“Nothing is beyond reproach, especially not feminism”

Smá pláss.jpg

Translator : Sahara Rós Ívarsdóttir

“People say that Iceland is some perfect feminist utopia, but anyone who says that has not experienced our reality. Now they have an opportunity to hear what our reality is like,” says Elín Elísabet Einarsdóttir, who manages the podcast program SMÁ PLÁSS (A Little Space) along with Sunna Axels. The program is “the feminist compass of RÚV núll,” the radio station where it airs, and has garnered considerable attention. A journalist and photographer from the Student Paper recently met the two feminists at the café Mokka and talked about the program, women’s space, sexual offences and the justice system.

“We want to make room for the voices of young women. We don’t think it’s common enough to hear ourselves and our everyday reality represented,” says Elín. Sunna agrees but points out that they are not educated in feminism. “We aren’t pretending to be some kind of experts, but we know incredibly much because we are curious, familiarize ourselves with different subjects and have been through so much ourselves.”

Elín says that they have so much to say about the matter that they can’t stay silent. “We’re always learning, constantly familiarizing ourselves with feminism, only to discover that we can’t be heard on the outside. We’ve sort of built up a store of knowledge that we just wanted to share with others, especially young women as well as girls in secondary school. It’s so important to have some role models, to hear your own story told somewhere.”

Fit Inside the Boxes but Still Need to Fight

Sunna and Elín had to struggle a lot to get permission for their program. “These episodes are somehow controversial for some people, which is very funny, since we’re slim, young, white, heterosexual women and fit into lots of boxes.” Sunna says it is very important to make room in the episodes for the voices of women in other minority groups as well. “We’re blinded by privilege to many things, but we also have insight into many things. Since we got this great opportunity, we want to bring more depth into the discussion by welcoming the voices of a variety of women. We’ve already discussed disability and feminism with Inga Björk Margrétar- og Bjarnadóttir and then we invited Skaði, a transwoman, to our program.”

Elín points out that having guests on the show is also very educational for her and Sunna themselves. “We’re also in the process of examining all sorts of niches in feminism and in feminist activities. Soon we will look at women in music, business management and other areas, some smaller niches where women are banding together and finding strength in numbers.”

The Filter Left Along with Shame

Sunna and Elín have certainly heard that they’re a little bit “good cop/bad cop” on the show. “Sunna is a bit more vulgar than me, while I’m sort of making sure nobody gets offended and really guarding everyone’s feelings, which is, of course, very codependent. Sunna is a bit more straightforward which I think makes for a good combo,” says Elín.

“I, somehow, don’t have much of a filter and try my best not to filter myself when I speak. I was in an abusive relationship when I was in secondary school, and it wasn’t until last year that I first talked about it and freed myself from shame and gave the burden of it back to the offender. After having carried this burden for so long, I suddenly find everything else so trivial in comparison and I have nothing to be ashamed of. If I can help just one person by speaking candidly about these things, then opening up about it is worth it,” says Sunna, and Elín agrees: “In this modern world of social media and glossy images, it’s important to present something raw and honest.”

The topics of the episodes can therefore become quite personal. “Some topics are very close to our hearts, so we often get really personal in these episodes. The topics can be difficult and after some recordings we’re completely exhausted. We try not to have too many difficult topics in a row and rather have something lighter in between, like sex or the dating culture, both for us and our listeners,” says Elín and points out that the main focus is still on discussing various problems we face.

“What we’re doing is focusing on the problems. We’re also discussing solutions and positive things, but ultimately we’re discussing things that bombard us from every angle and make our lives difficult.”

In the episode of Smá Pláss on eating disorders, criticism of feminism is discussed. When asked what such criticism entails, Elín said, “Nothing is above criticism, especially not feminism. We must also be aware that it is not always possible to be the perfect feminist. Feminism and feminism is not the same thing. There are so many different opinions within feminism and it’s always possible to have these discussions.” “You can be a feminist and still be against abortion or not want to have sex while you’re on your period,” says Sunna.

“Then there are lots of difficult issues that many people strongly disagree with, like for example prostitution and porn, whether prostitution and porn are always an offence against the prostitute or porn star, or whether they’re just a part of self-expression and women’s sexual liberation; a part of being allowed to publicly be a sexual being. This is quite the bone of contention,” says Elín, noting that feminism is not always used for positive purposes.

Feminism as Merchandise

“Feminism has become so mainstream that it is now being used as merchandise. Empowerment is being sold to people, so people need to be aware that not everything that is called feminism is necessarily positive. This is also a matter of critical thinking and not just taking everything related to feminism as something positive.

“It’s also important to realize that our feminism is not the same feminism as the feminism of Inga Björk, who came on our program and spoke about prejudices against disability. She said that she cannot identify with about 60% of what mainstream feminism in Iceland is talking about because it doesn’t apply to her since she’s a woman in a wheelchair, and therefore also part of another minority group, and that feminism is still not intersectional enough for there to be room for everyone.”

“It’s also about the fact that it’s okay to criticize, but maybe it’s unnecessary to crucify people and write them off if they say something wrong. It’s possible to point out the mistake and discuss the issue instead. We need to be able to have a discussion instead of constantly criticizing each other,” says Sunna.

An Individual Battle

Elín points out that each and every woman can fight her battle in whatever way she sees fit. “Many women have grown tired of being told how they should fight their battles. You can’t be too angry or dramatic or hysterical because then you won’t be taken seriously. Then you’re not doing the cause any favors. Many feminists are, for example, on the internet tearing apart all kinds of antifeminist activists in an obnoxious manner because they think they have the right to do so. That is part of their battle, but this is also a matter of how each and every woman wants to fight her own battle.”

Sunna agrees with Elín’s words. “We’re just trying so hard to get out of the frigging box. Some feminists are angry, and are allowed to be angry, but there are also feminists who aren’t very angry and that’s okay as well.”

Sunna says many battles have been won and a lot is changing in society. But the system is taking its time to catch up, especially when it comes to sexual offences. “I think there’s a great need for the system to follow up all these battles. The system is just so tragically behind and tragically ill-prepared to tackle these sexual offence cases and domestic violence.”

Sunna believes it is necessary to increase the severity of punishment for sexual offences. “I have a theory, which people will probably hate. I think that if it were more common to punish the offender and if the punishment were more severe, then sexual crimes might not be as common as they are in reality. I think more people would rob banks and steal money if they could get away with it, but people don’t get away with it and therefore don’t do it.”

“The fact is that offenders are much more likely to be given the benefit of the doubt than victims. The victims are the ones who have to do all the work and build themselves up again after trauma and then risk encountering their offender during a stroll down Laugavegur, on stage in the theatre or in TV commercials,” says Elín.

Prepared for an Attack

Sunna describes an exceptionally sorrowful situation where a discussion about sexual violence caused a young girl to prepare herself to be raped. “There was a young girl who told us that she was raped when she was 17 years old and she said that she had kind of just been waiting for it to happen because violence has been so dominant in the public discourse. She believed that sexual violence was inevitable.”  

Sunna said that this made her very sad. “Feminism should not mentally prepare women for such violence. This is why it’s so important for boys to participate in the discussion, so we can prevent violence. Unfortunately, they have a bit more power to stop this than we do. Women can talk about this endlessly, but in the end they’re almost never the ones committing acts of violence.”