Gender Equality: Why Heathens Can Do Better
Listen to/Watch this awesome speech by Emma Watson to the United Nations about the launch of a new campaign: He For She. Please signal boost the speech, rather than the nasty responses to it! This unique campaign seeks to end gender equality by boosting the support of men and boys for the movement. As Ms. Watson addresses, many people have mis-represented feminism as being about elevating women over men, and hating men. She refutes this and discusses the many ways patriarchal gender roles are damaging to both men and women. Ms. Watson’s message is for the whole world, but after seeing a link to it on a Heathen discussion forum, I couldn’t help thinking of how her message connected with Heathenry and Germanic (and Celtic) based values.
To give a little background for those who might reading this from feminist/social justice communities, Heathenry is an umbrella term for revivals of Germanic polytheism, with specific branches such as Asatru, Vanatru, Anglo-Saxon Heathenry and so forth. The Heathen community tends to be pretty distinct, spiritually and culturally from the broader category of Paganism, though the two sometimes do work together on projects for religious freedom, festivals and so forth. Due to the emphasis on the Goddess(es) and women as witches, the gender ratio among the general Pagan populace tends to skew more towards women, whereas due to the emphasis on macho Viking warriors, Heathens tend to have a gender ratio that skews male.
*spoiler alert* Emma Watson ends her speech the line- “Ask yourself- if not me, who? If not now, when?” This very much ties in with heroic morality. (Which is also expressed in the Harry Potter novels/movies!) This is not the idea that everyone can be a hero, but to at least strive in that direction. We can all do our part to make the world a better place, and to be the best you can. I realize that there are many issues debated by feminists and advocates for gender equality that not all Heathens or Heathen organizations are going to agree on, even if we as a community choose to make gender equality more of a priority, both within our religion and in our broader societies. Still, I think there are some principles here that tie in well with broadly held Heathen values.
*Flexibility of gender roles “An Asatru man will not be ridiculed for running a household, nor will an Asatru woman be looked down upon for being the primary wage earner.” “Our ancestors were also able to acknowledge when exceptions needed to be made for men or women that were acting outside of the normal roles for their times. Women were known to go on raids as warriors, though rarely. Men were known to raise the children, and act as the frithweaver for the family, though not as commonly as women.”- The Standing of Heathen Women
*Industriousness- and fair rewards- Equal pay for equal work. For that matter, so much of the work women do is unpaid and not valued enough by society as “productive” work. Taking care of children, elderly and people with disabilities and doing housework are all worthy and important tasks. Let’s think about how can we change our view of this work so that it seen as more valuable, and both women and men who do it are better rewarded, and can get jobs that can support them, yet still allow for time to do these things.
*Access to education- Heathens like their book learning, and we want everyone to have access to knowledge and wisdom- men and women, boys and girls. Many of us are concerned about the role dominant religions play in our public schools, especially in the teaching of history, science and sex education.
*Respect for women’s bodies and sexuality (and men’s!) Clearly though we may joke about how awesome the Vikings were, we don’t consider their behavior acceptable. Stealing, destroying villages and raping women? Obviously those are not honorable actions! Personally I think we should have less of a focus on the idea of “rape culture” but rather, sexual violence and abuse in general, regardless of the genders of the perpetrators. A major way in which men’s sexuality is distorted both by anti-feminists and some feminists is the implication that men cannot control their own sexual desires, that they are monsters that women and children should fear. We do not have the idea of shame of the body and of sexual pleasure that other religions sometimes do. We believe in enjoying (responsibly!) all that life has to offer.
*Openness to Intuition & Emotion (this is my own addition, though somewhat alluded to in the speech)
Asatru fora often sound suspiciously like Christian fundamentalists have invaded, except people are arguing by hurling lines from different sagas at each other to support or refute a point rather than Bible verses. Women are definitely guilty of this too, but the general tone of this sort of debate is that of a macho, intellectual pissing contest. Sorry, boys. Faith isn’t logical. Certainly logic and critical thinking are important tools in scholarship and philosophy. One thing to note is that we have much less lore available about our goddesses, and roles of women in our religion. Having a more open-minded attitude about personal revelation (UPG- seriously we need a better term, folks!) can help our religion regain gender balance.
*Postscript- After writing most of this post, I read several criticisms of Ms. Watson’s speech by Black feminists and others who have pointed out its lack of intersectionality, implications of heteronormativity and being less than forthcoming about the fact that men benefit from patriarchy, it isn’t just this Bad Thing that makes them hide their feelings etc. I definitely now see the limitations, and we can certainly call into question how relevant her message was for the entire planet in the way she framed it. However, when you are pulling your hair out as a white woman trying to teach Feminism 101* in a white male dominated subculture like Heathenry, many geek communities, the atheist/skeptic/humanist communities, her speech seems to be a good vehicle to get some important messages across. (*and anti-Racism 101, Trans 101, Ableism 101…)
Speech by Emma Watson to UN General Assembly
The Pentagram and the Hammer– a comparison of Wicca & Asatru
The Standing of Heathen Women– Heathen Kinship of Houston
Why I’m Not Really Here for Emma Watson’s Speech on Feminism at the U.N. by Mia McKenzie- I will admit, I had to read this essay more than once to really “get it”, and I’m still working on “getting it” in a broader sense…