The Up Helly Aa festival in Shetland sees men dressed as Vikings marching through the streets before setting fire to a replica longship while women participants prepare food and organise parties. After complaints of groping surfaced from a number of women, the Scottish National Party’s, Maree Todd has called for a radical reformation of the event, in line with modern egalitarian principles.
It is deeply distressing to read the accounts of sexual abuse and harassment at the Up Helly Aa festival. We know that violence against women is made possible by the gender-stereotyped world we live in.
Decision-makers in Shetland should not underestimate their responsibility to implement change and ensure this does not continue to be a longstanding consequence of the festival.
The safety of women and girls must be prioritised in all future decisions relating to Up Helly Aa.”
Ms Todd claimed that change was overdue, adding:
It is essential that Up Helly Aa committees across Shetland, and the Shetland Islands council address and reflect on their role here.
Just last year the council backed the Lerwick Up Helly Aa committee’s continued exclusion of women in squads, ruling that the decision was in line with the Equality Act 2010. This is unacceptable — the goal should always be to eliminate gender inequality, not perpetuate it.”
Alistair Carmichael, the MP for the Orkney & Shetland and former Scottish secretary, was also alarmed by the accounts. He said:
I have attended a lot of Up Helly Aa celebrations over the years and in my experience they have always been great community occasions where people of all ages and backgrounds have come together to celebrate.
It runs completely contrary to the spirit of that for anyone to be made to feel unsafe or to have to exclude themselves from the festivities because they feel unsafe. It is unacceptable for any person to have a sense of ‘sexual entitlement’ on Up Helly Aa night or any other night.”
Sally Huband, an author and Shetland resident, raised the concerns in her essay Northern Raven. She wrote:
I know of some women who have stopped going to the halls for the evening entertainment as they are tired of being sexually harassed.
A women told me her vagina was grabbed without her consent during the festival. One account of a more serious sexual assault made me feel sick to my stomach. It is clear that some men equate the Lerwick Up Helly Aa with a night of sexual entitlement.”
Another resident said:
Every single Up Helly Aa I get touched by men.”
Shetland Islands council denied supporting the exclusion of women from the Lerwick event. A spokeswoman said:
The council cannot dictate to an organisation that it must change its membership criteria. The council is committed to gender equality and is proactively focused on creating a gender-positive employment culture with zero-tolerance towards the perpetrators of violence against women.”
J4MB, of course, condemns any sexual assaults – but we also condemn hysterical responses to unconfirmed allegations of sexual assault. We also notice that Live Action Role Playing (LARPing) is a majority-male space (with healthy female minorities that suggests it’s not an unwelcoming community), and question whether all this fuss is just more feminist aggression against something that men like.
Original post to be found at LaughingAtFeminists.com.
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