I often tell people that I’m the biggest self-aware misogynist I know.
I was writing a scene last night between a woman general and the man she helped put on the throne. I started writing in some romantic tension, and realized how lazy that was. There are other kinds of tension.
I made a passing reference to sexual slavery, which I had to cut. I nearly had him use a gendered slur against her. I growled at the screen. He wanted to help save her child… no. Her brother? Ok. She was going to betray him. OK. He had some wives who died… ug. No. Close advisors? Friends? Maybe somebody just… left him?
Even writing about societies where there is very little sexual violence, or no sexual violence against women, I find myself writing in the same tired tropes and motivations. “Well, this is a bad guy, and I need something traumatic to happen to this heroine, so I’ll have him rape her.” That was an actual thing I did in the first draft of my first book, which features a violent society where women outnumber men 25-1. Because, of course, it’s What You Do.
I actually watched a TV show recently that was supposedly about this traumatic experience a young girl went through, but was, in fact, simply tossed in so that the two male characters in the show could fight over it, and argue about which of them was at fault because of what happened to her. It was the most flagrant erasure of a female character and her experiences that I’d seen in some time. She’s literally in the room with them while they fight about it, revealing all these character things about them while she sort of fades into the background.
We forget what the story’s about. We erase women in our stories who, in our own lives, are powerful, forthright, intelligent, terrifying people. Women stab and maim and kill and lead and manage and own and run. We know that. We experience it every day. We see it.
But this is our narrative: two men fighting loudly in a room, and a woman snuffling in a corner.
This is a really interesting article about the way media, fiction and narratives repeated in society shape the way we see and assume reality to be, specifically (in this case) about how narratives about women being victims, or supporting men, but not being fighters or soldiers create the idea that women never did that, and it’s only a modern new thing that we think they could, when in fact that’s not true at all.
Also, specifically relevant to this blog are the parts about how that affects us when we create stories ourselves, and can end up adding to this narrative consciously and subconsciously. It’s the same with how women are depicted in illustrated fiction. I honestly don’t think a lot of the boobs and butt poses, or women in bikini armor, are drawn by people consciously thinking sexist thoughts, I think they’re just doing What You Do. This is a female character, this is just the pose we’re used to seeing women in. We don’t think twice about drawing her like that, because it’s just how we’ve become conditioned to seeing women pose in the medium. Same with stuff like this. It’s how we’re used to seeing female armor, and when we think “female warrior”, our imagination just instinctively runs in the direction of what we’re used to seeing. It’s just What You Do with female armor, and female characters, and female poses.
Since starting Escher Girls, I’ve gotten quite a lot of mail from people telling me that they never realized just how often they put their female characters in boobs and butt poses, or gave them bikini armor, just because that’s how they saw women drawn in video games and comics and never thought twice about it. It’s just what seemed “right” to them, and that they’re now a lot more conscious of it and try to have more variety in the way they depict women, and often in ways that make more sense to the story. :)
I think it’s just important to catch ourselves sometimes and think are we creating something because this fits what we’re doing, and this makes sense, or are we just doing What You Do? (This applies to all sorts of tropes and stereotypes too.)
So everybody should stop and read this article right the fuck now.
There’s lately been some discussion about LGBT deities and themes in mythology from around the world; it’s well-attested in Hellenic and Roman traditions, but there is a void when it comes to the Celts. The reason is pretty simple: the Celts had little to no written traditions until the advent of Celtic Christianity (the reasons why I differentiate ‘Celtic Christianity’ and ‘Christianity’ is the subject of a whole other essay.
I’m going to focus on the Isular Celtic cultures, mainly Irish and Welsh, and hit three different points: the position of women and gender roles in mythology and living folk traditions; LGBT attestations in folklore; and homosexuality in the bardic poetry of post-Christian Ireland.
One of my archaeology professors talked about the problem of “sexy” archaeology – the temples, the hoards of gold, the religious icons – vs the daily grind archaeology. I can point out a hundred examples of bad-ass, powerful woman in Irish myth and folklore – the sexy archaeology. But I can also point out that Irish women routinely held positions of power, owned land, could marry and divorce at will, and controlled their own financial resources. Young girls were often trained alongside young boys in martial combat.
Story Time! So once upon a time there was a farmer who was terrible lonely. One day, a fairywoman named Macha showed up and announced that she was his wife now, and he was cool with that because hey. Gorgeous woman. Fairy. Win-win. Now, they lived in Ulster and there was a big festival and the king was boasting that his horses were the fastest horses in Ireland. And this farmer was dumb and claimed that his wife – being a fairy – could outrun the horses. The king demanded an immediate footrace. Macha told her husband that he was a moron and she wasn’t going to do it. The king said he would kill the farmer if she didn’t run. So Macha ran a footrace. Against a horse. And won. While nine months pregnant. She went into labour on the finish line and cursed all the warriors of Ulster to suffer the pain of labour for an entire year. That’s just fucking metal, I don’t care who you are.
Let’s think about that. Something that women face several times in the course of their lives, that is a part of their lives, that they handle without much fuss, is enough to cripple a standing army. Respect for women. Right there.
