When Swedish men trivialise the problem

Metoo

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.’

Great Swedish Women Part 4 – The Fighter

Since March 8th was International Women’s Day, I  am writing series on Great Swedish Women, past and present: women with strength and passion, women with a voice, women who create change. For seven days, I am writing about these women, one per day. I hope you want to join me in celebrating them.

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Part 4 – handball player and social media warrior Linnéa Claesson.

When Linnéa Claesson was 12 years old, she was on-line chatting with a guy who she though was the same age as her. When she turned on her camera, she was greeted by an older man masturbating to her.

It is impossible to imagine what must have run through 12 year old Linnéa’s mind and it’s horrendous to think that she had to experience it. For Linnéa, it was the start of years of ongoing net abuse and social media hate. And one day she decided to not take it any more. She decided to fight back.

Linnéa Claesson is one of Sweden’s most accomplished handball players on elite level and has won, for example, gold in the handball World Championships. After matches, she typically gets unsolicited messages from men on social media which include sexual propositions, pornographic comments about her body, physical threats and penis photographs. Linnéa decided to retaliate, and set up an Instagram account called ‘assholesonline’ where she takes a screenshot of the comments and how she has answered them, often using humour as her weapon. Here’s an example:

‘My fantasy: Me, you and another girl licking you until you scream. Maybe a bubble bath. What’s your fantasy?

Linnéa’s answer?

‘My fantasy: Me, you and another girl kicking you until you scream. Maybe a blood bath.’

In responding to the comments, Linnéa wants to take back the conversation and show those harrassing her, and other women, that she is not ashamed and that she is in control. The reaction she receives from the men is often angry and aggressive and not infrequently leads to threats on her life. In a recent interview, she said,

‘I have to do this, even if I’m scared. I have to be brave. Generations after me shouldn’t have to face the same thing.

Linnéa Claesson is not only a fighter on the playing field, she is a fighter in many other aspects. She fights against the sexual harrassment of women and in doing so she is trying to create a debate around this problem. The ultimate goal – to change society’s attitude and view of women and create a positive change. In her own words,

‘We should stand up for each other and when we see something wrong we should challenge it. I think that this is important.’

Here is Linnéa’s Instagram account  assholesonline.