Roles and gender roles

”I watched as a man walked towards his wife with his stick raised. She crumpled under his glare, but made no move to escape. She knew as well as he did, that the Honour demanded that her emotional outburst be punished, here in front of everyone. Even though every inhabitant in the town understood the circumstances, that she had lost her only daughter, it was still a dangerous display of feelings in public. With his jaw clenched, he started beating his wife across her backside. He too had lost a child today, and this was the only way he knew to restore his control and his honour. The others might not like it, no sane man enjoyed punishing his wife, but this was the way to do it, if it had to be done. There was a great unrest in the town, but my experience was that no one wanted to talk about their daughter, who had gone missing. If she had drowned herself in the lake or had run off, no one knew. Just that when the boys were getting ready, she had gone missing.
After the beating the man walked over to put the stick back in its place. The sister of the wife quickly ran to help her get back up. She nearly had to carry her off the commons. I wonder what they talked about, after closing the cottage door behind them. The other men gathered in silence around their Headman and offered him a cup of water, a quick pat on the back and shows of respect. He had upheld his Oath, borne his Burden as demanded by his Honour.”

Excerpt from “The Mo Folk – an analysis and anthropological study” by Ethan Rickman

The Mo always try to control their emotions. Photo by Mads Havshøj.

The culture

Brudpris takes place in a patriarchal culture, where men are the ones to decide all aspects of the life of the women. From their birth to their death, the women must be controlled and watched by a man at all times, according to the traditions of Mo. Exceptions are shown to children and young teenage girls, who have not yet become women. Though they must still be carefully nurtured to become the kind of person who follows the rules of how to act as a women.

A man is not really a man unless he has sworn the Oath of bearing his Burden and from then onwards always acts to uphold it. Men and women alike are expected to keep Honour in mind in all decisions. A woman is responsible for acting correctly and honourably and not drawing unnecessary attention to herself through damaging the honour of her family and her guardian. Through his Oath, a man bears the Burden of making sure his woman does not endanger the people with her Vitality.

Men and women

There are very clear rules for how to act as a woman and as a man. At a time determined by the Men’s Council (the townsmen in charge of the important decisions) the oldest boys are allowed to travel to the world Beyond, to learn if he is ready to swear the Oath. Almost all of the boys return home to become men, after roughly a year. If they are unable to or choose not to return, they are dead to the people of Mo.

Not all boys are to become men though. If the council decides, after careful deliberation, that one of the boys aren’t up to bearing the Burden, they can be refused the Oath. They will then live out their lives in the limbo between men and women. Often they are the ones in charge of teaching the children the customs of Mo, since they can’t bear any responsibility, but aren’t a danger like the women. This is a rare occurrence.

Women do not have a year Beyond, but spend the year without boys on education, since they are expected to be know everything a woman needs to know, by the time the boys come back. A few girls go missing during this year. Some run away from the people and the strict rules, others kill themselves when the pressures grow to great. And some spend a year Beyond, to then return home and try for the Oath and thus becoming men. It’s a rare thing, but not unknown in Mo. The returned girl is tried like any boy. If she fails, she will be forced to return to being a woman, but should she manage the challenges, no one will ever again mention the fact that she ever was once a girl. Since she never participated in the women’s ritual to awaken her Vitality and turn her into a woman, she can never bear children. But this is also what allows her transformation into a man.

The people of Mo watch vigilantly over their daughters, so that not too many of them attempt to become men, but if a girl succeeds in escaping and returning a year later, it is seen as a sign she is worthy of bearing the Burden as a man.

Since women are seen to be carriers of dangerous powers, they are forbidden to use anything that could be used as a weapon, for example large knives, axes and such. While cooking, if a knife is needed, it can only be used by a woman under the watchful eye of a man, or a Keip. This also ensures a clear distinction in who does what. Fire is another thing that the force inside the women is drawn to, and they are thus not allowed to start any fires. A candle is okay, but anything larger is too dangerous.

The beliefs of the Mo

The people of Mo believe that their view of the world is the one true way to see things and it is all very real to them. That is also how we’re going to be playing them, we will be playing people who genuinely believe in the force of life and it’s magical influence. But it is merely a belief, an expression of culture. There will be no magic during the larp, the Vitality is as real as karma or auras. You believe it to be real, but it can also be seen as a matter of faith, not something you can objectively prove. For the Mo it is therefore entirely real, but for the anthropologist visitors it is a quite exotic and primitive belief.

The Vitality

There is no one, apart from the one responsible for awakening the vital forces in the girls, who knows whether the Vitality in a woman is strong or weak. It’s just not something you talk about. The fact is that all women have the potential for danger, chaos and destruction. There is only one woman who is ever known for having a powerful life force, which is the one chosen to take over the responsibility to awaken the Vitality in the young girls. She will be pointed out, so people knows who the the Keeper’s successor must marry. This is done behind closed doors, but of course rumours abound about the girls. Often about who is strong and weak, but the important aspect is how they behave and how well they help the honour of the family.

Therefore it is not a mark of status to be “strong,” but rather an indicator that the woman will be tightly bound in rules and the watchfulness of everyone. So it is a matter of the Keeper “sacrificing” himself for the greater good and marrying the strongest woman, since he is the only one who can bear that heavy a burden. The woman who is appointed strongest will not benefit from a higher status from the fact, but must instead act in a much more controlled manner than other women. The one who gains status from the marriage is the Keeper, but only if he can manage to keep his wife acting in a decent manner. It shows that he has a lot of control and great honour.

To wonder how strong or weak a woman might be, is considered rude and not something you do in public. What matters in the Mo court of public opinion, is how a woman acts, not what she feels.

Possible explanations for good behaviour:

  • The man keeps control of his wife (and she honours him)
  • The woman is easy to keep (and thus weak in Vitality)
  • She is well raised and has self-control (and thus honours her father)

Possible explanations for bad behaviours:

  • The man is unable to control his woman (questions his honour)
  • She is hard to control (and thus strong in Vitality)
  • She is badly raised and uncontrolled (questions the father’s honour)