Kjersti Ericsson: Sisters, comrades!

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The battle to change people's hearts

In this chapter: Love and power | Men's world and women's place
| "To read men's heart" | The resistance of the powerless | Contempt for the weak | A human identity


A new society must also mean a new type of people. New relations between people must also mean new kinds of men and new kinds of women. "The human heart does certainly not change at all at any time," said Sigrid Undset. If this is true, then we might as well just lay down our weapons right away. But the human heart is not less changeable than conditions in society.

We are shaped into two different genders. Though it is a while since women's research began to "discover" women, it is only recently that something of the same sort began happening to men. Women's oppression has in a way made both men and women invisible, as Hey points out (1986, p. 8):

"Is it not the fact that, as Georg Simmel remarked: "Man's position of power does not only assure his relative superiority over the woman, but it assures that his standards become generalized as generically human standards." Pearson argues that if this is the case "not only have women been hidden, but the maleness of men has been hidden from sociological enquiry, and it is past time that "he" was brought into the light of day.""

Yes, it is about time! If we are going to be able to struggle our way to new relations between people, we must understand how this society locks both women and men into "femininity" and "masculinity". As long as men's "masculinity" is invisible, it will also be difficult to tear down the barriers that hinder men in becoming whole people.

The identity of "woman" and "man" are experienced as one of the most fundamental aspects of ourselves. Since the social roles of woman and man are tied to physical differences between the sexes, they are experienced as "natural" in an entirely different way than the role of professional tennis player or accountant. No social contexts exist where the roles of man and woman are irrelevant. We carry our gender with us everywhere.

Most societies offer only two possibilities for social gender: man and woman. The category in which you are placed is dependent upon the form of your genital organs. But there are societies which have a few more "choices" (Smith 1985, p. 24):

"The Navajo, for example, appear to have recognized a separate sex class for individuals who were anatomically distinct from females and males, whom they call "real nadle". This third sex class corresponds to a gender formula for "nadle", which may also be aspired to by anatomical males or females, i.e. "those who pretend they are nadle". In other words, "real nadle" are not forced into the male or the female gender pattern, as they would be in our society. Furthermore, the "nadle" gender formula constitutes a real third-gender option, and not just a misfit category, as evidenced by the possibility of men and women adopting "nadle" status. The Mohave, while apparently recognizing only two sex classes, allowed some females to adopt masculine-like statuses, called "hwame", and some males to adopt a feminine-like gender, called "alyha", status changes that are recognized in ceremonial initiations. There are several other examples that illustrate the variability of the relationship between sex class and gender, as well as the less cohesive nature of gender formulae in some cultures."

It is, of course, entirely possible that the biological differences between women and men also affect behaviour, or more correctly, dispose for the development of certain types of behaviour more easily than others. The problem is that it is very, very difficult to separate the biological from the social, and it is nearly impossible to research in this area without ideology sneaking in. However, what we can establish is that concepts of "femininity" and "masculinity" vary over a wide spectrum from culture to culture, and within the same culture from one historical era to another. Today's female long distance runners represent a dramatic breach with the ideas of women's biological potential that prevailed only a short time ago. And the documentation of French eighteenth century mother's lack of care for their infants (see, among others, Badinter 1981) is contrary to what we now see as "eternal" and "natural" femininity.

Modern man and woman are historically created, and can historically change. They must be changed historically, if a new, liberating society for all people is to emerge. The battle to change people's heart is a part of the women's struggle and class struggle.

In this chapter I will be pointing out some of the consequences that capitalism's gender system has for men's and women's "hearts", and the relationship between them. Although there is no direct one-to-one relationship between people's "hearts" and the economic basis in a society, the connection is so close that it is a mistake to look at the various battle zones separately. To me, this does not mean that those who long for a relationship between people which is different than the current one, should sit down and "wait" for the economic foundation to be arranged appropriately. Things affect each other. Advances in one area ease struggles in another. Understanding the connections lends strength to the revolt. Things that are revealed as a product of certain economic and social conditions lose their status as "natural", "eternal" and "unchangeable". This opens up visions of something else.

