Monday, 6 November 2017

Caixaforum Madrid 'Agón!' - Ancient Greece and patriarchal modesty mindsets

Last Summer I visited a Caixaforum exhibition about sports in Ancient Greece ("Agón! La competición en la Antigua Grecia"), and I couldn't help but see - as is usual with Ancient Greece - a number of glaring double standards regarding how men and women were depicted in the statues and paintings. 

Women are often conforming to patriarchal modesty mindsets, shown way more covered than their male counterparts, with anke-length tunics and himations that covered them fully when going out (meanwhile, men saunter around in the statues and paintings with bare torsos and stark naked, no problem):


She's fully covered in a himation and ankle-length tunic, with her hair up (and only partially covered, I guess we should be thankful about that)...He's stark naked as if it were the most normal thing in the world (and not afraid of anyone calling him 'immodest' or fearing harassment, either!). Thank you, double standards.

A similar situation to the Greek exhibits in the Museo Nacional Arquelógico:
"It's also worth mentioning that, while Greek male depictions are often of men with bare torsos, bare legs or fully nude, bare female torsos in the exhibit were pretty rare, mostly associated with female idols or the marriage section (the case of the female torso above). Greek women's clothing was actually very restrictive (patriarchal 'modesty' mindset acting as a way to control and repress women's autonomy and sexuality), something that many people, accustomed to seeing female nudes in Greek statues and idealized depictions of Greek fashion, may not be familiar with. Short tunics were only acceptable in places such as Sparta, ankle-length tunics were the norm. Hairstyles where the hair was partially or completely covered by a cloth or headscarf were also common (open hair or even loose strands were hardly worn), and women, especially married women, had to cover their head at least partially, and wrap themselves in an himation (mantle) when going out - when they were actually allowed to be out, that is. Not dissimilar to the idea of today's burkas, the himation is 'a garment of decorous modesty' which disguised the shape of the woman's body in public, and which Hetairai also used as 'provocation' (in the same way veiling is used in 'exotic dancing' in the Near East).  This is quite a different idea from the idealized woman wearing the light tunic that we're so accustomed to seeing in Neoclassical and modern depictions of Greek culture, and not at all dissimilar from the religious-based head and body coverings typical of Patriarchal Monotheistic (and also polytheistic, in some cases) religions." (post)
The only time they seem to show naked women is primarily in the case of  goddesses associated with sexuality, such as Aphrodite. This is not a case of honouring female sexuality and the divine feminine, however, seeing as these depictions are consistently shown in a rather male-gaze-y way (with objectified, passive poses instead of depictions of a powerful goddess whose body and sexuality are not owned by any man). Many of these depictions also conform to patriarchal misogynistic ideas of 'modesty' and 'purity' as well - showing the naked goddess (of sexuality, no less!) covering her genitalia and breasts with her hands and arms, with her legs well close together  and shoulders hunched in a semi-stooping pose that gives 0% powerful vibes to anyone (let us remember that meanwhile all dudes are sporting their nakedness, very much including genitalia, no problem).
Definitely not how a powerful goddess should look like
Meanwhile, these are Astarté and Ishtar, the original Middle East inspirations for Aphrodite, goddesses of fertility and sexuality in actually powerful and non-objectified poses and with no need to 'modestly' hide their nakedness (which in this case is not there in order to be sexualized, but rather a depiction of the divine feminine, which is not intended for the male gaze):


However, side note - The industry of the 'sacred prostitution' which flourished as part of the cult of these goddesses was very much a patriarchal issue, seeing as we're talking about a exploitative sex trade where the beneficients are always men (it was also often linked to trafficking, exploiting young girls and women from lower classes). In theory these goddesses' sexuality is powerful and has full autonomy because it's not owned by any man, and no man dictates it - but in reality the society in these cases was equally a patriarchy, so objectification and sex trade obviously and sadly happened. These prostitution practices, by the way, should also be in direct contradiction with fertility and sexuality goddess cults - Exploiting female sexuality for male pleasure has literally nothing to do with the free and powerful female sexuality symbolized by these goddesses, and is literally the very opposite of what the 'divine feminine' is all about (which is not being obligated to have sex with whomever asked because you 'represented the goddess's sexuality' - a fine example of how patriarchy twists everything for its own gain, which includes exploiting women under the pretence of 'serving a goddess' and 'honouring female sexuality'). 

