An author coming to Kodiak will speak on her book, “Seawomen of Iceland,” which covers the history of women on fishing vessels in Icelandic waters.
Author Margaret Willson has a background in fishing and now works as an affiliate associate professor at the University of Washington with the Department of Anthropology as well as the Arctic Program at the Canadian Studies Center. She published “Seawomen of Iceland: Survival on the Edge” last year with University of Washington Press.
There’s been a lot of debate about what to call women who fish: whether fishers, fisherwomen, or fishermen for example. In this case, the question comes down to clarity. Willson says if she’s going to write about one gender in a particular job, it helps to distinguish between them linguistically. It then comes down to what she should call them.
“People have asked me this. Why do I use the word seawoman? And I’ve explained that that’s because it fits with the Icelandic – the Icelandic the word they use is seaman… although women in the past have generally called themselves seamen.”
Historically, one might expect men to discriminate against women on board a fishing vessel, but Willson said that didn’t happen. Or perhaps if they discriminate at first, they got over it.
“You’re a team. Once you’re there, your life depends on each other, and you become very, very close and the continued discrimination against women going to sea, instead of being from their fellow crewmates, came from people on shore, and it came from men and women, and that continued.”
She says the situation for seawomen shifted around 1900.
“Going to sea became an act where women knew they were going against the tide, as it were, to do it. They knew at that point it was considered a man’s place to be at sea, and so they all had to work their way to get on the boats after that, so there was a distinct change.”
Willson will give a full talk on her book at the Kodiak Seafood and Marine Science Center Wednesday at 6 p.m. The Alaska Sea Grant program invited her to the island with help from the Alaska Marine Conservation Council and the Kodiak Maritime Museum.