Before you say that pre-Christian Irish society was obviously matriarchal for these reasons, let me explain you a thing: just because women were granted equal footing in many cases, Irish society was still patriarchal and Irish men could be big bags of dicks to the women in their care with little legal recourse. The story of Conchobhar (pronounced ‘Conner’, for those of you following along at home) comes immediately to mind, when he saw a young girl, decided he was going to marry her, and proceeded to lock her up for a few years so that no other man would see her. Of course, this led to Fergus getting pissed off and ragequitting Ulster for the duration of the Tain Bo Cuilagne because that isn’t how you treat a lady.
There’s also the widespread misapprehension that women retained their own surnames when they married. They did, in most cases, retain whatever lands or property they held before marriage, and depending on the political situation surrounding the marriage could divorce their husband with relative ease. But this whole surname thing? It’s an English concept. What we think of surnames - McCool or MacDonald or O’Dyna, in the most Anglicised translations - aren’t. They’re patronymics. ‘Mac’, ‘map’, ‘mab’, and ‘fab’ are all common patronymic elements that mean ‘son’; the prefix ‘O’ is a derivative of ‘Ui’, which is a blanket term for ‘descendent’ or ‘clan’. It has a modern cousin in ‘ogha’, which is a non-gender-specific term for grandchild or cousin. If my father’s name is Donald, his name is still going to be Donald after I get married. If I’m from the Clan MacDonald, I’m still going to be from the Clan MacDonald after I get married. It makes absolutely no logical sense for women to change their patronymic to that of their husband.
The other recourse that women had against mistreatment was geasa. A geas (pronounced ‘gay-sh’) held the same dire consequences as a curse, but was basically a set of rules or restrictions that a woman – any woman, not necessarily a mystic or holy woman - could lay on a man or another woman. For example, “Until you marry me, you can’t sleep three nights in the same bed.” Famously, Cuchulainn’s geis was that he couldn’t kill a dog or he would die – guess what he did right before he died! Pretty rough stuff. They were treated extremely seriously.
Speaking of Cuchulainn, let’s talk about Gays in the Military.
A note: Much of Irish mythology comes to use through the filter of the Irish monks who first recorded the stories, and then filtered again through the Victorian scholars who translated much of it into modern Irish or English. That is why you will not find any explicit references to homosexual or transgender characters in the tales as they are currently presented.
But we were talking about Cuchulainn, the Dog of Culan. Cuchulainn was a fearsome warrior, had this battle-fury thing going on, held off the forces of Fergus mac Roich for a year while the rest of the Ulstermen were busy with their crippling labour pains. To use an analogue probably more familiar to readers, he was the Achilles of the Cattle Raid of Cooley. And, like Achilles, he had a very close personal relationship with his “foster brother”. If you know what I mean. They shared a bed, and Cuchulainn mourned him as violently as Achilles mourned Patrocles.
So while the myths and legends may not explicitly state the sexual preferences of their heroes, this kind of behaviour is actually pretty common among the heroes, especially those who run in bands, like the famous Fianna of Fionn mac Cumhaill. They would share tents, fight naked, even hold contests about who could hold an erection the longest.
There’s evidence for it, actually – textual evidence, even. What little history we have of the pre-Christian Celts come from the written accounts of the Greeks and Romans who encountered them. Of course, even these, while contemporary, are written from the perspective of a conquering nation who considered themselves superior to the people they were writing about. Despite that, you can find historians commenting about the Celtic warriors preferring the company of men and being quite offended if another men turned down their offers of sex. And for the Celts, ‘quite offended’ could result in ‘quite sacked and pillaged’.
And there’s these assholes: the Brothers Map Don, Gwydion and Gilfaethwy (say that five times fast). They conspired to rape a virgin, and their punishment was to bone each other endlessly for three years, in the form of various magical animals. One would become a stag and the other doe; the next year a boar and sow, and the final year a wolf and she-wolf – and they had to switch who did the genderswap each time. They even produced off-spring while they were switching genders.
The one thing surprisingly lacking in Celtic lore is cross-dressing. Well, except that they were known for mocking the Persians about fighting in pants – pants were for women. But it is common in folk tradition. What I mean by “folk tradition” is, in addition to the stories, all the superstitions, folk remedies, customs, funerary games, divination games, and drinking toasts that get passed down through the generations. This stuff is very strong, and actually much closer to the everyday belief of the Celtic pagans than you would think. Folklorists were collecting this stuff from the nineteenth century onward; it’s still going on. I mention this for the interesting fact that f was quite common for young boys to be dressed as girls. Not just for their christening, where little white dresses are still de rigeour for the young man, but often up to their coming of age at twelve or thirteen. This was done to confuse the fairies and hopefully keep the child from being stolen away.
And by ‘dressed as girls’, I don’t mean ‘they wore kilts’, I mean check this out:
Yep. This tradition was so widespread and so prevalent that there is photographic proof of it. Dresses: manly as shit.