As for today, "thanks" to neoliberal 'feminism' those concepts have been further twisted up, to the extent of calling sexual exploitation such as the sacred prostitution industry (and the sex industry in general) "empowering" and even "feminist".
I know, Bill, I know
Which yeah, angers me quite a lot. But back to the exhibition -


There were also your typical patriarchal gender roles, such as women not being allowed to participate or watch most sports games and competitions, or women loving going for water to the well because it was the only freaking moment they had to socialize and have a chat (meanwhile, men had male-exclusive banquets, sports, the theater, etc, etc). "The women had to catch a moment to chat in between domestic chores" - Women have to dig for a brief chat while still working, men have plenty of leisure time. Another charming double standard.

There was also a depiction of the Amazons, a refreshing breath of air of empowered, active women, albeit demonized by the patriarchal Greeks, who were hella offended that these women chose to avoid the company of men in order to get stuff done (seeing as the alternative is to talk to women for five seconds while drawing water from the well, and then working the rest of the time plus catering to various men's tirannical wishes - who would not choose to be with the Amazons, come on).




Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Goodreads feminist reviews - Tolkien's The Story of Kullervo


This week's post is a feminist Goodreads review about J.R.R. Tolkien's The Story of Kullervo, edited by Verlyn Flieger. This review can also be found in my Goodreads account here.  I gave this book a 1/5 on Goodreads - I was quite underwhelmed by the structure and dynamic of this book, to be honest, not to mention I found quite a lot of problematic patriarchal and misogynistic content (as I already knew existed in the original tale of the Kalevala).

-Disclaimer: This review, of course, includes my personal views and are not supposed to be generalizations or objective truths. I do think, though, that the Patriarchal content is very problematic from an objective viewpoint.

Here are some points I chose to discuss and/or highlight about this book:

  • Not a very engaging or well-constructed structure overall, and lots of sexist mindsets around, not only in the retelling of Kalevala's Kullervo (there's heaps of sexism and patriarchal ideas in the Kalevala, and in my opinion the form is not good enough to "make up for it" in this case, as opposed to, say, The Iliad), but also in Tolkien's essay.


  • Problematic author comment: According to Tolkien, the women and 'housewives' are the ones who 'rule' in the homes in these tales ("mothers-in-law where worse than anywhere else in literature (...), sons and their wives under the iron hand of the Matriarch."). Did he just ignore all the violence and oppression towards women in the society portrayed in these tales? (because self-centred male privilege can do that to people, in a subconscious way, too). Or does he maybe think that the fact that many women are the ones who educate their children in the patriarcal values means 'real power'? Because that's not executive or 'real' power at all. More than anything, it means that the men in these tales (and in real life as well) are lazy and/or cruel enough that they don't even do the dirty work, leaving it to women to be the ones to promote and uphold the system and gender roles, teaching toxic masculinity to men and submissive oppression to women. To quote Hélène Cixoux: “Men have committed the greatest crime against women. Insidiously, violently, they have led them to hate women, to be their own enemies, to mobilize their immense strength against themselves, to be the executants of their virile needs.” 
Hélène Cixous
  • Bonus problematic author comment: "a medieval lover who takes to his bed to lament the cruelty of his lady in that she will not have pity on him, condemning him to a melting death". So saying no to sex is being cruel and condemning a man to death, I SEE, thank you for that fine example of male entitlement.
  • About the story of Kullervo, I find it especially ridiculous that we're supposed to feel terrible about the tragic 'incest' issue - which is way less problematic than the misogyny and sexism that's running rampant in these Finnish mythological tales - and not even bat an eye about the fact that Kullervo is a rapist with heaps of male entitlement who literally assaults random women he meets in the woods, but it's cool because he's not good looking (in this version at least) so he's being discriminated if women don't want to be raped! Also cool because he has been bullied and enslaved and victimized (so that gives him a right to be a violent misogynist, apparently), and he's oh-so-hurt and offended that the frightened women reject his advances (aka harassment). 
  • As usual, priorizing male entitlement and hurt fragile egos before women's safety and their right to bodily and mental integrity. Also, if you've been bullied and treated badly and that makes you think it's justified that you lash out even more aggressively and violently towards others, newsflash but you're not a good person either, and your misfortunes do not justify those kind of actions.
We're supposed to feel bad for Kullervo's antihero tragic misfortunes despite his violent misogyny, rapist inclinations, supreme entitlement and overall problematic character. "Kullervo's Curse" by Akseli Gallen-Kallela.
  • Problematic editor comment: Also, according to Flieger, consent is 'equivocal' because sister Wanona 'did not resist for long', after Kullervo literally harasses her, pursues her and lays hands upon her, assaulting her. OK then. Because we've never heard of a sexual assault victim being frightened enough that she (they) don't resist 'for long'. That doesn't make it any less of a rape. Because, fyi, if someone has to be coerced or convinced in any way, as is this case, it's not consent .   

