Welcome to the latest instalment of Christina publishes her PhD thesis, this time we have my favourite thing…
Theory! Yay! Insert groans. Actually much to many a friend’s dismay, I do love some theory. And talking about theory, and arguing about theory, and making new theory. I am SO FUN at parties friends, so fun.
This entry will be a bit technical as it lays the foundation for how and why I approached the burials in Ireland the way that I did. The article below will be an introduction to the theories of gender for the Vikings and Irish in the medieval period. Please, please, please tweet me any questions you may have and I will do my best to answer them. Do keep in mind that this is an introduction and these ideas will be applied to the future articles, so explanations on how these ideas impacted lived reality may be more evident later.
On to the show.
In medieval Christian Irish and pagan Norse culture there was no single definition for men or women, instead a variety of competing clerical, ecclesiastical, and scholarly ideologies are evident. Bennett contended that there is no singular ‘European’ medieval definition for gender. She argued that gender and theories of gender need to investigate ‘sex, flesh, body, race, nature, discourse and culture’ and that to presume any of these is ‘natural’ would be categorically incorrect. Just as gender varies across nationalities, it varies within racial and ethnic groups as well. Bynum believed that there was not a single ‘medieval’ concept of the body (and by proxy gender and sex), there was ‘a cacophony of discourses’ by a plethora of differing peoples: doctors, scholars, poets, and clergy to name a few.
It seems natural then that a study of gender should be a study in intersectionalities: a study of the influence of other categories of analysis on gender. This study will investigate the influence of ethnic identity on one’s gender, and by proxy this thesis will also consider to a lesser degree factors such as religious beliefs, marital status, and sexual orientation. When examined within its contemporary framework it is clear that Viking gender identities were influenced by a myriad of factors, predominantly dictated by their ethnic identity. As this thesis is concerned about gendered symbolism and gender ideologies in Viking burial practice, it will focus primarily on Scandinavian understandings of gender and gender roles and how these may have impacted on burial. To that effect, it is essential to explore the nuanced nature of these Viking gender conceptions. However, it is important to have a brief understanding that Irish gender roles were different from their Norse counterparts. The gender roles inherent in early medieval Ireland were greatly influenced by the doctrine of the Church.
Denise Riley asserted that the category ‘women’ is unstable with ‘no ontological foundation or underlying continuity’. The terms ‘women’ and ‘men’ have ever changing definitions. Many other feminist historians echo this argument, such as Judith Bennett, who contended that gender is ‘both a performed and a historically constrained construction exceeding the binary of sexual difference…’ This definition of gender, as both a performance and societal construct, illustrates that the manifestations of gender are divergent over a variety of competing social categories. Masculinity and femininity are not stable or fixed categories but are instead fluid manifestations of societal constructions and individual representation. As scholars such as Elizabeth L’Estrange and Alison More contended, gender can only be understood within its specific context; moreover, the terms ‘men’ and ‘women’ do not represent homogenous or fixed factions. Understanding the mutable nature of gender permits this study to conduct a detailed scrutiny of gendered reactions to ethnic collision and amalgamation by enabling the nuanced approach to Irish and Norse gender systems and hierarchies.
Another vital point of this thesis is that all women do not share the same gender. This is an imperative point of this thesis, that a woman is a woman only within the confines of her context and cannot be separated from that. Scott advocated strongly against assuming gender is the same for all women,
…by assuming that women have inherent characteristics and objective identities consistently and predictably different from men’s and that these generate definably female needs and interests, historians imply that sexual difference is a natural rather than a social phenomenon.
It is a crucial part of this thesis then, to examine how different women experienced their gender. L’Estrange and More reasoned that, ‘”women” does not constitute a pre-existing, homogenous, stable group ready for analysis’.
It seems natural then that a study of gender should be a study in intersectionalities: a study of the influence of other categories of analysis on gender. This study will investigate the influence of ethnic identity on one’s gender, and by proxy my thesis will also consider to a lesser degree factors such as religious beliefs, marital status, and sexual orientation. When examined within its contemporary framework it is clear that Viking gender identities were influenced by a myriad of factors, predominantly dictated by their ethnic identity. As my thesis was concerned about gendered symbolism and gender ideologies in Viking burial practice, it will focus primarily on Scandinavian understandings of gender and gender roles and how these may have impacted on burial. To that effect, it is essential to explore the nuanced nature of these Viking gender conceptions. However, it is important to have a brief understanding that Irish gender roles were different from their Norse counterparts. The gender roles inherent in early medieval Ireland were greatly influenced by the doctrine of the Church.
