Anthony Jay Olsson: “Why I do believe in Fi?”

16 september 2006

As our 30-day-feminism-project is running out, election patrol finds that we have many more than 30 feminists ready to explain why they vote for – and believe in – the Feminist Initiative. To reach the english speaking guests to this webbsite (and to save ourselves some spare time that we don’t have…), we decided to keep this article by Anthony Jay Olsson, in english. We promise to translate too, after the elections… Until then, have a good read, and spread the word that we are all voting and working for the future of feminism.

Anthony: I became actively involved with Fi just two weeks ago after attending a number of crayfish dinners, where the political situation in Sweden was a hot topic. After a long discussion at the dinner table, an aquaintance asked why I was not campaigning myself. I had thought previously that since I was not a Swedish citizen (I will become a Swedish citizen this autumn, a month after the vote) I had subconsiously thought that it was not my place to become involved. The discussions surprised us into clarifying our views, and as a long term resident of Sweden I did in fact have a strong engagement in the way the country that I plan to stay in for the next election period was governed. The next day I visited the Valstuga and volunteered.

I had contacted Gudrun in September last year to give congratulations on the establishment of the party with a quote from 1970 from the feminist critic Germaine Greer – to give inspiration from one feminist to another.

“I do think that women could make politics irrelevant by some kind of spontaneous cooperative action, the like of which we have never seen, which is so far from people’s ideas of state structure and viable social structure that it seems to them like total anarchy but what it really represents is very subtle forms of inter-relation which does not follow a hierachical pattern which is fundamentally patriachal. The opposite to patriarchy is not matriarchy but fraternity. I think it is women who are going to have to break the spiral of power and find the trick of cooperation.”
(Germaine Greer, 1970)

The quote of course dates back from a different and in some respects more radical time but is still relevant today, if not more relevant. The aspect that most strikes me as an outsider in Sweden is the lack of appreciation of the achievements (unfinished) in Sweden. Sweden was the first country in the world to pass gender parity between the sexes, and have a majority of women in cabinet in 1999 and frequently tops the UN Gender Development Index each year. These steps unfortunately had to led to a certain complancency amongst the political elite.

It is for this reason that the Feminist Initiative is important. Gender issues are complex and discrimination exists everywhere, when you begin to look, one can notice it all over the place and it will begin to drive you crazy. The importance of Feminist Initiative lies within the development of a new political structure and platform that can provide a concrete framework for dismantling these pervasive ideas of inequality. Feminist Initiative is daring and in what we could perhaps call the third or even forth phase of feminism it needs to be.

My own thoughts on feminism have changed over the years as I have encounted concrete discrimination, like women writers not being given the lead article, the lead column, prime position, voice at all, in a number of respected international journals, regardless of whether the editor has been male or female. Instances of women who are experts in the field not being asked for input in roundtables, or sidelined or even worse being given seat at the table due to tokenism. Working with women who have visionary ideas but are not listened to or circumnavigated by men in equal or even lower positions. Being informed of outright sexual harassment by colleagues, demeaning tasks, devalued work load and of course less pay. But not being able to over-ride the treatment or status quo, becuase the status quo is defined by men. Creative women who are defined as difficult, demanding, fractious, emotional, not following protocol, even strange when similiar behaviour in men is percieved as the norm or even admired, particularly in negotiations. Business women who have to fight for their perspective to be applied because their ideas are too new or fresh or different simply because they do not conform to a pre-ordained structure predisposed to men. I used to be more libertarian with my views, due to experimental or artistic licence, but I have to admit that these practices though important are marginal and as I have become more active with the issues of prostitution and trafficking I am more likely to take a more radical perspective.

This is the first time in Sweden that I have been able to vote for the county and city. I voted in the European Parliamentary elections in 2004 and I voted Green, simply because I think it is important to have an alternate voice in the European parliament when it comes to environmental issues because the environment and European space in general is ever expanding and cross border networks can really make a substantial change, rivers do not flow though just one country, a sea surrounds many coastlines and forests are not trimmed neatly at the check-point.

