Monday, 27 July 2015

British museum: Vikings and the role of Norse women

Following last post's historical theme, here are some pics from some Viking items at the British Museum:
A Sword-woman admiring Viking swords :)

Penannular brooches

Decorated vessel

Ornaments, featuring the Pitney brooch 

Whalebone plaque
This artifact allows me to critisize Viking gender roles a bit:

   "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)).
Lagertha, by Morris Meredith Williams
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.
Viking women by Angus McBride
 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).

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

Sunday, 26 July 2015

British Museum: Anglosaxon England and Sutton Hoo exhibition

Today's post is a historical one, and it mainly involves a pic overload of Anglosaxon stuff without a lot of text, for a change :) 

One year ago, my mum Pilar Erika and I went to London for a week-long holiday trip, and we stopped by the British Museum with two (well, three) cultures in mind: The Celts, and the Anglosaxons and Vikings. With the Celts being one of my favourite cultures (if not my favourite), philologist Pilar Erika favours - thanks to Beowulf - the Anglosaxon-and-Viking section of history. So here's a pic overload of the Sutton Hoo burial exhibition:
  • Sutton Hoo helmet (original and replica)
More info on the helmet here.

"The face-mask is the helmet’s most remarkable feature. It works as a visual puzzle, with two possible ‘solutions’. The first is of a human face, comprising eye-sockets, eyebrows, moustache, mouth and a nose with two small holes so that the wearer could breathe. The copper alloy eyebrows are inlaid with silver wire and tiny garnets. Each ends in a gilded boar’s head – a symbol of strength and courage appropriate for a warrior. The second ‘solution’ is of a bird or dragon flying upwards. Its tail is formed by the moustache, its body by the nose, and its wings by the eyebrows. Its head extends from between the wings, and lays nose-to-nose with another animal head at the end of a low iron crest that runs over the helmet’s cap." (Source)

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Critisizing Plain Jane part 5: Episode 1 part III

Continuing with my review-commentary of the first episode of this horrific makeover show...One long discussion in this part (one turned out to be too long, so I'll be posting it separately) that can be added to the 'read-later' list at will.

Part III: 

üSummary: The stylist takes Cristen to get some new clothes and manipulates her with sexist stereotypes in order to change her tastes and 'fashion sense'. Because she must learn how to be a feminine, sexy woman in order to succeed in her arranged date! Because being 'feminine' and 'sexy' sure doesn't involve a limited set of options and a lot of gender constructs and stereotypes! And what does it matter if she has her own tastes? Well, it does matter, because she shouldn't have personal opinions. Let us be logical here and think about priorities, folks.

-"She needs to learn about fashion [she needs?]. The best way to teach her is to show her what she's doing wrong"

 Here's the golden rule of our society's suffocating fashion area: Having her own style is doing something wrong because she doesn't conform to what some few dictate as 'what you should wear'. Once she's forced into the new 'fashionable' and 'feminine' style she will realize it had been her favourite style all along. Logic wins the day.

-And right then we have the lovely bonus of her relatives making fun of her clothes. Because family and friends in this show do not know the meaning of ‘empathy’ and ‘support’ if their relative happens to be a woman. Parents and family only support and approve of male offspring in this show, it seems (and they take their time to remind us all about how they are perfect in every way). Same goes for friends, both male and female.

-Meanwhile, Cristen is very naïvely selecting things she likes in the shop. The stylist is quick to snatch those offending items from her hands with some fantastic phrases as a bonus:

Stylist - "Is that a hoodie?! 
Cristen (apologetic) - "It's cuuuute!"
Stylist (scandalized) - "Get rid of it, get rid of that!! Oh my god!" 
(I mean, how DARE you get hold of a hoodie, you tomboy!)
Darling, wake up, only men can wear hoodies in the 21st Century!
The stylist sees a floral dress, and goes 'Mmmh, cute...But it's too girly, I need sexy!'. Next moment, Cristen literally hugs the dress and says 'Oooh, I love this!'. But somehow it's wrong for her to have her own taste. Just ugh.

And the winner quote of the day is: "If you're going to seduce a guy, you can't dress like a guy. That's Cristen's problem". 

Allow me a gif before anything else, because I can't even....UUUUGHHHH!!
Merida understands all my pain 
This 'simple' sentence is so wrong is so many ways!

   -It's  saying, as we all should know by now, that the main aim of this girl, and of any girl, is to 'seduce a guy'. That's it. No life choices, no studies, no aspirations, no dreams, apart from the utter necessity of  transforming her appearance so that she's considered 'attractive', 'sexy' and 'seductive' by her crush and by men in general - which, by the way, also implies that she must change and forgo many aspects of her personality which are not considered sufficiently 'seductive'. After all, seducing a boy apparently also involves putting his needs before hers in every way and hiding who you are for his convenience - And that's why she's changing herself so radically, after all. This is no 'I don't fancy my style, I think I'd like a change' kind of show (and those are also pretty stereotype-ridden, by the way). This is a hardcore 'change for your man' makeover show, and they mean it.

