Regina, Saskatchewan; Canada
Here are some positive words from Kathleen Herbert's Peaceweavers and Shieldmaidens: Women in Early English Society, something people may think proudly about:
"The most useful words to hear first are some of their (English people's) words for women, because these hold the basic ideas about them, built into the very fabric of the language. They come into everything else the early English said on the subject of women.
If you could ask someone from early England: What is a woman? the answer would likely be: A woman is a man, of course!
That would not mean women were regarded as a subgroup of the male sex, or that they had no seperate identity or personality but only a particular use. In the Germanic languages, mann means a human being of either sex, a member of humankind. So in a land lease granted by a Bishop of Worcester for a duration of three lives: "Elfward was the first man and now it [the land] is in the hands of his daughter and she is the second man" . Early English legal documents - wills, charters, lawsuits- make this meaning of man quite clear. They also make it clear that females owned and disposed of their own property and estates.
People (menn) were węponedmenn or wępmenn and wifmenn: "weapon-people" and "wife-people". When they left out the idea of common humanity, menn, the early English classified people as weras and wifas: "males" and "wives".
A wer- the word survives in werewolf - was someone who could put seed into a woman so that she could make children. The word comes from the same root as the Latin vir, from which we get "virile" and "virility". [...]
Though wif is the ancestor of "wife" it does not mean a female bound in wedlock. A fishwife, an alewife, a henwife, a housewife - these were women who had particular jobs that needed special skills. The word wif cannot be traced in any form in the other Indo-European languages outside Germanic. It is found in all the Germanic languages except Gothic. [...] It seems very likely that the form of the word and its metaphorical images point to a connection with the verb wefan "to weave" and its related nouns webb "woven stuff" and wefta: "weft", the threads crossing from side to side on a loom. Oddly, the word wefan is also not recorded in Gothic.
The idea of a link between weaving and woman is strengthened by considering the similar train of thought in a pair of words used in King Alfred's will. He distinguished descent in the male and female lines as "the spear side" and "the spindle side". Males expressed their masculinity by weapons, females expressed their femininity by making threads.
This Old English definition of woman as spinner and weaver was a very profound concept with several levels of meaning, from an everyday task that met a physical need, rising through art and the structure of society, up to the nature of heaven and earth.
Women clothed humankind: in the days before textile factories and the ready-made clothing trade, they spun and wove the cloth as well as furnishing the clothes. [...]
However, as well as being weavers - makers and artists in the literal sense - early English women,wifmenn, were also seen as spinning and weaving the threads that held societies together. One Old English word for a highborn woman who married to make or keep the peace between two powerful kindreds, dynasties, or tribes is frithuwebbe: peaceweaver. [...] .
The Old English ancestor of lady: hlęfdige, seems to have derived from hlaf: bread "loaf". The chief woman of a household would have charge of the food-supply, as housekeeper, even if she were rich enough to have many servants. The lives, comfort and the status of the others, from kin and guests to slaves and beggars, depended on her. [...]
The early English saw the normal division of work - with apparantly no sense of resentment or contempt on either side - as being between war, defence, law-enforcement and hunting wild animals for food, on one side, on the other, the arts and skills of peaceweaving in all its forms."