Love and power

In an interesting article Viestad (1982) discusses the role Rousseau had as a new creator of gender role ideology in the second half of the 18th century. According to Viestad, Rousseau consciously places his ideal feminine image in contrast to the women of his day, who "express themselves, make decisions and take on a commanding tone". Rousseau is important, not because his ideas "created" a new woman, but because he was among those who most clearly formulated the rising bourgeoisie's edition of "the man" and "the woman". The strong, robust world conqueror Emile, independent, and controlled only by himself, was the pattern for many generations' upbringing of bourgeois boys, an ideal which obviously also affected the oppressed classes. (See Rudberg 1983.) The pleasant, submissive and weak Sophie was the new bourgeois woman "freed" of all tasks in production and reduced to an object for the man's desire and the man's need for legitimate heirs.

A girl's upbringing, according to Rousseau's prescription, was nurturing to the role of the oppressed, "Created as she is to obey a so imperfect creature as the man ... she should learn in time to stand even injustice and to accept even her husband's unreasonableness without complaint." At the same time, there must be a voluntary element to her subordination. The man is "dependent upon the weakest" in that she must "consent to letting him be the strongest".

In the sexual arena Rousseau prescribes that it be voluntary for both parties. He exhorts the newlywed husband: "You must achieve all through love and demand nothing of duty, you must never take even the slightest concession as a right, but as a mark of favor." Viestad comments on the conflict which arises when "voluntary love" is to blossom within the framework of a relationship which is oppressive (p. 58):

"The principle of reciprocity upon which experiences which are genuinely pleasurable are contingent, leads to both parties being dependent upon the other's goodwill. But Rousseau is quick to emphasize for the woman that she, through maintaining his desire, also maintains an important source of power in the marriage. What is involved in the woman's domination over the man through his sexual needs? First, it uncovers the fact that sexual pleasure for her is not allowed to be a goal in itself, rather a means of obtaining something else, no matter how generally weak her position. It is not as an acting subject, acting from personal need that she is active or passive towards her husband. In order to keep her source of power she must ensure that he is satisfied so that he does not tire of her. Her obligingness or rejection will be adapted to what will hold his interest in the long run. This presupposes that her own desires are to a large extent subordinated to his. It is the man's lasting pleasure that she must make an effort to ensure. This reflects her real powerlessness. It forces her to accept the role as an object for his interest, instead of coming forward with her own needs and demands. /.../ By giving women limited freedom of feeling, Rousseau creates a bourgeois gender ideology full of contradictions. Tension arises between the romantic and emotionally emancipating ideals and the oppressive conditions in which they are to be realized. Rousseau demanded both thorough subordination and love freely chosen by the women."

The contradiction between voluntariness and oppression can be found in very many relations in the bourgeois society: the political system, with "freedom and democracy", but within a framework of one class ruling over another; the "voluntary" contract between the worker and the capitalist which forces the worker to hand the value he creates to the capitalist; the relations between the sexes which Rousseau formulated is a good expression of the bourgeois society's force in a "voluntary" form. The core of this is not so different from Hanne Haavind's (whom I have previously quoted) description of the burden of modern women.

The intertwining of power and love has many consequences. Among other things, it brings the power struggle into the area of sexual life, and it contributes to alienating sexuality, for both sexes. Intercourse is a victory for the man, who "conquers" and "lays" the woman. This is taken so much for granted that it shines through even in Engels' description of the future's new, free woman and man. In his famous passage in Origin ... he writes that the future woman will have no reason other than love for "surrendering" to a man.

Women should set a high price on themselves. The woman, who "surrenders" too often, becomes cheap. "Emancipated" young girls today cannot escape this either. As 16 years old Laila expresses it (Ericsson, Lundby & Rudberg, 1985 p. 42):

"(How do you think the guys want girls to be?) Well, sexually, I think that they would prefer that you hadn't been with a lot of guys before - and - well, you see - they don't want you to have been around a lot of guys before, playing around and flirting. They want you to be "clean" ... (But they can, thee?) They can have been with 40 girls before, but you shouldn't have messed around with one, and being a good girl and (Do you think that the girls ever feel pressured by the boys to do things that they really don't want to do?) Well, sexually it ends up being "Why can't you do it" and "It's not dangerous" and, you know. (Can it hurt a girl's popularity if she doesn't go along with it? If she doesn't have a steady boyfriend for example?) Yeah - then they'll say that her "knees are locked" and she won't do anything or things like that, you know, but if she is going with a guy then, it's really okay that her knees have been locked - so they are really hard to understand."

What Laila finds to be "really hard to understand" is comprehensible when considered in terms of intercourse's function as an achievement for the boys: not laying a girl, makes one a loser. But the victory is not as valuable if you share it with many others.

