Women In Heathenry
You know, I thought we were getting it right. OK, for all of those who like to talk to me about white privilege, I will freely acknowledge I know nothing about growing up anything else, of course they know jack sh*t except fairy tales about my life either so we will leave it at that. I have however spent a life growing up looking after and protecting my little sister, have spent twenty years married to my amazing wife and raised three daughters. I have been there for them as best I could in challenges beyond number. I had, I thought a pretty good read on what they faced, in every community.
Of all the communities, and sadly I must definitely include my beloved Armed Forces, Heathenry was the one that did the best job of accepting men and women equally and in all the myriad expressions of their femininity. I know, the Wiccans in the audience right now are rising up in righteous fury, but they are as blind to their intolerance as I am to anything resembling taste in fashion or social tact. No if you are the right kind of woman, you can find acceptance reguardless of your level of function or dysfunction in that community. If you are not the right kind of woman they are as unwelcoming as any right wing Christian sect. Opposite ends of the spectrum, equal practice for all practical senses.
Inside Heathenry, in each and every Heathen community I have been invited into I have been amazed, not by the men, half of them I knew before in some capacity, but by the women who were so far beyond the norm in their hundred different competences that I walked away with both a right and wrong though paralleling in my brain. I was struck by how amazing our women are (true) and how by gods, we must be getting it right to have so many outstanding women among us (sadly, not as true as I wanted it to be).
I set myself the task of highlighting some of these amazing women, of getting their stories, not to tell their stories for them (some of them are better authors than I by a fair margin), but to draw your attention to how many different KINDs of awesome they are.
There is no one Goddess that represents “proper femininity”. There are as many different way of expressing strong feminine heathenry as there are breathing women to express it. Our goddesses, our saga are filled with so many different examples that you can find an exemplar of the virtues you hold most high in our lore, no matter what kind of woman you are, what your skills, abilities and ambition call upon you to become.
Gods, we have so many strong female voices, I was thrilled to see the responses I would get from them about their experience of being a woman in Heathenry. I was thrilled, and then I began reading.
OK, the first thing you have to understand is that the women I asked to talk about being women in Heathenry are our best. These are women of great name and accomplishments. Some I have worked under, some I have worked with, some I have been honoured to have in my own kindred under my own Aegis. To any one of these women I would send my daughters to apprentice without a second thought. These are literally, the finest women that I know, the most esteemed women in Heathenry.
What they had to say about my community was an eye opener. For one thing, they accepted much that I find unacceptable, and they have had to. They have had to accept that their voices are more easily ignored less often sought than men of lesser accomplishment and status. That for all their achievement and status, when their gender becomes an issue, every other source of status and worth somehow can be ignored. That is horse sh*t. I would love to say it was an aberration of one generation or one region. I would. I can’t. I got that response from both coasts, Canada, the US, from the south, centre, and north. We are getting it wrong.
Aha! Not all women felt as equally disadvantaged. What is their secret? How is it that they are able to better navigate the waters, perhaps there is something I can share to make it easier for the next generation of Heathen women! Except the ones who did the best described themselves either as gender-fluid, or flat our said they socialize more as men than women.
If there is an Old Boys Network in Heathenry, surely I must be a part of it. I am an Old Boy, and have had a fair amount of influence for one reason or another in one part of the community or another through my work. Surely if such a thing had been going on I would have noticed. Except, I did.
I am remembering a man I worked for, a well respected leader, pulling me aside and letting me know that I had to “handle” a woman in the community as she was “emotional and high strung” yet he freely admitted the organization would have foundered on the rocks without her efforts many times. She was treated not as an honoured part of the leadership, but as a high spirited horse to be kept happy in harness. I remember at the time being disappointed with this, otherwise great, man. Yet I smiled and nodded, taking from the conversation the fact that I was right in judging this woman’s importance and contribution and utterly wrong in my assessment of that particular leaders understanding of his own community. I did not call him on it. I think due to the politics of the moment, that was the best decision, but the fact he could speak so, and to me, with the expectation that I would think the same leads me to believe such an experienced leader must have cause to think so.
During the Bragaful, the round of boasting and bragging, I find the men in the community are using it properly, to share their struggles, to share their accomplishments and to dare themselves before the folk to set the bar higher, to grow and achieve what they must become, not rest where they are. The women oddly need to be prodded and challenged to speak of themselves. Often a woman who has a great accomplishment of her own I expect to hear about will speak instead of her pride in the accomplishment of another. This is noble, but it denies them their glory, denies them the tool of the community’s empowerment. I had thought, that the women were making a mistake, that they were not taking up the tools the ancestors left us. That they only needed to be prodded a little to take their proper half of the glory that they have won for all of us.
No. What I was seeing was the acceptance of proud women that they will struggle on, doing their best for the community without any expectation of equal recognition. They are Heathen women, they don’t cry, bitch or whine, they simply shake their head, pick up their tools and get back to the task at hand. It is not for them to complain they do not get the glory that men would get for similar deeds.
That has to end. NOW.
We in the Heathen community are blessed with the finest women on this good Midgard. There are no finer women living, and I have never been more deeply ashamed in my life than to admit our community takes from them full measure for every gift they have given us, and we give back perhaps one part in three in return. A gift for a gift is our way, is the truth given us in our lore and from our gods and we are FAILING.
Many outstanding women rise to power and prominence in our community. These are serious ass kicking heathen women. Some are quietly amazing, others loudly amazing, but all of them are shining beacons of what our community attracts and produces. We are looking at the champions who fought their way past the glass ceiling with a battle axe, who literally overcame the collective weight of our bullshit to rise to prominence anyway. For each one of them that made it, how many of them were not able to bear three times the burden for one third the recognition to make it to where we need them to be?
Heathens function on a meritocracy, mostly. We are our deeds. You do great things, you show us you are devoted to the community, a person that makes wise and frithful decisions, that has a strong commitment to building community, and you earn the chance to lead, so that people with those skills and commitment are making the decisions that will affect us all.
We aren’t getting the best though. We are getting the best men, and the few among the best women who fought through the bullshit and survived; as long as they are able to sustain the fight to tear them down again for the crime of being a successful heathen woman.
The fix on this one is dead simple. Guess what, I can even speak to the ones who need to change it. I speak the language. I have a beard as big, and testicles as hairy as any other in this community. I can thump my chest and shake my spear with the best of them, so here it goes. Men in this community have to let go that Christian baggage about a woman’s place. A woman’s place is where ever she sets her feet. A woman’s job is whatever challenge she undertakes. We are our words, we are our deeds. I do not care if the voice that spoke the words is a pleasant alto or a raspy baritone. I don’t care if the shoulder that pushed the wagon beside me had a long flowing beard draped across it, or the swell of breast upon it. If they gave their strength to the task I judge them by the strides they took, and know from my own struggle to take those strides how to measure the effort they put in. That is what matters, not the beard, or the breast, but the stride.
We are failing at that. Do better. We are not Christians, we are heathens. Most of us were not born that way, and too much of the baggage of the cannibal cult crossed into heathenry with it. We need to leave that at the door and honour our fine Heathen women for their words and their deeds. I was not wrong in stating that our women are indeed a shining credit to the Heathen community. I contend and will defend ours are the finest, most capable women on this good earth. It is now time we deserve them.
John T Mainer