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 5 – The Legend 

Since March 8th was International Women’s Day, I  am writing a series on Great Swedish Women, past and present: women with strength and passion, 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.

Part 5 – the vengeful Viking Blenda.

In the county of Småland in Southern Sweden, there is a legend about a brave Viking woman named Blenda. According to legend, the menfolk of Småland were at war in Norway, leaving the women and children alone and defenceless. The Danes learned of this and chose this moment to invade and attacked the region.  Blenda was a woman of noble descent and she decided to rally all the womenfolk in the hundreds of Konga, Albo, Kinnevald, Norrvidinge and Uppvidinge. The women armies assembled on the Brávellir, which according to Smålandish tradition is located in Värend.

The women approached the Danes and told them how much they were impressed with Danish men. They invited the men to a banquet where they were provided with food and drink. After a long evening, the Danish warriors fell asleep and the women killed every single one of them with axes and staffs.

When the king returned, he bestowed new rights on the women. They acquired equal inheritance with their brothers and husbands, the right always to wear a belt around their waists as a sign of eternal vigilance and the right to beat the drum at weddings amd wear armour.

There have been various disputes about the validity of this legend, if and when it happened. One theory is that it happened around the year 500. At this time, female soldiers existed in Sweden. Called Shieldmaidens, three hundred are known to have fought during the great Battle of Bråvalla in 750.

Blenda is perhaps the first known woman in a long line of strong Swedish women who defend themselves from aggressors and contribute to better equal rights between the sexes.

Great Swedish Women Part 3 – The Creator

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.

astrid lindgren

Part 3: writer Astrid Lindgren, creator of the strongest girl in the world.

When I moved to Sweden, I vaguely knew  about writer Astrid Lindgren. It wasn’t until I arrived here that I understood what impact she has had on generations of Swedish children, and not least on generations of girls. The creator of fictional character Pippi Longstocking showed girls that it is ok to be strong, to be independent, to be different and to be the best.

Astrid Lindgren grew up in Näs, Sweden, and many of her books are based on her family and childhood memories and landscapes. Her most famous character Pippi Longstocking was invented for her daughter to amuse her while she was ill in bed. She wrote many classic stories – the most famous being  Emil in Lönnerberga, Karlsson on the Roof, the Six Bullerby Children, Mio my Mio, The Brothers Lionheart and, my personal favourite Ronja the Robber’s Daughter. Her fiction formed the backdrop of the childhood of many Swedish children and, even today for children around the globe. She is the fourth most published childrens’ author in the world and has to date sold around 144 million books in 95 different languages. She received many awards during her life and was known for her support for  children’s and animal rights and her opposition to corporal punishment.

Astrid is a national icon in Sweden and her image currently decorates the 20 kronor note. At her funeral in Stockholm’s Cathedral in 2002, Sweden’s King and Queen and other Royals were in attendance reflecting her importance and contribution to Swedish culture.

Astrid Lindgren gave strength to young Swedish girls and helped them to believe in themselves. In the confident words of the strongest girl in the world, Pippi Longstocking, :

‘I’ve never done that before so  I’m sure I can do it’.