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Even in Sweden

So, I’m accustomed to thinking that, while no country is perfect, the Scandanavians have gotten a bunch of stuff right. I’m accustomed to thinking this is especially true on gender issues, where woman have a more prominent public role than really anywhere else that readily comes to mind. Then, this morning, the New York Times publishes This distressing piece about the Swedes.

It says, in relevant part:

We’ve had to change our picture of ourselves in Sweden,” said Maria Carlshamre, a former television journalist who acknowledged last summer to viewers, against the station’s wishes, that her husband had abused her for a decade. “We are not the gender equality champions of the world.”

The turmoil began a year ago with the Amnesty International report, which took Sweden to task for failing to adequately curb violence against women and help victims cope with their situations. The organization also cited spotty prosecutions, vague statistics, old-fashioned judges and unresponsive local governments.

The report praised Sweden’s laws as “unambiguous,” but warned that “strongly worded legislation is not in itself a sufficient instrument to ensure women’s right to a life without violence.”

The group concluded that acts of violence against women had spiraled upward in Sweden in the last 15 years, a jump that could not be explained away as merely a greater willingness by women to report the incidents. The number of police reports filed for assault against women increased 40 percent in the 1990’s, according to the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention.

In the category of outrageous messenger-shooting, this is what happened to the woman brave enough to shake the country awake:

Ms. Carlshamre said she was fired because her bosses, fearing slander charges, had warned that the topic was off limits. She then ran for a seat in the European Parliament on an anti-violence platform, and won. “Now you can’t talk about battered women like ‘them’ anymore,” she said. “It’s no longer about poor women on the fringe of society.”

(Emphasis mine.)

So what is going on here? Is the whole edifice of relative gender equality in Scandanavia, or at least Sweden, a facade? I’m guessing not. More likely, I think, the lesson to take is that the barrier between the public and private is stubborn, and that it is possible to make great gains in where women stand in relation to men in public, without corresponding gains in private.

It seems strange to me that men could become accustomed to seeing women as equals, professional peers, bosses, legislators and judges, etc. out in the world, and then could close the bedroom door and beat their wives and girlfriends. Can it really be the same guys that treat female colleagues with respect, then hit those they profess to love? Or is this a secret backlash; a large population of incorrigibles who may have to give the appearance of accepting women in public, but vent their rage at the changing world on the one woman they can get behind closed doors?

I’m afraid it’s the former, or some of both. I make assumptions about how my male peers treat women generally from how I see them treat their female colleagues. Maybe the two are more independent than I have let myself believe.

19 thoughts on Even in Sweden

  1. I think your last paragraph is a very astute one, and its an assumption that many people make.

    My mother left my father because he was abusive. His family didn’t believe her because after seeing one of his uncles slap his cousin, he punched his uncle. (He was 14 at the time.) He also treated every woman he saw outside the home very respectfully. Lots of ma’ams and opening doors and other chivalrous actions. However at home he was violently angry and threatened for years to “beat some sense” into my mother. It was like Jekyll and Hyde and from what I’ve talked to with other people, it’s fairly typical. For the year and a half after my mother left my father she was the house manager for a domestic violence shelter, so I heard many stories of abuse when I was in junior high school. I know it changed me, but I don’t feel scarred by the experience.

  2. As someone who has spent a little bit of time living and studying in Sweden (about half a year), this isn’t completely surprising to me. First, not sure you’re aware, but Sweden is one of the top importers of women in the sexual slave trade (from the former Soviet states and from SE Asia). So part of the escalating violence might be attributable, in part, to that. (For a particularly good take on this, watch Lilja 4-Ever by Swedish director Lukas Moodysson.)

    But I think the main explanation for this has to do with the way that “gender equality” was achieved in Sweden. I’m sure you’ve noticed that in the U.S., even people that have no problem talking about oppression and discrimination get a LOT more uncomfortable when you start talking about privilege. (You know–the people that are with you all the way when you talk about how awful it is that racial discrimination still exists, but get REALLY defensive and deny that they–or anyone in their family, or any of their friends–have ever benefitted from white privilege.) Sweden is no different.