One of the most relevant publications is Lisa Bitel’s monograph, Land of Women: Tales of Sex and Gender from Early Medieval Ireland, which provided a framework for the competing Irish gender systems that this project utilized to examine the impact of incursion and settlement had on native representations. Bitel argued that the ‘histories’ of medieval Irish women have in essence been amalgamated to create one single status or common experience for all. Bitel stressed that the literati of Ireland had no one definition for men or women, but that women were defined solely in relation to the men in their lives.
These arguments make up a critical portion of my thesis, mainly, that ‘women’ and ‘men’ did not experience their gender the same and that among the medieval Irish there were many competing ideologies. She also found that the association between animals, women and the otherworldly was common to the Irish literati. Although Bitel engaged in some discussion of religious women acquiring manliness to become more holy, she did not seem to completely separate the term ‘woman’ from ‘femininity’, however. Bitel also raised the vital question of whether women could become men by acquiring masculine traits, using case studies of Saint Ite, who starved herself to become androgynous, and Saint Brigid, who gouged out her eye to become unattractive, as examples.
This is an integral part of my thesis’ examination of the acquisition or innateness of masculinity and femininity. By separating man from masculinity and woman from femininity, it is now possible to examine gender representations and interpretations as they varied among medieval people. Bitel’s findings play an integral role in creating a framework of feminine gender constructs, which will be utilized to explore the ways in which Irish genders were affected by the influx of Norse peoples.
It is also evident among medieval people that there were a multitude of divergent definitions of ‘man’ both intra- and inter-culturally. In ‘Body Doubles: Producing the Masculine Corpus’, D. Vance Smith discussed conceptions of masculinity in the Middle Ages. Smith asserted that the medieval male body was responsible for producing and maintaining the world, and that external labor was a role for men and internal work was the realm of women.  This seems to suggest a universality of separate spheres. Smith relied heavily on Christian doctrine and while this is certainly one such conception of masculinity, it is still only one of many competing ideologies inherent in Christian European culture and indeed, while it could perhaps be seen in Christian medieval Ireland, it might not be applicable to Norse culture at all. Norse gender binaries and hierarchies have been more contested. Studies by Marianne Moen and Carol Clover have problematized the man/woman binary by arguing that Germanic peoples might have a vastly different gender system from our modern society and from Christian medieval Europe. 
In The Gendered Landscape, Moen argued that the ideology of separate spheres rooted in Victorian thought is not supported in archaeological evidence and, therefore, should not be imposed upon medieval Viking women. She reasoned instead that we should not ‘underestimate’ Viking women by limiting their roles to those strictly defined by scholars as female or domestic. This is a view that this thesis supports. Mainly, that it is imperative to examine Norse women in the context and understanding of their own gender ideologies.
Jesch’s critical work on Viking women furnished necessary insight into lived experiences for Norse women by assessing a multitude of contexts in which they existed. She offered both a vital background on Viking custom and culture, providing valuable material about burial practice and average daily rituals for Viking women as well as an introduction to source materials. Jesch also analyzed the system of evaluating the gender of a burial based on the material objects it contained, for example a sword in a grave might not necessarily indicate a masculine burial. This thesis differs from her work by focusing on gender and not women, and seeking instead to deconstruct the words ‘man’ and ‘woman’. Additionally, Jesch stated that while the Viking culture was ‘a society which accorded a certain respect to women, there is no evidence that it accorded them any power to go along with that respect’. This is in contrast to other scholars, who believed that Viking women could and did achieve powerful positions.
Clover’s article, ‘Regardless of Sex: Men, Women, and Power in Early Northern Europe’, examined gender and conceptions of masculinity and femininity among the Norse. Her arguments will form a cornerstone of this thesis, mainly that a gender binary might not necessarily be the way in which medieval people understood gender. Clover believed that the Scandinavian and Germanic peoples had a ‘sex/gender system rather different from our own, and indeed rather different from that of the Christian Middle Ages’. She contended the binary for medieval Norse culture was weak/strong and could be crossed by either gender, instead of a universal man/woman. Clover argued that behavior could have potentially negated the sexed body.
She cited examples of the thirteen female founders of Iceland, female inheritors, and female skalds. Clover also considered the example of the female warriors found in sagas which modern scholars deem ‘extraordinary’ or often times fictional or problematic. She used these examples to illustrate the potential fluidity of gender constraints for female Scandinavians. There are certainly issues with the utilization of the saga material as it was composed much later than the events they purport to contain and within a Christian milleiu. This will be explored throughout the thesis. However, these saga sources in tandem with the archaeology do suggest a very different gender ideology from Victorians, modern scholars and even other medieval contexts.
