Published February 7, 2014
A few days after our last issue came out, we received a letter about something that I had been feeling rather uncomfortable about for some time now. I knew it was coming. After printing an article featuring last year’s covers, with all 18 of them displayed neatly on a single page, somebody was bound to pick up on it and send us a letter. It was just a matter of time:
“Dear Grapevine, I’d like to initiate this letter by giving you a compliment. Your magazine is my favorite one in Reykjavík; it’s weird that a local appreciates an English speaking tourist magazine most of all the newspapers and magazines in Iceland but you still always manage to have me counting down to the next issue. Each publishing Friday I sit down with a cup of carefully brewed coffee and bury my nose into the only radically environmentalist, hippy, culture-appreciating voice in Reykjavík,” the letter writer began nicely, before delivering her blow.
“However, I was greatly saddened when I saw a compilation of your covers in the issues of 2013. I have the (sometimes annoying) habit of counting genders in magazines, photos, front pages of web sites and so on. After taking a very swift look at your covers it was evident that there was a clear gender gap in the people you chose to front your paper, a paper that sits face up in every café around town. Out of 18 issues, 10 feature a man as the main subject (11 if you count Siggi Odd’s illustration that might, or might not be a man with mustache). Two covers prominently feature women. One issue has one of each gender and two issues feature a bunch of people; 15 men and 8 women.”
The writer continues: “Now I ask, dear Grapevine, do you feel that men achieve more important things than women and rather deserve the front page? Or is it a subconscious societal thing? You might find my obsession with counting people a bit extreme. You might feel that the gender of the main subject on the cover is coincidental and it’s only important that it appeals to the reader and encourages people to pick up the paper. I think, that until we live in a world, closer to perfection than this one in regard to gender gaps and equality, we have to fight and be annoying and count faces and push quotas. If not, women will continue to grow up with the notion that men deserve the front page more. That men deserve higher salaries, better positions and more attention…”
So somebody picked up on it, the fact that men overwhelmingly dominated the Reykjavík Grapevine’s covers in 2013. Although we had good reason for featuring all of them (and you can read those reasons on page 6 of last issue), I’m certain we would have also had good reason for featuring a greater number of amazing women. For some reason though, it didn’t pan out that way.
The truth is that I have been aware of this for some time now and meant to draw attention to it six or seven issues ago, when we featured Emilíana Torrini. If you don’t count the New Year’s issue, which featured a stand-in model for a woman who went missing and whose name we never knew, Emilíana was the first female to grace a cover last year and we were thirteen issues deep at that point. However, I didn’t end up drawing attention to this back then, at least in this space, because I didn’t want to risk trivializing her appearance on our cover by making our decision seem to be more about meeting gender quotas than about celebrating her art.
Furthermore, after discussing the issue with others involved, I became convinced that our covers couldn’t be deconstructed this way: that is, they are mostly not about featuring a man or a woman. Of the 18 issues published last year, only four were profiles of the people on the cover. Three men and one woman: Hafþór Björnsson (Issue 08), Emilíana Torrini (Issue 13), Ragnar Axelsson (Issue 14) and Björgvin Halldórsson (Issue 18). The others fell into place because we decided to feature something rather than somebody, such as Eurovision (Issue 5).
That said, the letter brings up an important matter. For the last five years, Iceland has been sitting pretty at the top of the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report, boasting world records like the first democratically elected female head of state and the first openly lesbian head of government. Yet, culling from stories that Grapevine reported on last year, you’ll see that it’s far from perfect over here.
The fact is, when it comes to full-time state and municipal jobs, females average 27% lower salaries than their male counterparts. In other governmental blunders, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe had to suspend Iceland’s voting rights because our all-male delegation couldn’t figure out how to meet the mandate for gender equality by including a single female. In the private sector, females made up only 23.1% of company board members, as of December. In the film industry, females have directed only 17 of the 133 feature films made in Iceland at last year’s count, and a record low number of females, 16 compared to 43 males, were nominated for an Edda Academy Award at last year’s ceremony. Even in female-dominated fields, such as teaching and nursing, males still hold the leadership positions.
Dear letter writer, I’d like to thank you for bringing this up. It’s important to point out gender inequality, as it’s a problem that’s not likely to go away if we don’t do anything about it. Although I’m not convinced that gender quotas should be applied to everything from committees to faces on magazine covers, I pledge to do what I can to address this in 2014. Although our editorial team was and is well staffed by females and I’m certain that the articles you’ve been reading have been by and about at least as many women as men, if not more, I’m also sure we can do better.
Now, turn to page 16 to read this issue’s feature interview with a human who inconveniently for the purposes of my editorial this issue happens to be called Gunnar Nelson. He’s great though, and the story of how he rose to MMA fame out of a country where it is illegal to compete in sports like professional boxing, is an interesting one. Finally, if anybody wants to write us a letter about this or anything else, remember: email@example.com.