From Iceland — It Doesn’t Matter What You’re Wearing

It Doesn’t Matter What You’re Wearing

It Doesn’t Matter What You’re Wearing

Published July 17, 2014

Organiser María Lilja Þrastardóttir gears up for another Reykjavík SlutWalk

Gabríel Benjamin
Photo by
Magnús Andersen

Organiser María Lilja Þrastardóttir gears up for another Reykjavík SlutWalk

On April 3, 2011, the people of Toronto, Ontario, rose up in protest of Constable Michael Sanguinetti’s suggestion that “women should avoid dressing like sluts” if they want to avoid being raped. The event sparked international outrage, with SlutWalks springing up all over the world. María Lilja Þrastardóttir, who had gone through the harrowing experience of being raped followed by the humiliating process of reporting it to the police, organised the first Icelandic slut walk with four other women, three months after the original Toronto walk.

This year’s ‘Drusluganga’ (“SlutWalk”), on July 26, starts like the others before it at 14:00 by Hallgrímskirkja, goes down Skólavörðustígur and Bankastræti before ending at Austurvöllur outside of parliament where there will be speeches and live music.

So María, what inspired you to organise Drusluganga?

Rape, slut-shaming and victim-blaming were big problems that hadn’t been addressed in Icelandic society, in particular with regards to Þjóðhátíð í Eyjum, this great big festival in the Westman islands in early August where on average five or six people are raped each year.

And is sometimes referred to as the “rape festival.”

Yeah, it is. And we had the same attitude towards rape victims here as in Toronto, in which people focused on how the victims were acting, whether they were drunk, scantily clad or in some way ‘asking for it’ instead of focusing on the real problem, which is the rapist. Instead of blaming the victim for these behaviours, the solution to all of this is, of course, for people to just not rape.

And how many people showed up to the first Drusluganga?

We had 2,000 people in the first one, 5,000 in 2012 and 7,000 in 2013. We want to double that last number this year and get 14–15,000 to walk with us. To that end, the city granted our organisation one million ISK to help expand the event, which is a lot of money for such a small non-profit organisation. We’re going to use the extra money to help promote the festival, make an introduction video and adverts and even get the three-piece female rap band Þrjár Basískar to make a song for us.

Wow, is a million ISK really enough for all of that?

Yeah, I really hope so. The last few years we ran the event on almost nothing, so the extra money will change a lot. Hopefully, it means that we can reach other groups of society that we haven’t spoken to before, such as immigrants, LGBT people, men, and people with disabilities, which is important because rapes happen in every part of society.

The walk has changed focus over the years, first talking about the aforementioned slut-shaming and victim-blaming, second about the media’s tendency to talk about “alleged” rapes, always referring to them as if they might be made up, and last year’s walk focused on male rape victims.

Which is a topic that critics often say feminists aren’t willing to address.

Oh, absolutely. There’s a big misunderstanding that feminists don’t fight for men’s rights and tackle the problems found in men’s communities. We wanted to point out that men also get raped. But it’s not like the walk was just about that, we’ve had various themes running through the SlutWalks, but it’s always about the fact that it doesn’t matter how people act, how they appear, what they are wearing or drinking—none of this is an excuse for raping them.

One commonly heard critique is that people agree with the message, but they don’t get why participants wear so few clothes.

This was, oddly enough, a big criticism from feminist circles when we had the first SlutWalk. Before we could explain it all, well, they misunderstood the concept as being some kind of praise of the pornification of society, which it absolutely wasn’t. It’s simply more provocative to be scantily clad. While some women walk through Drusluganga naked, others wear burkas, wedding dresses or their pyjamas, because the message is “it doesn’t matter how I’m dressed, you still don’t have any right to rape me.”

And in these three years, has the discourse changed?

Yes, absolutely—we’ve felt it shift dramatically. Most of the media took our message to heart and stopped shaming people for how they were dressed, or reporting that, for example, an “alleged” victim went to the police and reported an “alleged” rape. People in society are also more aware of the fact that their words can hurt people who have been raped.

What really needs to happen next is for the authorities to get their act together. There have been a lot of people coming forward recently, reporting that they’ve been raped, but it doesn’t seem to be leading to any more cases going to court. Getting that far is really rare—it’s almost like winning the lottery. And getting a conviction is so difficult because so many things need to go your way—you practically need a witness to record it in order to corroborate your story. The system is rotten from the inside, and it’s entirely in the government’s hands, so we want to pressure them to shape up and do something about it.

The fourth annual Icelandic SlutWalk is on July 26 and starts at 14:00 at Hallgrímskirkja.

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