The young seem like "two soccer teams in the All-Swedish League with nicknames like "Tight Agnete" and "Common Hole"", Liljestrøm writes (1981, p. 100). A coarser version of the mating game between the sexes, but nonetheless one which includes the element of competition and labeling of the prize which has become somewhat tarnished.

Modern contraceptives have changed sexual habits, but they have not removed the power struggle. Morokvasic underlines this in an article where she discusses the apparently "irrational" behavior of Yugoslavian immigrant women in Western European countries, who refuse to use contraceptives. One of the reasons she lists is the following (1984, p. 203):

"Sexual relationships based on the double standard resemble a contest in which, if sexual intercourse takes place, the man is considered the winner, the woman the loser. The woman can only win if she refuses successfully: in that way she not only keeps her reputation but becomes even more desirable. One of her best weapons is fear of pregnancy - in fact it is a fear for her and a threat for him. The technology of modern contraceptives deprives women of that tool."

It is usually assumed that modern contraceptives have made it easier for women to live out their sexuality, based on their own needs, because she is now for the most part free from the fear of unwanted pregnancy. This is, at the very least, a truth with modifications. She has also been left more unprotected in men's hunt for "victories" in the sexual arena.

Both Høigård & Finstad and Viestad point out how sexuality can become an "act of calculation" for women, because it becomes a means of getting power in a powerless position. In flirting and falling in love it is quite usual that sexuality is exchanged for "true love". The girl's greatest worry is the boy who "only wanted to sleep with me". Boys, on the other hand, are expected to make a play for many, without making commitments, and without "getting trapped". This game is also about power relation. The girl must ensure that the boy "really loves her", because only the position of "truly loved" gives her some possibilities for control and power. However, the boy or man who "truly loves" loses control and power. Rousseau describes love as masculine degradation (as quoted in Viestad, p. 56), "How deeply you have now fallen. Where is the hardy boy ... who toughened his body ... who only bent for reason and had an independent opinion on everything?"

In the erotic war between woman and man, the woman exchanges sexuality for "true love", while the man exchanges "true love" for sexual access to the woman. The woman develops an alienated and confused relationship to her own sexuality, and the man develops an alienated and confused relationship to closeness and dependence and other things "true love" might connote. In a ballad about the "meek man" Ole Paus hits the bullseye with his comment on this exchange. "Why does no one sleep with me?" the meek man asks. Though he offers closeness and caring, he does not receive the promised sex in exchange.

The power struggle between the sexes in the sexual arena gives rejection a dual meaning for the man. A woman who says "no" is not only rejecting him sexually. She is also defining him as a loser. And a woman who ends up in bed with a man, is often in doubt as to whether she has sold butter, and not been paid.

This power struggle - and this exchange - are obviously not the whole story behind sexual relationships between men and women in our society. But it is a part of the story which is so important that it to a greater or lesser degree affects the lives of most heterosexual people. It is difficult, both for women and men, to develop a safe, emotional and sexual identity and a secure relationship to each other. The fact that this touches deeply can be seen in the language usage of the most radical and rebellious people. This is how Alexandra Kollontay expressed herself in 1927 in a conversation about love relationships between people of the future (Kollontay 1971, p. 268):

"The men and women of the future are going to be comrades, in a deeper sense, and their companionship will be based on fellowship, on common interests and common love of the great unity. The purely sexual will however become more subordinate - as it has always been for the woman - and it is going, though it sounds rather paradoxical, to be a fairly indifferent matter to her to whom she gives her body."

To Kollontay, too, the body is something a woman "gives" to a man, an object to both him and her. Sexuality as a manifestation of life and expression for women - is difficult to capture.

This power struggle and alienation throws shadows on lesbian and homosexual relationships as well. Women who love women, and men who love men, are not only people who have a different sexual preference than the heterosexual majority. They also become a threat to the order of things, a kind of traitor to the gender system on which society rests. Because of the power relations between the sexes, being lesbian or gay has an additional and more disquieting meaning. The condemnation, rejection and disgust they meet must also be understood in relation to this.

