Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A Woman's Place is the Kitchen and the Battlefield

Women's history is quite the boring subject for a number of reasons. It's only interesting if you're interested in domestic issues for the greater part of history.

Women's history had an awesome start in the Neolithic period, and in early civilization (Sumeria especially). But all that ended when people decided that Sumeria sucked and wiped them off the face of he earth. And then, with women's history being so focused on a small aspect of history, especially in the last thousand years, the rest of history became Man's history. Since that point, it's always been 'impressive' when we see a woman suddenly do something that gender roles of the time said they couldn't do. But these women are only popular for doing things that a thousand years ago would have been fine.

Women like Clara Barton and Sarah Rosetta Wakeman stand out as women of the Civil War period who did things considerably amazing for their time. But in the art of the time, there wasn't much that glorified this, even in the art by women. The 'Woman's place is the kitchen' mentality permeates through many women, even today.

It simply wasn't a woman's place to do anything other than cook or clean for her husband, make babies, teach, and walk around in a dress. While there's nothing inferior about these tasks, there's not much glorification of it. And sometimes I think that women's art in the 1800s and on is an attempt at glorifying domestic life.

But there's been a surge of artistic representations as of late of the woman-warrior, as rare as she is. Women have been popping up in video games especially as great fighters.

The Amazon of Diablo 2

In literal history, there weren't many fighting women. The pagans of Northern Europe (Gaul, Woads) had a few; there was obviously Joan of Arc; and the maiden archers of Scythia were a force to be reckoned with. But overall, the woman-warrior in classical European civilizations (Rome, Greece, Carthage, Macedonia, etc) is practically a historical fiction.

Most civilizations that employed women on the battlefield put them in positions where a small, fragile body could be utilized well. Even the Romans feared Scythian women on horseback with bows and poisonous arrows.

Scythian Noblewoman

And China has a large collection of woman-warriors. Mulan being the most obvious, but a better example would be Sun Shang Xiang, a princess of the Chinese kingdom of Wu whose handmaidens dressed in full armor. She would use hit and run tactics with cavalry to really mess with her enemies. And she was a great fighter herself, fighting in numerous battles during the Three Kingdom Period, utilizing both the sword and the bow.

But for some reason, around the medieval period, the powerful woman on the battlefield disappeared and never really came back, especially not to the scale of the Scythians who employed whole brigades of women. But in concept art and science fiction stories of ancient civilizations, we have the woman-warrior coming back.

I don't think she's in the kitchen

Scythia lives again, but only in the imagination of the concept artist. Rarely are these stories made into anything beyond the medium of graphic novels and sci-fi novels. Which are pretty fucking awesome, but aren't as mainstream as they probably should be. Maybe the woman warrior will truly return.

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