December 15, 2010

Hunters and warriors lose power

Traditional roles for Arctic women changing faster than climate

By Gustaf Klarin"During the past 20 to 30 years, women have increasingly abandoned the role of the traditional housewife of the hunting and trapping husband," says Katrine Nathanielsen from the 8th of March Group. "Women are getting educations and making money while men are stagnating."

"This can lead to conflicts between men and women when the gender roles change, when the proud but poorly educated hunter loses status," says Inge Olesen Brandt, who serves on Greenland's council for equality. "And this can lead both to suicides among men and domestic violence against women."

The climate has been steadily warming in Greenland during the past ten years. And in the Greenland debate, the traditional lifestyle is depicted as the loser now that the climate is changing. This is because the traditional culture is based on hunting with dog sleds, and when no snow falls and the ice does not form, the hunters can no longer support themselves. This is also an image that has spread internationally.

But social changes and altered gender roles are a greater threat to the old culture than changes to the climate according to Rasmus Ole Rasmusen at the Nordic Council's research institute Nordrigio. Young people, primarily younger women, are not especially interested in conforming to the traditional male-dominated culture, where the man hunts and the woman takes care of the home, the children and the spoils of the hunt. And when there is a shortage of women, it is difficult to maintain the hunting and trapping culture.
Comment:  What I find interesting here is the interplay of the tangible and intangible. The tangible includes things like global warming and technological changes that free women to leave their homes and become educated. The intangible includes things like image and status.

It starts with Arctic Native men adhering to the traditional hunter image: the lone Eskimo on his dogsled braving the elements with his harpoon. It's an image they and the world helped create, promote, and affirm: the Arctic equivalent of the mighty Indian warrior.

But external forces challenge this stereotypical self-image. Men start losing power and prestige. Women with increased options start rejecting the old lifestyle. Men cling to the past to define their self-worth. Women start leaving, men start getting angry or depressed. The outcomes of this downward spiral are predictable: alcoholism and drug abuse, crime and domestic violence, and suicide.

This isn't just happening in the Arctic, of course. It's happening on Indian reservations, in American cities, and in cultures around the world. I suspect one could find the same pattern wherever traditions are breaking down because of social and technological change. Namely:

Men lose status and power => men lash out at women and society => those who can't adapt or escape self-destruct via drugs/violence/suicide

The world's self-proclaimed macho men are fighting a losing battle to retain their age-old status. I'm sure this has a lot to do with everyone from angry Islamic fundamentalists to angry Christian fundamentalists. In America, as I've said many times, the multicultural future is challenging the white supremacist past. Teabaggers and other rabid conservatives are mad as hell precisely because liberals, feminists, and minorities are threatening their manhood power.

Brains needed, not brawn

This is one reason I criticize the warrior stereotype--even when Indians deem it a noble and honorable tradition. Mighty warriors were a good thing when people actually had to hunt and kill to survive. But those days ended a century or two ago with the dawn of the industrial age.

Now you don't get much credit for being stronger and tougher than your enemy (or your family). Today people with brains routinely defeat people with brawn. Being the best fighter or killer entitles you to be a ditchdigger, gang member, or prison inmate--nothing more.

For more on the subject, see:

Male warriors and female princesses
(Native) soldiers aren't heroes
Weaponized drone = Indian savage
The way of the "Orrier"
Alexie on warriors
Gang culture in Indian country
Indians join military for paycheck?

Below:  The stereotypical Indian warrior: an outdated relic of the past in more ways than one.