In this situation a shadow of desperation falls on the hunt for sexual freedom, happiness and satisfaction, which marks some societies here in the West. Sexuality has become a matter for therapists with know-how. Elena Poniatowska from Mexico provides, with another culture's fresh eyes, a tragicomical description of Australian women's relationship to sex. Here she visits one who deals in "sexual counselling" (1985, p. 302):

"In Australia the hymen is a nuisance, like tonsils and appendix. Everyone's attention centers on the clitoris. Dr. Elsie Koadlow, who treats patients with psychosexual marital difficulties at the Queen Victoria Hospital, talks freely about coital response, lubrication and swelling, followed by orgasm, vaginal dilation by inserting fingers during love-making, fears about absent clitorises and longing for vaginal orgasm. Vaginal stimulation and the Grafenberg Spot - a sensitive area on the front wall of the vagina, which causes a deeper orgasm than the clitoral one - are often mentioned by sex therapists. Dr. Elsie Koadlow teaches and encourages women to explore their vaginas, to know their genitals and, most of all, to insert vaginal tampons. "What do you use? Pads or tampons? If only the former, have you ever considered inserting the latter?" She believes the doctor's role should also be an educational one and that practitioners and gyneacologists should invest time and experience in sexual counselling, because patients sometimes have such strong anxieties about sexuality that they become overwhelmed and deny all erotic feelings. To accept manual erotic stimulation in marital cases is a gain, but Dr. Koadlow does not advise mechanical aides like vibrators: "To encourage a girl to use mechanical aids will only encourage her to further denigrate her husband's role.""

Of course sexual counselling is beneficial. But all the sexual therapists in the world can hardly solve the contradiction in which modern women and men are trapped: that sexuality is just as much a power struggle as an expression of mutual pleasure and devotion. If some women choose to replace the living man with a vibrator, and some men choose to replace the living woman with an inflatable doll, then that speaks for itself. Within the current gender relations the demand for reciprocal satisfaction and happiness can easily become yet another demand for achievement on both parties. The man should not only "lay" the woman, he should also ensure that she has an orgasm, or he has not achieved what is demanded of him. The woman, who should be the one who profits from this, has a sort of "orgasm duty". The woman who does not have an orgasm, hurts the man and causes him to lose face. The result is that it is not uncommon that women simulate orgasm, like one of the women Liljestrøm quotes (p. 151):

"Sometimes the guys ask if it was good, then I always say "yes". Then they're not disappointed. But it's not often that I think it was good. But it's not worth them thinking that they are bad lovers."

The road out of this situation is not through a sex therapist's consultation room. The power relation between the sexes locks us into this game, where every new freedom is also a new chain. True sexual liberation is not possible without the liberation of women.

Men's world and women's place

Men have their world in the "public sphere"; women's place is in the "private sphere". This sharp division between public and private that the capitalistic means of production has created, has also deepened the cleft between women and men. The family is undermined as a unit of production. According to Hagemann the most common work for women in the first phase of the industrial revolution was not factory work (1982, p. 28):

"On the contrary, women's work was concentrated in farming, housework, home industry and small trade, in other words it continued, for the most part, as work organized in the family - work in their own home or other's homes. For the majority of unmarried women the most likely alternative for work was becoming a maid. This work functioned more as preparation for the traditional woman's role than as a break with it. For the majority of the married women small industry and home industry could be run along side of reproduction work in the family, and there was little conflict between the two roles."

But the economic development undermined the existing women's work and sharpened the conflict between the women's two roles. The division between "working life" and "private life" became increasingly pronounced. It was not until our times that large numbers of women combined these two separate spheres - and paid a heavy price. But even though women today physically move a great deal more in "the public sphere", they nonetheless have most of their head and their heart in "the private sphere". This means that women and men have different areas of interest and points of reference. Not to mention the fact that this also means that men have an entirely different place in women's world than women have in men's world. Men have a world, which is "the" world, but~ at the same time it is theirs. One can find women there, but they are mostly in roles that make them insignificant and partially invisible. This is the world where men express themselves, where they enjoy their activities, where they show ability and courage, and where they compete with each other. The part of the world where women belong is a limited part, often the tiny, isolated core family. For the woman it is her husband (and eventually her children) and her relationship to him, which are the very world. Though most Norwegian women are in the work force, they are there on different terms than men. It is their family that plays the main role in their lives, and, as much as possible, their work is adjusted to the needs of their family. For the man it is just the opposite. Responsibility for the family fills women's heads around the clock and determines their actions. Even though women, too, spend limited time with their families, it is nonetheless the relationship to her husband and children, which are her world and really matter. Byron said, "Man's love is of man's life a thing apart;/ 'Tis woman's whole existence." This is a more romantic expression of the same.

