Along with climate awareness, millennials like to imagine they invented gender equality. Truth is, we were talking about sexism and racism back in the 20th century (and earlier; see Gissing's novel, below) and we were just as committed to ending all prejudice. That’s what Star Trek was all about. Regardless of modern cynicism, “We come in peace for all mankind” wasn’t an ironic statement for most who heard Neil Armstrong say it.
Likewise in games. My own original campaign was set in Tsolyanu, the Empire of the Petal Throne, which overtly allows for sexual equality by a woman declaring herself aridani. At that point she ceases to be a ward of the clan, as most women remain throughout their lives, and becomes the equal of a man in rights and responsibilities. (More detail about that here if you scroll down.)
Other ‘70s roleplaying settings allowed for female adventurers, of course. EPT wasn’t unique in that respect. But Professor Barker actually thought about how societies organize, and what it would mean to have the cultural mechanism for women to declare themselves equal. In theory a female player-character could even choose to remain non-aridani, though I’m not sure how much fun that would be. The point is, it’s a real choice with an upside and a downside.
In the D&D games I occasionally looked in on back then, gender equality was dealt with by treating the world as a sort of huge cosplay arena, with most NPCs acting as if they were in the Middle Ages and PCs as the guests bringing 20th (or 21st) century mores into that.
In the heyday of gamebooks we knew that 90% of our readers were boys, but I was always mindful of the other 10% (if not, back then, much aware of the fuzzy area of overlap between the two) and made sure to keep descriptions gender-neutral. For instance, if you were running from the town militia, as often seemed to happen in gamebooks, and Jamie or Oliver or Mark had written passers-by yelling “Stop him!” I’d remind them to change it to “Stop that thief!” or “Grab the miscreant!”
In the land of Legend as described in Dragon Warriors there is no societal provision for becoming aridani. The world is supposed to be like our medieval times, that’s the whole point. Female player-characters in DW could be whatever they wanted to be, even knights, but the prodigy of a female knight would be remarked on by the people they met. In the same way, a Mungoda hunter strolling through the streets of Ongus should expect to attract attention – Melville talks in the opening paragraphs of Billy Budd about just such a (black) Handsome Sailor archetype attracting “the tribute of a pause and stare, and less frequently an exclamation”.
But race is another post (and in fact I have an interesting tale about that; remind me). I said there was no formal cultural mechanism for gender equality in the Middle Ages, but knights belong to the nobility, and with class comes a whole set of social passkeys. Celia Fiennes or Lady Mary Wortley Montagu could carry themselves with swashbuckling disregard for the attitudes of their times and merely be regarded as eccentric. Agnes Hotot even reputedly tilted in the lists. (She was probably more Ronda Rousey than Keira Knightley, as I doubt if I could even move in tournament plate myself, much less climb onto a horse while carrying a lance.)
To be equal doesn’t have to mean being the same. In our world I doubt if we’ll ever see a lot of women firefighters or oil riggers. Female PCs in my Legend games usually opt to be sorcerer or assassin rather than an armour-clad beefcake, but if a female PC wants to be a knight, how should she style herself? There’s a trend these days to stamp out any gender difference in titles (actor/actress, dominator/dominatrix, etc) and there’s very good reason for that: we want to eliminate the preconceptions that may come with gender-specific titles. But a fantasy world should be colourful rather than politically correct, so I’m going to make a plea that players don’t opt for styling their female knights “Sir Agnes Hotot” or whatever. It’s a horrible, Gradgrindian intrusion of modern attitudes into the game world. What’s wrong with “Dame Agnes”? Dame is Middle English for a female ruler (cf the Dame of Sark) and derives from the Latin domina. By contrast, Sir comes from sire, which comes from the Latin word senior, in the sense of having higher status. And that ain't bad, but it's nothing like a dame.