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I did some talking with my lovely Icelandic friend and found that, as we suspected, there HAVE been some seriously racist policies in the past here in Iceland.  She also confirmed the existence of prejudiced attitudes and discrimination in the daily lives of Icelandic POC.

BUT THE POLICY — Damn.  So the U.S. has, as I mentioned in one of my last posts, maintained a military presence in Iceland between the years of 1944 – 2004.  During the early 50’s Iceland banned the presence of black soldiers to “protect Icelandic women and to preserve a homogeneous national body.”  This practice was in place until the early 1960’s

But seriously this national purity bunk is some white supremacist shit

Also – I was wrong is stating that there is just one prison.  There is one main facility but there are separate, smaller facilities.  The “high” security prison has a max capacity of 45 people.

There are  two “open” prisons that house a maximum of 38 people. Another couple of “medium” security prisons house up to 28 people and then the “low” security prison can house up to 10 folks.

While one of the medium security prisons is designated as the women’s prison, due to low rates of female incarceration it is typically used to house men and women simultaneously.

For a total max capacity of 121 persons.

Also – I mentioned the acceptance of the LGBTQ community and how open Iceland is towards equal rights (if not justice) but I started to realize that I had never seen one specific mention of the trans* community.  It’s a small country but there are surely trans* folks, right? So I did a search through the GrapeVine to see if there had been any articles written on the subject —

Being Transgender in Iceland

Also – as of June 27th 2012 the Transgender Rights Legislation passed. This bill was created “to ensure that transgender people receive equal treatment before the law, in harmony with human rights. The law also secures a provision of necessary medical treatments, both the diagnosis of gender identity disorder and the corrective surgery”

Transgender Rights Legislation Passed!!

I was pleased to see that there is new legislation afoot:

The bill’s aim is twofold: to provide individuals with gender identity disorder protection under the law in concordance with other minority groups that also need special protection, but also to adhere to Iceland’s upcoming validation of the Council of Europe’s protocol regarding computer-related crimes. “

New Bill to Strengthen Rights of Transgender People in Iceland!!

Also I was made aware of this excellent resource for LGBTQ folks traveling in Iceland

Gay Ice!!!

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***Trigger Warning*** Sexual harassment, assault, mentions of rape, the hate-filled opinions of a sad man

So this brings me to my actual story, which I will keep quite short (jk lol).  I am renting a room in an apartment close to the city.  The guy who owns it rents out various rooms that he owns or leases and I happen to have an actual bedroom (compared to an attic or basement space converted into small bedroom) in the apartment itself.

I don’t know how to say this other than to say…he’s obsessed with rape.  From the moment I met him, without any prompting, he wanted always to talk about rape.  He self-identifies as a feminist, but so doesn’t everyone in Iceland, so I thought it was going to be the sort of good conversation about problems, solutions, struggles, structural lag, outrage, etc. that I typically have with feminists on the subject but NO.  Of course not.  I had to meet the guy who – with a straight face – told me that Hugh Hefner has done more for women than any other feminist activist.  He called Hugh Hefner a feminist activist. This is apparently not a completely new statement:

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/culture/lindywest1/100046951/hugh-hefner-agent-of-womens-liberation-or-passionate-advocate-of-boobies/

He proceeds to tell me that women who aren’t hurt or aren’t rape too violently are ruining the system for women who “truly need it” and that most of the time it’s just regretting a sexual encounter.  He harps on this constantly and claims that false reporting is very high and just women being bitches, essentially.  He also things that the holocaust death count is “overestimated” and said “Why do you think that happened in Germany? Do you think that the Jews were completely innocent and didn’t do anything to deserve it? They didn’t deserve it….the people were poor but not the Jews,” implying that the Jewish folk of Hitler’s era had forced the Nazi hand, really.

He called the removal of pork and peanuts from school menus “left wing radicalism” because the allergy is bull shit and the pork thing is for Muslims.  He hates Muslims. “They are the only real racists,” he says.  And he just SAYS these things like they are obvious facts and not completely rooted in hatred.  But he hates fossil fuels and guns…I’m so not used to those things going together.

So needless to say it’s been a struggle, and while we started out as amicable strangers, I had distanced myself greatly by the time my friend Tiffani came to visit in mid-September.   It’s awkward because he is always in the house and I was doing a lot of in-home stuff at the time, but I just shut my door and pretend to be dead so I don’t have to talk to him.

He only once before this period of time acted….more inappropriately?  He suggested that I massage him and I thought he was joking so replied with “yeah, ok, I’ll get right on that” in my most sarcastic voice ever.  The next day he asked again and I, more awkwardly, said no. He got angry and said something along the lines of “I don’t know why you would say you would do something and then not do it.”  It was awkward.