This pattern is noticeable long before women and men have, in fact, entered into a family situation. When asked about their futures young girls have already calculated family responsibilities into their choice of careers. And they have firm opinions about the characteristics they want in a future partner. For the boys these kinds of considerations seem very remote (see, for example, Ericsson, Lundby and Rudberg 1985). Girls who are from 15 to 17 have a lot to say about the characteristics of the boys they hang around with, and they have a clear comprehension of what the boys do when there are no girls around. When the girls are alone they talk - about boys. Boys who are the same age have great difficulty in describing the girls who are in their circle, and they have no real idea of what the girls do when they aren't there. There is never any doubt that the boys are present in the girl's lives. For the boys, the girls have a tendency to blend with the carpet. (See Ericsson, Lundby and Rudberg 1985b.) Ingham (1984, p. 217) quotes a study (which, in fact, took place in the 20s), which paints a similar picture of adult women's and men's places in each other's worlds. The researcher analyzed parts of conversations which were overheard when walking down Broadway early in the evening, and reached the conclusion that men talked about work 50% of the time, about Sports 14% of the time and about other men 13% of the time. Women talked about men 44% of the time, about clothes 23% of the time and about other women 16% of the time.

The relationship between women and men is marked by both separation and a lack of symmetry. They meet from two different worlds and from two different positions of power, and they have different expectations about what the meeting will provide. It's not surprising, then, that the sweet music of the heart is easily drowned out by a jarring disharmony.

"... to read men's heart"

"The woman must from the start study man's spirit, not by abstracting the male sex's spirit in general, no, but by abstracting the spirit of the man in whose company she lives, and by reading the heart of the man to whom she is either by law or church subordinate. She must learn to search their feelings by their speech, their actions, their glances and their expressions,"

as Rousseau writes about the upbringing of young Sophie. Once again he reveals himself as a pioneer in the field of gender roles, and aptly describes what modern research on women's roles has called women's "relational orientation". Women are taken up with close, personal relationships, relationships to concrete others in their immediate environment, she can imagine herself in their situation and emotions and answer their emotional needs. This is expressed in different ways. The research on men's and women's behaviour in discussion groups where both sexes participate that I presented earlier, showed that women are occupied with the "togetherness and nearness" dimension of the interaction. Studies of women's and men's moral understanding also indicate that women often evaluate the consequences that an action has for concrete others and for relations between people, while men place more emphasis on abstract principles about right and wrong (see Gilligan 1982). Women develop other interrelational abilities than men, and the concept of "women's intuition" is probably closely tied to women's "relational orientation".

Men are more focused on reaching factual goals than on establishing personal relations, to put it a bit roughly. When men in discussion groups are most concerned with the "power and domination" dimension, this is not merely a question of aggression and "waving their antlers". Seeking power is often a necessary part of the path to reaching a factual goal.

Rousseau's recommendation that girls be raised to "relational orientation" was a part of an educational system, which sought to create oppressed women. And it is clear that relational orientation makes women vulnerable in this respect. Not only is it good for the man to have someone who can "read his heart". But women's focus on concrete others and on understanding also makes it difficult to resist oppression. Categories like "right and wrong", "justice" and "rights" dissolve in "relationships", "interaction" and "emotions". And the man as an individual becomes far more alive than men as oppressors.

In addition, it is Liljestrøm's (1981) opinion that the subordinate party in an unequal relationship, whether it deals with love, marriage, or other things, develops a superior knowledge about feelings in order to lead the partner and control themselves. The female intuition represents a type of insight, which the underprivileged develop.

Women, however, do not experience their "relational orientation" as only a weakness and a result of oppression. For women "relational orientation" is also an important part of their positive identity, a part of women's strength. I see it this way as well. The needs of children and adults for caring, to which women are expected to attend in our society, are a real need, and it is scarcely fulfilled in our present mode of life. The qualities, which mark women, are valuable characteristics, a special form of intelligence, which develops in the types of tasks that women are expected to solve. At the same time, it is important to go beyond the narrowness which characterizes women's relational orientation today, and which is due to her place in the private sphere: empathy and sensitivity are ordinarily not as great for others outside of the living room walls as for those within. And the quality of lacking principle, which attaches to women's moral viewpoints and way of thinking, makes it difficult to claim one's right and defend others' rights.