    Here, in the U.S., many of the gains that (middle-class white) women have made have not necessarily gone hand-in-hand with a decrease in (middle-class white) men’s privilege. So now more and more women work outside the home in fulfilling careers–but it hasn’t been met with a large-scale movement of men picking up more hours of domestic labor (cooking, scrubbing the toilet, etc). So you start to see books about “the second shift” for women who work and how poorer, browner women being brought in to fill the gap. It’s kind of like having your cake and eating it, too–(some) women are less oppressed but you’re not directly threatening the dominant group’s privilege.

    In Sweden, women have much more equality (particularly in an economic sense). Policies that give women a “motherhood allowance”, that encourage family-friendly work schedules (lots of part-time work), that sort of thing. But once again, this is a vision of equality that has been achieved not by men stepping into the gap to pick up half of the traditional “women’s work,” but by the government doing so. In other words, lots of women work part-time so they can have both careers and families–but not a lot of men do. Many of those family-friendly jobs are in the public sector, not the private sector. So when you say:

    It seems strange to me that men could become accustomed to seeing women as equals, professional peers, bosses, legislators and judges, etc. out in the world, and then could close the bedroom door and beat their wives and girlfriends…

    I see what you’re saying, but I also think as long as you attempt to right gender discrimination without addressing gender privilege, “paradoxes” such as the one you found will continue to exist. Depressing, but true.

  3. Maybe as women get more power outside the home, they become more bitchy at home? Or maybe, now more women feel acceptable to oust their violent partners?
    Perhaps, female domination at work makes men feel emasculated and they turn violent?

    At the same time never forget domestic violence is two-way, generally more violence goes from women onto men, than men on women; but women are more likely to be badly hurt and to report violence. The 40pc rise in Sweden is pretty similar to US and other EU figures. Also the boundary for violence is reduced, barely a mild slap-up counts these days; yet a decent argument and a bit of mild controlled anger is good for the health of a marriage. Again both ways, women especialy need to let their anger out, throwing saucepans and whatnot
    What we should never excuse is genuine violence, people suffering injuries, bullying and the use of weapons.

  4. Monjo, what the hell goes on in your head?
    “Maybe as women get more power outside the home, they become more bitchy at home?”

    Are you kidding me with this? You really think that significant national trends in domestic violence can be attributed to women who just don’t know when to shut up?

    You cite nothing for your conjecture that “domestic violence is two-way.” That’s not what I’ve seen. Sure, there are women who are violent towards male partners. It happens, but I have no reason to believe it is common. And, if as you suggest, it is common, and if it were also true that “barely a mild slap-up” counts as DV, women’s violence against men would be reflected in arrest statistics.

    Finally, any of us who are married know that “a decent argument and a bit of controlled anger” is part of marriage. Physical violence is not controlled anger. Controlled anger is telling somebody you’re pissed off and telling them why. Domestic violence is uncontrolled anger.

    So, when the cops show up and your house, and you tell them it was just a “mild slap-up,” don’t come crying to me. Shut up, plead guilty and take the misdemeanor conviction.

  5. Probably more goes on inside my head than yours 😛
    I suggest it is one possible explanation, but there’s never a mere single cause. I have posted links to material them demonstrate domestic violence is (at least) equal woman on man, as it is man on woman, and suggestive that woman-on-man violence is the DOMINANT type.

    You’re a leftist liberal with the moralistic problems that brings, you blame white men for all troubles. You probably think the Pope is responsible for AIDS in Africa. If I marry and have an argument with the wife and a neighbour called the police, then in this current society she could beat me black and blue and not be in trouble, whilst I could be arrested for merely pushing her away and leaving a slight mark.
    Women are more violent than men as they are emotionally less stable, this isnt sexist, it is pure fact (look at attempted suicide rates, women ar three times more likely to attempt to kill themselves). And physical disadvnatages in relationships are overcome by using weapons (75pc of violent women use them vs 25pc of violent men).

