The mysterious case of disappearing women in Iceland

In Iceland, women have been a part of the Icelandic fishing fleet for centuries, sometimes alongside men and also alone. They have commanded boats, and been lauded for their abilities. But in present-day Iceland, this history is all but erased; even women working at sea in modern times have been almost invisible. Why did Iceland have a seemingly unrivaled female fishing presence and what happened? Particularly in a country touted as having the greatest gender equality in the world, how and why could this happen? This presentation examines how monopolies, modernity, memory, and power, rooted in social change, fisheries policy, technology, mobility, and economics– including the country’s 2008 dramatic economic crash – can create history and even a present reality.

Margaret Willson is a cultural anthropologist whose current research interests focus on issues relating to Arctic and Northern concerns, including fisheries, gender and small-scale communities. She is affiliate associate professor of anthropology and Canadian studies at the University of Washington and the author of Seawomen of Iceland: Survival on the Edge and Dance Lest We All Fall Down: Breaking Cycles of Poverty in Brazil and Beyond.