  •  But no, the main trigger warning is the incest detail- a societal construct that, in those cases where there is less power imbalance (brethren, for example), is objectively way less problematic than the issue of rape culture and sexual harassment, and yet the first issue has a massive taboo associated to it (understandable in many cases due to massive power imbalances, although I'm not sure it's mainly about that for society), while the second one is too often ignored, excused and glorified. Wrong priorities, everyone.   And this is even more grating if we take into account that Flieger is a woman and should thus be more aware of the rape culture system from which all women suffer.
Kullervo's assualt of her sister seen as 'romantic' (???), 'tragic' or 'with equivocal consent' (!!!) promotes rape culture and glorifies abusive relationships. Manuscript Illustration By Jay Johnston
    "Finally, he meets a beggar-girl who also rejects him at first, struggling and screaming when he pulls her into his sleigh. But he starts talking to her sweetly and shows her all the gold he's collected during his trip, bribing her into sleeping with him. Afterwards, she asks who he is, and as she realises he's her own brother, she commits suicide by throwing herself into the rapidly rushing river nearby. The distraught Kullervo returns to his family and tells his mother what happened." (Source)

    "the maid was affright and shrank from him. 'Death walketh with thee, wanderer, and woe is at thy side.'
    Then Kullervo was wroth; but very fair was the maiden and he said ''Tis not good for thee to be alone in the forest [maybe because of rapists and stalkers like you, asshole??];nor does it please me; food will I bring thee and fare abroad to lay and lie in wait for thee, and gold and raiment and many things of cost will give thee [turning to manipulation and bribing is *not* consent].'
    'Though I be lost in the evil woods, and Tapio has me fast in his hold,' said she, 'yet would I never wish to roam with such as thee, villain. Little does thy look consort with maidens (...)'
    But Kullervo was wroth in that she had reviled his ungainliness, and put kind [??] thought from him and cried: 'Lempo seize thy folk and swift would I put them to the sword didst I come upon them, for thou I wilt have, nor shalt thou dwell in thy father's house again.'
    Whereat she was adread and sped like a wild thing of the woods through the tangle from him and he angry after her: till he laid hands upon her and bore her in his arms away in the depths of the woods.
    Yet was she fair and he loving with her [??? Is she supposed to be thanking him for raping her less roughly?? He hasn't been exactly loving so far. Also, he's allowed to be ugly but the fact that she's fair makes him treat her 'better'?], and the curse of the wife of Ilmarinen upon them both, so that not long did she resist him and they abode together in the wild"

