Friday, November 14, 2014

Shield Maidens Unite

Warning: This post contains spoilers about the show Vikings.
Anyone who knows me knows that I'm an info junkie, TV addict, and a feminist. A few months back, I was fortunate to watch the History Channel show called Vikings. I'd seen advertisements for it, but largely ignored them. Friends encouraged me to watch the show, and I'm so glad I did.

Lagertha c1Watching Vikings, I was instantly impressed by the main female character Lagertha. But more importantly, I was intrigued by this slightly more accurate portrayal of the Viking culture; it is after all, a TV show.  As an info junkie, I frequently paused the episodes to fact check things the show portrayed. I'm happy to learn more about any culture, but I'm especially appreciative to see that not only were the Vikings NOT a horned helmet wearing, beer guzzling, raping, pillaging, killing, maiming, destroying people who treated women like shite, women actually had prominent places in their society and what's more, they actually fought in battles and went on raids right alongside the men, as shield maidens. Yes, the Vikings raided other cultures, but their culture can also be credited with contributing a LOT to the world. Doubt me? Look them up for yourself.

Now, I fully understand and accept that Vikings is a (really good) fictional show whose main objective is to get ratings, but recent reports have claimed that mass graves of Viking warriors were not all or mostly men as scientists once thought (although being able to say with certainty that the female corpses were all warriors isn't as clear). With the popularity of Vikings and people's attempts to set the record straight on Viking culture and history, it has been discovered that shield maidens (such as Lagertha) were in fact, real.

Watching Vikings, Lagertha speaks to me. She's powerful, intelligent, respected.  People admire her, want to be her. And of course, she's beautiful, so men want to be with her. She was married to the man who became Earl (and ultimately, King). She became an Earl herself because she refused to bow down and be beaten (literally and figuratively) by a man. When she was Ragnar's wife, she ensured women were treated fairly by the community, and their own spouses. In essence, Lagertha didn't take shite from anyone, could kick anyone's ass who tried to give her shite, and strove to ensure that women had equality as much as possible within the society. We need a Lagertha today!

Watching the show, I was annoyed that a society many people view today as primitive, pagan, and heathenistic afforded more rights to women (see #28) than our modern, allegedly progressive, forward-thinking society. In fact, I find it interesting that the Christian societies depicted in the show demonstrate very oppressive lives for women (oppressive rules that we KNOW existed then and now) but what's even more interesting (and disheartening) is that those oppressive societies aren't that far off from societies today--Christian or otherwise.

So, as women today face increasing erosion of rights, inequality, unfair pay, discrimination, a persistent rape culture, continued victim blaming, and patriarchy that simply won't quit, I feel the inner Lagertha rising up in me.  Restrictions on terminations, disenfranchisement, lesser pay for equal work, unfair medical rules, forced births, child brides, female genital mutilation, the loss of the right to simply exist in a public space without being subjected to harassment (or even being murdered for rejecting the unwanted attention), needing male relative approval to merely move about, etc. While I can't solve the problems for all women worldwide, I can affect my sphere of influence. And my inner shield maiden is getting angrier and ready for battle.

I realize that American women have it SO much easier than other women worldwide. I realize the privilege of being born in America and existing in this particular time period. I know I have it easier than women elsewhere or even my great, great great grandmother who would've been a slave in the South. I realize I have it easier than women of the 1950s or 1960s or 1970s. And I realize that not all women in Viking culture had rights; there were slaves, concubines, whores, etc. But I also realize in learning more about the Viking culture, some women of hundreds of years ago, in different cultures had far more rights than women today. I also see that things that our grandmothers and mothers fought for have come back around again (some with a vengeance), and my generation and the one behind us will have to re-fight battles already won.  That I can't let stand.

So, my inner Lagertha is rising up. I'm preparing my battle armor.  I'm readying my shield. I cannot sit idly by and lose rights I know that as a human being I deserve. I demand that we will "be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being in this society, on this earth" and I damn sure will "bring it into existence by any means necessary"--even if it means as a shield maiden in the battle for my mere existence.

I'm angry at the loss of freedoms. But I will channel my anger and fight. Won't you join me?! Won't you be a shield maiden too?!

Shield Maidens Unite!

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