Monday, June 10, 2019

An Amateur Historian's Linguistic Annoyance

I'm watching a documentary on the Etruscans. Yes I'm a nerd, this is established. I'm irritated with the historian/archaeology presenters.

First, a thirty-second background on Etruscans because I usually assume I'm the only ancient history weirdo in the room. Please ignore the next two paragraphs if you're already all well-versed in Etruscan history, or medium-versed, or even know the name...in fact, feel free to comment with corrections if I've gotten any details wrong.

Etruscans were the big-time civilization in Italy prior to Rome. They were extremely wealthy, extremely cosmopolitan, and it appears they were extremely egalitarian when it came to men and women. Greeks didn't like Etruscan women because they ate with their husbands (GASP...like equals, like a date where the dude actually wanted to spend time with his wife and hear what she had to say? What the fuck, Etruria?), they read, wrote, rode horses, they had their own names (OMFG, they weren't just named after their daddy-owners like Roman women, waiting to be passed off to their husband-owners?), they were treated as equals in parenting (as seen in funerary monuments identifying the dead as "son of" or "daughter of" BOTH parents' names), and they had the gall to be both athletic and sexual.

Etruria (now Tuscany) was eventually conquered by Rome and much of their art/customs were assimilated into Roman society...the ones they found useful, anyway. Similarly, Etruscan families were eventually assimilated into Roman society. The loss of female standing and cycle back to male-dominated society when the Etruscans were all Borg'd into Rome isn't what makes me irked. Over thousands of years and the rise and fall of tribes and civilizations there seems to be cycles of one sex dominating the other with periods of equality popping up here and there. That equality is never perfect and always relative to the surrounding nations, just as it is today.

All of these tidbits are presented in the documentary by historians and archaeologists who've studied and made assumptions/conclusions/maybe guesses about Etruscan society as a whole based on the evidence at hand.

This is not what irritates me about the otherwise awesomely fascinating documentary.

It's annoying as hell to talk about women's rights as GIVEN TO THEM by the men of the society. When a PhD or respected historian uses phrases like "Etruscan women were ALLOWED more freedom than Greek or Roman women" (emphasis is mine) the base assumption is that women don't and didn't have that power to begin with. If there is little evidence other than the facts archaeology and surrounding literature provides (reading, writing, eating, names, etc) why must the scholars make the sexist assumption that women were GIVEN these things?

Maybe they set up their society that way from the beginning. Maybe that society valued both men and women as (again, gasp) people. Maybe women allowed men the power they had.

My point is, there's no way to know, and these sorts of ingrained assumptions are really terrible in innocuous ways. It's easy to take away rights from someone if you are brought around to sincere believe that you GIFTED them those rights from the beginning, not that they inherently have rights to respect, earning and keeping their own stuff, their very personhood. Why is it so damn hard to think that people thousands of years ago might have actually valued all citizens* in their society and built their customs and laws to reflect that value?

I sincerely wish more scholars would take a step back and consider their words and basic biases before presenting conclusions. After all, science (yay science!) has now proven some of those male Viking warrior burials were actually female: undeniably female skeletons with war wounds, buried with war grave goods, assumed to be male only because the evidence said "warrior". Assuming more egalitarian ancient societies were only more equal because the males in charge "allowed" the women freedom and rights is a disservice to that society as a whole. It's important to examine and discard biases and just present the damn facts: women had more power in Etruscan society than Greek or Roman women had. Period.

Perpetuating historical sexism when it actually isn't proven only perpetuates modern day sexism.

*Yes, Etruscans kept slaves, just as many ancient cultures did. Slavery is a different treatise altogether, because if I am for agency and personhood I am for it in every case, which means slavery is both a related and different topic to feminism in historical accounts. Ultimately, just like many other cultures, I think they sucked for keeping slaves. THIS post, however, is about how historians can easily STILL say women were "GIVEN" their basic rights by the men, even when science hasn't provided proof either way.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

The Light Isn't Dead.

I'm a dark person.

I am. I cover it with humor and smartass pithy comments, but it's often hard for me to see the light in the world. The kindness. The compassion. The good.

I live in one of the most progressive states in what used to be one of the more progressive countries on the planet. In the last month I've watched rights for women whittled away state by state as fascists and religious extremists take more and more control of the country I live in, as evil people attempt to control women's sexuality and freedom under the guise of their belief.

For the past few years I've watched evil people attempt to eradicate anyone brown, or black, or red, or  poor (any heritage other than their own pasty, wealthy WASPs, really) by any means possible.

As if this country wasn't built on the backs of anyone NOT WASPy. As if they have some right to absolute rule, an unspoken tyrant oligarchy with a despot king at the helm, and willful ignorance celebrates it all.  Current leadership here has emboldened hate.

Yep, I'm pulling out the evil card, because that level of selfishness and disregard for other humans in favor of money and power is an infection that spreads like a damn virus of hate, and I find perpetuating hate pretty fucking evil. Detention camps in which the very children they insist they're saving with anti-woman reproductive care bills die, hateful rhetoric, dehumanizing speeches comparing human beings to animals and insects, Neo-Nazi marches, refusing sanctuary to war refugees...anything they can think of that stays under the international criminal court's radar.

It's exhausting and depressing. The weight of watching this happen and feeling so utterly helpless to create any real change can get utterly overwhelming. I mean, I understand and agree with the quote "all evil needs to triumph is for good men to do nothing" (as an aside, the etymology of that phrase is amazing, and worth looking up), but what does that mean in a practical sense? What can one person do against a mob? What possible difference can I make, or am I just stuck watching this happen, wringing my hands and standing by (or in this case, writing by)?

The historian in me recognizes this dystopian, awful period is a relatively predictable societal swing that will come back eventually, but that's neither comforting nor helpful. The swing away from respecting people as fellow human beings, as equals who can and should run their own lives, is horrifying. It's not too surprising:humans throughout history have consistently been horrifying to each other. We haven't learned much in our thousands of years on this spaceball about how to treat our own species. But we've also been incredibly, inspiringly, kind to each other. The dichotomy of humanity is full of extremes, and we are living through a period that could get so unimaginably worse, but it could also be turned.

There is still light.

There is always still light to be found, if you look for it. It's possible for a time we'll need to celebrate small victories to encourage compassion and kindness. I am a dark person. I have to sometimes look very hard for the light when things seem extra terrible to me, a state I can be in by the nasty tricks of depression in my mind just as much as news and social media. So here are some examples of light I found today just while writing this post over lunch. 

  • Dr. Jen Gunter standing up unfailingly and unwaveringly for proper OBGYN care, and furiously, tenaciously correcting the lies spread about women and women's bodies. 
  • Men and women publicly standing up together to say enough: publicly discussing things that were hidden in shadows for ages, advocating for POC and for refugee and immigrant rights.  
  • Spring arriving in Minnesota after a horridly cold winter, as Nature wakes up and comforts with warm sun and fresh breezes. It is a season of hope and possibility, of new growth and increasing light here, and that does help. 
  • My nephew sharing hugs with his sister and brothers because he's the most empathetic little boy I've ever met, and I adore him for having such consideration for others at six years old when so many in middle age have none. 
  • I've seen Mr. Rogers' "Look for the helpers in an emergency" quote a lot lately, which tells me others are also looking for some good to hold onto. That means no matter how alone we might feel, we are NOT. 

There are things in this world worth fighting for, but right now it may take a little work to find a way to see the slivers of light that are meaningful to you, and stand up for them. "Be the change you want to see in the world" isn't a silly cliche: we are responsible for our reactions to the universe and creating/maintaining our environment. No one person can be responsible for fixing the whole of their world, but we can be in charge of the way we help: that means cleaning up where we can. Stand up for humanity. Stand up for your environment, for your universe, even in the smallest ways, because that shit adds up and is seen. Stand up for love: no matter what religion you claim to participate in, they all emphasize loving and respecting other humans, even those who are different from you.

And when the world seems to have forgotten that, be the light by remembering and demonstrating it.

When I can't see the light for myself, I can sure as hell hope someone else can see it through my actions. There is light to counter the darkness: you can find it.

If you can't find it, you can MAKE it. 

There is still good. There is still hope. We are still here.

Saturday, April 06, 2019

Ragnar the Destroyer*

*primarily of walls, yards, and carpet

For all things there is a season. A time to sow, a time to reap...

A time to attempt to rip small furry rodents into small pieces, pick fights with the neighbor's German Shepherd, and a time to howl.

Welcome to teenage doghood, where it's not the hormones that cause a pet parent to contemplate murder daily, but the instinctual need to define and defend the furry male territory. If you've never experienced teenage doghood stupidity, let me give you some examples.


  • Idiot Puppy will sit nicely when the truck he recognizes enters the parking lot, but when the other German Shepherd gets out he will instantly Cujo out: full hackles, teeth bared, growling lunging in all the ways that would get him kicked directly out of daycare if he pulled that bullshit THERE. 
    • Conveniently for all involved, GS is older and wiser and terribly sweet. He generally looks at me when Ragnar gets growly with a pained "children, amIright" attitude, and never ever responds negatively. Interestingly, he still comes over cheerfully to say hello every time he's allowed, which is often since his parents also recognize the "BUT I'M A BIG DOG YOU CAN'T BE ON MY GRASS WITHOUT PERMISSION" cockiness. 
  • IP also sits at the back door and slobber-growls when he sees the GS's TRUCK parked across the lot. This is a new development since the snow melted, prior to which his view was blocked. It's annoying at 7am. He's been warned, by both me and fAngus. 
    • fAngus's warnings generally come with a cat-paw-slap to Ragnar's face or a nip on the ear. Mine do not. 
  • Apparently he occasionally channels Chewy, because the leaves are dangerous and must be announced when it's windy. Birds on the back step, however, are beneath his interest. 
    • Birds are NOT beneath fAngus's interest. Particularly on the back patio. It's possible this was a consideration when a certain evil me set out birdseed on the grill this spring. 
    • Mwahahahahaha
  • IP has taken to getting between me and others in a protective manner I find amusing and helpful until he trips me or inappropriately shows teeth/growls at someone when I don't have an adverse response. 
    • We're working on that, since big black dogs with giant teeth generally cause problems if they're not behaving in public places. And I dislike getting tripped while we're walking...or any other time. 
  • It's worth mentioning again: not only does he behave well in daycare/boarding/dog park (except for going in the goddamnedishymuddypond without permission) and is a total social butterfly to everyone there, he ADORES the next door neighbors' new mop puppies. 
    • I don't know what they are, but they weigh all of a couple pounds and are the size of my unused-running shoes, and Ragnar LOVES them. 
  • Related: the bloodhound heritage is real, and loud. The other day we were sniffing the backyard (by "we" I mean I surfed Facebook for forever while Ragnar went over every centimeter of our shared yard-space with his nose in the dirt) and the neighbor girls brought the new moppies out. They were in the front yard.  Ragnar desperately wanted to go to the front, and when I said no he sat down, raised his nose to the sky, closed his eyes, and howled the most mournful sad and FUCKING PATHETIC ATTEMPT AT MANIPULATION OF MY EMOTIONS possible. My dog told on me to the entire damn neighborhood and the gods, because I'm a mean bitch who wouldn't let him sniff puppies. 
  • Yes, it worked. Goddammit. 
    • Sorry moppies, for the teenage puppy slobber. 
  • All the neighbors think my dog is hilarious and cute. fAngus and I are the only ones who are less than amused at the squirrel-chasing, bunny sniffing, yard digging, wall eating, adorably snuggly teenager who has zero impulse control and a whole lot of unearned swagger. 
  • To date, he's been unable to capture the elusive yard bunnies OR grey squirrels, both of whom are often spotted taunting him but fast enough to escape to the trees (up or under, depending on skill). I'm thankful for that: I give him de-worm pills and stuff, but I don't want to add any sort of small furry prey animals to my "Things Ragnar Ate" list. fAngus would have to kick his ass, since I won't let him hunt either. 
In all fairness to Ragnar's Destroyer of Walls moniker, the 3 holes he originally ate during his pica stage haven't increased in size or number for at least six months. I'm cautiously optimistic that it's time to fix the walls and maybe even get someone to paint. 

He is still occasionally the Destroyer of Carpet, which does not impress me at all and let me just say I've tried every product on the damn market and NOTHING is up to the challenge of a 75lb dog's pee. I hates it, precious, but I'm afraid of replacing the carpet AND I'm afraid if I don't he'll never stop

I think he'd happily destroy more of the yard if I let him. Because...dogs.