Freedom versus Equality

Nobody in the youngest generation is against gender equality, but it varies in terms of how important they find it as an issue to discuss and how many reservations they have: maybe there is still some way to go until full equality is reached, but the issue is uncontroversial as things are moving or ought to be moving in the right direction. As the equality-minded Anders says at 30, when asked about his opinion on gender quotas: ‘Is that still a debate, I thought that was over.. At 18 most of the girls could rattle off the standard phrases of official gender-equality politics, but did not always see themselves in a gender perspective. Their political engagement was instead directed towards issues like anti-racist work or environmental protection. For many of the boys who had lived together with smart girls all their lives, the topic did not feel very urgent either. At 18 the boys agreed with the general idea, but did not like all the fuss about it—forced gender equality, as Morten describes it—that imbues the entire male gender with a collective feeling of guilt. Rune said that one has to accept that ‘it’ll take a while until all the old male general-directors die out, maybe with a hint to his own old general-director father. Policies like gender quotas and the cash-for-care reform bring forth many pros and cons in the interviews, as there is a shared reluctance in this generations towards normative claims of behalf of others: cash-for-care is problematic because it makes the mothers, not the fathers, stay at home; however, if women want to stay at home, then maybe it should be their choice? Gender quotas seem a bit of an exaggerated measure, since women are smart enough on their own—but they might still be necessary. Tonje says at 30 that for her own part she does not want to ‘come in through the back door, but is more open to the idea that men are needed in women-dominated work environments. Nora, who both at 18 and 30 holds radical views, says that moderate quotas are alright, but not more radical measures ‘because I think I’m good enough to fight on an equal footing, and if I don’t make it that way, I’d feel that it’d be a disservice to me’. This is a generation of young women who have been brought up with a strong belief in that they are as good—and often better—than their male peers, and this does not resonate with the idea that they are in need of help and support. Charlotte thinks at 30 that gender quotas may have been important in earlier times, but now it is more urgent employing quotas for different ethnic groups.

Evidently, the issue of gender equality sits uneasily in connection with their belief in individuality and the feeling that gender is not a coherent package. Thinking along the lines of group identities or coherent identities is repellent to many in this generation. They definitely feel more in line with understanding gender in terms of justice and freedom than in terms of the ambiguous concept of equality. Gender differences are seen as acceptable as long as they can be seen as individual choices. The prevalent view is that people should share work according to their likes and skills, and not in accordance with formal equality in every dimension. ‘Sisterhood’ is not a buzzword in this generation. Kine, who at 30 struggles actively against the gender discrimination at her workplace, admits that she feels suffocated by the idea of a ‘women’s community.

Charlotte finds the whole issue of gender equality boring because she thinks it is not external commonalities but the ‘internal commonalities between people that are important. The tension between the individual approach and the moral engagement against discrimination makes even the radical girls reluctant when it comes to the feminist struggle. Pia and Hilde were among those who at 18 engaged positively with the issue. Pia said that ‘the thought of depending on a man sends shivers down my spine’. And on the survey filled in before the interview in 1991, Hilde wrote the following voluntary comment answering a question about gender equality: ‘usually men do not have the same double workload as women to. Men often get paid more to do the same job as women. We have to do something about that! However, as they tended to see gender equality as an individual rather than a structural issue, they did not follow up these radical views with action. Hilde says at 18:

I wouldn’t want to be one of those standing screaming on the barricades and so on, because I know my uncle’s partner, she’s very ‘red’ and has always been involved in the Women’s Movement and things like that, and I must say I admire her for a lot of the things she has done. But at the same time I don’t agree with a lot of her opinions, because she’s radical in things that I’m not that radical in.

Q: What kind of things?

Well, the entire social structure, really. I think that... I mean, when ... I guess I’m of the opinion that you’ve made your bed, now you must lie in it. (Hilde, 18)

She instead identified with her mother’s way of struggling for gender equality:

Not outwardly, but within the family, I think, and I know she’s said that a few

times____For example, sharing the housework equally and things like that. If

you call yourself a feminist or a redstocking, it doesn’t matter. It’s more about knowing it, if you’re doing what you want to and if you ... dare, yes, to be who you are, kind of.

