From Iceland — Liking, Tweeting, And Sharing For Women’s Rights: The Role Of Social Media In Feminism

Liking, Tweeting, And Sharing For Women’s Rights: The Role Of Social Media In Feminism

Published June 19, 2015

Liking, Tweeting,  And Sharing For Women’s Rights: The Role Of Social Media  In Feminism
Katie Steen
Photo by
Edda Ýr Garðarsdóttir

From the outside looking in, Iceland may appear to be a rocky little utopia of feminist ideals (and elves). It has been ranked again and again as one of the best places to live as a woman, as it has the smallest gender gap in terms of salary, education, healthcare, and political representation. And feminism has been embraced in droves here, not just by women but by men as well. Just recently, Iceland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson, was presented with the UN’s HeForShe Award, celebrating Iceland’s status as having the most men ages 15-64 joining the HeForShe movement online to strive for gender equality.

And yet, the push for a safer and more equal society for women in Iceland is far from over. Just recently, Facebook in Iceland became ablaze with orange and yellow profile pictures denoting instances of sexual violence and abuse as a part of the #Outloud campaign, and these pictures and the accompanying stories make it clear that there’s still a long way to go before sexual violence is eradicated in Iceland. Increasingly, women are taking to social media campaigns such as #Outloud to spread awareness and educate their fellow friends, family, and followers on feminism.

A picture’s worth a thousand words

#Outloud was started by Icelandic artist Edda Ýr Garðarsdóttir, with the intention to, as stated on the original Facebook post, “make it visual how huge of an impact sexual crime has.” The pictures—orange and yellow cartoon faces with speech bubbles over their mouths—speak for themselves. The original idea behind the picture was that people who have experienced sexual violence change their profile picture to the orange face, and people who know others who have experienced sexual violence change their profile picture to the yellow face.

When my male cousins are asked about studies and work in family get-togethers but I get “Well, got a boyfriend yet?” #6dagsleikinn

Edda got the idea for #Outloud after reading story after story of sexual assault that women shared in the Icelandic Facebook group “Beauty Tips,” a safe space used by women to discuss and receive advice on personal issues like abuse and relationships, but also to talk about stuff like nail polish or the miracles of coconut oil. She wanted to encourage women to share their stories and speak out about their assault in order to reduce shame and increase awareness of how widespread a problem sexual violence is.

“I’m not sure if all men really understand that women often talk about this when they are in small groups or just with close friends,” she explained, “and so I thought maybe this is something that really needs to be made visible.” 

She named the campaign #Outloud precisely for this reason—because it was about giving women a voice to talk about their experiences on the internet. Many #Outloud profile pictures are also accompanied with the hashtags #konurtala and #þöggun, which respectively translate to “women speak” and “silenced” in order to encourage breaking the silencing that victims of sexual assault often experience. While some users simply change their profile pictures, others use this as an opportunity to share their experience with sexual violence.

#6dagsleikinn makes you think about how badly you’ve thought and behaved through the years. You live, you learn.

Though survivors of sexual assault often experience shaming and doubt from others (and from themselves) in response to their stories, Edda has been amazed by the amount of positivity and support that people have been receiving when they change their pictures. “Even though it’s always sad to see a new orange face pop up on Facebook,” she said, “you also can feel the love, because everyone responds with a heart or ‘I’m so sorry’ or ‘You are strong and brave’ to the one who’s telling the story. You become a bit happy about how nice everyone is, really.” 

While Edda understands that of course not everyone is ready to publicly change their picture, she has been proud of how many people have participated in and even adapted the movement to fit their own needs.  “I’ve also gotten lots of letters, including some where they want different categories and more colors—for example, maybe purple for domestic abuse,” she said. “People have been making it their own and changing the pictures and coming up with their own definitions, and that’s just great.” The pictures, rather than defining people by their assault, have been used as a sign of empowerment and solidarity.

So far the #Outloud pictures have spread across Facebook feeds in Iceland, as well as Denmark, Norway, Britain, and even the US, and Edda hopes they will only continue to spread via ripple effect around the world.

