Brace yourselves, a rant is coming.
Yesterday, friend and fellow author A. Laramey (followed a whole whack of other people shortly thereafter. My friends know me well) posted this very interesting article on the recent corrections to a large number (archaeologically speaking, of course) of Viking burials in Britain revealing that almost half (46%) of the warrior burials were, in fact, women. Which is to say, women warriors given proper warrior burials with their weapons. These skeletons had previously been identified as male based purely on the fact that they were buried with weapons.
Yes. You read that correctly. Because they were buried with weapons, the skeletons were automatically designated male, with no further investigation thought necessary and thus not performed.
Then, because that fact alone is not infuriating enough, there are the comments beneath this article which refute the science with simple statements like, 'This is clearly a fantasy, the sample size is too small' or 'this is bollocks, 46% means nothing.' I'm paraphrasing, but that is the gist of a lot of the comments beneath this article.
Look, I don't mean to turn this into a feminist rant, but fuck it, I'm going to. I've read a lot of misogynist shit recently, and I'm about ready for battle. Come at me, bros. I have swords. Five of them. And knives. And a 43lb recurve bow.
The desire to protect loved ones by any means possible - including the physical - is not a gender specific desire. Neither, for that matter, is the desire for adventure, or perhaps more vainglorious desires like the perks of being thought of as a hero, or greedy desires like loot and slaves and status! These are all human desires. And women are, shockingly, I know, human beings. Certainly not all women have these desires, but then neither do all men.
I doubt very much that much was all that different in the prehistory of humanity, either.
The article above mentions the Scandinavian cultures of the Viking era. I know better the stories of the Celts. They are my people, after all (you know how some people identify as Viking, even though they're North American and despite the fact that Viking culture was superseded by a greater Christian European culture LONG before their own ancestors ever came to the Americas (yes, obviously Vikings made it to the Americas, but they didn't stay, and besides that's not the settling/invasion I'm talking about) anyway? Yeah, like that, but with the Celts).
There are many stories about women warriors in Celtic societies.
Roman Diodorus Sicculus says of the Gaulish women, "...are almost as tall as the men, and rival them in courage." (uchicago.edu)
Ammianus Marcellinus notes that “…a whole band of foreigners will be unable to cope with one [Gaul] in a fight, if he calls in his wife, stronger than he by far and with flashing eyes; least of all when she swells her neck and gnashes her teeth, and poising her huge white arms, begins to rain blows mingled with kicks, like shots discharged by the twisted cords of a catapult.” (uchicago.edu)
Another Roman Marcus Borealis writing during an invasion of Rome by Celts says:
"The women of the Celtic tribes are bigger and stronger than our Roman women. This is most likely due to their natures as well as their peculiar fondness for all things martial and robust. The flaxen haired maidens of the north are trained in sports and war while our gentle ladies are content to do their womanly duties and thus are less powerful than most young girls from Gaul and the hinterlands." (Google it)
In the same period, an unidentified Roman soldier said that, "... a Celtic woman is often the equal of any Roman man in hand-to-hand combat. She is as beautiful as she is strong. Her body is comely but fierce. The physiques of our Roman women pale in comparison." (Google that too. I'm tired)
D'awwww! I think he had a crush.
There is mention of 'Female Champions from Ireland' in the old tales (as in, pre-Middle Ages) of the surviving Arthurian Cycle who lent their military might to Arthur in his fight against the Anglo-Saxon (and let's not forget the Jutes) invasion.
Women can, and did, go adventuring. They went to war. They fought. Some survived. It's right there in the archaeology, and still some people think that a woman's only 'natural' desires were, are, or should be for the hearth and home, and that a culture where women regularly accompanied their husbands to war was never a thing. Such possibilities are not even entertained, because, well, women, ammirite, guyz?
Well, fuck that noise.
Now I wonder how many other burials were immediately dismissed as male simply because of the presence of weapons. How much history have we failed to understand because of our own modern, sexist preconceptions about the roles of women?
Oh, and before you go spouting off about the difference in physical strength between the genders, may I take the time to logic that away.
Yes, on average, men are stronger than women. However, you don't need to be the strongest fighter to win. You just need to be strong enough.
Women were and are strong enough.
And might I say, weapons are a great equaliser. Anyone who knows how to handle a sword knows that it isn't the strongest competitor that will win a match, it's the smartest (it's really not the size of the sword, folks). It's the one who moves their feet at the right time. It's the one who finds just the right angle to take advantage of the weak points in the armour/body. It's not the strongest fighter. It is the most skilled, the most able to move, and, most importantly of all, the one best able to think.
Greater physical strength on average may belong to the males of our species. But the rest? Well we women have it too - in spades. It is entirely conceivable that women went to battle, and were baller at it.
Oh, and in case you were confused about the status of women in ancient times, know that not all women were relegated to a lesser class. As Peter Ellis notes, even modern Western women aren't nearly so well respected.
“In the area of women’s rights, much of the long struggle is only to regain what was once enjoyed by Celtic women fifteen hundred years ago.”
- Peter Berresford Ellis (Celtic Women, 15)
I was born in the wrong era. I'm off to write.