    You’re touble is you are a male apologist – well I am a guy who has nothing to apologise for, and I refuse to be branded with guilt based on my gender. If a woman hits me though, I will hit back – that’s equality!

    Arrest statistics are such as they are as 95% of reported cases are by women, and ina two-way fight its always the man who gets arrested, one guy was covered in bruises and cut wounds, his wife merely had received a slap, he was arrested. That is the crux of the matter, no-one believes a woman is violent, like we pretend nurses and doctors dont kill their patients. We also stigmatise men who are victims as being wimps, sissies, etc. They get labelled with derogatory female terms.

    Also in lesbian relationships women are far more likely to be victims of DV than they are in heterosexual relationships.

    Plus I refuse to cite articles/stats, you can believe me or refuse to believe me, or you could do your own research to discover the truth. Also, socially I think the trend over the next 20 years will be for more male justice. We are starting to see that now in the UK: Fathers4Justice, TV programmes dealing with male “rape”, DV women-on-men has been covered by Hollyoaks, testicular cancer (again Hollyoaks). We are starting to see HelpLines for male victims and even shelters for men. The trouble now is social prejudices displayed by ignorant people like yourself, who fail to see how women can hurt men cos they are small and dainty, and oh-so-pretty! Which makes you an inverse-sexist.

    Enjoy bliss 🙂

  6. “Women are more violent than men as they are emotionally less stable, this isnt sexist, it is pure fact”

    Res ipsa loquitur, as we say. (“The thing speaks for itself,” a common lawyer’s latin expression which actually describes a doctine in negligence law.)

    Monjo, you’re a troll. A woman-hating troll. If this were my blog, I’d ban you. But this is Lauren’s blog, and that’s her call.

    Hasta la maybe not.

  7. Being born and raised in Sweden, I feel somewhat obliged to add to the discussion.
    (Hi, by the way, I’m a since-a-few-weeks-lurker. Thank you, Lauren, for a very interesting blog)

    I think DCdenizen is impressingly on-the-spot for having lived in Sweden just 6 months. Most of the gender equality in Sweden is due to politics and instituted by the government. Thanks to that, I guess that Sweden is economically and legally rather equal – much more than the attitudes of many of the Swedes.

    There are large differences in attitude throughout the country, though, many inhabitants in the more rural areas are very traditionalist. In urban areas, gender equality is (as far as I’ve experienced) generally seen as a positive thing and most people seem to live under the assumpotion that they are very equality-minded – until one hints that something they say is a little bit sexistic and all hell breaks loose (men as well as women).

    Many women work, but yes, in the public sector – were salaries are rather low, especially as many jobs are (enforced) part-time. The right to work full-time if one wants to is and has been an issue for discussion… and women are still tacitly expected to take most of the responsibility for home and children, be more “nurturing”, less outspoken and aggressive, less able to do/like maths…

    If Sweden is the most equal there is, the world is in a sorry state.
    Our laws may be progressive but our judges seem to be mostly conservative.

    And, by the way, I strongly suspect that the guys treating their female collegues with respect are not always the same ones hitting their wives and girlfriends. But abuse is (rather slowly) going from being something that is seen as a private matter to something seen as a crime that should be reported (Swedes are generally very private and unlikely to “intrude” on someone else’s private life). Probably the reason behind the contradiction in that abuse case numbers rise at the same time as “objective equality” (laws and policies) rises.

  8. It’s so amusing, in a “isn’t that pathetic!” sort of way, when people use bogus “statistics” to ground patently absurd claims, and then tell you to go look it up yourself instead of citing a source. We don’t need to look it up, because we are living with our heads firmly planted on our shoulders rather then firmly stuck inside our assholes, and we know the difference between fraudulent “research” and the real deal.

