Michael Hirst’s Vikings premiered its first season on March 3, 2013 on the History Channel, and for many, the series brought with it a renewed interest in the concept of Vikings. Vikings succeeds in providing a more realistic portrayal of the men and women of the Viking Age, including some cultural and social topics such as the presence of hegemonic masculinity in Viking society. The first season of the series offers viewers a glimpse into a hegemonic masculinity-centered culture, where male dominance is established through violence and combat, and how these can lead towards toxic masculinity. At the same time the series provides examples of behaviors that counter said hegemonic masculinity, such as Lagertha’s opposition to male rule. Thus viewers are able to reflect on contemporary instances of masculinity and how they can avoid replicating a behavior that is predominant in a medieval setting.
Hegemonic masculinity “serves as an analytical instrument to identify those attitudes and practices among men that perpetuate gender inequality, involving both men’s domination over women and the power of some men over other (often minority groups of) men” (Jewkes). Therefore, there should be no surprise that the opening scene for the very first episode of the series depicts a bloody battle between Ragnar and other warriors. The scene sets the tone for the series, it conveys the idea that Viking men were violent and, as such, they were the epitome of masculinity.
At the same time, the series uses Lagertha’s presence, and continued growth, as a figure of power standing against the normative male dominance. As Schippers argues, “identified in the vast empirical literature on masculinities, hegemonic masculinity can include physical strength, the ability to use interpersonal violence in the face of conflict and authority. These characteristics guarantee men’s legitimate dominance over women only when they are symbolically paired with a complimentary and inferior quality attached to femininity” (91). Vikings does not shy away from the realities of hegemonic masculinity, but provides an alternative that allows viewers to perceive femininity as powerful and a real alternative to the stereotypical standards that permeate our current society.
Schippers, Mimi. “Recovering the Feminine Other: Masculinity, Femininity, and Gender Hegemony.” Theory and Society, vol. 36, no. 1, 2007, pp. 85–102. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/4501776.
Jewkes, Rachel et al. “Hegemonic masculinity: combining theory and practice in gender interventions.” Culture, health & sexuality vol. 17 Suppl 2,sup2 (2015): S112-27. doi:10.1080/13691058.2015.1085094