-What else is this appalling quote implying? It's, once again, also full of gender stereotyping. Not only must the girl aim to 'seduce the guy', she must 'dress like a girl' in order to achieve that. And with 'dressing like a girl' they're choosing a limited set of gendered clothing options, and also a limited set of style options, and branding those, and only those, with the words 'feminine', and 'for girls' (these usually include heels, tube skirts or dresses, and 'feminine' colours and prints, depending on whether they want to go for 'cute-girly' or for 'seductive-sexy'). Any other items are quite simply 'not for girls'. And those offending items can include anything from hoodies to...any kind of comfy clothing and shoewear, really. We were not born 'girls' to wear comfortable clothing, for shame, we were born 'girls' to seduce a guy in mobility-restraining and pretty much society-compulsory skirts and high heels. Or to drown in our own natural cuteness with pink frills, depending on the occasion.
And that is why I hate Hermione's Yule ball dress so much. I guess blue was just too unfeminine!!  In a dazzling display of irony, it was bully Pansy Parkinson the one who wore pink and frills in the book, but the film wanted Hermione to have that cute and feminine honour. The gods forbid we view her as too manly for liking to read, so they had to compensate!
This show is gendered in any possible way, and also governed by what society thinks it 'fashionable' or 'attractive' or 'sexy', or 'girly' or 'manly' (the official gendering rules). This show, as many others and all the forms of the media, endevours again and again to brainwash us with an extensive set of gendered ideas and labels and categories, using not only gender bias but the very much personal likes of the few who have the power of dictating what's 'fashionable' or 'trendy' - which, to quote Spock, in a dazzling display of logic, is what everyone else should be wearing and liking! 

I consider myself non-binary, so I say no to any kind of illogical gender binarism that states that something is only 'for girls' or 'for boys'. But frankly, you do not have to identify as 'non-binary' to understand that society should have no say in what is supposed to be worn or used by women or men. Nor should it be telling me what is 'trendy' or what I should like - and that I will be the weirdo if I don't conform to that.

-Cristen selects a series of clothing she likes, while the stylist does her own choosing for her (want to guess which items will win?). Then, Cristen is forced to try on all her choices ('Show me...your favourite pieces') and have the stylist tear her apart every single time in a very offensive and very humiliating way:

Cristen loves everything she shouldn't love. The stylist scoffs at her choices because they're "guys'  clothing" or "not sexy enough". 

Gender sterotypes? Check. Monitoring women's clothing choices? Check. Forcing someone to change their style to conform to some rubbish sexist ideals? Check. 
Cristen is always looking so mortified and apologetic for liking the clothes she likes. Just ugh.
-And there's a lot of very offensive bashing: "No! You look like a librarian" (An 'insult' the so-called fashionistas oh-so-love). "You look like you slept on a park bench" (thanks for being insensitive) .  "Why would you put a hoodie over a dress?"  (well, no one’s forcing you to do it! I find dresses+hoodies to be a great combination, but I do not force other people to wear them!).

Now - This is what you should wear...and LIKE! Your whole life was a lie until I came to torture you!
"Well, you know you showed me that fairly awful, childish top that Tye saw you in...This is the grown-up version".  Of course, being grown-up women comes with some responsibilities, we are no longer allowed to wear what we like because, duh, we owe our body to society and men, so we should always dress for them!  

 For society, you're either a ‘slut’ ("dress more modestly or you'll get harassed!"), or ‘not girly enough’ ("be more cute and feminine, you tomboy!"), or ‘not sexy enough’ ("you look like a librarian/nun! Show me some curves!").  Notice how everything revolves around evaluating and objectifying women. Please notice how most guys can rock their baggy jeans and T-shirt (clean or otherwise!) and still be considered hot and brimming with macho sexiness. On a general basis, hardly any male is aggressively asked to wear tight shirts and tight jeans or smart clothing such as suits on a daily basis in order to be attractive to women. And finally, notice how we hardly ever worry about a man not having flawless skin or even flawless hair. Scruffy masculinity is actually pretty attractive to many. This is called a double standard, and it’s not OK.

So let me take some notes: ''t...get..a man'. I hope my grown-up girl-brain copes when it comes to assimilating that information!