So my friend arrives and we spend a lovely week driving around the country and seeing all that we can see.  It was amazing.  We arrive back on a Saturday night and though we are tired we have plans to go into town and check out Reykjavik’s infamous nightlife.  They party until the early morning hours here meaning that you get into bed around 6 or 7am.

We made our dinner and sat at the table with my host and his guest.  He had been drinking very heavily even before we got home and while we were eating and preparing to go out he downed at least another half a bottle of vodka.   He began making a fool of himself and acting quite inappropriately toward my friend.  He sat so close to her that she was leaning away and started babbling drunk nonsense.

I went to my room to get dressed and when I came out she told me he had licked her earlobe without permission.  He then began asking each of us if we wanted to “French kiss” and when we hollered a resounding “NO” he would then stumble forward and try to catch us off guard.  The man is 42.  I had to intercept his face mere inches from my own and push him away at least ten times.  The friend – the only sober person – was having talks with him, hopefully about his behavior (they were in Icelandic) but he kept doing it.  It was disgusting.

His friend then offers to drive us all into town and we agree – it was our original plan and it would save us a 15 minute walk.  We figured my host would tire easily and go home or get separated from us or whatever.  We approached the first bar and were rejected because he was just. that. sloppy.  So we opted for the queer bar – Kiki bar – and began making our walk.  He continued acting like a child.  Sadly, none of this was particularly new to me, so things were going smoothly until he gave me a weird look and then ran up and grabbed my friend’s ass.  I shoved him by the shoulders into a nearby car just as a gut reaction.  He was startled but played it off and laughed.  We told him to fuck off with that bullshit and kept on our way.

The Kiki bar is at the top of a set of stairs, so given his behavior we tried to force him up first.  He refused until we were forced to go up before him so my friend ascended while I turned to face him. I looked him dead in the eyes and I said “if you touch my ass I will punch you in the face.” He giggled and said okay so I turned to walk up and no sooner had I done so than I feel a pinch on the ass – so I turned back around and punched him in the fucking nose. He held his face a screamed “you bitch!” as I ran as fast as I could up the stairs.

I found my friend and told her but he was right behind me.  He seemed to sense that I was on the edge because he offered to buy us a drink to apologize.  We requested beers, trying to make the best of a bad situation, and he brought us two shots of a sort of licorice liquor they have here that he knew we hated.  He mumbled something about “let’s get drunk and get laid” and then asked again if we wanted to “French kiss.”  We screamed a big ole NO at him and he finally went away.  We saw him once more sulking against a wall somewhere and then he was gone.

We made it back to the house around 8:30am only to realize I had forgotten my key.  It took five or so minutes of laying on the buzzer to get him to open the door, but we got in.  He disappeared before we made it up the stairs.  We stayed in my room almost the entire day counting down the hours until we left for a week in Amsterdam.  We saw him once or twice and while he looked ashamed he never mentioned anything about what happened.

This made me angrier than anything.   I have avoided him almost entirely since then and was lucky enough to make a friend and confidant out of another of his guests.  I felt safe when my friend was here and would venture into the living room and kitchen occasionally, but he left and now I am alone again.  I don’t feel safe.  I left for one last trip, which was a huge relief, but I still have 12 days left here.

I looked into coming home early and moving out of this place but the finances don’t work out. I’ve already paid him can’t afford another place (if I can find one cheaper) without a refund.  That would probably require reporting him to the agency that does the renting.

He tried to talk to me occasionally when my new friend was still here but I’ve resorted to one word answers and not looking him in the eye.  I feel so uncomfortable.  I look out the window before I leave my room to see if he might be gone.  When his van isn’t parked outside I am overcome with a sense of relief – even if I don’t want to leave the room.  When I’m in the common area and I hear his van pull up I quickly finish everything I was doing to run into the room and shut my door.  I read, I write, I do yoga, and I go into town and visit my one good Icelandic friend.  But I do not feel safe here.

He’s afraid that I will write a bad review.  He came up to me and the new friend one day – out of the blue – and said “My daughter asked if I thought you would write a review on the rental page and I told her of course you would. She can’t wait to read it.”  USING HIS DAUGHTER – who is amazing and cool btw, to guilt me into not telling anyone what he did!!