Release the nipples!

But #Outloud isn’t the first feminist campaign to take off via social media in Iceland. Last March, Twitter became dotted with Icelandic women’s nipples as part of the international #FreeTheNipple movement. The Icelandic wave began with a post by 17-year-old Adda Þóreyjardóttir Smáradóttir, who was sick of the double standards women face when it comes to body image and what is considered appropriate to reveal. The movement received a lot of support, mostly at first by other teenage girls who wanted to stand up for Adda when she was harassed for her tweet.

Though she deleted the picture, the following #FreeTheNipple tweets and comments have had lasting effects on how Adda and other women view their own bodies.  “Personally, I feel more  free to do what I want, and I know that people of my generation and those around me agree with me on that,” she said. “They’re  also less afraid of being judged. I think it’s helped a lot of girls with their self-esteem, because we are made to think that breasts should be a certain shape and size.”

Period days = blowjob days, wait which one of us is bleeding, with terrible aches and even vomiting?? Which deserves to be treated?

Even Björt Ólafsdóttir, MP of the Bright Future Party, decided to join the movement, and posted her own nipple photo on Twitter, along with the message: “This is to feed children. Shove it up your patriarchy. #FreeTheNipple.”

Björt explained that her decision to participate was largely due to the fact that the Icelandic iteration of #FreeTheNipple was started by teenagers, and she didn’t want assumptions about their age to undermine their cause in any way. “I thought, okay, shit, this could really be bad, because they’re young, they’re exposing themselves, they’re letting themselves out there and they’re really vulnerable,” she explained. “I really wanted to support them. And I said to myself, if they can do it, then of course I HAVE to do it.”

Social media, of course, can be a tool for feminist movements like #FreeTheNipple, but it can also be a breeding ground for harassment and, when nudity is involved, revenge porn. However, Björt, who is currently pushing for legislation that defines and combats revenge porn, claimed that these young girls were using the #FreeTheNipple campaign as a way to reclaim authority over photographs of their own bodies by reposting pictures of themselves that had been previously used as revenge porn against them.

“These pictures had been really, really difficult for them to face and to handle,” Björt stated, “but then they became empowered and said, ‘Okay, I am the one who has power over this picture and I’m going to post it again and I’m not ashamed. I am proud of myself. And you can’t make me feel otherwise, so fuck off.’ I get chills from that.” Much like the support that survivors have received from the #Outloud movement, #FreeTheNipple enabled women to stand up for themselves publicly via the internet, and to receive support via likes and comments from other people in solidarity.

To be afraid to go to the shop alone because of bullying.

Though Twitter has since returned to its significantly less nipple-y state, the #FreeTheNipple movement is still going strong in Iceland. Just last weekend, there were outdoor #FreeTheNipple events, concerts, and general shirtless or bra-free chillin’ to desexualize the nipple, and Húrra also threw a #FreeTheNipple party that same night, with a substantial crowd of both men and women baring their nipples.

And it’s not just Iceland that’s freeing the nipple—the campaign actually originated in the US and has since spread all around Scandinavia, Britain, France and Spain, and recently Björt had some surprising visitors from Taiwain. “They were a group of students who came to Iceland to interview me about #FreeTheNipple,” she said, chuckling to herself. “They had no other plans in Iceland except interviewing me. I was just like, ‘Whoa.’”

Fighting sexism with a #pun

Shortly after #FreeTheNipple, a new feminist hashtag appeared on Twitter, this time with a bit of wordplay mixed in: #6dagsleikinn, the Icelandic equivalent of #everydaysexism. (The number six in Icelandic is pronounced like “sex” in English, and 6dagleikinn rhymes with “hversdagsleikinn,“ which means “everyday.”) The campaign was started by Icelandic journalist María Lilja Þrastardóttir following a junior college seminar on gender. She encouraged people to tweet about sexism that they have experienced, from everyday double standards in housework to more serious topics like sexual assault.

