Wearing The Dress I Was Raped In - Interviewing Instagram Star Amalie

Instagram activism is something that, in today's social media-obsessed world, was bound to happen.  Using the platform as a method for social activism is evidently highly effective, and no one utilises it quite like Amalie. The 21-year-old is a woman who uses her vast following to talk about rape culture, sexual assault and gender inequality in the modern world. She is unashamed of presenting her views to the world, and her thousands of followers hang eagerly on her every word.

The Other Half talked to Amalie, of scandanaviandreamgirl about systematic gender based violence and why she wears the dress she was raped in. 

Tell us about why you started your Instagram activism?

I have always been interested in politics and since I was a teen I've always been a part of politically engaged environments - both in terms of school and my life outside school.

I went to a high school called Det frie Gymnasium, translated “The Highschool of Freedom”, where we practised democracy. We students decided everything from what the canteen should serve (biodynamic vegan foods of course) to who our principal should be. We had so much influence and were all creators of our school and we took our job seriously. We learnt to take responsibility for our surroundings. We learnt, to first say “fuck the system” and then take action in order to change it. They believed we could.

In that sense, activism has always been something I’ve participated in and is something that's very close to my heart.

In terms of cyber activism on online platforms and on Instagram in particular, I was a late bloomer! But when I made my Instagram a few years ago, it made sense to post about social injustice matters. I took it to another level after the rape. My voice has definitely gotten stronger. It simply changes when you have experienced something traumatising on your own body. It adds another layer to it, a depth of understanding, because you know what it does to you, how it changes you.

For the same reason, we should all listen to each other more carefully:  When women speak up about sexism, men must listen. When people of colour speak up about racism and white privilege, white people must listen. When rape survivors speak up about rape, people without any experience with sexual violence must listen. It’s all about acknowledging each other's worlds and realities and recognise, that we all are a part of the oppressing system. Before we accept that, we cannot change it.

You talk about how you still wear the dress you were raped in, would you mind telling us a little bit about that?

I could have tossed it, and connected the dress to the rape. But I didn’t. I chose to hold it tighter, to wear it more often, to embrace it even more. I chose to walk, to dance and to drink beers wearing it, just like I had done the night I was raped.
I did this for several reasons. First of all, it was for my own healing process - I made the dress become a healing tool. The dress is the concrete object that proves that I was able to separate the things from one another and not giving into rape myths, victim blaming and stigma. I was not raped because of the way I was dressed, because I was drinking or dancing. It is very simple: I was raped, because of a rapist.  

It has been my way of reclaiming my body.

I also wear it to create awareness. To try to fight victim-blaming and rape myths. To show other rape survivors that it truly doesn’t matter what you wore or didn’t. I am trying to educate people through my story, and create a space where we can actually talk about rape.
The third and most important reason why I still wear the dress and keep giving interviews about it, is to create a space for myself, where I can challenge people to zoom out from my story, my dress and see my story as a part of bigger one: The horrific story, that 1 out of 3 women experience physical or sexual violence. Violence against women is a global and systemic issue, FN describes it as an epidemic.

You openly talk about how when you first talked to a magazine about your rape and the dress, the editor (a white middle-class man) refused to print the photos. Could you talk to us a little about why this is so problematic?

Yes. I had my friend and photographer Birna Schram to take some beautiful and powerful pictures of me wearing the dress. I was going to write the piece and send the pictures along. I heard from my contact person, that the pictures might not be printed alongside the story anyway. I assumed this was a mistake and found the editor’s email and sent him a note and my pictures. I wrote the editor twice, he didn’t reply so I tracked down his phone number and gave him a call. At this point he had had the pictures for two weeks. He said he had seen them, but that it was too late - the story was already being printed. I got stubborn. Why hadn’t he made sure the pictures were being printed? He said that he as an editor “should consider what message he puts out there” - quoting. Then I got angry. He was super mean over the phone, and basically implemented/suggested, that I wore a bodycon dress and got raped, what could I have expected? He thought the story would make more sense for the reader without seeing me, my figure and how I look.
I was in shock and asked if it was possible for me to withdraw the story. One week later, the story was printed and they had made some ugly illustrations of a woman wearing a dress, standing in sexual poses.
The issue here has more layers to it.
Just to touch upon a few: He slutshamed me, he victim blamed me, and he was just in general representing the worst of the western rapeculture. He firmly believed that you as a victim/survivor of rape has a responsibility. He supported the idea of when women are dressing sexy and showing off their figure, they automatically give up control and allow men to feel entitled to our bodies - and then rape may occur, because hey, men can’t control themselves (which is just another fucked up stereotype about men that is indeed harming). He believed, that my story stood stronger without the pictures, because then you couldn’t see how short the dress was and how I looked. Idiot.

