Giving The Women Of Icelandic History A Voice: The Reykjavík Feminist Walking Tour

Giving The Women Of Icelandic History A Voice: The Reykjavík Feminist Walking Tour

Lea Müller
Main photo by
Lea Müller

On a chilly Wednesday evening, I stand at the foot of Ingibjörg H. Bjarnason’s statue in front of Alþingi, shivering in unison with six strangers as the wind picks up. We cast knowing smiles at each other, fumbling with our hats in anticipation of the upcoming tour.

It’s then that Tinna Eik Rakelardóttir begins to speak, and we soon forget about the chill. The young woman designed and now hosts the Reykjavík Feminist Walking Tour, in which we are eager participants. Tinna’s academic background is in anthropology and business, but her passion for feminism lies much deeper than what she learned throughout her studies.

The president next door

“I grew up with a single mum—a family constellation that is rather common in Iceland,” Tinna explains. Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, the world’s first female president, lived next door, and was an early role model for the academic. At this, the small crowd nods, visibly impressed.

“In fact,” Tinna continues, a smile forming on her lips. “After Vigdís’ tenure was over and men were running to become her successor, I was quite confused.” Being just a kid, she couldn’t help but inquire: “Why are men applying for this? I thought it is a woman’s job?”

Hotel Borg during the war

Blood feuds

The tour is permeated with such anecdotes, which crack up the audience and subsequently lighten the mood. They are much needed in light of the heavy topics Tinna touches on as we meander towards Hotel Borg, where many sexual assaults took place by American soldiers, who were stationed there during the Second World War. The stories of the girls who became subject to this abuse were largely swept under the rug and never revisited.

Unfortunately, as Tinna emphasises, the lack of documentation of female concerns was the rule throughout Icelandic history, rather than the exception. “We don’t have many records of the women who came here with the first group of settlers, other than their names,” Tinna sighs. “We know so much about Ingólfur Arnarson but nothing about his wife. Wouldn’t it be great to hear her account on the emigration?”

She gives the group a moment to ponder on what Hallveig Fróðadóttir might have thought about having to leave her home in Norway, which she was forced to do just because her dumbass husband got involved in a blood feud.

A painting showing Ingólfur Arnarson and Hallveig Fróðadóttir

Moving forward

As the sun begins to set and our cold feet require us to move, Tinna walks us past the town hall and circles Tjörnin, stopping sporadically with more interesting stories. We then approach Kvennaskólinn—our final stop—Tinna begins to contemplate the contemporary problems concerning feminism in Iceland today.

“Internationally, we might be at the forefront of equal rights, but we’re certainly not in a position to rest. There are many pressing issues that we’ll have to address as a country that wants to be an advocate for celebrating diversity in all its facets,” she explains.

And Tinna is right; 21st-century feminism should not just support white upper-class people who were born female. It should have a much more inclusive approach that equally addresses the concerns of immigrant women, trans women, and those that live on a very low income.

When the tour concludes, I’m truly sad to leave. Tinna’s insights and stories have opened my eyes to the unheard tales of Icelandic women, most of which, are, unfortunately, lost forever. In the future, it seems all we can do is listen to each other and write our own narratives. Potentially, then our stories will never go ignored again.

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