sexism


sexism
   Taken as a whole, folk tradition firmly reinforces traditional gender roles, and sees women as inferior to men. This view is of course far older and more widespread than Christianity, but in a Christian culture such as England's it would be confirmed both by biblical teaching and by the practical rules of Church life. Until very recently, Catholics and most Protestants forbade active participation by women in ritual, and devised rules to make their presence as unobtrusive as possible; they must keep their heads covered, must not preach, nor serve as acolytes, nor enter the sanctuary, since *menstruation was seen as polluting.
   Sexism is implied by many details of custom and belief, and examples will be found throughout this work - for example, *first footing must be done by a man; at *baptism boys must precede girls; in *conception and *pregnancy the favoured *right side is associated with boys, but the *left with girls; the 'females' in traditional customs were men comically dressed up; and so forth. The most serious instance of this stereotyping was that * witchcraft was far more often ascribed to women than to men.
   In songs and narratives, the picture is less consistent. There are songs describing strong, active heroines who dress as soldiers to follow their lovers to war, or clever ones who outwit evil men; on the other hand, there are plenty of mocking nagging wives. Folktale heroines are often brave and resourceful in dealing with would-be *robbers, murderers, and dangerous supernatural beings, as in *Mr Fox and related stories. In local legend, one finds a handful of noble ladies honoured as benefactors, or as founders of a tradition; *Godiva is the best known, and others are associated with the * Haxey Hood Game, the *Tichborne Dole, and the St Briavels *bread and cheese throwing.
   Powerful supernatural females were fairly common in medieval and Elizabethan literature (e.g. Morgan le Fay, *Mab, Titania), but not in later folklore; those that do occur are almost all sinister *bogeys such as *Black Annis, *Jenny Greenteeth, and *Peg Powler. Only the recently discovered Queen *Rat of Cockney toshers' lore fits the ancient role of the goddess who bestows good luck on her human lovers.
   ■ Torborg Lundell, Folklore 94 (1983), 240-6; Malcolm Jones, Folklore 101 (1990), 69-87; Jacqueline Simpson, Folklore 102 (1991), 16-30.

A Dictionary of English folklore. . 2014.

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