About the man's moral viewpoint and orientation Ericsson, Lundby and Rudberg write (1985, p. 85):

"The traditional understanding has been that it is the woman who lacks something: the undaunting sense of justice and the ability to adopt the role of "the generalized other". We have pointed out that the man also lacks something: the emotional antennae, the ability to empathize with other's needs. In our opinion male orientation has just as often been marked by egocentrism - the belief that one's own perspective, standpoint and demands are self-evidently correct - as by principle. Often it is a strange blend of both, which makes men capable of devoting their life to a fight for justice and freedom, while they simultaneously, as a matter of course, walk all over those closest to them."

Equally often it may be that the road from "my standpoint" to "unquestionable principle" is very short indeed. The man is not only capable of adopting the role of the "generalized other"; he is also capable of making his opinion into a standard, general point of reference.

The fact that society in this way has placed "care" and "consideration" with one sort of people, and "action" and "right" with another is bad, both for the interaction between these two sorts, and for society's possibility of functioning with human dignity, efficiency and reasonable organization. Clearly, human psychology is not the driving force in a society. But are aspects of human psychology a safety valve against positive change in the capitalist period?

The resistance of the powerless

It is often said that not only do men oppress women, women also oppress men. And they can carry on a psychological terror, which is just as horrid as the physical terror that some men use against women.

Women resist, and attempt to maneuver in their powerless position. Their strategies often become indirect and manipulative. When women occasionally are seen as false and intriguant, in contrast to men, who are more straightforward and "real", this is connected to the means that the two sexes have at their disposal when trying to get what they want. World literature's magnificent description of the false and manipulative woman, who fights against the honest, upright man (and wins a crushing victory) namely Strindberg's The Father is often seen as one of Strindberg's most misogynist pieces. But it can also be interpreted as an unusually clear-sighted description of the woman who fights from a powerless position, and of the weapons she then has available. Read in this way, the piece isn't misogynist, but is rather a sensitive and revealing play about the consequences of women's oppression.

Psychology and psychiatry have an arsenal of monstrous mothers who have, throughout time, been held responsible for most of human unhappiness and maladjustment. These monstrous mothers can roughly be divided in two: those who are unresponsive and cold, who withdraw from the demands of the mothering role; and there are those who terrorize their children with love and care - strangle them and shut them in. In relation to the man there might be a similar division: the wives who treat their husband "as if he didn't have balls"; and those who try to control him through the martyr role: they have "sacrificed everything" and suffer in silence in a very obtrusive manner.

Behind these psychiatric patterns one can glimpse two different female strategies. One is the more open resistance or the rejection of parts of the female role. The other uses the female role as a platform for indirect power.

Society's demand that the woman sacrifice herself for husband and child and not think about her own demands and needs, can also be used by women to win a sort of control. Everything she does can be explained to the people around her with "I only did it for you", thus making criticism and resistance difficult. At the very least, it creates guilt feelings. A mother on the verge of tears who is "very sad" because of her children's foolish behaviour, can be more difficult to deal with than a cussing, shouting father. The ability to create guilt feelings is a means of power in itself. Haley quotes the mother of a schizophrenic youth who stated in therapy (1969, p. 142): "Just criticize me, dear. I am willing to be hurt if it can help you." Here, she succeeds in promoting herself as the sacrificing and caring mother, while at the same time making it nearly impossible for the child to criticize her. This is the core of much female strategy.

Depressive conditions and dejection, in forms of varying seriousness, are very common among women. That is not strange, since women have many good reasons to be sad. They are oppressed, not appreciated, and they are often emotionally exploited in relationships with other people. In addition, society allows women very little aggression.

Perhaps depressions and dejection are not just the result of women's difficult lives, but just another weapon they use in the power struggle, a way of "getting even" which is difficult for the opposition to tackle and is even more difficult to attack? One can't be angry with a person who is sad and is having a difficult time, on the contrary one tries to be considerate. The depressed individual goes around as a constant accusation against their surroundings, without having to say anything. If the depression goes so far that it demands psychiatric treatment, the "patient role" also has its advantages (Pedersen 1981, p. 69):

"The fact that psychological deviance is defined by laymen as well as many professionals as being within an illness model with the freedom from responsibility which this involves, makes psychological deviance a particularly "attractive" deviance for women, it is difficult to blame anyone for them becoming ill."