When women are seen as responsible for their own lives, solidarity between women also becomes less of a moral obligation and the feminist engagement tends to become weak. The women distance themselves from ‘typical women’s occupations’—but not from working in the public sector, where most of them are at 30. Also class differences, which were more prominent than gender differences in their grandparents’ reflections on inequalities and to some degree also in those of their parents, since many of them were class travellers, become blurred in this focus on individual responsibility for one’s own success in attaining equality. The reluctance towards identifying with one’s own gender group is more salient among the women than among the men, in spite of the men’s stronger occupation with their own uniqueness. An evident reason for this is that masculinity and individuality have never been either culturally or psychologically at odds with each other in the way that femininity and individuality have. For this reason, ethnicity seems to be a more manageable candidate for these young women’s reflections on equality. Here they belong to the majority group and do not risk victimising themselves through their political engagement for justice and equality.

Another prominent point in this generation is that gender equality should go ‘both ways’. Beate is among those most sceptical of feminism in this generation, just as her mother and grandmother were in their respective generations. She argues for men’s rights, but also shares the view that individual differences may override group differences. At 30, she says this:

Gender equality is completely fine, but then there has to be equality in all spheres ... because the women who’re screaming about equality have a tendency to want more than men have ever had, and that, then [loudly] I think it’s going in the wrong direction again, because then it’s like that, they want all kinds of rights, but women shouldn’t have to do military service, right, they do not want that, but I think that women benefit just as much as boys from being in the military . I think it ought to be the same for everybody . even if . if women have different stuff, like, for example, if they get pregnant, which means that they have to ... and they might not be as physically strong as the men, but all women should have a chance to try, even if. it’s often considered a mans job because it demands physical strength, because there could be women who could do it, not all [loudly], but some, right, so you really have to make a judgment along the way. (Beate, 30)

Many of the young men mention this too. Women should have access to the same jobs, salaries, rights and careers as men, but then women should also have the same duties or take their share of the unattractive and hard traditional male jobs. Vegard says at 18: ‘if we’re to have gender equality, then there should be equality all the way . The young men point to the danger of reversed discrimination, because then nothing has been attained. Egil was the only man in the middle generation who explicitly mentioned fathers’ rights at divorce. This argument has become ubiquitous among the men in the youngest generation and may tell us that the power balance between men and women is no longer experienced as unambiguous.

At 30 many of those interviewed, especially the women, but also some of the men, have experienced gender discrimination against women in education and work, something they were surprised about and find unacceptable. Morten says that he at any time would prefer a female boss compared to all those messy men he has met during his career until now. He thinks, however, that women have the same possibilities so he is not particularly engaged in gender-equality politics. Anders had experienced mean male bonding against women in one of his work places, ‘a very conservative place, a shipping firm, incredibly unsympathetic. Still, like almost all of the other men, he is against quotas, because he thinks they ought to be totally unnecessary and he fears that they will not be an effective remedy against discriminatory attitudes. Conversely, Kim experienced that gender-equality politics gave him career advantages as a preschool teacher, which he found legitimate because he thinks it is a good thing to have more men in this profession. At 30 many of the women acknowledge that gender quotas are unfortunately necessary. Like many others, Kine has seen how much more easily men get promotions and salary rises. It is so ‘bloody unjust! she exclaims and echoes her grandmother Karen’s anger at the injustice of her brother’s privileges. Tonje has experienced female doctors getting much less attendance from the nurses on the hospital wards than male doctors do. But she still wants to believe that ‘if a women wants gender equality, she’ll make it happen . Hilde and Pia have not given up their radical views, including those on gender quotas: ‘you have to govern a bit in order to change the culture’, Hilde says. Most of the 30-year-olds, both women and men, side with feminists in anti-discrimination measures at work and against the cash-for-care benefit, whereas opinions on other issues, like pornography, have become less straightforward than they were in the heyday of the Women’s Movement. The general attitude of both women and men is that if people fancy pornography, it is their choice and sexual desires should not be the targets of the moralistic interventions of others.

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