Clover argued that ‘femaleness’ could be overridden by other factors such as rank, marital status, finances, or ‘just plain personality and ambition’. She contended that the binary for medieval Norse culture was weak/strong and could be crossed by either gender. This is an integral part of this thesis, that biologically sexed body is different from gender. It is imperative to make the distinction that femininity does not equal female and masculine does not equal male. As Nancy Partner eloquently argued,
Only the most temperate of feminist criticism was necessary to recognize that biological femaleness did not automatically or ‘naturally’ entail femininity when the ‘Feminine’ turned out to be every society’s catchall category for transparent male fears, biological fantasies, and crude excuses for systematic domination. 
It is critical in this exploration of gender to make the distinction between socially ascribed gender and individual chosen gender
Mclaughlin’s article, ‘The Woman Warrior: Gender, warfare and society in medieval Europe’, explored the potential for Viking female warriors among the Norse people. Mclaughlin argued that such women existed and enjoyed the most widespread existence in the early medieval period. She cited sanctions against fighting women as well as strict literary censure as evidence that these women’s activities were curtailed in the later medieval period. She hesitated to say that they did not enjoy a period before the early medieval time, but there is scant evidence in existence to prove that. Mclaughlin believed women warriors to be the most numerous during this period because the sources from between the tenth and thirteenth centuries contain the most references.
Clover’s article, ‘Maiden Warriors and Other Sons’, discussed women warriors in literature, and, as she argued, while they may or may not have existed in reality, the ‘literary fantasy of maiden warriors teaches us much about society that produced it’. While evidence may not be found in Ireland of Norse or Irish women warriors, the consideration of the implications of their existence in literature is essential. Clover contended that such a system can in fact be found to exist in modern times, such as the female warriors in Albania who take on male roles in the absence of male figures to claim vengeance. This could align with the Norse conception of ‘male’ daughters and perhaps shed some light onto the potential lived realities in the medieval period.
A significant point of investigation for my thesis was whether weapons in graves equate to a biological male or to a masculine gender role, as will be explored later. This allows for the consideration of power and gender in the Viking Age. By instead considering gendered symbolism, my thesis removes an insistence upon binary understandings of grave goods and biological sex and gender, and, therefore, creates the possibility of more nuanced consideration of Viking gender roles and representations.
Mclaughlin also made the compelling argument that in early medieval times the lord and his warriors shared close quarters in the family home or hall. Therefore, the separate spheres ideology with a binary of public and private is not applicable. Noble women, in particular, would have had access and indeed potential daily encounters with their spouses, sons, brothers, and warriors, as well as the fighting men who served them. These encounters would have prepared them or given them a baseline knowledge of battle and warfare. It is then not a stretch that women would have taken up arms in the absence of protectors or to have engaged in conflict at all in the early medieval period. She argued that since women could take up arms after the death of a spouse or kin member, and do so quickly, suggests an inherent knowledge of warfare among the female population.
My thesis examined the symbolism in burial with these possible gender roles in mind in an effort to ascertain the framework in which these people existed, and the consequences for being socially labeled into each of these particular categories. This can at times be difficult due the fact that the majority of Viking burial in Ireland was discovered during the antiquarian period. This has resulted in missing items, lost records, poor analysis of the burials to begin with, and an overall lack of detailed information. This will be considered in more depth later.
The masculine woman was a somewhat common character in Norse mythology. According to Clover, this female could undertake vengeance and warlike behavior as long as she remained a virgin or a widow.  This may appear to be subverting patriarchal norms, but perhaps another conclusion might be that these tales were created for collusion and support of patriarchy, as these women were powerful only when they behaved as the social construct of masculinity. In my thesis, then, it will not be assumed that weapons equate with a biological male or a gender role associated with a biological male. Instead it will take these as representative of a form of masculinities, one that may be divorced from biological sex.
An example of feminine men may be found in relation to níð, a form of sexual defamation that was illegal. This defamation took the form of insinuating some form of female-coded acts, feminine behavior or passive homosexuality. Clover argued that the Vikings were one insult away from being feminized.  However, discussions of this aspect must take into account much of what was written about this was done so in a Christian context, and therefore is subject to much bias, and indeed, Christian propaganda. This topic is incredibly nuanced and should be examined closely. It is critical to disentangle this bias before analysing the meaning of this practice. I will definitely write up much more about this later.
My thesis explored grave goods and, therefore, will include marginalized groups, defined by their inability or unwillingness to accept the socially prescribed constructs of their gender, to ascertain how society either rejected their performance or conception or forced these gender transgressors into the prescribed narrative by manipulating their individual representations to suit the cultural norms. These marginalized groups are an integral part of the broader themes of my thesis because they provide insight into the societal gender norms for each culture while also perhaps offering specific instances of how a social norm could become marginalized through acculturation. By not utilizing binaries, it is a hope that my thesis may go some way to understanding gender ideologies in Viking society.
