I promised vikings, but let’s start by telling what ”knapsu” is. The word is mainly used in northern Sweden – in fact it’s not what you would think of as swedish, it’s meänkieli, the variety of finnish spoken in the area (still a swedish language, though). I first heard it in an audioversion of ”Popular music from Vittula” by Mikael Niemi, and it is an elegant name for a phenomenon in the game of defining gender.
”Knapsu” means ”effeminate” or ”unmanly”. It’s used almost like the expression
”That’s so gaaaaaaaay!”
But there is a difference – it doesn’t say much about the sexual orientation of the offended. Mikael Niemi described it well when he said there are two types of males who don’t have to care about being knapsu. The first one is the two ton mountain of muscles with testosterone flowing out of his ears, so obviously male any discussion is superfluous. The second one is so softspoken and effeminate that he’s passed the knapsu line eons ago. Males of the latter type often ends up in caring professions like horse handlers or doctors.
However most males falls somewhere in between those extremes, and they are exposed to the game of picking male points to prove that they are not knapsu. But the definition of knapsu is fluent. In ”Popular music from Vittula” avoiding singing and dancing, and a competition in drinking moonshine are pretty obvious ways of avoiding being knapsu and picking male points. On the other hand the book mentions that folding down the top of your wellies was considered knapsu, but only in one small village. You have to stay vigillant to preserve your sacred manliness.
I think we’ve all seen this game. Take cleanliness; in the western world being clean is, for some reason, knapsu. Male heterosexuals who insists on shower ”more than neccessary” gets their own term; meterosexuals. (And in no way have the childhood rhyme ”sugar and spice and everything nice” for girls as well as ”snips and snails and puppy dogs’ tails” for boys anything to do with it…) Study hard and reading books are knapsu, whereas getting the job gets you manliness points. Drinking beer, having muscles and participating in rough sports gets you manliness points. This carries over to boardgames and roleplaying – ever heard about the game bloodbowl?
But the hunt for manliness points in our world pales compared to the fierce competition in the Eddas. Don’t believe me? Take Thor, god of thunder who wields Mjölnir. Forget the Marvel depiction where he can up the hammer with his bare hands, in the eddas he have to use a special belt for strength and protective gloves before it’s hammer time. Practical? No, but he gets those sweet manliness points. Odin is so manly he has a horse with eight legs, a horse that is the fastest thing in the world. (No, Sleipnir is not a result of Loki’s manliness, since Loki is the mother of Sleipnir. As for knapsu Loki is often at the butt of the joke.) And what do the aesir do when they have a giant fierce wolf to handle? Throw it out as soon as possible to fend for itself in the wilderness? Of course not! They raise it as a pet, and when it gets too hard to handle they tie it up in the middle of Asgaard. Having a monster outside your house may not be wise, but it is…
And definately not knapsu!
Not even going fishing is a quiet event. Hauling up ordinary fish is for whimps. Thor puts the head of an ox on his hook (a very manly hook I presume), and then he goes for the biggest monster in the ocean; Jörmundgandr, the serpent that slithers around the world. He nearly succeeds in hauling it up too, but the pesky giant in his boat gets afraid and cuts the fishing line. Because giants are knapsu and Thor isn’t.
Of course, sooner or later the aesirs have to admit having things and doing things that may be considered knapsu. They have a godess of love, Freya, and that may be considered a teensy weensy bit kn… Of course Freya is from Vanaheim and not an aesir, so she doesn’t count in the same way. And, and, she’s the toughest of the godesses (again, try to forget Marvel, in the eddas it’s Freya who’s the real deal), and godess of war, so that’s…
Well, at least it’s not knapsu!
Actions that can be considered knapsu is tackled in another way, by doing it as over the top possible. Cooking doesn’t mean cobble together some oatmeal for breakfast, or catching a rabbit for the evening meal. No, it means catching a wild ox and boiling it in a cooking hole for three days. I don’t know if knowledge was considered knapsu in the same way we do today (ie. studying hard and having classical schooling is knapsu), but the aesirs certainly does it in their own way. They have competitions in knowledge, where two persons try to outdo each other in Q&A. The loser dies. Kind of a thunderdome for academics, or disputations from hell.
But at least it’s not knapsu!
Another thing the aesirs, no the eddas actually, do over the top is mothers. Perhaps having a person who loved you and wiped your nose when you was a child was a bit… tender? Too tender? Anyway there shows up quite a few characters with interesting mothers in the books. Heimdall and Thor are two of them. Heimdall have nine mothers, and that’s not a figure of speech – it’s specifically mentioned that they all gave birth to him. We are left wondering how they did it, but it’s certainly an impressive amount of moms – and ”impressive” means points, manliness points. Because in the quest to prove you’re not knapsu anything is valid!
Yo mama’s so big-jokes wouldn’t work on Thor for two reasons. Number one is that he would sense the insult, whip out his gloves, belt and Mjölnir to beat you to pulp before you got past ”yo”. That’s the Hard Manly way to deal with insults. But if you actually get to say the entire joke he would probably just stick his thumbs in his belt, stand tall and proudly say
”Yup! And she’s even bigger than that!”
Because Thor’s mother is Earth. Earth, that big round thing we all live on. And if a hard man has to have a mom he won’t have a knapsu tiny one. He will have the biggest mom known BECAUSE HE IS A MAAAAAAAAAAAAN!