Monday, October 21, 2013

Boudica

Professional podcaster Jamie Jeffers, in a review of the History Channel's Vikings (which I've never seen), comments approvingly on the show's depiction of Lagertha*:
I really like the fact that they have a tough-as-nails warrior woman and they don't treat it like it's strange... they did an excellent job demonstrating that there were warrior women and warrior women were very effective. It does a good job dispelling a lot of the innate sexism that you run into.
Unsurprisingly, I don't like it.

Jeffers regularly juxtaposes the rigid gender distinctions certain ancient civilizations, like the Romans, made with the relatively more overlapping gender roles that existed among others such as the Norse or Celts, even employing the term "progressive" to describe the latter. In so doing, Jeffers projects a contemporary (and liberal, and western!) worldview to a past that was in many ways quite alien to anything existing within the prevailing mores and ethos of said contemporary worldview.

"Regressive" may be a synonym of "progressive"; "repressive", however, not necessarily so. I'd argue, in fact, that--and I'm generalizing as someone with a spotty amateur's knowledge of history--from the onset of the agricultural age through the Enlightenment, or maybe even the Industrial Revolution, the contextually more progressive (in the Hegelian sense of the word) societies tended to be the ones in which gender distinctions were relatively more, not less, pronounced. It was a natural outgrowth of specialization. Rather than being Jacks and Jills of all trades by necessity, people in more 'progressive' societies were able to become especially good at certain things and leverage these more specialized skills to obtain the products and services produced by others similarly become extraordinarily skilled in other things. It's not all John Locke and Adam Smith, though--similar forces were at work at other layers of society, not just the occupational ones.

Specifically, the relatively more sexually egalitarian tribes in Gaul and Brittania for which the employment of female warriors was not exceptionally remarkable were not 'ahead' of the Romans but instead were 'behind' them (history backs me up here). They used their women to join battle with their opponents and block the retreats of their own men because they had to. For a society to use women in hand-in-hand combat isn't very efficient--women are weaker, smaller, slower, and less physically aggressive than men are. Sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures, but just like arming the old, sickly, infirm, and untrained, what you gain in numbers you tend to lose in per capita fighting ability. Perhaps he used "disproportionate force", but Severus' actions become a little easier to comprehend, don't they?

Additionally, women are a more precious reproductive resource than men are. If, today, tribe Azure is comprised of 100 males and 50 females of reproductive age while tribe Fuchsia is comprised of 50 males and 100 females of the same condition, assuming no annihilation from hostile neighbors, which tribe is going to have more people--both male and female--of reproductive age a generation down the road? The male reproductive role takes fifteen minutes, the female role nine months (and a couple of decades of residual effort on top of that). At the high end, rates of reproduction are far more restricted by the number of fertile women in a society than they are by the number of fertile men.

Today, the rules of the game have changed, and it is indeed the case that in more progressive societies gender distinctions are less pronounced than they are in more regressive ones. Having shaken free of the Malthusian Trap centuries ago, the question of women assuming military roles in the contemporary West is no longer one of necessity but rather one of luxury--progressive societies are able to more easily afford putting women in harm's way. In the US, for example, the fighting capabilities of soldiers operating small arms and artillery just isn't a crucial or even important determinant of the nation's well being. We're not threatened militarily in any serious way and most of the casualties we do suffer are primarily the consequence of the ideologically-driven strategic decisions we make and tactics we forsake (ie sending marines into firefights in the mountains of Tora Bora and the streets of Baghdad rather than raining hell on these places from 30,000 feet above).

Indulging in the same sort of contemporary bias critically examined above, one might say that, in a historical context, Jeffers' take is an example of the bottom (those forced to equip everyone to fight) and the top (by those able to afford inefficiencies) uniting against the middle (those who are neither compelled by penury nor able to insouciantly engage in profligacy)!

* Anachronistic, yes, but it's historical fiction, not a documentary.

12 comments:

A. Carrick Bend said...

Fifteen minutes? Hell, I can get the job done in 45 seconds!

Audacious Epigone said...

FYI: I posted the same at Jeffers' BHP website but it was deleted by podcaster.

Anonymous said...

http://www.pabay.org/skyeviews.html

Captain Tripps said...

I used to listen to his podcast, but his leftist cant became too obtrusive and annoying, so I stopped. When he focuses on the historical facts, he can be engaging.

Anonymous said...

Today, if a woman bears 14 children, all most likely will survive to adulthood. Not so back then. So, now women's reproductive ability is less of an issue.

Audacious Epigone said...

Captain,

I feel similarly. Additionally, I suspect he intentionally meanders and gets off into the weeds too excessively, cynically in an effort to keep the thing going as far into the indefinite future as possible.

For fun, engaging, and edifying amateur history podcasts, I highly recommend Dan Carlin's Hardcore History and Mike Duncan's History of Rome as well as his newest endeavor, Revolutions. The former always takes interesting angles and while he displays enough PC etiquette not be targeted as an -ist, he isn't afraid to "go there" when it's required, while and the latter packs more digestable information per minute than just about anyone I've ever listened to in a lecturing capacity.

Anon,

Right, the obstacles to reproduction in the contemporary West are mostly psychological/cultural rather than biological.

Audacious Epigone said...

Reposted a second time, currently still up twelve hours later.

staffanspersonalityblog said...

From what I've read Viking women, at least within the aristocracy, did have some power, such as personal property and the right to inherit. Some stones have been raised for women and even boat burials, and men (probably slaves) have been sacrificed in their graves.

But there is no real evidence for them doing battle.

This sounds like a Noble Savage fantasy.

silly girl said...

It is not that the women were actual warriors but that they were members of leading families. Consider even much later women like Joan of Arc, ER I and Marie de Guise who were aggressive at making war without actually wielding a sword. We have all heard of hard women being called a 'battle axe' and that term didn't come to us from some foreign culture. It is homegrown from western civ. Those great big Viking dudes had some great big moms and sisters.

Anonymous said...

Here is a fun site. Women's Rugby. A bunch of white chicks. Click on a few player names. Oh yeah, you will find some 5'5" 160 lb female dragons on that list.

http://usarugby.org/womens-eagles-players

panjoomby said...

i highly recommend "new books in history (dot) com" podcasts - a few authors are overweening in their left-ist-ness, but hey - otoh, listen to ricardo duchesne there on his book "the uniqueness of western civilization" superb history!

Christian Identity Forum said...

"those who are neither compelled by penury nor able to insouciantly engage in profligacy"

What did he say, George? What did he say?