The powerless woman's resistance strategy consists to a large extent of affecting others without personally being reproached, because she does everything out of love and caring, and anyway she is "so sad". Women acquire a number of rewards in this way, but pay a horrible price. They have to twist and complicate their own needs and feelings, even towards themselves. And few women manage to be the object of such intense and impotent hate as the women who use this strategy for all its worth.

But the road of open rebellion is not easy either. The woman who attempts to breach the role society has cast her to play, finds that she must perpetually compromise in relation to "femininity". These compromises serve two aims: to ease her own insecure identity as a woman; and to ensure the men with whom she associates that she is not that dangerous after all. "Femininity" is, as Susan Brownmiller (1984) analyses it, a signal to men of subordination and of men being the center of women's lives. Breaking totally away from "femininity" in all areas is a violent provocation and a terrible, personal strain for anyone who tries.

Personally, I have often heard comments like: "You don't look like that," or "You look totally different than I imagined". They are obviously meant as compliments, and I take them as such also. How should I look if I had looked like "that", in other words like a woman who has made her career and political activity the main focus in her life, and who in addition has "extreme" and "aggressive" opinions and is the leader of a revolutionary party? I should obviously not have been small, slightly built and soft spoken, which, in fact, I am. It is as if people breathe a sigh of relief because I am so small. My slight height is a concession to femininity, which makes me less dangerous and provoking. Brownmiller discusses the function of bodily height as a signal of "femininity" (p. 25):

"When a woman is taller than a man, she is breaking a basic feminine rule, because her height reminds him that he may be too short - inadequate, lacking - in the competitive male world. She has attacked his image of himself as a man and undermined his position as aggressor-defender. Showing a man that he may not be needed and required, is a very unfeminine act, and she knows that she will be made to pay for it if she can't compensate for it some other way. /.../ It may not be our reputed independence, directness or sexual emancipation which have given us American women a reputation for lacking femininity compared to women from other parts of the world - it may simply be because of our size."

Almost all women who break with the female role in important areas and push their way into men's territory will make some sort of concession to "femininity" whether in appearance, behaviour or both. By making themselves harmless in this way, it becomes easier to be "dangerous" in other areas. This is seldom a conscious strategy. But it is interesting to see the picture of the new, "real" woman that the media is currently creating. Real women don't wear orthopedic shoes was the title of a book, which came out a few years ago, with a clear sting to the women's movement of the 70s. The "real woman" is successful in business life; she is the sales director of a large corporation or even the administrative director. But she does not wear orthopedic shoes. Rather she deals in high heels, black silk stockings and seductive perfumes. In other words: all the necessary concessions to femininity. It is now okay to be a woman again, they say, implying in contrast to the 70s, when it wasn't okay: when orthopedic shoes were standard and bras, makeup and jewelry were forbidden. But perhaps the renaissance of "femininity" is an expression of the fact that women have moved their social position dramatically forward in the last 10-15 years, and the need for concessions therefore becomes more pressing?

Women who attempt open rebellion, fight constantly on men's home field, and have to fluctuate between breaking with men's terms and adapting to them. It is tiresome, difficult and confusing. Even in the middle of the rebellion one does not escape being defined by men, and having one's actions determined by them.

Contempt for the weak

It is demanded of women that they subordinate themselves to men. At the same time, it is a central part of men's identity that they not allow themselves to be walked on. The henpecked husband awakens contempt not only because he does not have power over women, but also because he allows himself to be walked on. An element of rebellion lies in the male identity, at least that of defending their rights with all possible means. When boys and men talk of their school days, it is often to show how impossible and undisciplined they are or were: they don't subordinate themselves! And the norms for what is tolerated from boy pupils are indeed totally different than those which are tolerated from the girl pupils - a concession to the awakening male identity.

This side of the male identity functions positively in very many contexts. For the majority of men in this society there are more than enough reasons for rebellion. But it also leads to contempt for those who subordinate themselves. The gender system prescribes subordination for women, and if she does not, she is punished. But this does not save her from contempt, and punishment for doing as she was told and letting herself be walked on.

This appears to be the ghastly dynamics in some of the worst cases of wife battering: the more subservient, feeble, annihilated the victim of the abuse becomes, the more "provoking" she becomes and the more deserving she is of additional contempt and additional violence.