-Now Cristen's trying on the stylist's clothing choices, so she turns from bashing Cristen's choices and belittling her to objectifying her. Because don't be mistaken, if she's being forced to show 'curves' and cleavage, it's hardly for her self-esteem boost:

"How skinny are you? Why are you hiding that bod?" ; "Take your hands away! Where did these curves come from?";  "We must get these girls out...we have to get you out of the friendzone, and this (pointing to her cleavage) means business and it's sexy"

 And Cristen's apparently a prude because she 'feels uncomfortable' about wearing shorter dresses with cleavage - 'This dress would get attention that I'm not used to', she says, to which the stylist replies: 'You've got a tiny waist, amazing boobies, little butt!'. When she repeats that she's not comfortable, the stylist says that it's good to get her out of her comfort zone, and that "Tye's gonna die!! God!" Obviously, it's everything for Tye, not only is it invasive to force her to wear things she isn't comfortable with, please don't let these people make you think it's about her and her self-esteem.
Remember, dear, you're wearing this dress for your man and your body is for public comsuption, OK? That's why you're dressing sexy, it's definitely not for you.
Because hell yeah, women's bodies are objects to be enjoyed. ‘Dress sexier so that men can ogle! But if you're being too sexy, we'll call you a slut, don't worry’. And 'Why are you hiding that body, but let's also slim it at the right places and make it look how people want it to look, because you are never good enough and you better remember it'.

How about showing what we want when we want, with no sexist constraints? And because we want to, for ourselves, and with our own style (and this doesn’t include religion-based female-only head and body coverings, in case it’s ambiguous, because I consider those very much in the 'sexist constrains' category and inherently misogynistic. Sue me). 

-Also, "This is how I want you to be". The damn summary of all these episodes.
Valar, give me strength to keep on listening to this 
-I recently read about this same stylist claiming that one of the girls looked 'feminine and sexy' instead of 'like a Physics student' during her clothing makeover. Here it also looks like being and/or looking like a college student is wrong. How interesting. I’m a disgrace to society in so many ways (yay!).
You were so right, my whole life was a lie, please teach me more, oh sexist fashionista!
-Here come the heels ('Best tip ever to give you superlong legs')! Absolutely essential. From now on, Cristen has to wear them all the time. You don't like them? I don't care, you need to bring a guy out of the friendzone and that means getting sexy (like getting sexy always means one limited set of gendered options, such as heels). Apparently, being ‘sexy’ means wearing painful, mobility-free shoes, yay. 
Because you're not a woman and you won't get a man if you don't wear heels all the damn time, just like I do!
And at the end of the shopping trip, Cristen exclaims 'I'm really happy!'. That's it, we all need a sexist stylist to change our style and teach us how to seduce a man.

And if we thought this makeover was getting extreme, they still have to teach Cristen 'empowerment' by learning how to objectify herself and turn Tye on in a Burlesque local, plus receive electric shocks while learning to flirt with a handful of strangers, and changing her hair and befriending make-up in the final stage of the makeover. So long way to go yet...
  • Long discussion: Society's evaluation and objectification of women's bodies. 
In case it may seem ambiguous, I'm not having a go at the stylist's choices because I'm somehow against cleavage, or showing your legs.  I actually really like low necklines and short dresses myself. There is nothing wrong with dressing like that. And there's also nothing wrong with a woman who genuinely likes to dress "sexy" (that is a concept with many different answers, though, depending on your personal style. 'Sexy' is definitely not always tube dress+heels, and not everyone who wears a short dress wants to be seen as 'sexy'). 

But telling someone that she MUST dress "sexy" and in a certain way to be desirable, to get a boyfriend, to be noticed, to be appreciated, to be loved, basically to be accepted by society...That is WRONG. That is objectifying women. Women should not dress for men, or for anyone, for the record. They should dress for themselves. And that can involve short dresses OR Cristen's casual, baggier style. Or BOTH, depending on the day or occasion, same as I said about make-up above, because both styles are not mutually exclusive, for heaven's sake.  It doesn't matter, and it shouldn't change the way we see that woman. And if you have to alter your style and dress sexy and put on heels for a man to notice you, that's not okay. Fellow women, please don’t feel like you have to do that. It really is not worth your self-esteem to view yourself like that, an object to be evaluated by men and other women.

And you know what the really sad thing is? This mentality (that a woman must dress or look a certain way on order to be noticed by men) is so ingrained in so many parts (cultures with the oppressive 'modesty mindsets' still working very much included!) that so many women genuinely try to dress for everyone else, and not for themselves.  And it is so ingrained that, even if you dress "sexy" solely because you like it, most men are going to think you're doing it for them. Does it ring a bell when you decide to wear a low neckline or a short skirt simply because that day you feel like it, and you're uncomfortable when you're ogled and/or harassed in the street? Yes, that's called rape culture and objectification and harassment, it's not flattering and it's not a compliment. 

This mentality is bound to lower women's self-esteem instead of "boosting" it, because it means that women have a terrible pressure of looking good for anyone else and to conform to a certain style and appearance, and it really doesn't matter if you don't like it. You'll be attacked if you don't conform and you'll be objectified and harassed if you do. There's no winner.

That's yet another reason why I find these kind of 'let's change your style' shows so unhealthy and wrong.