Woman or Warrior? The Construction of Gender in Old Norse Myth
Norrman, Lena (Harvard University)
Paper given at the 11th International Saga Conference (2000)
This example from Saga Hei›reks konungs ins vitra gives us an excellent opportunity to examine and understand the gender roles in what is traditionally called the patriarchal society of the Middle Ages. Hervör was a woman who trained herself for male duties, thus leaving behind conventions of female role behavior. It is true that she is only a literary fantasy but it is helpful to use literary fantasies as case studies in discussing the construction of gender. As Clover argues, the literary fantasy, if collective, “has much to tell about the underlying tensions of the society that produced it” and that, “when the subject is one such as woman, which the ‘legitimate’ sources treat only scantily, the literary fantasy takes on a special importance.” Clover further argues for a one-sex cultural model of gender where focus is on the binary opposites of power/powerless instead of the question of male/female. This model does not, however, offer an explanation of the transgressive behavior of females in Old Norse myth. I argue that it is also important to look at female sexuality and the two different images of the “erotic” or the “non-erotic” woman proposed by Linke about the birth of men and the cultural construction of gender.