This past week #Havamalwitches has exploded across social media as Heathen women have begun telling their stories of sexism, misogyny, abuse, racism, ableism, and bigotry. Of course, there have been a whole bunch of bigoted bastards who have told us to sit down and shut up. If they can’t see the irony of this, I do hope they realize that we know who they are. Not like we didn’t already know, but now you’ve really shown your colors. Now I know that not all men are jerks, but the fact that I even have to make this qualifying statement to keep feelings from being hurt is ridiculous and is part of the problem.
I’ve been slowly working on my next book and the chapter that has been the most difficult for me to write is the chapter on misogyny and racism, simply because it’s painful. It’s painful to think about my friends, and myself, being devalued by the community that claims to value us and our contributions.
I’ve certainly had my share of sexist comments over the years from male kindred members and men online. Having grown up in a very conservative, Southern baptist, farming community I was taught that my being female was lesser. When my extended family gets together we still have different activities according to gender: Women cook, clean, tend the kids, and stay in the house, while the men go hunting, ride around looking at the fields, and watch FOX News or hunting shows. Needless to say, I don’t fit in. Between joining the military, divorcing a jerk, choosing to not have kids, and becoming a Heathen, I broke out of the mold I was taught to fit into. Despite that, those early lessons have been difficult to overcome.
When conducting the interviews for my book I heard many stories of women who did 98% of the work to host a Heathen event only to have the men stand up, do the ritual, and get all the praise. I’ve heard stories from multiple women who were told that Heathenry isn’t a religion for women. I’ve heard of women being told they can’t be leaders in their local communities because they are indeed women. I’ve heard of women being told that unless they had children they weren’t real Heathens. I’ve heard of women being told their language was too course and one in particular who was nearly thrown out of sumbel because she dared say the word “vagina.”
I myself have had a man ask me if I was on my period because I was arguing a point passionately at a kindred meeting. I’ve had a man shut me down angrily when I was talking about the historic differences between the length of a man’s workday compared to a woman’s (my argument was that traditionally women have worked from the moment they wake up until they fall asleep at night cooking, cleaning, and taking care of kids, while men go to work and come home to put their feet up). I’ve had a men’s rights activist troll me so terribly that I had to block him and when I mentioned it on FaceBook at least 20 other women I know had had the same piece of shit do the same to them. For all this and all the other aggressions (micro & macro), dismissals, and episodes of mansplaining within the Heathen community, we are using the hashtag Havamalwitches.
I recently read a couple of articles that might lend insight to the phenomenon of sexism and male aggression towards women.
The first study used evolutionary theory to determine factors that lead to sexist behavior online, since evolutionary theory makes use of social and biological perspectives without focusing solely on one of them. The scientists looked at the first-person video game Halo 3, since normal social and physical indications of dominance are removed while still providing its players information about the gender (at least of the character, if not the player), performance, and skill of fellow players. The study found that lower-skilled male players are more hostile towards their female teammates, especially when they’ve not been playing well, while they (the lower-skilled men) acted submissive to higher-skilled males. The higher-skilled male players treated their male and female teammates much more equitably. The scientists’ conclusion was that when traditionally male hierarchical systems are reconfigured due to the entry of women in a competitive field, it’s the losers who treat women (especially those who are better skilled) poorly.1 While our Heathen communities aren’t typically thought of as being competitive, insecure men may still see strong, intelligent women as their competition.
The second study I want to mention looked at howler monkeys. These monkeys, which typically only weigh around 15 lbs, have howls that reach the same decibels as the roars of tigers! The scientists wanted to see if there was any correlation between the size of a male howler monkey’s vocal tract and their testes. Guess what? There is! Their study determined that the louder a howler monkey can howl, the smaller his testicles are.2 The study made no correlation between howler monkeys and humans, but I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.
- Kasumovic MM, Kuznekoff JH (2015) Correction: Insights into Sexism: Male Status and Performance Moderates Female-Directed Hostile and Amicable Behaviour. PLoS ONE 10(9): e0138399. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0138399.
- Dunn, Jacob C. et al. (2015) Evolutionary Trade-Off between Vocal Tract and Testes Dimensions in Howler Monkeys. Current Biology , Volume 25 , Issue 21, 2839 – 2844. http://www.cell.com/current-biology/fulltext/S0960-9822(15)01109-4.