The same is true for gender politics. Gender Equality statistics are competitive, it is no surprise that the Nordic countries vie for the top five places in the GDI; they are neighbours. The establishment of gender based, anti-discrimanative politics should be key to all developments. Unfortunately this is not the case now, most presidents, monarchs, prime ministers, party leaders, parliamentarians, business leaders, executives, CEOs and public figures, even in the relatively “gender equal” examples of the Nordic countries are male. That “maleness” permeates all policy, especially foreign policy, that is the nature of power politics today. I found the situation last year when F! became a political party extremely interesting from a media point of view. The internal struggles of the party to become a party – which could lead from common agendas spanning the many differents political colours and feminist analytical standpoints – were as I saw it a completely normal state of affairs. If the open struggles had been made by men the opposition within the party would have been seen as any other disagreement which happens regulary in politics but because the executive board of Fi was predominatly women the media attacked the leadership as a group of disgruntled, muddled, over emotional, disfunctional harpees who could not possibly attempt to govern the country.

Foreign policy is a good example to illustrate the differences and semantic usage is important here, soft security is co-operational, the environment, trade, civil society building. Soft being associated with woman. Hard security is the tough stuff like bombs, war, general incursion and retaliation. Men are associated with “hard things”. The general rule being that in negotaions of “hard” security women are excluded. This exclusion means that decisions are made that directly effect civilians, women and children and future refugees and asylum seekers that are based on quick fixes of might instead of long term fixes of development. HIV/AIDS, genital mutilation, sex education, refuge and abuse are always topics addressed after the war not during the war. The irony is that rape is a tool that is used by not only militia in war but soldiers fighting against the war, prostitution always increases after a war when the military bases for protection, the NGOs for aid and UN agencies for transitional stability move in because most of the staff seconded to foreign lands are male. Sweden’s law on prostitution is extra-territorial which means that soldiers abroad of Swedish nationality can be tried for crimes on another´s land but Sweden (apart from the Phillipines and S.Korea) is the only country to have adopted such a law to the legal code.

Fi can make a real difference in this area by raising the voice louder than it has previously been raised. Ideas do not just need to be heard – they need to be implemented and mainstreamed into society through government and private company action.

If I compare Sweden to England, gender policy, inclusion and anti-discrimination policy is far ahead, therefore perhaps more frustrating because one is closer to the final goal. Even though the goals keep shifting and are continuously under attack. The one difference though, which is glaring to a
n outside, a foreigner, an immigrant is the treatment of the other. Sweden until recently was a homogenous country – now 10% of the population represent a more heterogenous mix, I think that due to the welfare construction here there is a general fear of the welfare tourist. A kind of ridculous fear if you figure in how difficult Swedish society is to penetrate for someone who is not Swedish. Even Nordic friends of mine do not adjust immediately to Sweden. This difficulty stems from many arenas, the Swedish language being one. I wonder when I sit at Migration Verket how does somebody who is female, muslim, from Albania, who doesn’t speak English cope with the matrix of uppehållstillstånd? Mary Kingsley once said that “the Black man is woman” of her time in Africa where she discovered the liberation of being white over being female. She meant that from a colonial perspective the black man is secondary in his own country like woman is secondary. In Sweden when trying to join the job market, with a strange name, with the ability to speak maybe five other languages fluently (but not Swedish), with a degree or vocational education that represents high standard in one’s home country but doesn’t mean anything in one’s host country; how does one cope? The news this morning on SVT1 explained that recent research from the Karolinska Institute states: not well at all.

Fi can change this. Immigrant men understand this from personal conversation whilst out campaigning this week, because in Sweden at present they are secondary, in a an unusual female role in a Western country, emasculated, and immigrant women are largely invisible. Why are most of them here? They are here because of a lack of opportunity elsewhere due to war, famine, transitional economy to name a few, and Fi understands this reversal. Fi demonstrates the need for gender change that effects everyone´s position for the better not just the select few of white educated Swedish women but society at large.

It is because of all of the above that I campaigned for Fi and ironically, because I do not have full political rights in Sweden yet, even though I work for a division of the government I voted for Fi in the city and county elections. But in four years time I will be back with a full vote for the parliament.

Anthony Jay Olsson

Anthony Jay Olsson moved to Sweden in the summer of 2003. He has degrees in Anthropology and Gender Studies and has just completed his second Masters specialising in prostitution and trafficking. He has worked in academic publishing for many years and is a Contributing Editor for the Norwegian arts and culture magazine Hotrod. He currently works for the Council of Baltic Sea States / Östersjöländernas råd (UD) here in Stockholm.

Also please note: Anthony Jay Olsson is writing this as a private individual in a private capacity, and in no way represents the views or policies of the CBSS of the Foreign Ministries of the Baltic Sea States.