Up Helly Aa fire festival's decision to admit women to their 'squads' is worthy of shield maidens of the sagas – Scotsman comment

Congratulations to the organisers of Shetland’s Up Helly Aa fire festival for agreeing that women can join its ‘squads’ of Vikings for the first time. Welcome to the 21st century!

Men and boys in their jarl squad at Up Helly Aa may soon be joined by women
Men and boys in their jarl squad at Up Helly Aa may soon be joined by women

It seems only right, given women have been allowed for several years now to serve in all combat roles in the Armed Forces, including special forces units. If that is not the epitome of modern-day ‘Viking spirit’, we don’t know what is.

Some in Shetland are doubtless dismayed that such casual gender inequality was allowed to persist for so long, particularly given some of the organisations that beat Up Helly Aa to it.

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When members of the historic Muirfield golf club voted to admit women in 2017, many people unfamiliar with its eccentricities were aghast that such a policy could have possibly survived for so long. And even more so when it took another two years for the first women to be invited to join.

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Shetland's Up Helly Aa Viking fire festival squads open to women for first time

The Reform Club in London proudly boasts that it was “the first of the traditional gentleman's clubs” to allow women to become members on equal terms with men in 1981. So perhaps we should actually be welcoming Up Helly Aa, which dates all the way back to the 1800s, to the 20th century.

Then again, there are a fair number of legendary female Viking warriors or ‘shield maidens’, as well as a healthy debate about whether women took part in the fighting in reality as well as myth.

So it could be that Up Helly Aa has finally left the sexist attitudes of the 19th century behind and embraced their real Viking heritage. Welcome to the eighth century?

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