The Thin Line Between Racism and Misogyny
Recently on Facebook, a popular (and very good) Mythology Page shared two sets of pictures, and the reactions to both sets were extremely telling, with one picture in particular completely blowing up in terms of reaction and comments. The first set of pictures was from an amusing calendar (which you can, and should, pick up from the original artist HERE) playing on a punny pin-up theme using the Norse Gods entitled "Dat Às." It's technically pronounced like "ace," and it means "God" or "Deity" in Norse, but you get the joke...
So we have a series of beefcake images poking fun at the Norse Gods in a lighthearted way, and the biggest push-back I can find on this page is for the following image:
Do you want me to put the hammer down?!
The push-back involved a simple error on the artist's part: Using the "Ð" character for the "Th" in Thor, when it should have been "Þ". The difference is "Ð" is pronounced like the "th" in "then", with the the tongue pushed towards the front of the mouth, but "Þ" gives the correct 'soft' "th" sound found in "thought," or, ya know, "Thor."
That was it, really. Other than a quibble about whether the Vanir Gods like Freyr counted among the Às for inclusion in the calendar, that's the biggest complaint anyone could muster against the images. By and large, it was well received. So a similar calendar for the Àsynjur (Goddesses) shouldn't be too bad, right? I mean, we've all seen enough "Freyja: If you can't lay 'em, slay 'em" memes to choke a horse. So it shouldn't be too bad, even if it's cheesecake, right?
Some days it doesn't pay to chew through the restraints.
It started with Idunn, because it was the biggest outlier in the series of covered, completely non-cheesecake, utterly awesome depictions of the Goddesses. I bet you already glanced down and know what pissed off the racist crowd, didn't you?
Pfft. Definitely the knee armor, should have been circular.
First, the artist had a completely fantastic reasoning for this portrayal, and you can read that in it's entirety right now:
"In the poem “Hrafnagaldr Oðins” Idunn is called a daughter of Ivaldi—specifically, the youngest of his elder children. Some other children of Ivaldi are the dwarves that Loki enlists to make Sif’s hair, the foldable ship Skidbladnir, and Odin’s spear Gungnir. Loki calls them “black elves,” and the terms “black elves,” “dark elves,” and “dwarves” are all tossed around pretty interchangeably in the eddas, sometimes sounding like separate categories of beings and sometimes not. This has led some people to speculate that these are all just different names for the same group of beings, which makes a lot of sense for too many reasons to list here. In any case, Ivaldi is generally considered the same race as his sons, and in "Hrafnagaldr Oðins" Idunn is also called “of alfen race” or “descended from dwarves” (depending on the translation).
So basically, Idunn isn't descended from the same stock as most of the Æsir, and it's likely she's at least half dwarf/dark elf.
It’s not unusual for gods and goddesses of different tribes/races to be adopted into the fold of the Æsir/Asynjur, but besides the Vanir, most of them are giants. As far as I can tell, Idunn is the only one that probably comes from Svartalfheim, rather than Jotunheim."
Never mind actually citing "the Lore" and giving a normally overlooked Goddess a bad-ass portrayal, the racists lost their damn minds.
This is a small sample. :sigh:
What almost went unnoticed were the few comments against the depiction of the Goddesses in gendered terms.
Oh, I totally noticed.
Now, some of the commenters here are likely people who are not also racists, because while one can lead to the other, it's not a prerequisite. I don't want to assume. But let's be clear: There is strong evidence that the idea of "traditional gender roles" and racism go hand in hand. Everyone was livid (rightfully so) about the blatant racism that kicked off Declaration 127, the pan-Heathen denouncement of discrimination found in the Asatru Folk Assembly. The gender issue was addressed in D127 (for which I'm grateful), but the inherent link between racism and gender issues doesn't get nearly as much press as the racism itself.
The post in question read like so, next to a smiling and happy white family, against whom I bear no ill will (but context is still important), so the org statement is all I will reproduce here.
So what gives? How does a group of people that worship Goddesses that are unapologetically warlike in addition to other attributes, people who are attempting to recreate a culture steeped in violence, complain about "manly looking" depictions of Deities? Notice the comment I replied to was specifically about Idunn. She's holding a basket of apples, for crying out loud. Yes, they're the apples of youth the Gods need to maintain their immortality, but it's not like she's actually breaking out a sword'n'board here.
None of the images of the Àsynjur were conventional: Frigga was less "mother" and more "Queen on the Throne," Sif had her hair shorn off, holding her wig, Gefjon had one of her giant oxen children hoisted overhead! These Goddesses are all shown as strong and powerful in their own right (despite the issue with most of them being tagged as "Wife of..." rather than getting their own labels). So why push back on that? Simple: It does not fit "traditional gender roles."
Most racists are very into the "traditional gender roles" for several reasons, the largest being that it ties into their irrational fear of population shifts. (See my thoughts about that in McRacism: Part 3 @ the 06:30 time tag for more on that topic.) "Traditional gender roles" allows racists to not only encourage submissiveness in women and girls, i.e. stay home and watch the kids, make kids, etc, it makes a handy excuse for anything anti-LGBTQ. Sure, archaeological and historical cases can be made for warrior women in the Norse and Germanic cultures, but they were "outliers," you see? They were "special," and anyone who wants to emulate those women is told that they are not, so cut that shit out and know your place.
Just don't be an asshole. Why is that so hard?
Even the depiction of women as strong or "masculine" is a threat to the "norm." Apparently in a reconstructionist worldview that includes warrior mentality and acknowledgement that most of the Germanic people, despite their reputations, were farmers, it's difficult to fathom that farming is hard work. I mean, it's not like hard work ever gave anyone muscle definition, amirite? Top it all off with the fact that "traditional gender roles" ignores the entire tradition its centered around and what that context actually means.
Back in the day, it's true that women were by and large in charge of the house, the money, and the fields, while men took on the heavy labor, warring, etc. There's a very simple explanation why, and it ties in perfectly as to why those outliers that broke the mold were "allowed" to do as they did: The world was not specialized enough. Farming and herding was still the primary means of sustenance, and trade (especially in a small island nation like Iceland) could be the difference between starvation and life. A woman who was fantastic at war, who married a man fantastic at war, now has no one who has been trained to run a homestead, and vice versa. So in order to survive, you had to completely know one gender-locked job, which required years of training, often at the hands of your parents, who wanted assurances that they wouldn't be left to starve on the fjord in their old age, so you'd better marry well.
The only exception to this were the wealthy. Those women outliers who could afford to be merchants in charge of their own trade, or to be shieldmaidens in battle were most often wealthy or near enough that they could afford to break the mold and their life wouldn't depend on knowing a set of very specific skills. And today? By that standard, everyone is an "outlier."
In a country like the US where farmers now make up less than 1% of the population, the very traditions those roles were integral to have vanished. They're obsolete. That it's been taken out of historical context and removed from nuance is no surprise, because simplifying things down to get the answer they want, rather than seeing the truth itself, is something racists do best. They do it when they argue for an ethic-erasing pan-European "race," and they do it when they argue for "traditional gender roles."
Not for too much longer, Gods willing.