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.


Vikings Had Progressive Rape Laws

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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."

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Sadly both of those things came to a head after a tragic misunderstanding at Dagr the Dairyer's ice cream social.

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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.

Native Americans Respected Transsexuals

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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.

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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.

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"You can say that again." -Lisa Bowchikachikabowwow, former candidate,
3rd congressional district/transgender/falafel enthusiast.

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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.

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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."

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

Medieval Catholics Had Same-sex Unions

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Consider monks.

Brown robes, bald heads. Super fundamentally religious. You probably picture them practicing self-flagellation for the slightest dirty thought.

But it turns out that when you put an all-male group together in close quarters, away from society's prying eyes, and give them a pen, it won't be long before they start writing incredibly gay love poems.

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"Dearest Joshua, this hooded monk has been thinking about your's ..."

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We could spend a few hundred words trying to convince you of their unfathomable gayness, but really -- all these monks did for a living was write. Like we're gonna do a better job? Here's one of their own works, from a bishop to his young male lover:

"This flesh is now so smooth, so milky, so unblemished,

So good, so handsome, so supple, so tender.

Yet the time will come when it will become ugly and rough,

When this flesh, dear boyish flesh, will become worthless.

Therefore, while you flower, take up riper practices.

While you are in demand and able, be not slow to yield to an eager lover.

For this you will be prized, not made less of.

These words of my request, most beloved,

Are sent to you alone; do not show them to many others."

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Basically the medieval version of a drunk text begging for a hookup.

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But this isn't about one errant holy man seducing another secular dude. Here are two actual, practicing monks writing Skinemax quality textporn to one another. This time from an abbot to a bishop:

"I think of your love and friendship with such sweet memories, reverend bishop, that I long for that lovely time when I may be able to clutch the neck of your sweetness with the fingers of my desires. Alas, if only it were granted to me, as it was to Habakkuk, to be transported to you, how would I sink into your embraces, ... how would I cover, with tightly pressed lips, not only your eyes, ears, and mouth but also your every finger and your toes, not once but many a time."

It goes on and on. But these weren't just isolated back-abbey shenanigans: According to Yale history professor John Boswell, if two dudes wanted to hook up, the Catholic Church would straight-up bless their boning.

Bartolome Esteban Murillo
"And just as you guide your love into our hearts, God, please also guide John into Anthony."

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Now, to clarify, the Church has never officially performed the full-blown sacrament of marriage between people of the same sex. These Catholic homosexual unions were what the New York Times describes as "a ritual joining two men in some kind of a solemn, personal, affectionate relationship." So it's more of a civil union kind of deal -- the same in all the ways that count, just a different name.

Here's a snippet from the official ceremony: "Send down, most kind Lord, the grace of Thy Holy Spirit upon these Thy servants, whom Thou hast found worthy to be united not by nature but by faith and a holy spirit. Grant unto them Thy grace to love each other in joy without injury or hatred all the days of their lives."

Francisco Goya
"Adam and Steve, do you have the rings?"

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That's actually a really beautiful and graceful passage. Gays, feel free to steal it for yourselves while you're ruining the sanctity of stuff (we're not sure what that stuff is; we'd go with a pool or Jacuzzi or something, if we had to guess).

Remember: If anybody steps to you for hardcore dude-on-dude public makeout sessions, you just go ahead and tell them you're carrying on the sacred traditions of Catholicism.

Women and Blacks Voting ... in the 18th Century

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Everybody has the right to vote today only by virtue of some (relatively) recent legislation. Back in the day, pretty much anybody darker than the Sandy Tan Crayola was sentenced to trampling by wild geese if they so much as thought about the electorate.

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There's really no form of goose stepping that doesn't have its roots in racism.

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Untrue! Only four of the original 13 states prohibited blacks from voting, and only five prohibited women from voting. Up until 1820, freed black men in Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, and Maine had the same voting rights as whites.

New Jersey's constitution not only did not bar women from participating in elections, in 1790 it specifically allowed women to vote. But when you increase the number of eligible voters, you sadly also increase the amount of voter fraud. And no, it wasn't the women and blacks getting carried away and ruining the esteemed process for whitey: As soon as women and black men could vote, white guys started showing up at the polls dressed in drag and black face so they could cast their vote twice.

Watson, W.

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Seeing this problem caused solely by white men dressing up in costumes, the legislature did the only logical thing: In 1807, they repealed the vote for both women and blacks. White guys nationwide chuckled at the irony, then presumably went back to their old voter fraud practice of switching mustaches and hats while doing funny accents.

McAlbin and Lamb, USA
"Hey, Charlie, you know you don't have to wear that for the elections anymore?"
"Oh, I know."

Related Reading: For more groundbreaking firsts you've been lied to about, click here. You'll learn that Alexander Graham Bell didn't invent the telephone- and that neither Russia or America was the first country in space. And would you be shocked to learn that TWO people beat Lindbergh to the first transatlantic flight? By eight years? That's just the start of what you'll read in this article. Still not impressed enough with our ancestors? Check out these badass robots invented before electricity and be awed.

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