  9. Most of the statistics that these people are coming up with come from the various studies listed at Martin Fiebert’s page. There are two problems with this: first, most of those studies cover partner aggression (with the bar as low as yelling), rather than domestic violence (with the bar set to physical injury). Second, many of them are just lousy studies. Trish Wilson has a rebuttal page.

  10. Thomas: woman-hating troll 🙂 Nah you’re a man with a pussy. I like women; but I don’t respect men who are male apologisers, or women who pretend they what women to have choice, so long as they choose high-paying careers over being a wife and a mother.

    b: Indeed he (she?) did.

    Alley Rat: Was too busy to look up data, some of us actually do work

    Zed Pobre: considered that hence I give a link to Who started it?. Of course, women do come off with more serious injuries, but that may not be as clear-cut as the official figures suggest. see:

    Lauren can ban me, I post here because I agree with the premise of equality, but also meritocracy. I have an ex-gf who came off very badly after fights with her husband, but fights she started, and after many instances of her beating him up w/o response. But whereas she lost a bunch of teeth he ended up with bruised eyes, a bruised ego and a reduced sperm count.
    She also became aggressive towards me at times, and I had the sense to walk away when I could and do nothing more than hold her wrists/collar when I had to protect myself – Judo came in handy!
    In light of this experience, I am especially keen to never judge on ‘face value’. Plus I am annoyed at her as she was career-minded and now I am behind on my dream to be a house-husband 🙁

  11. Monjo: That’s an interesting study. I wish I could get my hands on the original, because all I can find are other people’s interpretations of the results, and the paper was not peer-reviewed and published. I see one immediate problem with the numbers in the aggregate, in that “slapped” has been lumped in with “punched or kicked”. (Actually, I’m a little suspicious of all of those, because none of them seem to distinguish between strikes that injure and strikes that do not.)

    Do you have a link to a copy of the full paper?

  12. I tend not to trust this kind of statements without references (nor people who make them, but that’s another issue) so, via Google:

    “More than 90 percent of cases involve women being abused by men, with women more likely to sustain physical injury.[7,8] Domestic violence can also be a problem in same-sex relationships,[9] and there are rare cases of men being beaten by women.[8] ” From S Eisenstadt & L Bancroft, New England Journal of Medicine, 1999, vol 341(12) p 886-892.”

    Enough said, I think.

  13. monjo-

    I will apologize for my snarkiness if you apologize for your condescending tone (“some of us actually do work”). I think that if you’re going to make suspiciously sexist sounding comments on a feminist blog, you are obligated to cite a source to support your claims. Burden’s on you. If you’re too busy working, don’t make the suspiciously sexist sounding comments on the feminist blog.

    It’s great that you’re drawing attention to the issue of women’s violence against men and the way that male victims are stigmatized, but I suspect that you’re basing some of your conclusions on sloppy research. The “men’s right’s” movement is a backlash movement, a reaction to some of the successes of feminism. They often use sketchy “research” (as Zed Pobre hints, non peer reviewed research deserves a hefty dose of skepticism) to support an antifeminist agenda. Not all research is created equal; all of it deserves close scrutiny, and stuff that doesn’t go through the academic/professional screening process is suspicious.

    I’m sorry for your personal experience, but the vast majority of respectable research does not support your claims. Malin provides some data in the comment above; I’ve got more.

    Men’s violence and women’s violence often looks different. For example, women may bite or pull hair; men may choke, strangle, or “beat up”.

    Male perpetrators are four times more likely to use lethal violence than females.

    (Florida Governor’s Task Force on Domestic and Sexual Violence, Florida Mortality Review Project, 1997, p. 44, table 7)

    On average, more than three women are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends in this country every day. In 1999, 1,642 murders were attributed to intimates; 74 percent of murder victims (1,218 total) were women.

