"Viking" Women

Published on 19 March 2024 at 09:37

I just saw on Facebook today an article on how Viking women have been misrepresented as housekeepers etc. and neglected in literature. While I agree with the last point, I'd like to mention the fact that women did feature in sagas and poems, and not just as the trope warrior maiden. Take Auður in Gísla saga or Guðrún in Laxdæla saga - the whole book revolves around her and her love life. But the reason imo that women didn't feature as frequently is based more on what people expected of literature in the Middle Ages when these sagas were written. People wanted to hear about towering feuds, family crises, and fighting warriors, not about the kind of "quiet" action that would define most women's lives. I say quiet, as women's stories were not generally considered interesting or exciting enough to the general populace. There was no concept of a novel, nor of writing about day to day life. It was all about preserving or embellishing events. You don't hear about the cotter in the woods, either. But I do agree, there is an overall sexist bias there.

However, the idea proposed that the lady of the house did not wear the house keys as a sign of authority makes no sense. Someone has to carry them when every house and shed on the estate has locks, and who better than the overseer of the household? It's simple logic. What good would it do to have them with the travelling, battle fighting, farming guy? And naturally, this would set a woman apart from her servant and slave women. Also, like somebody pointed out, of course we don't find keys in burial sites as the keys went with the house, not the wearer - whoever inherited the woman's place would need them.

And to be brutally frank, a life without birth control or even simple painkillers would be pretty harrowing for a woman. Apart from some exceptionally tough warrior women like Red Daughter, most women would have taken on the workload they could physically sustain in all weather so to speak - and that wouldn't be grubbing boulders and tree trunks out of fields or fighting wars or even travelling widely. You must remember that pregnancy and childbirth were even more dangerous and difficult than they are now. And people didn't live solo like we do, you always had at least one other person with you, and any woman would have been grateful for a friend who could fill in for her while she had her period or could deliver her children. Gender roles are stupid, but doubly so when we live so far removed from our natural condition and stifle ourselves into outdated conventions. By no means am I saying women are weak, I'm as feminist as they come and I admire any woman who challenges sexist norms. But we also can't rewrite history to suit our modern opinions. We must do justice by the incredibly strong women who faced so much hardship and pain in their lives yet accomplished more in a single day than most of us do in a lifetime (of actually life sustaining work).

After all, why must we stoop to competing with men? Why must the ultimate role model and heroine invariably be a warrior? Maybe we should just celebrate all women's stories. Despite the sexist human condition, one thing the Norse and Celts gave us as a heritage is a deep respect for women, personally and socially (think of all the freedoms they had, and the religious emphasis on them. I could write a whole article on the goddess cults in Norse religion and their marriage outlook). Let's take pride in that heritage and build from it, without trying to manipulate things or cover up what doesn't suit us. After all, isn't that what we blame the Victorian historians for?

That's why I wrote my series, Oddny Einarsdottir - I wanted to highlight the reality for most women in the Viking Age without sugar coating it, yet also show where they did have it good. Sorry for my rant, but Norse civilization is a deep passion of mine, something I've studied for years, and it really nettles me to see these attempts to rewrite the narrative. Each to their own opinion, though.

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