Sweden is the country that brands itself on gender equality. So good is the Swedish PR machine that people outside of Sweden believe it and even the Swedes have bought into themselves. It’s hardly astounding then that when the global #MeToo movement accelerated in Sweden, it exploded in society like a molotov cocktail. In all walks of life, in all professions, Swedish women are coming out with testimonies of physical abuse, mental terror, sexual misconduct, rape, harassment, assault, abuse of power – at the hands of men. And it is sending shock waves through the whole of the country.
Today, a piece of research carried out on behalf of Sweden’s largest news channel was released. Over a thousand people were asked questions in relation to the #MeToo phenomena. In answer to the question, ‘I feel that it is over-exaggerated’, 45% of the men answered ‘yes’. In other words, almost half of Swedish men (in this survey) think that the #MeToo movement is exaggerated!
What is this about? Why are there so many men who think that just because they haven’t experienced the problem, the problem doesn’t exist. Is it self preservation? Arrogance? Have they bought in to the Swedish illusion of gender equality? Whatever it is, it would seem that these men lack the ability to empathise with any other perspective on life than their own. They cannot see the situation from another perspective – or relate to the female experience and point of view.
I think it’s a case of minimisation. In psychology, and in cultural awareness training, this is a term that we use to describe people’s behaviour when full denial isn’t an option. In the case of #MeToo, I would guess these men do not deny it. But they do question its legitimacy and frequency. Classic minimisation.
Minimisation can be defined as the downplaying of the significance of an event or emotion. It is a common strategy in dealing with feelings of guilt. Minimisation manifests itself in all sorts of ways, such as saying that a hurtful comment was only a joke or reducing somebody’s feelings by saying ‘it’s no big deal’ or ‘what’s the problem?’.
In this case, minimisation is happening on a society level. It is suggesting that there are just a few bad apples or rogues in an organization when in reality problems are widespread and systemic throughout society. Minimisation in this form is a conscious or subconscious tactic used to manipulate others, and ourselves. Perhaps for the subconscious guilt we men feel for being a part of the system.
Trivialising the experiences of the women is distasteful. I get it that it is scary when people are angry and when information that has been hidden for a long time starts to surface. But playing it down will only undermine the validity of the movement. And this movement needs to last.
A societal change is essential. And we men have an important role in it. We should stop suggesting that the #MeToo movement is over-exaggerated, or that women are using it as revenge, or it is a witch hunt against men. Instead, we should listen to the testimonies. We should be shocked by them. We should not accept it. And we should work to change attitudes towards women in Sweden.
Swedish men – get it together!
If equality is something you are proud of in Sweden – then start by believing what you hear. And be an example to men all over the world – ‘In Sweden, we don’t stand for this. In Sweden, we listen. In Sweden we will change.’