International Women’s Day: Scandinavian feminism

Is there such a thing as Scandinavian feminism? We have spoken with Norwegian author Marta Breen who has written extensively on what she coins on the subject.

Q:  Could you please briefly explain what it is that Scandinavian countries bring to the feminist debate that women from other countries can be inspired and learn from?

MB: Scandinavian countries have come a long way with respect to equality and there are several reasons for this: to begin with, there has been concrete political will for women to be engaged in labour on an equal basis with men, and we therefore have really good parental provisions–for mothers and fathers–as well as good and cheap nurseries for all. We have also had a long-term focus on softening traditional gender roles: there is no strong “macho” culture in the Nordic countries, nor is it common to cultivate in the new generations a more traditional motherly role, like is often the case in Catholic countries. The Nordic countries are strongly secular societies and I think that has played a significant role in strengthening equality.


I am interested in teaching children that a mother’s role is equally important as a father’s role. And that a dad can comfort you just as a well as mom.

Norwegian women are known for not being fussy: we dress practically and are not afraid of getting dirt under our nails. We are much less concerned with playing the role of the “woman” or the “man” than people are in other countries. After all, the sexes are not as different as we often portray them to be.

Q: What do you think is a great and efficient way to introduce feminist ideas to young readers within the educational system?

MB: I believe that the history of women’s struggle should be on the curriculum in both primary and secondary schools; it is important to give young girls a sense of pride in the battles their foremothers have fought for them. I use graphic novels and loads of humour to tell the story of sexism, and it works well. When I give talks to young people, I tend to compare feminism with anti-racism because there are so many parallels between those two resistance movements. Both racism and sexism are about some parts of society having promoted themselves as being “the norm,” regarding everyone else as “the other.”


Q: Your work has been translated in countries where women's rights are minimal or even under threat. How does that make you feel? 


MB: I am incredibly happy that my book is out in Arabic, Turkish, and Polish –for example– because it thus can be read by people who are fighting against the dominant atmosphere there. Unfortunately, there has been regression in many countries: freedom of expression is under pressure, lesbians and gay people are harassed; women lose the opportunity to have access to safe abortions. Such reactionary forces are on the rise and so I hope that my voice can provided a tiny bit of inspiration until all these forces are quelled.

I always accept invitations to visit feminists in reactionary societies and so have given lectures in Russia, Brazil, Serbia, and Egypt, among other places.

Q: Do you happen to have any data on or knowledge of the socio-economic background of women (and men) who are most active in the feminist struggle? Are there perhaps class differences within the movement and if so, how do they play out?

MB: Alas, I have no statistics on this, but I would think that the movement is dominated by the middle class – as the vast majority of political movements usually is. It is often the case that those who struggle most do not have the surplus time or resources to throw themselves into political battles: they are struggling enough just to put food on their table.

It may also be the case that many low-income women are not in a safe position to speak out about feminism. It is unfortunate that the feminist struggle has all sorts of opponents and, in male-dominated environments, it is not always easy to raise one’s voice. I meet many women around Europe who tell me that they do not dare come publicly forward as feminists because the topic is so stigmatizing for them.


Marta Breen (b. 1976) is a writer, journalist and one of Norway's most profiled feminists. Two of her books, «Women in Battle” and the “Fall of Patriarchy”, have been translated into Greek by Krystalli Glyniadakis in Papadopoulos publications.