Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Women Have Women's Minds

"It appears that you are without woman's companionship," he said.  "My poor wife wishes to see her family up north.  It is not impossible that one would benefit a little bit from her company.  It is supposed that she knows the best way to travel; she can help set up camp and dry clothes.  Also, a man's pleasure at night is increased by the presence of a sensuous woman in his sleeping skins!"

In this modest way Tatianguaq let me know that he knew my problem and wanted to help.  There was of course another side to the coin: he had for some time been having a little difficulty with Ivalu, his beautiful wife.  She had been on board Peary's ship and there learned to like the white man's form of courtship.  A temporary separation might set matters straight.  As for me, I was more than ever--due to my keen disappointment--feeling akin to these kind and carefree people, and I was ready to adopt their way of life.  So Ivalu and I started north.

But not without the comedy that was expected in such cases.  I had my sled packed and loaded on the appointed morning.  The appointment was with the husband, and Ivalu had not shown her face out our house while the negotiations were taking place.  When I started out and turned down past the Eskimo houses to get my companion, not a soul was in sight.  Ivalu wasn't up yet.  I called her; nobody answered.  "Ivalu, Ivalu!  What is the matter?  Come out, we are going on a trip visiting!"

"Somebody sleeps, why go on a trip?  Don't speak to a poor woman!"

I entered the house and saw immediately that a new foxskin fur coat had been sewn, and new kamiks were laid out.  Ivalu was on the bed, about to lie down for more sleep.  Tatianguaq sat by the wall and looked at me with an embarrassed grin.

"Women have women's minds," he said.

I wasn't sure whether this meant that our agreement was canceled and that a retreat was difficult to perform.  Besides, I really needed someone who knew the way across the glacier.  So I insisted that she was to come--now!  An old woman was lying farther in on the bed reminiscing about the days when men had fought for her and desired her company on sled trips.  She got quite carried away, and Ivalu seemed determined to stay in bed.

"Hurry up, my dogs are waiting!"

"Let me wait.  A woman is without knowledge of your dogs' decision."

"The decision is that we are going north to the settlement."

"You are witless!  Listen to a man speak without meaning!  No journey has been decided for me."

"Nonsense, you are going with me.  Hurry to get dressed!"

Several visitors had entered the house now, mostly women who followed the developments with ill-concealed interest.  Ivalu enjoyed her triumph and tried to prolong it as much as possible.  "Take another woman.  I have no desire for journeying in the cold, and others are better than I to help a man!"

The situation was embarrassing, and I turned to Tatianguaq saying that I didn't like to force his wife, and hadn't we better give up the whole thing?

Ivalu became attentive immediately.  It began to look like a victory she didn't want.  Here she had been advertised as the one who had conquered this strange white man whose whole desire had been for one woman who never came.  She had been looking forward to entering settlements in triumph at my companion.  But on the other hand, with so many spectators, she couldn't very well give in as if she were destitute for men's attentions.

"I don't want to go with you.  Also, it is not supposed that you would want me along.  (Pause.)  Of course, you could trust that I will run between the stanchions of your sled to lighten it, and I will take care of your clothes if you forces me against my will!"

But Tatianguaq was getting impatient.  It was early in the morning, and he had to go sealing.

"Let my kamiks be supplied with grass under the stockings; since my wretched wife seems to be leaving my house for a while, it is expected that Ilaituk will take care of things!"

It had been Ivalu's hope that I would use violence to get her on my sled, so that she could attract the whole village with her screams.  But I just went out, saying that she had to make haste.  The last I heard as I crawled out was her opinion that I was without my wits and that I would never get her down to my sled.  I cleared the dogs' traces, got other things ready, and pretty soon Ivalu appeared, dressed in her new traveling finery.

"Come and sit on the sled, we have to leave!"

"I am not coming down to your sled.  What do you want with me?  Others can serve you better!"

"I said that you were to hurry!"

"Some words were spoken into the air!" she called back.

She was beautiful and enticing to behold.  Some people had crowded up to watch, but nobody wanted to appear to be listening.  It was mostly women who had gone outside to pee--a business that can be prolonged interminably--and everything could be seen and heard.  Finally I ran after Ivalu; she tried to evade me, but without any great haste.

"Is your traveling gear read?" I asked.

"What traveling gear?  I don't know what you are talking about.  Why are you saying this to me?

"Because you are going with me on a trip."

"Take somebody else who might possibly want to go.  Not I!  Go away from me.  My husband will shoot you, he is already making his gun ready."

Then I caught hold of her and lifted her up.  She kicked a little and cried out that the lot of women was an unhappy one.  And if only she had a husband who dared to defend her, for this was very distasteful!  We reached the sled, and the dogs saw me carrying something; it was half dark, and it was natural for them to suppose that it was something to eat.  So they crowded around us, and I had to put Ivalu down to bring them to order. Now, of course, I was afraid that she would run away while she had the chance and make a show of us once more.  But not at all!

"Oh, you are a fool at training dogs," she said.  And then she took the whip and swung it with a talent I myself didn't possess.  She scolded and shamed the dogs, and then she gave them the starting signal.  I pushed on the stanchions to get the heavy load going, and the dogs rushed off at full speed, gay and yapping with anticipation.  I could hardly keep up with them.  But Ivalu jumped up on the sled and made herself comfortable.  I saw her wave to her husband and to the other women.  She was now sure that the event would be related to everyone in the tribe and that her role as an honorable and reticent woman had been carried out to the extreme.

Peter Freuchen, Book of the Eskimos (Greenwich: A Fawcett Crest Book 1961), 59-62.

I could not help but think of the above passage as I read this absurd article.

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