I was delighted, as I’m sure many others also were, to hear the news that, at last, discussions would begin to address the issue of women guizing in Up Helly Aa.
Regardless of which side of the debate you are on, we can all no doubt agree that the time has now come to address this, and a consultation should now begin which must include all parties and individuals who work tirelessly year after year to organise and host Lerwick’s community festival. The achievements of our community have made the imagery of the event famous throughout the world due to how spectacular it is.
The lack of ‘freedom of choice’ for women prompts the discussion, but by ensuring the ‘freedom of choice’ for the minority you take away the ‘freedom of choice for the majority’.
By enforcing change, you take away the ‘freedom of choice’ for those men and women who run the festival in the format they wish, and let us not forget that without these women, Up Helly Aa simply would not happen.
This issue has been apparent for many years but more recently, and very disappointingly, the discussion has taken an extremely toxic nature particularly on social media.
The constant inference that due to our love for our tradition, which we were brought up with and which has played a massive part in shaping our lives, somehow makes us lesser mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, wives, husbands, partners, friends and contributors to our community because we love the format Up Helly Aa currently takes.
Myself and others who wish for there to be no change are constantly told we are supporting misogyny, sexism and discrimination, and actively contribute through our view to fuelling gender based violence. Not only that, we are accused of harming the next generation by stifling our sons’ and daughters’ views and influencing their acceptance of their roles within our community.
I was raised by parents who were heavily involved for years with Up Helly Aa. My parents taught me, through example, that there is no such thing as gender stereotyping. I grew up with a love and passion for Up Helly Aa; it evokes a sense of belonging for me and many others. I have a great sense of pride in not only Up Helly Aa, but in Shetland and its community.
Ironically, I have never ever been made to feel undervalued as a women or mother until now. This has certainly not occurred because of my upbringing or the Up Helly Aa community but by the very people fighting to ‘empower’ women by inclusion to the festival and the relentless angle taken in the pursuit of change.
I feel I no longer have my freedom of speech for fear of being ostracised as do many others who wish for the status quo.
Up Helly Aa has been a part of thousands of people’s lives for over the century. That’s a lot of lasses, who have grown into strong women, raised children, run businesses and have contributed to and shaped the Shetland community – a community we are all incredibly proud to be part of.
How have we managed to become women like this if we had such a poor start in life due to Up Helly Aa? Women’s rights are about empowering ALL women, not empowering some women by criticising other’s beliefs, belittling their role within their communities, and questioning their freedom of choice.
I truly hope that when these parties meet that the discussion by those seeking inclusion base theirs on facts rather than belittling others and making unsubstantiated claims against the community, organisers or participants of past, present or future Up Helly Aas.