People are astonished how my boyfriend and I divide chores, for instance, he usually does the laundry. #6dagsleikinn

Like #Outloud and #FreeTheNipple, #6dagsleikinn spread quickly. María commented on the viral nature of social media, and how it’s great for educating and engaging masses of people in activism. “We’re more and more participating in social media, and it’s maybe the first time that individuals have a real voice. Before this, they blogged, and sent in letters and articles to the papers, but social media offers a tool to communicate, and it’s great to fight these battles.”  María also noted that the name #6dagsleikinn itself was “snappy and cool,” which helped attract lots of people to sharing their own experiences through Twitter.

In addition to #6dagsleikinn, other hashtags have popped up, such as #hinseginleikinn, specifically for the LGBTQ community to share their experiences; #stelpurátwitter, to increase visibility of female Twitter users; and #túrvæðingin, to destigmatize menstruation.

All these clicks, but so what?

Clearly social media campaigns like #Outloud and #FreeTheNipple can help individuals get support from friends and strangers alike on the internet. But what implications does social media activism have for feminism as a movement as a whole?

Snærós Sindradóttir, a journalist at Fréttablaðið, who recently appeared on Ísland í dag to talk about feminism alongside Hildur Sverrisdóttir, a lawyer and city councilwoman for the Independence Party who also participated in #FreeTheNipple, spoke to the strength of social media to quickly mobilize large amounts of people for a single cause.

“Social media benefits from the power of the many,” Snærós said. “It gives more people a voice and makes the fight easier and more mainstream. Instead of just the few that have the privilege of skipping work or school and showing up somewhere for a protest, everyone can participate in social media activism.”

“What, are you on your period or?”
“If I had to bleed to find you annoying I’d be dead from blood loss”

She noted how we can’t underestimate the ability of things like #Outloud and #FreeTheNipple to cause real, off-screen change. “Social media plays a huge role in all social changes in the world today. Most individuals don’t want to show up somewhere and scream some slogans in front of a building or something. Most people feel that that doesn’t work. And maybe they’re right. I myself have participated in protests before I became a journalist, but my voice is stronger and better heard through social media.”

Indeed, the goal of activism is awareness and change, and sometimes sharing a post on Facebook can educate people more effectively than a protest. Not only do social media posts have the advantage of reaching lots of eyes with a simple click, but the key is that oftentimes viewers are friends, or people that the poster knows personally in some way. And that is key in recruiting a group that’s often absent from discussions of feminism: men.

“The way to get more men to engage in the fight for feminism is by having feminist men out there already. With men will come more men,” Snærós said. “I think if strong men or cool guys call themselves feminists, others will join.”

And while Snærós acknowledged that views within feminism can of course differ, there is still the common goal of gender equality and empowerment of women, and social media can help unite feminists of different backgrounds and beliefs in supporting a single cause.

Björt, too, commented on the inevitability of feminism as having differing subgroups, but welcomed the discussion that social media can create. “We don’t have to agree on everything, and we can want different approaches, and that’s okay.  Of course feminists don’t have to agree on everything.  That would be ridiculous,” she said. “It’s good that there are different sides and discussion of #FreeTheNipple. The main thing is that women have control over their bodies and that we’re not shaming them.”

She added: “I think campaigns like #FreeTheNipple on social media have changed our views toward feminism a lot. Why would you be afraid to call yourself a feminist if it can be a lot of things?”

As views toward feminism continue to shift, we’ll just have to see how social media mirrors these changes, and vice versa. Whether you prefer to like, share, comment, or create something of your own, every little bit counts in raising awareness and getting your voice out there.

You might also be interested in the following article:

Sóley Tómasdóttir by Johanna PerssonIcelanders Celebrate The 100-year Anniversary of Women’s Suffrage
Icelandic suffragettes reaped the fruits of their labour on June 19, 1915, one hundred years ago, when women over the age of 40 were given the right to vote (followed by all adult women five years later). Celebrating this momentous anniversary, the Reykjavík City Council’s Forsætisnefnd (“Presidential Committee”) has been promoting a hundred events this year that celebrate women’s achievements. 

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