5 Shockingly Progressive Ideas From 'Primitive' Cultures

If you view history in time-lapse, it's like a Benny Hill sketch with the ethnic majority zanily scrambling around to the tune of "Yakety Sax," beating the minorities with their shoes ... then brutally raping and murdering them. We're a terrible species, and it's only recently that we've started to accept that we should maybe possibly (kind of) consider accepting each other's differences (a little bit), rather than trying to oppress folks into normality. But that's a faulty assumption: We're not only less progressive today than you might think, but there have been some truly shocking moments of tolerance in history that make the modern world look downright bigoted.

#5. Vikings Had Progressive Rape Laws

Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images News/Getty Images

When you think "Vikings," you think "casual rapists" somewhere after "horned helmets," but before "longboats." But in actuality, Vikings win extra bonus points for their relatively fair treatment of women. It wasn't full equality, but in family life, women were the ones in charge of finances, and they had total freedom to divorce their husbands. Their sagas also featured strong female characters -- something many male writers are still struggling with today, unless "strong female character" means "drama ballast with tits."

Paramount Pictures
To boldly go where several cliched female scenes have gone before.

Vikings weren't an entire culture of casual rape. In fact, Viking rape laws were far more progressive than their so-called "civilized" European counterparts. On the continent, women were considered property and so rape was a property crime -- there was no "victim," but the father or husband, whose property had been damaged. While Icelandic law punished both rape and attempted rape with outlawry, which was basically the death penalty. Rapists weren't executed outright, but it was totally legal to kill outlaws with impunity. And knowing the Vikings, "no consequence kill" was probably roughly analogous to "free ice cream buffet."

Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images News/Getty Images
Sadly both of those things came to a head after a tragic misunderstanding at Dagr the Dairyer's ice cream social.

Compare that with the "you were asking for it" defense of today, and you get the sense that Vikings would be awfully disappointed with the "progressive" future. If the spirit of Olaf the Mad saw the way we treat rape in modern courts, he would shake his head and walk away, shedding a single tear into his beard at the injustice of it all. Just before cleaving a man in two with his axe and setting fire to a passing horse-cart.

Britain On View/VisitBritain/John Coutts/Getty Images
They have so much to teach us.

Hey, they don't call him Olaf the Mad 'cause he's way into illustrated parody magazines.

#4. Native Americans Respected Transsexuals

Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images

People have had the feeling that they might have been born the wrong gender for a pretty darn long time. History is just rife with transsexuals -- why, you can hardly swing an inoffensively gender-neutral scarf without smacking a few in the mouth -- but even today they face some harsh discrimination.

20th Century Fox, Columbia Pictures, Lionsgate Films, Paramount Pictures
And seeing shit like this doesn't make it any easier.

But at least in America, that's an example of social backsliding: Firsthand accounts from European explorers detail not only homosexuality among the Native Americans, but transsexuality, as well. Transsexuals in the Americas were known as "two-spirits," the idea being that they had a spirit within them for each gender. A concept that is as simple and sweet as it is surely the plot of a sex-themed anime game set in an all-girls high school. Two-spirits not only faced no discrimination in the New World but were treated with a form of respect that is somewhat rare even today: They were fully considered to be the gender they self-identified as, and not their biological sex. Even spiritual and political leaders could be transgendered, and their people wouldn't bat an eye: Leaders like We'wah, a cultural ambassador to Washington for the Zuni Nation.

No way We'wah could hold that kind of office today -- you can't even have an ethnic-sounding lunch without catching some flak, much less rock public office with a transgender identity and a name like a guitar solo.

Age Fotostock/Katharine Andriotis/Getty Images
"You can say that again." -Lisa Bowchikachikabowwow, former candidate,
3rd congressional district/transgender/falafel enthusiast.

#3. There Were Black Professional Athletes ... in the 19th Century


Baseball historians love to reminisce on Moses Walker, a black man in the 1880s (well, presumably he was black before the 1880s too, unless he was involved in some sort of tragic Blaccident), who played professional baseball. In fact, the unofficial ban of African-Americans in baseball didn't kick in until 1889. They weren't exactly commonplace, but still: Black men playing professional baseball in the 19th century!

No? That little milestone not doing it for you? All right. How about this. What's the whitest sporting event you can think of? Wow, everybody said the Kentucky Derby? You're right, of course. We just didn't think it would be unanimous. Weird.

Michael Loccisano/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
We're all a little whiter just for looking at this picture.

So if you had to guess, what race would you say the winner of the very first Kentucky Derby was?

If you answered "super-Aryan," guess again! Because that's not a race (you're thinking of Super Saiyans), and, what's more, it was a black man.

"Winning was nice, but I'm not gonna lie; it felt a little weird whipping something to force it to work harder and faster."

In fact, whites were the minority in horse racing back in the 1870s. At least 13 of the 15 jockeys in the first Kentucky Derby were black. And black jockeys won 15 of the first 28 Derby events held. Of course, white men didn't like being beaten by perceived "inferiors," so they did the only thing they could: They trained harder, sacrificed more, and through an unbeatable combination of determination and talent they ... stopped letting black dudes race.

"Fine, I'll just take my skills and put them toward riding your wife instead."

By or shortly after World War I, the sport that may have had the first black professional athletes had none.

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