    (Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report, Intimate Partner Violence and Age of the Victim, 1993-1999, October 2001)

    Male murder victims are substantially less likely than female murder victims to be killed by an intimate partner. In 1999, intimate partner homicides accounted for 32 percent of the murders of women and approximately four percent of the murders of men.
    (Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report, Intimate Partner Violence and Age of the Victim, 1993-1999

    Men are more often victims of violence than women,but the perps are other men. In intimate relationships, men victimize women and other men more than women victimize women or men.

    You can download a PDF file of this stuff here:

    and here:

    another great resource on the issue of men’s violence is Jackson Katz. He makes great connections between the social construction of masculinity and men’s drastically higher rates of violence . Good stuff; doesn’t blame “maleness” for the fact of men’s violence and offers solutions to a social problem that affects us all.

  14. oh wait. i’m also holding off my apology for your apology to Thomas and everyone else here for that “man with a pussy” comment. Come on now. Not a very creative or interesting insult.

  15. Just a few studies.

    Aizenman, M., & Kelley, G. (1988). The incidence of violence and acquaintance rape in dating relationships among college men and women. Journal of College Student Development, 29, 305-311. (A sample of actively dating college students responded to a survey examining courtship violence. Authors report that there were no significant differences between the sexes in self reported perpetration of physical abuse.)

    Archer, J., & Ray, N. (1989). Dating violence in the United Kingdom: a preliminary study. Aggressive Behavior, 15, 337-343. (Twenty three dating couples completed the Conflict Tactics scale. Results indicate that women were significantly more likely than their male partners to express physical violence. Authors also report that, “measures of partner agreement were high” and that the correlation between past and present violence was low.)

    Bernard, M. L., & Bernard, J. L. (1983). Violent intimacy: The family as a model for love relationships. Family Relations, 32, 283-286. (Surveyed 461 college students, 168 men, 293 women, with regard to dating violence. Found that 15% of the men admitted to physically abusing their partners, while 21% of women admitted to physically abusing their partners.)

    Bland, R., & Orne, H. (1986). Family violence and psychiatric disorder. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 31, 129-137. (In interviews with 1,200 randomly selected Canadians found that women both engaged in and initiated violence at higher rates than their male partners.)

    Bohannon, J. R., Dosser Jr., D. A., & Lindley, S. E. (1995). Using couple data to determine domestic violence rates: An attempt to replicate previous work. Violence and Victims, 10, 133-41. (Authors report that in a sample of 94 military couples 11% of wives and 7% of husbands were physically aggressive, as reported by the wives.)

    Brinkerhoff, M., & Lupri, E. (1988). Interspousal violence. Canadian Journal of Sociology, 13, 407-434. (Examined Interspousal violence in a representative sample of 562 couples in Calgary, Canada. Used Conflict Tactics Scale and found twice as much wife-to-husband as husband-to-wife severe violence . The overall violence rate for husbands was 10.3% while the overall violence rate for wives was 13.2%. Violence was significantly higher in younger and childless couples. Results suggest that male violence decreased with higher educational attainment, while female violence increased.)

    Claxton-Oldfield, S. & Arsenault, J. (1999). The initiation of physically aggressive behaviour by female university students toward their male partners: Prevalence and the reasons offered for such behaviors. Unpublished manuscript. (In a sample of 168 actively dating female undergraduates at a Canadian university, 26% indicated that they initiated physical aggression toward their male partners. Most common reason for such behavior was because partner was not listening to them.)

    Fiebert, M. S., & Gonzalez, D. M. (1997). Women who initiate assaults: The reasons offered for such behavior. Psychological Reports, 80, 583-590. (A sample of 968 women, drawn primarily from college courses in the Southern California area, were surveyed regarding their initiation of physical assaults on their male partners. 29% of the women, n=285, revealed that they initiated assaults during the past five years. Women in their 20’s were more likely to aggress than women aged 30 and above. In terms of reasons, women appear to aggress because they did not believe that their male victims would be injured or would retaliate. Women also claimed that they assaulted their male partners because they wished to engage their attention, particularly emotionally.)

