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Shock and alarm

I have to say that I was both shocked and alarmed to open the paper today and read that a young woman had been raped in a downstairs toilet at Hótel Saga just after midnight on Friday night [i.e. early Saturday morning]. That just happened to be where AAH was at exactly the same time, enjoying the árshátíð put on by her employer [a popular fast-food chain].

The suspect got away, but staff at the hotel managed to give a good description to police.

Alarmingly, this is not at all an isolated incident. Reports of sexual assaults have skyrocketed over the past couple of years. Women have repeatedly been assaulted and raped in Reykjavík while walking alone late at night. And these reports of rapes in the toilets of bars and discotheques are frightfully, frightfully common. Even during school dances. And in most cases the assailants are unknown to the victims.

It didn’t used to be this way. Reykjavík used to be incredibly safe. I can’t be bothered to frequent the nightlife any more, but when I did, I never thought twice about walking home alone in the middle of the night. It didn’t even occur to me to be afraid. In just a few years, this culture of fear has descended upon us – I absolutely forbid AAH to walk alone at night, even before midnight, and now she also has strict instructions never to go to the toilet by herself if she’s out somewhere.

What happened? I suppose part of it is the pornographization of Western culture. Not to come across as a moral dictator or prude [I’m neither] but I think the extent to which pornography and pornographic images have infiltrated our collective unconscious, all in the name of sexual liberty, is highly alarming. I’m sure I don’t need to cite the usual examples: music videos, Internet porn, etc. The point is that for the younger generation sex has ceased to be something awesome and sacred, and has become a commodity. They’re totally desensitized to the images on MTV for instance. And each time the threshold is lowered I fear we will see more sexual violence.

A couple of weeks ago, a furor erupted here in Iceland over this magazine cover. Actually, it’s not even a magazine, but rather a catalogue released by Penis Mall to advertise confirmation gifts. As some of you may remember, confirmations are a huge deal here in Iceland, a commercial bulldozing on the scale of Christmas, which is currently in full swing. Anyway, the magazine cover features a young confirmation girl [14 years old] with makeup on, in what some would say is a rather suggestive physical position for a 14-year old on the cover of a magazine, featuring high heels and an open mouth. A certain [female] university professor found fault with the cover on her blog, citing a pornographic undertone that was completely inappropriate in this context. What resulted was absolute public hysteria – not against the cover, but against the professor. She was practically tarred and feathered, accused of having a perverted sensibility, and subjected to something akin to a witch hunt, to the point where she saw reason to remove the offensive blog post and to virtually go undercover, refusing to speak to the papers. For merely giving her views on the subject, her reputation was completely slaughtered in the media and online.

I find this both totally bizarre, and incredibly interesting. First, in looking at the magazine cover, I totally get what the professor is saying. There is something very odd and very suggestive about that image. I don’t believe the stylist or photographer had anything perverted in mind when conceiving the shoot, I simply think this is what happens when the images of pornography that are all around us all the time infiltrate the psyche to such an extent that they become commonplace and ‘normal’. What I find particularly interesting, though, was the reaction from the public and the media. The public outrage against the poor woman – who was merely stating her opinion – indicates to me that she hit a pretty sensitive nerve. Otherwise people would have just laughed, shook their heads, and moved on.

Personally I believe that the frightening numbers of sexual assaults are directly linked to the above trend. Not consciously, but subconsciously – which is even more dangerous. I think the witch hunt that occurred here in the wake of the professor’s criticism is highly alarming – because as long as there is passive acceptance and silence, there is enabling and perpetuating of the trend. Freedom of speech needs to be permitted and hysteria has to be recognized as a symptom of something deeper. While it won’t cure the problem, it is at least a nod towards a healthier society.

I haven’t been out yet but I know it’s freezing out there. It’s sunny and beautiful but frigid with strong winds from the north. Yahoo weather says it’s -4°C and feels like -12°C and about to I’m go out for a run in it. Yes, I am probably certifiably insane. Or addicted to endorphins. Or both. Sunrise 07.37, sunset 19.36.