Many great people start young. bell hooks wrote about encountering adversity in the newly integrated public school system. Malala Yousafzai was the co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize at the age of seventeen. And although they have yet to appear in The Atlantic Monthly or be nominated for a peace prize by Desmond Tutu, Margrét Snorradóttir and Una Torfadóttir, both sixteen, are great.
The high schoolers recently gave a TEDx Talk on feminism, emphasizing the importance of utilizing any and all available platforms to project your message. They won last year’s annual Skrekkur talent competition with ‘Elsku Stelpur’ (“Dear Girls”), a choreographed spoken-word performance, written by Una, balking at societal gender norms and questioning patriarchal standards. Margrét began Ronja, a feminist group at Hagaskóli, their high school, and organized #ronjaferátúr (“Ronja has her period”) to confront stigma surrounding menstruation. The club has a membership of 90 in a school with roughly 500 students and although only fifteen or so are male, Margrét and Una think the boys are catching on. “I feel like, if I were a boy and listening to the whole conversation about feminism it’s so easy to fall into this trap of following the rules of feminists and not breaking any of them, like, ‘Don’t objectify women, don’t do this, don’t do that,’” Una says. “And it’s really important that they try and do this, but I also think that they have to realize that these are not rules created to make them feel bad or to limit them. They’re made for all of us to feel better. And to make these changes last, boys have to realize how good they are and how good they are personally and individually as well. I think that’s really the only way we can make lasting change–to have boys have their own impact on the movement as well.”
Both acknowledge the head start they’ve been given in life, allowing them to spread an impassioned message of feminism and to better question gender inequality. The pair live in an affluent part of Reykjavík near Hagaskóli and the University of Iceland. “I was born here, raised here, grew up here, and I’ve never lived anywhere else. And I think my view of the world is kind of skewed because of that, “ Una says. “This is a very nice neighbourhood with a lot of educated people who are all pretty much raised with the same things and we don’t really see poverty or people who live in violent situations because we’re very secluded out here.” Una’s mother, Svandis Svarsdóttir, is a Member of Parliament and her father, in the words of his daughter, is a “big feminist and a lefty too.” And from a young age Margrét’s mother spoke to her about feminism, teaching her to recognize the forms taken by inequality in the world around her.
Talk the Feminist Talk
The two are extremely personable, wise beyond their years, and still, in many ways, endearingly sixteen years old. It was their vice principal who broke the news that TEDx wanted the two to give a talk. “She called us up and was like, ‘Have you heard of this thing called “Ted”?’ And we acted very casual but inside we were screaming,” Una says. They were given guidelines but left pretty much to their own devices. “It didn’t take us very long; the hardest part was deciding what we were going to talk about and how it was going to come across,” Margrét says. “And then when we started, we just took one night, we ate ice cream, and for three hours we just wrote it.” The two were in the midst of exams as rehearsals for the TEDx program took place. As a Ted Talk rule, no paper is allowed onstage, so they would need to know their lines by heart. This meant studying and sitting for exams, practicing their piece in between, and coordinating with the TEDx dress rehearsal all during the same period. The culmination was a seamless routine.
Una and Margrét are both thoughtful and candid in their assessment of feminism in their homeland, an outlook which lends itself to unassailable frank assertions. “Feminism is trendy in Iceland and the coolest people in Iceland, the rappers and the musicians, are all feminists,” Una says. “But there are feminists and then there are ‘feminists.’ And sometimes I get annoyed when I see all these people calling themselves feminists and they’re saying, ‘Yes, I support equal rights and everything,’ but then these same people are not acting like feminists. They don’t speak up when they see inequality, they themselves may slut-shame or objectify women without even thinking about it. It’s so difficult when it becomes okay to act that way but also call yourself a feminist.”
The pair practice what they preach in terms of furthering their message through any means with potential. “I think we have to use the wave we have right now to build up these platforms and create space for women and girls,” Una says. “Because then when the wave crashes, we have these platforms. When the trend is gone we have a feminism group, and we have our voices, and we have the TEDx Talk. And I think that’s the whole point of seeing and using opportunities because they come by and then they’re gone. And if you didn’t use them then you have nothing to show for it. So while we can, and while we have the time, we need to do as much as we can.”
The Best-Laid Plans
In case you’re becoming unnerved by the articulate insights of these two teens, they, like any run-of-the-mill adolescent, are still uncertain what the future holds. “The original idea was: Go to college, become a doctor, and move to Denmark or somewhere and it’s been like that since I was ten,” says Margrét. “Ever since I’ve gotten involved in this, that’s become less and less a solid plan. I want to do more things in our society and I want to stay involved.” No matter the path, the outcome is sure to be great.