    Follingstad, D. R., Wright, S., & Sebastian, J. A. (1991). Sex differences in motivations and effects in dating violence. Family Relations, 40, 51-57. (A sample of 495 college students completed the CTS and other instruments including a “justification of relationship violence measure.” The study found that women were twice as likely to report perpetrating dating violence as men. Female victims attributed male violence to a desire to gain control over them or to retaliate for being hit first, while men believed that female aggression was a based on their female partner’s wish to “show how angry they were and to retaliate for feeling emotionally hurt or mistreated.”)

    Headey, B., Scott, D., & de Vaus, D. (1999). Domestic violence in Australia: Are women and men equally violent? Data from the International Social Science Survey/ Australia 1996/97 was examined. A sample of 1643 subjects (804 men, 839 women) responded to questions about their experience with domestic violence in the past 12 months. Results reveal that 5.7% of men and 3.7% of women reported being victims of domestic assaults. With regard to injuries results reveal that women inflict serious injuries at least as frequently as men. For example 1.8% of men and 1.2% of women reported that their injuries required first aid, while 1.5% of men and 1.1% of women reported that their injuries needed treatment by a doctor or nurse.

    Milardo, R. M. (1998). Gender asymmetry in common couple violence. Personal Relationships, 5, 423-438. (A sample of 180 college students were asked whether they would be likely to hit their partner in a number of situations common to a dating relationship. Results reveal that 83% of the women, compared to 53% of the men, indicated that they would be somewhat likely to hit their partner.)

  16. Alley Rat,

    I hope you realize that an argument based entirely on statistics is meaningless. Apparently you don’t. Let me explain why:

    Let’s say you’ve got 11 women. 10 of them get married and live happily ever after. One of them goes from one failed marriage to the next, and has gone through 90 marriages and divorces before she dies.

    The point is, if I’m an activist trying to show that marriage is in a troubled state, I can say “Look at the statistics! 90% of marriages end in divorce!”

    But if I’m an activist trying to show that marriage is a healthy institution, I can look at the SAME numbers and say, “Look! 10 out of 11 women have successful marriages!”

    This is why, Alley Rat, your arguments are meaningless. I haven’t even touched on the issue of statistical definition. But, oh, what the heck:

    Let’s say I’m analyzing “violence used against an intimate.” Well, first I have to define what I mean by “an intimate.” Somebody I’m on a first date with? A friend? A fiancee? A spouse? Another family member? A sexual partner to whom I’m committed? A sexual partner to whom I’m NOT committed? This is not a small question.

    Then I have to define what I mean by “violence.” Hair pulling? Pushing? Arm pulling? Punching? Again, where to draw the line?

    To look at a website with a bunch of statistics and find a number that says “violence used by an intimate” and to assume that it means the same thing YOU mean by “violence used by an intimate” is quite obtuse of you, especially considering my above proof of how statistics can be skewed to stress different viewpoints. Do you really think the people who gathered the Bureau of Justice statistics on “Violence Agaisnt Women” were completely unbiased? And I don’t mean necessarily the insidious “I’m going to try to prove something I know isn’t true” kind of bias. I mean the simple, innocent bias that is bred of the assumptions and prejudices that we all have about every group of people on the planet.

    And even if they were completely impartial, you’d still have that nasty problem of definition – NOT a black and white issue, by any means.

    In any case, you’ll have a valid argument when you can quote something other than statistics and anecdotes.

  17. b:

    I’ve seen that same bibliography page, and some of the problems raised already in this thread apply. Most notably how “violence” is operationalized. And “physical aggression”. There’s a world of difference between a slap across the face (unacceptable as that is) and a choking or strangling incident. Or between grabbing your partner’s arm and yanking on it because he’s “not listening” to you, and shoving her up against the wall and banging her head into it repeatedly.

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