Like Dylan, I was also surprised to hear how large a role women played in society, even taking on militaristic roles (like the shield-maidens) or becoming the "man of the house". They also were relied on for general guidance within the community since women were the ones who kept in contact with the gods and relayed that information onto the chieftains in town. These roles were also evident in some of the myths - the Norse had their fate in the afterlife determined by the Valkyries, and would spent it led by either Hel, Freya, or Ran (all women) if they didn't make it into Valhalla.
Also in the Lay of Thrym story, the king of the frost giants (Thrym) demanded Freyja (goddess of fertility) as his wife in exchange for Thor's Hammer. She was disgusted by the idea, and demanded Thor and Loki develop a different strategy. They seemed to fear her anger, and respected the decision so they instead sent Thor in disguise as a bride. It seems like in the pantheons of other cultures this type of compromise for a goddess would not be honored.
I also thought it was cool how the social differences that existed in real life were clear from reading the myths. In the war between Aesir and Vanir, the frustration of the Vanir could parallel the farmer/peasant class (Vanir) feeling undermined by the nobility (Aesir). The Vanir felt cheated with the exchange and killed one of Odin's ravens (Honir) who represented knowledge.