A huge proportion of high fantasy stories written by western writers are set in worlds based on a medieval European setting. Or not so much real medieval Europe, but the fantasy world the medievalist Tolkien designed.
Tolkien’s world was a made up one.
Many writers base their worlds on his. They don’t change much. Except for the magic, and ‘their’ story, most of them remain true to Tolkien’s setting. Including his now almost-a-hundred-year-old views of a woman’s place in society, and how sex, politics and gender should be treated.
We don’t need that to make a good high fantasy.
What do we need?
- A world which has little or no technology, and the subsequent lifestyle requirements from that, like transport, and how people fight
- Clothing from another era
- The magic, or McGuffin, demons or dragons or whatever makes your story special.
What else do you need to make high fantasy work? Other than a good story and characters to love?
Democracies, republics, monarchies, aristocracies, theocracies, dictatorships have been around for millennia. I can’t say I’ve come across many governments in fantasy that you can’t break back to one of the known types of governing bodies.
Gender inequality, skewed toward a patriarchal system, where the girl never inherits, and her husband or her father protects her?
Of course not, but that’s often part of a high-fantasy novel.
Sexual ‘standards’ where there are two genders and men get together with women and and anything else is a deviation?
Again, you don’t need this for a fantasy, but likewise it’s also often standard.
What about treatment of other races, where people of other cultures or color were treated as sub-human, or property? Do you need this for your fantasy to be successful? Most likely not.
Writers might put a bit of a modern-day slant on these things, in the same way Regency romance writers put a modern-day slant on how their women behave. Because for most of us, the way other races, genders, and women, were treated in older times is not okay. But they still write basically the same world Tolkien did.
I, for one, love books that take the gender/sex/race components and mix them around a bit.