And the saddest part of all is that I only just now decided that I would report him to the agency.  As with all of the similar situations I’ve been in it is easier to walk away and pretend it never happened.  It’s so hard to tell anyone the truth because you see what happens when you.  You see people torn apart in public and driven to the edge of their sanity.  No one believes you and everyone questions all the things *you* did wrong or should have done differently.  Everyone wonders why you waited – if you were really so scared why didn’t you do it sooner?  Money shouldn’t matter, they’ll say.  If it was so important you should have said something right away.

But they forget that this is just another in a long series of assaults, rapes, pieces of violence done onto me, my sisters, and the great faceless womyn of “us.”  We’re not even shocked by it anymore.  We’re not surprised and we even expect it.  And we know to keep quiet – or else.  Sometimes you get so tired of fighting. I’m exhausted. 

And that is what has brought me to the point of writing about this. This certainly isn’t the most violent thing that’s ever happened to me.  This isn’t the most impacting. It’s not the scariest and it’s not the bloodiest.  But it is the first in a long time. It is the first thing to shatter the illusion I’ve spent the last four years painstakingly rebuilding.  I had convinced myself that I was safe in this world and that I had some control again. Now. Now that I knew more, saw more, something.  I’d fooled myself into thinking it could never happen again and that I was back to being bulletproof and 20. 19. 13. 8.

Somehow it’s all back now.

For the last ten weeks or so I have been living mainly in Reykjavik, Iceland.  Iceland’s political system and egalitarian being were at the core of the travel proposal I made last fall when applying for the particular scholarship that would provide the opportunity.  I knew that it couldn’t be as perfect in reality as it was on paper, but that didn’t stop me from building up my own personal North Atlantic utopia.IMG_1842Iceland has ranked #1 in the global gender gap index for the last three or four years. They’re #1 in literacy. They are #1 in the global peace index and have been #1 in 3 out of the last 5 years with an interesting break in 2009 following the economic collapse.  The population is under 350,000 people which for my anarchist friends probably makes plenty of sense.  They have universal healthcare, tuition-free education at the University level and no standing army.  They politically engaged and informed about current events and host voter turnout rates usually in the 85%+ range.  This year’s election had a turnout rate of 81% and everyone is freaking out about it being so low….you see what I mean? For some context – the US presidential election saw a turnout rate of nearly 54%.

100_1427Oh and MAY I MENTION they have a limited prison system.  And by that I mean they have one prison.  And it’s not like the US prisons. It’s a rehabilitative prison and the folks there have access to real medical care and therapy.  I’ve heard people complain that they are “too comfortable” but I imagine if you have a wide ranging social infrastructure that provides for basic needs and seeks to actively eliminate poverty you won’t see people committing crimes just to get three squares a day, amirite? Yes. I am right -because Iceland also has one of the lowest crime rates in the world.  And besides, when the prison is full (it holds around 60-70 people), and it rarely is full, people just wait until someone gets out to serve their sentence.  Oh and there’s no death penalty. Oh and the maximum sentence is 16 years.

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YOU SEE WHAT I MEAN? DO YOU!?!!?!?

Siggh…..in addition to all of this they are quite LGBTQ friendly, though the whitest place I have ever seen in my life.  They passed a marriage equality bill unanimously in 2010 almost as an afterthought….they were all chilling being white and having an excellent tolerance to the cold when someone said “oh – hey – everyone’s talking about gay marriage. We should probably do that, show we’re on board.  I mean, there’s not a lot of economic advantage to marriage in a socialist country, but all the same, let’s spread it on.”  And then everyone was all like “aye.”  And that’s it.  Until this summer their Prime Minister was a legally married radical lesbian.  Boom.

IMG_1155It doesn’t even end there, though. Iceland is a geological anomaly.  It’s situated directly on top of the mid-atlantic ridge (that’s how it formed at all, way out here in the ocean) and exists halfway on the N. American tectonic plate and halfway on the Eurasian plate.  As a result – VOLCANOES EVERYWHERE! But mostly under glaciers (lots of flooding).   And because it only recently (compared to other masses) emerged from the ocean, everything is still wild.  Recent (1700s) giant eruptions still have large percentages of the land looking like the lunar landing.  Lava fields as far as the eye can see!!!  They’ve only recently started putting on heavy moss and lichen coats, so the soil in these areas is thin to nonexistent.  Apparently there were some trees in Reykjavik around the time of settlement (870 +/- 2) but SOMEBODY harvested them all (I’m looking at you, original Norwegian Vikings).

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There are some reforestation…or…forestation efforts, rather, but the only viable spots are around the edge of the island as the interior is nothing but highlands and hidden volcanoes waiting to bring forth new basalt.

