"Once you’ve put on your feminist glasses you can’t really take them off"

The University of Iceland’s Feminist Association celebrated Period Days for the first time this year

Margrét Björk Ástvaldsdóttir is a sociology student and the Vice Chairman of the University of Iceland’s Feminist Association, which recently celebrated Period Days for the first time. Many interesting lectures on periods were held during the Period Days, which lasted for three days.

The Period Days aren’t the only event the Feminist Association has hosted this year; they’ve had a couple of beer nights as well as movie nights, they helped organize the Women’s Day Off, arranged a seminar on women in literature and have taken a stand concerning student rights. Our journalist met with Margrét and took the pulse on feminism at the University.

So how did the first Period Days turn out?

I think that they turned out really well. We held lectures at Litla-Torg during lunch and then in the afternoon. We put up boxes with sanitary pads in the University’s bathrooms for everyone’s use. They ran out pretty fast.
I enjoyed how periods and menstruation were being discussed in the society: In the High School Paper, the Sambíó cinemas started providing customers with pads and tampons and then there was the Völvan project, covering the vulva and related subjects. It’s very much out there in the discussion and it’s cool how everyone is talking about periods and the pussy simultaneously. The plan is to host Period Days every year from now on.

Were there any outstanding lectures?

I really enjoyed listening to Gyða Margrét discussing the social aspect of periods, but then again I also liked Sigga Dögg’s lecture, it was almost like a stand-up. She is very experienced in communicating with teenagers and educating them about sex. Her discussion mostly revolved around period sex. Gyða talked about periods in a historical concept and how periods are exaggerated in the society. Women are different from each other and it is highly exaggerated how women act while on their period, that they become crazy.

What has the Feminist Association been up to this year, other than the Period Days?

We’ve had quite a few events. We’ve held three beer nights, where we met and discussed feminist related subjects that had been chosen in advance but also spontaneous subjects. The events have been open to everyone, regardless of whether they’re students at the University or not. Our association was also active in planning the Women’s Day Off.
Then we’ve hosted a few Bechdel movie nights and shown a movie called Intersex in co-operation with the Q association and the Intersex association. We also had a seminar on women in literature. It worked out great; we had three women come from different fields of literature. There was an author, an academic and an organizer of Fjöruverðlaunin, the Women’s Literature Prize. They all took part in the seminar. We might host more similar events if we have time.

Who belongs in the Feminist association?

Anyone who believes that gender equality has not been accomplished and wants to do something about it. So many different people belong.

Is there a special cause you’re working towards or is it a more general campaign?

The campaign is not general in itself, since each participating individual has their own interests and emphasis. The idea for the Period Days, for example, came from one of our board members and the seminar on women in literature derived from another member who has great interest in literature.
Like I’ve said, the aim of the association is to eliminate gender inequality, so the campaign can’t really be general. Attempting to do everything at once is not a good way to achieve equality, it’s better to focus on one issue at a time.
Our campaign is about opening up feminist discourse and promoting gender equality at the University as well as in the society in general. If a feminist issue arises, we want to be available for discussion. We've made public statements when appropriate, for example when Hannes Hólmsteinn, a UI teacher, claimed something in his lecture that we thought was inappropriate.
Margrét Björk Ástvaldsdóttir

Margrét Björk Ástvaldsdóttir

When did you start thinking about feminism?

It started in high school, or perhaps even in elementary school. I noticed discrimination and inequality all around me. We founded a feminist association at my high school, Menntaskólinn við Sund, and when I got to University I continued, because once you’ve put on your feminist glasses you can’t really take them off.

How do you perceive the general mood toward feminist discourse?

I feel like there’s a lot of interest in feminist discourse. People find it intriguing, they like talking about feminism, even though they don’t necessarily know much about its aims and purposes. Everyone has an opinion. Many voices, many perspectives and different opinions appear in the society’s debate on feminism.
Recently we had a promotion booth at the University’s Equality Days. In order to draw attention to the gender wage gap, we decided to make Rice Krispies cakes of two different sizes. The men were supposed to have the larger cakes but women the smaller ones (I think they were around 13,7% smaller). People’s reactions were really interesting when we offered them the cakes. Some women scorned and scoffed and grabbed the larger cakes anyway. Some of the men were afraid to take one when they realized what it was all about. A discussion with lots of questions derived from our experiment.

What are the upcoming events for the association?

We’re just starting to plan a Bechdel movie night, a feminist final party, and then we’re considering whether to host any more seminars or panel discussions. Maybe we’ll think of something drastic and fun that can draw even more attention to feminism. We’re open to ideas, people can always contact us through our Facebook page, which is called Femínistafélag Háskóla Íslands.

Journalist: Þorsteinn Friðrik Halldórsson
Translation: Þorgerður Anna Gunnarsdóttir

Interview first published in 4th issue, vol. 92 of Stúdentablaðið.