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On crafting a Steampunk Society
The Dime
Here is what I am pondering: Is it possible to write a Victorian-inspired society in which there is gender equality and wide-spread acceptance of non-heterosexuality and yet it is still considered socially unacceptable/undesirable to be a child out-of-wedlock? And on top of that, can it be written in such a way that the societal rules don't need three pages of "As you know, Bob..." exposition? The more I try to reconcile these two setting elements, the more I realize how much they are intertwined, and trying to shift them into line with each other makes the society require too many special rules. And then it becomes about the rules, not the story.

ETA: My comments are not meant to be attacks or condemnations on any of the ideas you have graciously shared with me. It's me trying to fine-tune my thinking, and maybe playing a little devil's advocate. Thanks.

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You'll have to have chastity outside of wedlock be a core value for both men and women, but if that's the case, then I don't see why it won't work. You just have to hit home the fact that a man's virtue is as valuable as a woman's, no matter the sexuality.

While I agree that chastity has to be presented as a virtue of equal value between the sexes, I feel like the value is a result of societal setup as opposed to just a free-standing meme. I want to know what that drive is in this society. Why should people be chaste? Desperately trying to avoid making up religious reasons.

While religious reasons are not the way you want to go, the importance of love, and that love being used to raise a child may factor heavily in a Victorian-like society. People like being committed to each other, and out of their love, nurture and raise a little thing. Without that love, wherever it comes from, there can be a social lack.

If you look at a man/woman relationship in Victorian times, the religious aspect of one man and one woman are going to be evident. If you want to change that assumption, and also change the religious one, societal norms of one (or even multiple) people raising children could be something established.

Or, if you are dealing in a one type of person situation, a child born a bastard could be seen as a shame due to the nature of identity of the person who is the bio-dad. It doesn't take a hell of a lot to have an unknown, dirty, homeless person being you bio-dad before you suddenly would rather the child came from different, more established parents.

Also, to piggie-back on seimaisin's comment, there are plenty of social (and dare i say LEGAL) ideas of multiple parents being best for the child's upbringing. Children need more than one figure to be able to cognitively form correctly. (and before anyone jumps on me for "bashing" single parents, I'm saying as a trend, not as an absolute.)

Long comment short; love. Also, societal norms.

Drawing on these ideas, you could also make the value of love part of the reason why non-heterosexuality is acceptable. This could be a society where love (in its many forms) is held as a high (quasi-religious but without the god component) ideal. If love is all-important, then marriage might also be important as a ceremonial expression of true love. Children born out of wedlock are children born outside the bonds of love. Furthermore, if love is such a high ideal, perhaps the class distinctions you draw below could also fit easily into the equation. High ideals are generally the reserve of the upper classes, since the lower classes are sometimes viewed as too low to ever achieve high ideals. So bastards born to upper class parents are very problematic since they are not born within the bonds of formalized love, but bastards born to the lower classes aren't as bad because they don't require formalized love. Then adoption of lower class children by upper class parents might be viewed as saving the children by bringing them into love, and be acceptable.

Perhaps children must be born with love or they cannot ever truly love another? Then it's very bad for the children if they're born out of wedlock, and the same class distinctions I gave above would still work.

Religion doesn't need to play a role; simply make the motivation monetary, which is the reason chastity is a value in most societies anyway. There's no assurance, if sex is rampant outside of wedlock, of the propagation of a family's genes, and therefore that the wealth goes with the bloodline. So, a woman's chastity has always been a value because of this. You have to find a way to make a man's chastity equally valuable and then extrapolate. It's just so much harder with men because of the lack of visible consequences.

Hmmm. I think you can, if you create a society in which the legal contract of marriage is still an important part of society - no matter who is allowed to enter into that contract, the contract itself can be the thing that lends legitimacy to a person's social standing. If you're not part of a recognized family group, then you don't have a place. I think that's a concept that can be relayed to an audience without a whole lot of exposition.

I think you’ve hit in on the head when it comes to what I need to think about for this situation: why do people in this society get married? What goes into a family unit beyond just biological links and shared resources? There has to be something within the marriage contract that is of benefit to the children.

Hah, my thoughts exactly. ::points up::

Sure. One way would be to posit a heavily overpopulated region (easy fit) and posit a "family within the bounds of a marriage contract that can provide for the children only" society.

I think in that situation, ‘bastard children’ become a problem of the poor, who don‘t have the resources to provide for as many children. I know I did not state it in my workings above, but in retaining the Victorian propriety I feel like the problem of being a ‘bastard’ is more of a problem to the gentry, and those worried about status and labels.

what about adding an external factor that makes population control necessary? instead of a social restriction it could be a legal one. I'm not coming up with any suitable for steampunk, but in space opera it would be a setting of a station or ship with limited resources.

I can see a legal requirement changing into a social idea - bastards frowned upon because ‘you are a drain on our limited resources’. But I don’t feel like this is inherent to bastard children. A very wealthy woman could have a single child out of wedlock, and legally it would be acceptable, I imagine.

One reason people often consider the child-out-of-wedlock thing to be bad is because raising a kid is a full-time job in and of itself. In a gender-equal society, it might be expected that both (all?) parents share equally in both child rearing and breadwinning duties. But if there's only one parent, that could leave parent and child socioeconomically marginalized. The difficulty would be finding a job that is both flexible in terms of hours put in and sufficiently financially rewarding as to make it possible to hire some help for child rearing.

If there is no paid help or extensive volunteerist structure (friends & family) for child rearing, a single parent would be in a bind very quickly. The lack of help might be more of a cultural phenomenon where it's just considered immoral or otherwise distasteful not to raise one's own children. That might also impact on, e.g., whether adoption is viable in that society. I could see this fitting in with certain Social Darwinist views, actually, although I think that's a little post-Victorian.

Good analysis. In my other comments, I note my lack of description that I am trying to reconcile being a bastard among the gentry as opposed to the lower classes, and in these situations the economic burdens may not be as great. Any in that Victorian gentry setting, there is the system of ‘paid help’ for the raising of children. Basically, to spoil everything, I’m trying to figure out why, in a gender-and-sexuality accepting upper class, a married couple would find it more advantageous to pretend that their grandchild is actually their own child, as opposed to the bastard child of their unwed daughter.

I am also very much getting caught up on what this would mean for adoptions, orphans, etc. How are these happy same-sex couples I’m making supposed to get children of their own if there is a stigma against bastards and extra-marital sex? (without going down the m-preg or steam-power-egg-fusion routes)

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