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And I mentioned the glaciers? And there are a lot of sheep. It’s great. Except the daylight is all kooky through the year.  Like midnight sun in summer and 4 hours of daylight in the depths of winter. But whatever – they eat a lot of fish and that helps. Also they have astounding rates of alcoholism. For coping with that SAD shit, it seems.

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Did I mention the President and Prime Minister are in the phone book and that everyone is called by their first name?

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But ALAS, my friends.  Things haven’t turned out to be quite as lovely as I had hoped.  Everything I say is true but there’s still probably some racism. I can’t be sure because I’m white as hell, too, but this old woman uses the n-word to describe people with dark hair and eyes, like me.  Someone tried to explain how it isn’t the same because it’s like…some…derivative of a word that means black and dark….uhhhhhh……but….I haven’t been able to find an expert on the matter, so…there’s that. Also, as a general rule, where there are white people there is white privilege and racism.

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There’s no history of oppressing people of color specifically in Iceland as far as I know, but they sure as hell cash in on that European whiteness and whatnot (i.e. not being invaded and ruled by US and UK from 1944- 2004, but instead just hosting bases and receiving the benefit of lots of US spending on infrastructure (Keflavik airport).  Call it a hunch, but I feel like if they were an island nation of brown-skinned people with no military they’d be a U.S. territory alongside Puerto Rico.

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The other thing is that for the most “feminist friendly” place on earth, they sure do have a lot of rape.  Iceland has the highest rate of rape of all the Scandinavian countries.  It’s lower than the rate in the US but the rates of official reporting and prosecution are as bad as anywhere else in the world.  In addition there is a similar breakdown in “types of rape” that function to make the rape of someone who is unconscious termed “abuse.”  The penalty for rape (has to be “violent enough”) is the maximum sentence – 16 years – while the penalty for “abuse” is 6 years.

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While this is a stouter punishment than the US typically doles out (though we know harsher punishments don’t prevent crime…), prosecution rates render this effectively meaningless.  I mean, the US used to consider rape a crime punishable by death – if you were the “right kind of father’s property” and not just some white lower class woman….and don’t even bother if you’re a woman of color of any class. It’s symbolic of a false ideal.

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I’ve heard ONE GUY make light of it to the tune of “well we were settled by Vikings, what do you expect?”  and while it’s true that 62% of the women in the original class of settlers were mostly stolen women from the Hebrides and forced into marriage, I mean is that the kind of thing you want to compare yourself to?

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So I bring this up as an interesting contrast point – with the exception of the story I am going to tell you in a minute, I have not been catcalled, grabbed, ogled, groped, hit on inappropriately, “accidentally” brushed up against, or even leered at from a distance…probably.  It was one of the strangest sensations of my life, sadly, to be completely free of that constant worry.  I didn’t have to watch my drink or hang onto my bag for dear life or anything.  It’s so straightforward.  And the people are super-sexually active.  No sex-shaming and slut-shaming.  People just fuck all the time. Safely.  They have real sex-ed.

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So why the high rate of rape? I don’t know.  But I read something that suggests that an unusually large percentage of these rapes involved children under the age of 16 and that rates of rape with male survivors are higher than those of peer nations.  So I’m not really sure what’s going on.  Money isn’t put into researching the crimes and probably half or more of folks who seek help with rape crisis center don’t trust the system enough to press charges and don’t want to go through the ordeal with which we are all so familiar.  I don’t know what the typical reaction to a rape survivor is in this society, but I suppose we could imagine that it’s not exactly welcoming.

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Icelandic Feminist Activist  Hildur – famous for being constantly banned from facebook for publicly posting death threats made against her has a Tumblr called: Men who hate women.  On it she posts misogynistic comments made specifically by Icelandic men.  It was pretty devastating to my whole “Iceland is perfect” theory, but I’d rather know the truth, I guess.  It’s why I started investigating rape in Iceland, so I’m very happy I found it.

http://karlarsemhatakonur.tumblr.com/

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Please enjoy the rest of these photos!! I am so ashamed of how bad of a photographer I am….but I highly recommend seeing it for yourself if you can someday.  You’ll see what I mean. This waterfall is called Skogafoss

IMG_2168This one is called Gullfoss – it means Gold Falls

IMG_2550This is the glacier lagoon – a glacial tongue that leads out to sea.  It’s called Jokulsarlon

IMG_2816Famous lava fields with some excellent layers of snow – in mid-September

IMG_2855Selfoss Waterfall

IMG_2922Basalt sea cliffs near the town Vik — called Reynisfjara

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A bit of glacier melting — It’s called Solheimajokull.

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