Zero women

“I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat.”  Rebecca West

I remember three or four years ago, I cut out an advertisement from the Swedish newspaper. It said, “These are the 100 stock-exchange companies in Sweden that believe the best women’s movement is the one in bed”. It listed the 100 companies that had, despite 47 % of graduates at the Stockholm School for Economics being female, not one woman in their board room. The advertisement was promoting the AllBright Report by the foundation of the same name. AllBright is a politically independent, non-profit foundation that promotes equality and diversity in senior positions in the business sector. The foundation works continuously with reviewing how gender is represented in the business sector. Every year they release two reports.

This year, they started a German branch of the foundation – and gee, that’s needed! I am thrilled that AllBright now works in Germany as well and my co-worker sent me a picture yesterday morning of the first report on Germany that had been delivered to us. “You want to get to work early today!”, she wrote.

The report, which is very well designed I think, states that the best way to get to the top is being called Thomas. You should be born 1963 and should have studied economics or engineering.

Currently, there is one German stock-exchange company with 40 % women on their board. One. Then there’s 37 that have one women without coming up to 40 %, 122 companies do not have a single woman. There are even 18 companies that don’t have a woman on their board or directorate. The foundation sent out the reports to the companies in question, too. 76 %, that is 122 companies, got its report in a black envelope because they’re on AllBright’s blacklist.

If Germany proceeds at the current speed, we will reach almost-equality in work life in 2050. So shortly before I become a pensioner, I might experience 40% women in boards.

The smaller the company, the less likely/willing they are to take in women, their reasons being crystal clear: “We don’t need new board members”, “There are no competent women in our specialised field” and “Qualifications and competence are more relevant than gender to us”.

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In Sweden, companies that have 40 % of women on their boards (that is, just to be clear, not even half of the board) are twice as profitable. If you don’t believe in equal opportunities, shouldn’t you at least believe in economic effiency?

By the way, it was a man who founded AllBright. An old, white man. But his name is not Thomas.

 

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“Are you a quota woman or competent?” “Are you an heir or someone’s buddy?”

Maj

sandberg

Photo: Bokbloggen

With all due respect for non-fiction, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s better for me to read fiction. I’ve always loved a good story, it somehow gives more to one’s soul to immerse oneself in an author’s world than to further educate oneself on the snow lepards in Kirgizistan. But that’s just me, maybe you’re super fascinated with snow lepards.

Currently, I’ve started reading ”The Secret History” by Donna Tartt because after the ”Goldfinch” I felt I need to read everything Tartt ever wrote. Which is, actually, just two more books. Unfortunately, ”The Secret History” is a little creepier than it’s bird-centered sucessor (or maybe I just have a way too lively imagination) so at night, I first cannot stop reading and then I am so spooked, I have to take up the book I recently finished reading and re-read it to calm down. This book has zero creep-risk while at the same time being absolutely masterful. I feel I need to tell the world about this outstanding accomplishment in contemporary Swedish literature. Enter MAJ.

The trilogy about the Northern Swedish housewife Maj begins shortly before World War II and ends thirty years later. “Giving birth”, “Care for one’ own” and “Life at any cost” – the entire book series is all about what Maj should cook for dinner and when she should clean the windows. How, on earth, can 1500 pages on domestic chores spellbind the reader?

It’s because between the worries about infant care and fika baking, the drama of our grandmothers unfolds. This book lends its voice to a marginalized majority; without probably even wanting to, this book is a fierce advocator of feminism – because it is through the life of Maj the reader sees that women did not get to choose 70, 60, 50 years ago. Not their husbands, not their education, not the number of children they want to have. Not even what they would serve when hosting a dinner because society’s expectations were very clear even on that.

 This generation raised today’s people, and those who follow behind need to read Sandberg if they want to understand why Maj’s home is still such  a loaded political and feminist scene. Dagens Nyheter

The three books about Maj became a real page-turner for me, the words have „an immediate flow which the reader is sucked into without resistance“, as the critics wrote. Sandberg’s narrative is complex but not complicated, and somewhat hypnotizing.

The book combines Maj’s perception with her husband’s thoughts and the author even talks to her protagonist, „– am I writing correctly about you now?“, she wonders in the middle of a sentence, embodying the ambiguity of the story, the character, the times.

 This is a highly elegant novel, so linguistically driven, so heavy with rage, at the same time personally and politically indignant. Göteborgsposten 

What is particularily impressive is how the author did not choose to make Maj a heroine that you just simply must love and identify with. Instead, she is contradictory, sometimes very chicken-hearted, well-meaning and confined by her own inner conflicts. A real person, so to speak. When reading the three books, you smell the food from her kitchen and you see her going through town, she is so very real that I would not have been surprised if she’d sat in my living room one day.

 And the angst  is so heavy that the lines almost give way. Fokus  

With her, I marched through the history of the 20th century, from food ration coupons to newly established housewife gymastics classes. Not in Stockholm, but in Örnsköldsvik, observing the all too often overlooked North of Sweden. The story is so well-researched that it becomes hard to believe ist author is only in her forties. You think she personally was around to witness the kitchen proceedings – no, to cook these meals herself, to have these conversations during the war, to decorate her home in 1950s style.

 What impresses the most is the ability to build excitement around a life that on the surface appears to  be fairly uneventful . […] That kind of novel that occupies the reader, with characters who creep close and stubbornly linger in the mind after you have (reluctantly) closed the book . Svenska Dagbladet

Despite her tendency to irritate the reader, Maj wins a place in one’s heart, she is trying to do her best, after all, and it is heart-breaking to witness how contact with her own family reduces with every year that goes, how her few friends die, and how she and her husband have no way of reaching out to each other.

Kristina Sandberg who authored this skillful story was awarded the most prestigious Swedish literature prize, Augustpriset, in 2014 for her work. The jury motivated its choice as follows: „Some life journeys remain invisible. With her epos about housewife Maj, Kristina Sandberg shows that a whole odyssey can be contained within the walls of a flat in Örnsköldsvik. A fragile and wounded family life in the wellfare state is depicted with distance and empathy.“

When you close the book and Maj slips from your grasp, you wonder: Are you going to be okay now, Maj?

And while it feels as if Maj loses something when being translated, I still sincerely hope that these books will published abroad, too. We need them, also – or even more – in Germany.

 

Work Week Song

This week, I was very occupied with the event we arranged for a customer. It was a lot of men there. Germany still has such a long way to go.

So here’s my Work Week Song:

Girls can wear jeans
And cut their hair short
Wear shirts and boots
‘Cause it’s OK to be a boy
But for a boy to look like a girl is degrading
‘Cause you think that being a girl is degrading

I also left an issue of the German feminist magazine, EMMA, with Annelie, who needed some arguments against prostitution for her discussions with German men. All the Swedes I have discuassed this subject with hold an opinion that in Germany is regarded very feminist alternatively Christian-prude. (Prostitution in Germany is declared a legal, regular job, which has contributed to making Germany a trafficking hub.)

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