Mrinalini Sinha in her article ‘Gender and Nation’, asserted that ‘nations have been, and are, constituted around culturally specific constructions of gender difference’. This is particularly pertinent to my thesis because the Irish and Norse experienced gender differently. Sinha believed that conquest and nation are and were associated with ‘reclaiming male honor, masculinity and remasculinization of culture’. This concept is prevalent in medieval Irish culture as evidenced in the Cogadh Gaedhel re Gallaibh , where the loss to an enemy in battle was depicted as tantamount to submission. For the Irish, familial honor and dynastic superiority are paramount and submission to any ruler, king or force would eliminate any claim to genealogical pre-eminence or distinction. For the Norse, as is evident with the slanderous ergi accusations that will be explored later, submission was also viewed as cowardly and negative. These conceptions create some of the key research questions posed in my thesis, mainly, how masculinity and femininity were expressed in cases of war and how gender was deployed as a method to express dominance or submission.
So all and all, that was a whole lot of theory. If you made it to the end, congratulations, you win the internet! I am kidding of course, but to really be able to understand my thesis, all this is somewhat necessary. And believe me, this is only a fraction of my gender theory in my thesis. If you want more, or any clarifications, please let me know!
 Bennett, ‘Medieval Women’, p. 150.
 Bynum. ‘Why All the Fuss about The Body’, p. 8.
 Judith M. Bennett, ‘Medieval Women, Modern Women: Across the Great Divide’ in David Aers (ed.) Culture and History 1350-1600: Essays on English Communities, Identities, and Writing (Wheatsheaf, 1992), p. 147.
 Elizabeth L’Estrange and Alison More, ‘Representing Medieval Genders and Sexualities in Europe: Construction, Transformation and Subversion, 600-1530’ in Elizabeth L’Estrange and Alison More (eds.), Representing Medieval Genders and Sexualities in Europe: Construction, Transformation and Subversion, 600-1530 (Surrey, England, 2011), p. 4.
 Ibid., p. 577.
 Scott, Gender, p. 4.
 L’Estrange and More, ‘Representing Medieval Genders ‘, p. 4.
 Lisa Bitel, Land of Women: Tales of Sex and Gender from Early Ireland (Ithaca and London, 1996), p.2.
 Bitel, Land of Women, p. 15.
 D.Vance Smith, ‘Body Doubles: Producing the Masculine Corpus’ in Jeffrey Jerome Cohen and Bonnie Wheeler (eds.), Becoming Male in the Middle Ages (New York and London, 2000), p. 5.
 Marianne Moen, The Gendered Landscape: A Discussion on Gender, Status and Power in the Norwegian Viking Landscape (Oxford, 2011); Carol Clover, ‘Regardless of Sex: Men, Women and Power in Early Northern Europe’ in Speculum Vol. 68 No. 2 (April, 1993),
 Moen, The Gendered Landscape, p. 5
 Judith Jesch, Women in the Viking Age (Woodbridge, Suffolk, 2003), particularly pp. 9-41.
 Jesch, Women in the Viking Age, pp. 18-21.
 Jesch, Women in The Viking Age, p.74.
 Clover, ‘Regardless of Sex’, p. 364.
 Ibid., p. 380.
 Ibid., p. 364-366.
 Ibid., pp. 366-367.
 Ibid., pp. 368.
 Ibid., p.380.
 Boydston, Gender as a question’, p. 558.
 Nancy M. Partner, ‘No Sex, No Gender’ in Nancy F. Partner (ed.), Studying Medieval Women: sex, gender, feminism (Cambridge, 1993), p. 121.
 Megan McLaughlin, ‘The Woman Warrior: Gender, warfare and society in medieval Europe’ in Women’s Studies Vol. 17 Issue 3-4 (1990), p. 194, 199.
 Carol Clover, ‘Maiden Warriors and Other Sons’ in Journal of English and Germanic Philology 85 (1986), p. 36.
 Clover, ‘Maiden Warriors and Other Sons’, pp. 45-48.
 Mclaughlin, ‘The Woman Warrior’, p. 198-203.
 Clover, ‘Regardless of Sex’, p. 370.
 Ibid., p. 373.
 Ibid., p. 373-375.
 Mrinalini Sinha, ‘Gender and Nation’ in Sue Morgan (ed.), The Feminist History Reader (London, 2006), p. 324.
 Sinha, ‘Gender and Nation’, p.327
 Francis John Byrne, Irish Kings and High Kings (Dublin, 2001), p.4.
 For an in depth discussion, please see Chapter Six, pp. 126-194, especially pp. 170-184.