A book-essay and reflections on Margaret Willson’s book: Seawomen of Iceland: Survival on the Edge


This essay gives a summary and my reflections about Margaret Willson’s book, focusing on women, women’s conditions, and gender relations in the Icelandic fisheries and other sea-related industries. The author’s background as an American anthropologist, a hobby-diver, and a “traveller” colors the form and content of the texts and narratives. The book covers women, and to some degree also men’s lives during several centuries, from the 1700s until today. We learn about household and community life and women’s lives at sea, as well as the national and political conditions of Iceland that was under the rule of Denmark until 1944. These days, the quota regime is important for the fishing practices. One of the main points of the essay is that Willson’s book gives a unique and valuable empirical contribution of women to the Icelandic fisheries that play an important role for Iceland as a nation. Another point of the essay is that books like Willson’s book can inspire others to write a book from their own countries. A third point is that more knowledge about women fishers and other seawomen may be an important step to improve their conditions.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. Bratrein, Håvard Dahl. 1976. Det tradisjonelle kjønnsrollemønstret i Nord-Norge [The traditional gender role pattern in northern Norway]. In: Forfatterkollektiv [Collected authors] (eds.) Drivandes kvinnfolk – kvinner, lønn og arbeid [Energetic and enterprizing women – Women, wages and labour], pp. 21–38. Tromsø: Universitetsforlaget.

  2. Elstad, Åsa. 2004. Kystkvinner i Norge [Coastal women in Norway]. Kristiansund: KOM forlag. 168 pp.

  3. Gerrard, Siri. 1983. Kvinner i fiskeridistrikter- fiskerinæringas bakkemannskap (Women in fishery districts – The ground crew of the fishery). I Bjørn Hersoug (red.): Kan fiskerinæringa styres? (Can the fisheries be governed?), pp. 217–241 Oslo: Novus forlag.

  4. Gerrard, Siri. 2017. Margaret Willsons bok Seawomen of Iceland. Survival on the Edge. Norsk antropologisk tidsskrift, Vol. 28, 03–04: pp. 256–263. DOI: 10.18261, ISSN 1504-2898-2017-03-04-0.

  5. Grezetic, Brenda. 2004. Women fishes these days. Halifax: Fernwood. 130 pp.

  6. Grønbech, Dagrunn. 2010. Kystkvinnen – fiskerbonde og omsorgsbærer [Coastal woman – fisher-farmers and caregivers]. Mosjøen: Helgeland Museum. 192 pp.

  7. Holtedahl, Lisbet. 1986. Hva mor gjør er alltid viktig. Om å være kvinne og mann i ei nordnorsk bygd i 1970åra (What mother does is always important. To be a woman and a man in a North Norwegian community in the 1970s). Oslo: Universitetsforlaget. 224 pp.

  8. Lønnå, Elizabeth. 2010. Sjøens kvinner – ute og hjemme [The women of the sea – away and at home]. Oslo: Spartacus forlag. 365 pp.

  9. Munk-Madsen, Eva. 1990. ‘Skibet er ladet med køn’: enanalyse af kønsrelationer og kvinders vilkår i fabriksskibsflåden [‘The ship is loaded with gender’: An analysis of gender relations and the conditions of women in the factory fleet]. Hovedoppgave [Master’s dissertation]. Norges Fiskerihøgskole (NFH). Tromsø: NFH and UiT. 213 pp.

  10. Munk-Madsen, Eva. 1996. Fiskerkøn [Fishergender]. Avhandling til Dr Scient-graden i fiskerivitenskap [Doctoral thesis for Dr. Scient degree in Fisheries Sciences], Norges Fiskerihøgskole. 169 pp.

  11. Poulain, Catherine. 2016. Le grand marin. Paris: Editions de l’Olivier 384 pp.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Poulain, Catherine. 2018. Women of the sea. London: Jonathan Cape 304 pp.

    Google Scholar 

Download references


Warm thanks are given to Randi Kaarhus, one of the editors of Norsk antropologisk tidsskrift (NAT), who first invited me to review Willson’s book, and to Universitetsforlaget, which publishes NAT, for their permission to publish this review essay. I also thank Magnfríður Júlíusdóttir, Derek Johnson and Emmanuelle Quillerou and the reviewers of the journal Marine Studies (MAST) for their good advice on editing the English version for a wider readership. Warm thanks are due to Catriona Turner for translating the text from Norwegian to English.

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Siri Gerrard.

Additional information

This paper belongs to Topical Collection: (En)Gendering Change in Small-scale Fisheries and Fishing Communities in a Globalized World

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Gerrard, S. A book-essay and reflections on Margaret Willson’s book: Seawomen of Iceland: Survival on the Edge. Maritime Studies 17, 233–238 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40152-018-0103-y

Download citation


  • Women fishers and other seawomen
  • Gender relations
  • Gender perspectives
  • Work
  • Iceland