    LOOK AT ALL THAT EQUIVOCAL CONSENT. This is textbook harassment and sexual assault, Ms Flieger. This is rape. Plenty of women 'do not resist for long' and it's still rape. 100% of Kullervo's actions scream rape. Shame on you for excusing that (also shame on Tolkien for choosing in this case to treat the theme of sexual harassment so lightly, as something that will give the antihero - aka the rapist! - emotional man pain™ at the cost of a woman's abuse. Yes, the original's not his, but he chose not to change or subvert any of the problematic stuff). and Let us also note that Wanona actually curses and blames herself for being alone and being, you know, assaulted (typical victim blaming argument), and that Kullervo is distraught because she was his sister, not because he has just raped a woman, and has done the same with others.
    "Kullervo and his sister in the sledge" by Louis Sparre, aka "Equivocal consent"



  • It's also worth noting that 100% of the women in this tale are either weeping and passive mothers/sisters/daughters - often kidnapped, thrown into thraldom and assaulted-, or women who are 'cruel', 'witches' and, in Tolkien's very problematic words, 'heartless virago wives' (wow) a little bit just because we also need the stereotype of the 'evil' woman to stand alongside the 'passive, submissive (and weeping) wife/mother/daughter'. 

"Kullervo sits down to eat, but his beloved heirloom knife breaks on one of the stones in the bread. Kullervo is overwhelmed with rage. He drives the cows away to the fields, then summons up bears and wolves from the woods, making them appear like cows instead. He herds these to Ilmarinen's house and tells the wicked mistress of the house to milk them, upon which they turn back into wolves and bears and maul her. As she lies there bleeding, she invokes the high god Ukko to kill Kullervo with a magic arrow, but Kullervo prays for the spell to kill her instead for her wickedness, which it indeed does." (Source)
  • We're also supposed to feel some sort of sympathy about Kullervo being tricked by the smith's wife (again, a little bit just because she's supposed to hate him and be 'evil'. Also we don't care about her name), and then consider it 100% OK that he sadistically and gruesomely kills her with the help of a pack of wolves and bears. The way the smith's wife is portrayed as the cliché 2D wicked woman who opposes the protagonist - again, just because - and is described with a variaty of negative traits ('treacherous and hard', 'grasping', 'malicious', 'spiteful', etc), is supposed to somehow justify the way Kullervo murders her, and his aggressive misogyny and violent vengeance tendencies ("they tore her fiercely and crunched her bones, and thus was her jesting and mockery and spite repaid, and the cruel wife brought herself to weeping" - I think Tolkien shows some serious problematic misogyny here with this kind of wording).

 It's all too misogynistic for my taste, sorry. 



Monday, 9 October 2017

National Museum of Scotland: Celts, Picts, Vikings and Anglosaxons

This past September I visited Edinburgh's National Museum (National Museum of Scotland), and I really liked the archaeology and Scottish history collection.  This is probably the museum I've enjoyed the most alongside the British Museum and the Hallstatt museum - It was really well organized and presented, and included a lot of stuff from some of my favourite cultures. I focused on the 'Early Peoples' exhibit, with Celtic, Pict, Viking and Anglosaxon pieces, spanning from around 8000 BC to AD 1100; and the 'Kingdom of the Scots', from 1100 to 1707

More info about the pieces either in the signs (click on pics or open in new tab for a bigger size) or linked in descriptions:

"Buried at the beginning of the 10th century in Dumfries and Galloway, the Galloway Hoard lay undisturbed for a thousand years before being unearthed by a metal detectorist in September 2014.

This discovery comprises more than 100 objects, including a rich Viking Age hoard of silver jewellery and ingots. It also contains a range of precious metal and jewelled items, including a rare gold ingot, a unique gold bird-shaped pin and a decorated silver-gilt vessel, the only complete lidded vessel of its type ever discovered in Britain and Ireland.