Amalie in the dress.

Amalie in the dress.

Obviously, we need to start with the education of young men in terms of stopping rape culture, but what do you think we can do more immediately to prevent it?

To be frank, I don’t know if there is any quick solutions. I believe the change has to happen in our mindsets and this takes a bigger awakening, because it criticises everything we have been taught about sex, love, man and woman. I believe the first step towards a bigger understanding, is to understand that rape happens all around us and normal people with normal jobs and normal behaviours, rape. Not monsters who attack us on our way home, but our dates, boyfriends, friends, teammates, colleagues, family members etc. We need to listen to the stories of rape survivors and connect it to the narratives of gender stereotypes. Then we need to zoom out and understand how these voices and stories is a part of a bigger oppressing system.

Something else we need to start doing, is to educate kids early on. We need to let kids know, that they own their bodies and that it is never okay to force physical contact. We can all help out on this. A quick example of this; I spent my Christmas break with two kids that constantly grabbed my boobs and butt: I educated them about consent. I simply told them, that they should always ask for permission if they wanted to touch, and respect if I said no.  I also told them, that they also could decide for themselves and their own bodies. We as adults have a responsibility here. Many parents are not being aware enough. For instance, at family gatherings many kids are forced to give family members or other hugs, even if they don’t want to. Not cool.

We also need to educate teenagers -  it should be a part of their curriculum. Young people should learn and know about sexism, consent culture, basic human respect, bystander intervention and how to think critical about the media’s messages when it comes to love, sex and affection.  And yes, I believe we need to educate boys and men more. For female rape survivors, 98.1% of the perpetrators are men - for male survivors 93% of the perpetrators are men, so we have a systemic problem with men raping. We need extra education about fragile masculinity, party culture, rape culture and consent culture for boys (and men).  As it looks now, we are low-key teaching girls and women not to get raped, instead of teaching boys and men not to. We are basically telling girls that it's their own responsibility not to get raped,  and therefore if we do, they carry some of the blame which keep the survivors from reporting and to speaking up about their rape - which leads to rape being an invisible issue, because many can’t hear or see it.
There is no overnight solution, but we can all take responsibility and do our bit: educate ourselves, educate people around us, check ourselves, our friends, make sure our schools take these issues seriously etc. The change must come from the people. But how cool could if we made raping and harassing girls the most uncool thing ever overnight.

You talk about all sorts of issues surrounding women’s bodies and their objectification on your Instagram, when did you first become aware yourself that something needed to change?
I have become aware several times and I am sure I will keep on getting more aware.
As a 4 year old, I learnt that I was supposed to be happy and not cry, when a boy forced a kiss on my lips - the nursery teacher explained that I was silly, I should be happy and say thank you: “You should be happy that the boys want to kiss you”.
As a 5  year old, I learnt that the boys were allowed to scratch their balls, but I wasn’t allowed to scratch my vagina, because “girls don’t do that”.
As a 6 year old, I was told by a class mate’s dad that I had enormous hips - but it was good thing, because men find that sexy and I was going to be great at giving birth. Thank you for sexualising my 6 year old body, sir.
As a 10 year old, I first heard about girls being forced to have their vaginas sewn together. I was horrified.  
As a 11 year old, I learnt about girls at my own age being forced to marry old men.
As a 12 year old, I learned that my nipples were not supposed to show through my t-shirt.
As a 13 year old, I learnt that vaginas were ugly and shameful, but penises were drawn everywhere and everybody talked loudly about them.
As a 14 year old, I learnt that it was disgusting not to shave your armpits.
As a 15 year old, I realised my body image was completely fucked up due to society’s standard of how I was suppose to look and feel.
As a 16 year old, I learnt that it was easier for the guys in my class to achieve higher grades than us girls, even though they didn’t put the same effort into it.
As a 17 year old, I learnt that women aren’t allowed to have an open sexuality: I went to my doctor to get checked for chlamydia and got slut-shamed for the number of men I had been having sex with.
As a 18 old year old, I was raped, and learnt that the government could basically decide whether I was raped or not, even when there was video evidence. I learnt that I had no control, that survivors have to go through so much crap and that we are living in systems that simply don't take rape seriously.
As a 19 year old, I learnt that pictures of photoshopped, flawless, skinny, white girls in lingerie are totally acceptable on social media, but fat women, women with disabilities, women of colour, trans women, gay women are not acceptable, and they're especially not acceptable when wearing lingerie.    
As a 20 year old, I’ve learnt that these examples are all a part of the same system that oppresses girls and women, and give us no right to own our own bodies.
As a 21 year old, I’ve learnt that many people are seriously convinced that men and women are treated equally, that what we teach kids are not harmful, that men and women gets paid the same, that violence against women is only something that happens in other countries, that feminism is bullshit. What the fuck, we got work to do.

