Following last post's historical theme, here are some pics from some Viking items at the British Museum:
|A Sword-woman admiring Viking swords :)|
|Ornaments, featuring the Pitney brooch|
"Whalebone plaques probably had a symbolic function too. Their link with women is clear, being used by women in life and buried with them in death. Perhaps plaques like this one symbolised the central role Viking women played in the home – organising the household, caring for the family, preparing food and making clothing." (Source)
Yes, Viking women may have had more rights and a bit more freedom compared to other contemporary European societies (such as the Anglosaxon one, it seems) - They could have their own property (which included inheriting and probably trading), get a divorce, demand punishment if they were harassed or raped (although men weren't exactly taught 'not to rape', as it seems), and some women knew how to fight and seemed to have joined the men in battles, raids, and trading and exploration parties (Material such as archaeology finds, sagas and annals seem to confirm this, disregardless of archaeology gender bias, but seeing as we're talking about a strictly male-dominated society, these activities probably weren't the norm around women, although women warriors/Shielmaidens (and quite a handful, according to burial evidence), female settlers (female armed settlers and raiders ignored because of gender bias), and female explorers, traders and leaders definitely existed). Additionally, women also seem to have been able to gain some power by taking religious roles (priestesses and völvas (seeresses)).
Disregardless of this, we should bear in mind that the Vikings were still a male-dominated society with strict gender roles, same as mostly every culture, unfortunately, and the women were the ones expected to take care of the household (disregadless of whether the husband was away or not), the children and their husband's needs. Some argue that this role of taking care of the estate and household involved more power than in other societies, but we should still bear in mind that all those (hard) tasks were the responsibility of the women, quite convenient for the menfolk and a double standard which is quite recurrent in most cultures.
Women, exceptions aside, also couldn't hold significant positions of power or take part in political activities (unless it be as the consort, Siggy's role in Vikings, or as a very notable exception, such as Lagertha becoming Earl in the same series, which still involved taking a man's name and having her position taken from her shortly after). They seemed to be pretty much opressed by the law in many ways as well, apparently being viewed as under the authority of their fathers and husbands (other cultures have it worse in this respect, such as the Greeks, but that's not a reason to ignore it), having limited freedom to do what they liked with their own property (even though they had their own property and could inherit), often not being able to have a say in their families' decision of who they should marry (even though if they were mistreated or insulted, they could get divorced and got granted custody of the children), not being able to be a witness or speak in assemblies (the series Vikings shows women acting as witnesses and speaking during the Thing, though, not sure how accurate that is), and also being punished for 'dressing like men' or carrying weapons, according to some lawbooks (this could indicate that the shieldmaidens were more of a remarkable minority among the womenfolk, unless those kind of laws varied depending on the time and lawbook, as happened among the Celts, where the women were able to carry weapons until it was prohibited by law in Medieval Christian Ireland. I do find that this statement clashes a bit with all the burial evidence of female warriors, which seem to have been a bit more numerous than 'just the random exception', though).
|Viking women by Angus McBride|
So there's no need to needlessly romanticize these cultures by calling them 'egalitarian cultures' in the sense we'd do and demand today - and I'm also talking about other cultures such as the Celts, Minoans and Egyptians here as well, because they may have been cultures that offered women more rights and freedom - and compared to other contemporary or non-contemporary cultures these rights were quite remarkable (women being able to inherit property among the Celts, but not in Regency times centuries later, for example) -, but they were still generally male-dominated cultures and societies with no true equality between the sexes - Hell, we don't even have 'true equality' today! Women were better off in some of those cultures than in other, more patriarchal ones (such as the Greek society), but gender roles and male-dominated laws and rights still existed, and that is something that is sometimes ignored when it comes to praising a culture for their 'remarkable equality'. Yes, women being able to have property, choose a husband or take arms to defend themselves are unfortunately 'radical notions' and remarkable aspects that should be taken into account and appreciated (because women in other societies and cultures don't get to enjoy those 'remarkable rights'), but they're, after all, 'remarkable' simply because the basis of all these societies is male-dominated, so basic human rights are considered 'worthy of praise' and 'a sign of a truly egalitarian society' if they're offered to women.
And let's finish this post with some shieldmaiden appreciation while closet-cosplaying (or should I say shop-cosplaying?) a pair of Viking warrior-women in the British Museum shop :D