So, with the knowledge that folk tradition often superseded Christian morals, I’m going to skip forward a few centuries to the twelfth through seventeenth centuries, in Ireland. Things are changing. The English are trying to take over. The Irish absorbed the first wave, starting a new age of rich and powerful Irish lords, who supported an entire class of filidh – bards. Predominantly men, they made their living writing poetry. And they were damn good at it. The bardic poetry of this age was highly stylised, with extremely strict structures in terms of line length, syllable count, rhyming, assonance – it was insane, actually. I once tried to write a poem (in English, my Middle Irish is rusty) using these rules. I managed two stanzas. Two. And the good poets could write fifty-stanza praise poems practically overnight. They had to, in order to be paid.
Why am I bringing this up? Well, there’s an interesting theme that runs through just reams and reams of these bardic poems: the poet as lover. Specifically, the lover of his patron. His male, usually married, Christian God-fearing patron. And I’m not talking “ooooh bb yur so cute teehee i luv u”, these poems often read more like “FUCK YES ungh baby fuck I love your big COCK fuck yes GIVE IT TO ME.” Which was considered the highest praise a bard could ply for his patron.
If you pissed off a poet, they wrote a satire about you, and your political and social life was over. It held all the same weight as a curse. Common themes? “You suck, my new hot sugar daddy is going to fuck you in the ass so hard, you have a small penis that brings me no pleasure.” It was like Shakespeare: sounds very fancy but actually full of dick jokes.
My copy of Osborn Bergin’s Irish Bardic Poetry is in storage right now and for the love of Christ on a pogo stick I can’t find decent translations on the internet, but if you’re brushed up on your Old/Middle Irish, there is this amazing database of bardic poetry. If you aren’t, read Irish Bardic Poetry, because it’s excellent and interesting. The Irish Bardic Poet: A Study in the Relationship of Poet and Patron as Exemplified in the Persons of the Poet, Eochaidh O hEoghusa (O’Hussey) and His Various Patrons, Mainly Members of the Maguire Family of Fermanagh is the long-winded title of a piece with more discussion, by James Carney. His scholarship can be a little shaky, however.
Um. So. Yeah, that’s about it. Because this isn’t an academic paper I don’t need a conclusion.
I’ll also be taking asks about this. And Celtic stuff in general. I’m more familiar with the Isular cultures, but I know a bit about Continental Celtic tribes too.
References and Further Reading
- Irish Bardic Poetry, Osborn Bergin
- The Tain Bo Cuilagne (The Cattle Raid of Cooley; available from Project Gutenberg here)
- The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries, WY Evans Wentz (available from Project Gutenberg here)
- The High Deeds of Finn and other Bardic Romances of Ancient Ireland, TW Rolleston (available from Gutenberg here; Rolleston’s scholarship is a little Victorian but generally sound. Also check out his Myths and Legends of the Celtic Race.
If you laugh at jokes about raping people I will laugh at my fist punching your throat because sure it’s violent and demeaning but I think it’s funny so why aren’t you laughing get off the floor and stop whining I am trying to assert that my desire to make a joke out of your traumatic experience is more important than your pain it’s called Freedom of Speech read a book.
part of why i love caster so much is just the whole sequence where it’s like
“so would you take saber and put her in a sexy dress so you can enjoy the view while you wait for her to submit to your command spell” “oh yes absolutely”
“are you going to rape her then” “WHAT NO of course not that would be awful and worse it would be so crude”
remember the part where shirou was really gross about mitsuzuri in fate route (although apparently it was honestly translated to sound worse than it actually was)
this is what that whole thing was setting you up for
:) :) :)
(also i’m p sure shirou’s comment is supposed to be in the sense of “mitsuzuri is very strong, but this is still sexual assault that we are talking about here and that is still a thing that women have to worry about a lot? and no matter how strong she is or isn’t this is horrible and traumatizing and what if it was something that she specifically was secretly afraid of and???? aughhhhhh”)
#sexual violence #rape
the bad ending with rider is honestly one of my favorites because it is so good and such a good demonstration of her character. what causes her to go after you with such violence and creep on you while doing so? your trying to call saber to come save you. she sees your choice and goes “aha, you are just like the abusive shithead who has power over me, HAHAHA FUQ U im gonna kill you and im gonna gloat while i do it huehue”
shinji’s treatment of rider is very very sexual (although we are not sure whether he has assaulted her or not); we see him in fate route acting like he has impunity to touch her body whenever he wants, and he says that her only worth was “as a woman”, for instance. so it’s very interesting and very significant, i think, that when rider decides to take out her aggression at shinji on shirou, her revenge by proxy is always very sexual too. like, it doesn’t make this a good thing to do (note to audience: please don’t imitate this in real life, raping your rapist does not make a right), but she responds to sexuality being used as a weapon to hurt her by weaponizing her own sexuality. her sexuality is hers. she will not tolerate attempts by gross teenage boys to make it something that hurts her.
that is amazing and it is also kinda fucked-up. wow i love rider. she is such a great character.
and for those interested, you can find the report HERE
Just in case any dudebros are unclear on what this means: it means that your buddy who totally just had some bitch trying to ruin his life by accusing him of rape almost certainly did rape her.
Keep that in mind.