Welcome to the land of Equality (JB)


julianabjornsdottir_dlQuite recently, an Icelandic feminist with the unusual surname Lilliendahl, first name Hildur, created a new album on her Facebook account. It was an album of screenshots, screenshots she had collected, containing misogynistic views presented in the media’s commentary forums.

The album’s title was “Men who Hate Women”, a reference to Stieg Larsson’s trilogy. The title caused havoc in Icelandic society with people lining up on either side of the line. On her blog, she writes about the temporary inactivity placed upon her Facebook activity following her album being reported.

Some, like myself, agreed with her in principle. I wouldn’t have interpreted all the comments she chose as examples of misogyny, but a fair share of them I had read before and found offensive.

The album shed a light on a growing trend in anti-feminist views, in particular among a particular group of young males.

The scrutiny Hildur has received in the media, as well as on a blog hosted by an anonymous individual who expresses a strong personal dislike of Hildur and all feminists, comes not as a surprise.

Like Hildur, I have been aware of this trend for several years and have developed a special interest in anti-feminist linguistic expression. The things we say and write, the way we phrase things always matters, especially in one’s native tongue.

The worst instances involve sex crimes and the verbal shifting of blame from the perpetrator to the victim, and sometimes charges of foul play on the victim’s behalf.

At the age of 31, I am no stranger to sexual harassment born out of misogyny and sexism and have witnessed the devastating effects of sex crimes, an inadequate term considering the nature of the crime is violent domination, on the lives of those who survive rape or molestation. My recollections of the worst of the worst are a reminder of the long journey we have ahead of us.

I have been slapped for declining to show interest in a man on two occasions, once in Iceland when I was 20 and again on the streets of Paris in 2006. The second time it happened, the “man” in question touched me inappropriately in a very private place, and when I pushed him away, he slapped me and prepared to do more. At that point, I ran away to a group of friends.

I have been chased to a bathroom in a crowded bar, an incident that could have been worse if an ex-boyfriend had not stepped in and waited for me to come out again.

I have also been chased from one end of Paris to the next, once by myself and once with a female friend. The first time that happened I was 22 and two men chased us from the Parisian 9th arrondissement to the 20th. Thankfully, a kind man came to our rescue and eventually scared them away. By the time he came along, they had both grabbed us again in very inappropriate places no man can touch but my man.

The second time was less frightening but frightening nonetheless.

Most of my horror stories may come from Paris but it does not redeem Iceland’s culprits.

At the age of twenty, a young man from my hometown kept trying to touch my chest while he hovered over me in a club. In the end I used a self-defense technique I had learned from the film Miss Congeniality.

Worse than that was the time when I was only 10 and two older boys stopped me on my way home from a friend’s place. I don’t know what their intention was as nothing came out of it but the enjoyment they took out of scaring a physically inferior kid disturbs me as an adult.

What all these stories have in common is the dangers they posed to my safety and control over body and soul.

I understand men too are victims to sexual harassment, molestation and rape but for my purposes I can only speak from what I have known and witnessed as a woman.

You see, as a woman I am constantly on guard. I never stop paying attention to my surroundings. An article written by a black male feminist explains just how much precaution we women must take compared to that of men.

In a discussion group attended by the author of the article, Byron Hurt, the men in the group were asked how they protect themselves from being raped or sexually assaulted.

One man in the group raised his hand after a minute of contemplation and said: “nothing.”

The same question was then posed to the women in the group. The response was very different:

I don't make eye contact with men when I walk down the street," said one.

"I don't put my drink down at parties," said another.

"I use the buddy system when I go to parties."

"I cross the street when I see a group of guys walking in my direction."

"I use my keys as a potential weapon."

I know this to be true but seeing it in print makes it all too real.

The women who do place their faith in strangers take a risk in doing so. And when the “punishment” for their naivety comes in a form of rape, the justice system in Iceland rarely convicts the assailant. If so, he’ll be back on the streets in a year or two, maybe 4-5 years if it’s his second felony.

The message to the victim?

The crime is worth no more than a slap on the wrist.

As Iceland Review Online reported this morning, 18 gang rapes were reported last year alone, a record number since 1994 when the center for survivors of rape and sexual molestation first opened.

A frightening development to say the least.

A local columnist, Hermann Stefánsson, recently wrote a column about extreme masculism in Icelandic media in the 21st century. While money rained down on Iceland, this form of extremism was “just a funny joke”.

In it, he explores the pre-crisis years and the development of extreme masculine culture in the early years of 21st century.

Hermann identified a misogynistic viewpoint in a particular group of young men who saw women as tools to their sexual domination, and feminists as lesbians in need of rape. They aired out their views on a website until it closed down a few years ago.

In fact, one of them was so funny that he wrote a whole book on how to be a man. Later it became a comedy show teaching boys to be men. People like myself who failed to see the humor in sexism, racism and homophobia needed to chill.

Unfortunately, someone forgot to tell impressionable youth, in particular those whose parents did not take the time to educate their children about all the conflicting messages in our society, that real men treat women as individuals, not objects.

As a result, opposition to feminism is again on the rise, mostly due to the negative connotation applied to the term.

For as long as the mere mentioning of the word “feminism” sparks the kind of hatred I’ve detailed above, the imbalance of equal rights will remain unchanged.

As humans we are flawed to the core but since it is our goal to be a civilized nation we must continue to strive for the best we can be, and we’re not there yet.

It is the duty of fair-minded citizens to point out the irregularities until the day comes that gender-equality will no longer be a utopian dream, and extreme masculism no longer a form of comedy.

For now, there are just too many primates trying to get a word in rather than participating in a fair exchange of views in debates about feminism.

Júlíana Björnsdóttir – [email protected]

Views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Iceland Review.