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.”
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.