This vessel contains further unusual objects: beads; amulets of glass and rock crystal; a silver penannular brooch; another gold ingot; five Anglo-Saxon disc brooches of a kind not found in Scotland before; and two examples of a new type of quatrefoil brooch. Carefully wrapped in fragile textile bundles are a rock crystal flask or jar and jewelled aestels, pointers used to read and mark places within medieval manuscripts." (Source)



1) 'Early Peoples' (not in chronological order)

  • I was lucky to see irl one of my favourite depictions of Brigantia, goddess of the Brigantes (a Britannian tribe) and a warlike version of the Irish goddess Brighid:



"[Brghid's] British and continental counterpart Brigantia seems to have been the Celtic equivalent of the Roman Minerva and the Greek Athena, goddesses with very similar functions and apparently embodying the same concept of elevated state, whether physical or psychological."
(Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brighid)

Brigantia, the North British warlike version of the Irish Brighid, worshipped mainly by the Brigantes tribe. was equated by the Romans with warlike, lofty goddesses of their own, such as Minerva, goddess of strategical battle, wisdom and crafts, Bellona, the ancient Roman goddess of war, and Victoria, the personified goddess of victory. Roman reliefs of Brigantia show her in depictions heavily influenced by these Classical goddesses, dressed in a long tunic, armed with helmet, spear and shield and carrying a globe of victory in her left hand. The Romans also equated warlike Gaulish goddesses, such as Epona and Belisama, with Minerva.



  • Pictish stones




A female aristocrat, Hilton of Cabdoll:

"This hoard of treasure was discovered during excavations on St Ninian’s Isle, Shetland, in 1958. It consists of 28 silver and silver-gilt objects, all decorated, made during the second half of the eighth century. Most of the objects are considered to be Pictish, which means they would have been made and used in the eastern and northern areas of Scotland.

There are twelve brooches in the treasure. In early historic Scotland, brooches such as these did much more than act as cloak fasteners. The size and quality of the decoration signified the wearer’s status and position in society. The number and quality of the brooches found strengthens the suggestion that the treasure came from an aristocratic household." (Source)


"The Deskford carnyx is the head of an Iron Age trumpet. Found in the north-east of Scotland around 1816, it is a masterpiece of early Celtic art, shaped to resemble a wild boar with its upturned snout and decoration mirroring the folds of skin around a boar’s face. It is a complex composite construction, wrought from sheet bronze and brass. This helps us date it, because brass is not native to Scotland: it represents recycled Roman metal. Along with other evidence, this suggests a date between c. AD 80 and 250 for its construction. Today only the head survives: it lacks the erect crest, ears, enamelled eyes, wooden tongue and long cylindrical tube which it once had." (Source)



  • Woman's grave, Cnip (875 to 925):


  • Anglosaxon loot (1-2); Irish loot/gifts featuring brooches and pins (3-7); Scandinavian personal possessions (8-17):




  • Emulating Southern English fashions (2-7) and gift exchanges (8-12):




  • Prestige imports (4-10); Irish and Irish-style objects from the 1st millennium AD (11-15)



  • Viking sword hilt and other weapons:



  • Alphabets: Runes and ogham




  • Jewelry and adornments:

  • Weapons:



2) 'Kingdom of the Scots' (not in chronological order)
  • Queen Mary harp:
"This harp, or clarsach, may have been made in the West Highlands in the 15th century. The woodwork is richly decorated with scroll-work and carvings of animals. (...) This harp was traditionally said to have been given by Mary, Queen of Scots to Beatrix Gardyne of Banchory, while on a hunting trip to Atholl, c. 1563. It is also said to have been adorned at one time with a gold portrait of Mary, which could be the real reason for its association with her. " (Source)




  • Pictish stones:




  • Scandinavian pieces from Shetland, featuring combs:



"Found on Lewis in 1831, the Lewis Chesspieces are probably the most well-known archaeological find from Scotland. The chesspieces consist of elaborately worked walrus ivory and whales' teeth in the form of seated kings and queens, bishops, knights on their mounts, standing warders and pawns in the shape of obelisks.  The hoard is likely to be made up of four chess sets. Eleven pieces are owned by National Museums Scotland and the remaining 82 reside at the British Museum.

Believed to be Scandinavian in origin, the Lewis chesspieces were probably made in Trondheim in Norway during the late 12th and early 13th centuries. At that time, the area in which they were buried was part of the Kingdom of Norway, not Scotland. It is possible that the chesspieces belonged to a merchant travelling from Norway to Ireland, and it seems likely that they were buried for safe keeping en route." (Source)

  • Medieval longsowrd (Claymore):

  • Cloak rings: