Some people might be under the mistaken idea that Asatru is dominated by men or is male-centric, since today in America there are so many outspoken organizations that have many male members and are headed by male priests (Godhis). However, there are many female led groups, and many women that are part of the movement. Let’s look at some of the traditional roles of women in Asatru.
In ancient times, women in Northern Europe enjoyed a position unheard of in other cultures of the times. They had the right to seek redress from anyone who had wronged them. They could be the head of a household, or demand wergild. They could own land, servants, or serve as advisors to a King or Queen. They were generally acknowledged as better at frithweaving. Taticus writes that the ancient Germans felt there was “something sacred an provident about women,” they consulted them in all matters of life. This was true even in such “manly” duties as war and rulership. So where does that place modern Asatru women? This means that modern Asatru women are not limited in any way by history, tradition, or religious culture.
In the Bible, women are reduced to subservient roles, and not even counted as persons when taking a census or speaking of how many people a city or tribe held. Married women are considered just higher than servants, but are not allowed to question or speak. There are prohibitions against women even speaking in a church. While modern Christianity has relaxed this attitude, it is still one of the prevalent beliefs of the underlying religion.
In Islamic countries their holy text is often interpreted to allow men to subjugate the women to an incredible degree. Men can have 4 wives, but women only 1 husband. The Koran includes a careful set of instructions on just how a husband is to correct his wife by first admonishing her, then withholding sex, and finally by lightly beating her!
Buddhism has a slightly more enlightened view toward women. At least, within Buddhism, there is controversy instead of blanket degradation. There are Buddhist doctrines and traditions that seem to indicated that women could, in certain circumstances, even attain enlightenment. Buddha even allowed women to join his monastery, but they were forced to bow to any male monk that passed them. Although early Buddhist texts such as the Cullavagga section of the Vinaya Pitaka of the Pali Canon contain statements from Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, speaking to the fact that a woman can attain enlightenment, it is also clearly stated in the Bahudhātuka-sutta that there could never be a female Buddha. As Prof. Heng-Ching Shih states, women in Buddhism are said to have five obstacles, namely being incapability of becoming a Brahma King, `Sakra` , King `Mara` , Cakravartin or Buddha. This is based on the statement of Gautama Buddha in the Bahudhātuka-sutta of the Majjhima Nikaya in the Pali Canon that it is impossible that a woman could be “the perfectly rightfully Enlightened One’”, “the Universal Monarch”, “the King of Gods”, “the King of Death” or “Brahmā’”. As I said, though, at least in Buddhism there is an acknowledgment that women are not inherently evil, even if they are seen as handicapped in regards to enlightenment.
In Asatru, past and present, a woman may rise to any station or role that she is woman enough to make for herself! The same is true of any man. Take the example of our gods. Freyja, a goddess, has the first pick of all the fallen dead, not Odin. Frigga has the wisdom and power to outsmart her husband if the need arises. She does not even need to sit upon Hlidskialf to have the knowledge of all things. Skadhi, not even a goddess, but a giantess, approaches the Aesir, and is dealt with no different that any being would be. Through her own courage and honor, she earns the respect of the Aesir and Vanir, and a place amongst them.
It is also traditional in Heathenry that the woman is the head of the household. She decides where money is to be spent, and how long guests are welcome. She is the frithweaver that helps hold the family together, and the majordomo of the estate! That is not to say that this role division is a requirement in modern times, our lives have changed a great deal from our ancestor’s times. Today, in Asatru, even a man may be the head of a household, and run the family’s finances. Each family must decide who is best suited to these duties, or how they shall be shared. An Asatru man will not be ridiculed for running a household, nor will an Asatru woman be looked down upon for being the primary wage earner. The traditional role that our ancestors followed was that the woman had final say on matters related to family and home, and the man had final say on matters related to the safety and security of the people and property. Generally, the man would venture forth to trade or raid, but it seems this was due primarily to the physical differences between the genders rather than any belief that women were in any way inferior or incapable.
This seems to be a reasonable and enlightened viewpoint to me. Men and women ARE different, and generally excel in different areas. Our ancestors acknowledged that as a strength, without taking anything away from either gender. Our ancestors were also able to acknowledge when exceptions needed to be made for men or women that were acting outside of the normal roles for their times. Women were known to go on raids as warriors, though rarely. Men were known to raise the children, and act as the frithweaver for the family, though not as commonly as women. An Asatru woman is only limited by her own desires and will, she may rise to any position or role she sets for herself and pursues.