getting another robust woman into trouble for petty crimes. Even a soldier who is attacked by a robust civilian will often choose to enact personal revenge instead of arresting the perpetrator. It is considered more honorable to cause physical injury to another robust woman than to cause damage to her reputation or contribute to her enslavement.
One constant source of in-group conflict stems from the fact that males and robust females are frequently born as sets of fraternal twins. A robust woman will be fiercely protective of her twin brother and will guard him from contact with other robust women, who have a natural interest in befriending unfamiliar men. If two robust women are lovers or very close friends, however, this protective posture may be greatly diminished and they may help each other gain access to mates (both male and female).
Due to their territorial nature, disputes can escalate quickly among robust women, but the tension tends to be settled without outside input, either through empty-handed fighting or through sex.
The Middleland government, which is run largely by high-status fertile women, has made efforts to dissolve the presence of this unspoken subculture, as it has the potential to undermine the High Priestess’s authority. Their propaganda campaigns have had little effect on civilian behavior, however, in part because the material is often designed from an outsider’s perspective, by non-robust women.
One glaring example of this can be found in The Burning Heart of Seia, an erotic romance novel originally published by the Middleland government to serve as propaganda discouraging robust women from seeking men. It painted such unions as sinister and presented the main character (a robust woman passionately in love with a man) as doomed and foolish.
The novel had an effect opposite to the one intended. It became a popular classic of Middlelander literature and spawned an entire sub-genre of romance concerning forbidden love.