What is in your opinion the biggest issue facing women today?
We need to keep in mind that we have so many battles to fight - class and race has a lot to say here, if not everything.
If I should mention one thing I believe all women have in common is that our bodies are not liberated, we still don’t have the power over our own bodies. We are living in a world where around 120 million girls have been raped or sexually assaulted. We are living in the world where femicides are being normalised. We are living in a world where we are seen as less worthy, because we were born with a vagina between our legs.  
Even here in the western part of the world, we are facing huge setbacks. Just look at the right to free abortion that is being gambled with. Look at Russia, that now allows domestic violence again. We are playing games with women’s bodies, like it’s no big deal.

What do you think is unique about Instagram as a platform for change?
We have to remember, that Instagram as a platform is not entirely inclusive, as you will need a device and a WiFi connection to be a part of it. The voices we need to hear the most, from the places the biggest change needs to occur, are still not being represented. With that being said, it does give the people who are fortunate enough to use it, a voice.
We are no longer limited to the voices of people who are given certain platforms - like people onTV, in the newspapers, books etc. Before social media platforms, a lot of people never had the opportunity to voice their stories, experiences, perspectives, opinions, beliefs, realities. But now we can also hear the 18 year old girl with disabilities who lives in South America and who is being triple marginalized. In that sense, social media platforms are important tools. We have so many online communities that are so important. Just look at the Women’s March: A movement that started online with only planning to march in DC Washington that spread across the whole globe. Social media platforms allow us to organise, which is crucial in order to create the social change we need so desperately. What I specifically like about Instagram, is that Instagram is a photo driven platform. Pictures can be powerful and attract attention in a way that written text can.

What inspires you to keep going when you receive negative attention on Instagram?
Hahaha, I got compared to Hitler once - the most disturbing with this was that it was meant as a compliment. I do get negative comments, but little compared to the positive ones. To be honest, the negative comments don’t really bother me. Often the negative comments are poorly formatted and make absolutely no sense context wise. If the comments are well put together and I sense there’s actually curiosity behind the comment, I take my time to read it and I reply.  If the comments are straight up harassment and attack either my followers or myself, I just block them. Simple as that. I block around 5-10 profiles a day, depending on how active I am.  I am often impressed of how many of my followers take the conflict with people and trolls writing the non-constructive comments on my posts. I always get surprised and amazed and feel like a have a whole team behind me.

But the thing that keeps me going, keeps me posting, keeps me doing projects, keeps me using my voice, is that I am aware of my privilege.
I am white, I am healthy, I have wifi connection, I have clothes on my body and food on the table.
Even in my rape I was privileged - even compared to other girls and women in my own country.
I was raped in Costa Rica during a travel in 2014, I reported the rapist, and traveled back home. I was never afraid of meeting him on the street, at a party, at brunch at my friend’s place. This is a privilege many women in my own country don’t have - as over 70% percent of rapes is committed by somebody they already know. I am able to sleep, I am not suicidal, I am functioning, I can make love, I can go to school.  Again, something most survivors can’t. And if we zoom out: I can speak openly about my rape and rapeculture, without being killed, punished or excluded from society - a privilege many of my fellow sisters across the globe are not able to.
That is what keeps me going. If I can’t talk about all these issues, who will? Who can?

Your instagram is really popular, do you feel any pressure having that kind of influence?
I don’t really consider my Instagram popular. And then again, sometimes I realise there are actually people behind all the numbers.  Recently,  I uploaded a post before I went to bed and woke up with over 12k likes and the post had reached around 476.000 people, which is a lot for me. In situations like this, I get overwhelmed and have to pinch my arm and realise that I am actually able to get through to people, which I’m of course truly amazed and grateful for.
I believe it is very important to stay authentic. Unless there’s any statistics in the content, I don’t prepare my post much or have a fixed strategy when I write the content. It’s more like I feel this fire  inside of me and I know what I want to post.

It must also be really inspiring and amazing to realise so many people are interested in what you’re saying?
I get super inspired by my own followers. And I realise how many young girls, women and men we are passionate about the same causes. We are literally an army. Just a really nice one with so much love, creativity and glitter.
And we need this army, because we are facing hard times, where the most marginalized groups of women are going to be affected the most. It is not longer enough to attend a march once in awhile and use the right hashtags online. It is time to act, every fucking single day - continuously. It is time to talk classism, race, sexuality and gender.