But even under more normal circumstances this contempt for weakness and subservience gives rise to a gruesome game: the man cannot let go of his power over the women without letting go of an important support for his identity as a man. At the same time he cannot stop his contempt for her subordination. He is doomed to feel contempt for the one he loves and love the one for whom he feels contempt. The woman, on the other hand, can only win the man's love and interest at the expense of her subordination. But when she does this she also gains his contempt. Under these conditions love between a man and a woman can be a pretty bitter brew.

A human identity

What is the way out? I think the path must lead from "femininity" and "masculinity" to a human identity. What then will happen to "the slight difference" that we are encouraged to drink to, to the magnetism, the flirting? First, for the most part I agree with Liljestrøm when she says (p. 129):

"The highly sung "magnetism between the sexes" is not loaded with erotics. No, the air between men and women is thick with fear. A fear that is founded on the lack of quality."

Second, we have lesbian and homosexual love. It does not have "the slight difference" to support it, and it does not have society's encouragement, cheering and romantic myths. Nonetheless, it blooms (and sheds its blossoms). Thirdly, there are exciting differences between people, which do not rest on social gender. We are not alike, and we are not going to become alike in a new society. Freed from the straightjacket of stereotypical social categories we will have more room to blossom as individuals, and to meet each other as individuals.

Nonetheless, it is very possible that there will be "a slight difference", it may well be that it is even worth drinking to. But the cleft, and the deformation of both women and men which capitalism's gender system creates, must be overcome.

What are the consequences? On what will the man base his identity, when he can no longer build it on his power over women? This is a difficult dilemma for men who are met with the demand for change in the male role. It feels to them as though they are forced to choose between being an oppressor and being a zero.

But, as Morten Conradi (1986) and others point out, men's identity has several sources. One of them is proficiency. "The only thing that I like about myself is that I can play the guitar," said a young boy, whose life in this world wasn't easy (Ericsson, Lundby and Rudberg 1985). Most men have several skills and activities to draw upon. Men get much of their positive identity from the things they can do. The basis for this kind of identity will be strengthened rather than weakened in a society where the opportunities for the all-round development of skills and talents are greater than now, and where the banishing of competition and achievement pressures makes the fear of failure less restraining.

Earlier, I said that men's strength is bought at women's expense: in order for men to develop their strong sides, women have to function as crutches and shelters. This type of parasitic strength is obviously incompatible with equal relationships between the sexes.

Most of the practical side of women's "ground crew function" will be superfluous when housework is organized socially. But what of the care functions, the psychological support? Earlier, I wrote of how the transition from a society dominated by "action as calculation" to a society dominated by "action as expression" would also affect the relationship between people. Nearness, care and the joy of togetherness would in itself be an important aspect of far more relationships than today. The need for "a personal shelter" will be less when society as a whole becomes less cold. Caring would move from being a female special function to being a part of human interaction in most contexts.

But I also think that women have to fight for more equality in emotional interaction, so that men also develop more of her interactional skills. When this happens it will become a new source of positive identity for the man, something that many men miss today.

Women get much of their positive identity from this very "relational orientation". In a society with less clear-cut divisions between "instrumental" and "expressive" relationships between people, the "female manner" will become valid, and appreciated in many more contexts than it is today. There will be another kind of reciprocity, women will not become emotionally hollowed and drained as they are today. In addition, women will have far greater possibilities for action, for the development of skills and talents, for participation in various kinds of activity, which provide the basis for the formation of a positive self-image because one is proficient. The gradual dismantling of the family's economic functions, and of the division between "public" and "private" will mean that women's current narrowness and focus on those closest to them will disappear, replaced by consideration and interest for the entire society.

I believe in a human identity. An identity which will give love better conditions, both the love between woman and man, between woman and woman, between man and man, and between child and adult. The love between man and woman will no longer be inescapably woven together with the power struggle, and it will not have to reach across a mental abyss of lack of understanding and communication. And the love between two individuals of the same sex will be freed from the label of inferiority, contempt and harassment.

A rosy utopia? Yes, perhaps. And no doubt much suffering, despair and rage along the way. But at any rate a positive possibility. Because we know that both society and human nature can be changed. We know something about which conditions create which kinds of human characteristics. The dream, and eventually the science, about a new society grew from experience with, and the analysis of, contradictions in the existing society. Why shouldn't we use our experience and the analysis of contradictions in people today to create dreams, and eventually a science, about the new person? The fight to change people's hearts, too, will be easier if we know where we want to go.


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