From their childhood, the oldest generation carried a deep mentality of work and feeling of obligations to their families. Work and family were fundamentally positive entities, which is not to say that they were without problems, hardships or sorrows. These feelings come in gendered versions connected to the hierarchy between men and women, the different valuation of their work, and their social positions, duties and entitlements. These asymmetries sometimes tinge the women’s positive feelings about work and family with a hint of bitterness, especially towards other women who managed to get a larger share within this given hierarchical order. As we have seen, these experiences were processed in their relationships with their parents, where the women’s idealisation of their fathers and ambivalence towards their mothers were stronger than the men’s idealisation of their mothers and ambivalence towards their fathers. The outcome was gender identities and gendered subjectivities that existed in concurrence, but also in some tension with the changing sociocultural context. Especially at a historical moment where many signs conveyed that a new world was emerging, the father’s connection to the outer world may have increased the young women’s attachment to him and their ambivalence towards their mothers, whose authority was bound to the house and waning in the new times. This may also explain the more positive images of mothers in the middle classes where the mothers both had more time for the children and encouraged education and less obligation towards the family for both sons and daughters.
It is especially the asymmetry in feelings connected to femininity that represents an important emotional tension between women and men in this generation. As they came of age, the men’s experiences of their own bodies constructed and confirmed the figure of the strong, working and heterosexual man, and of the exposed female body that could so easily become a victim not only of hard work, but also of the men’s own sexuality. The women connected the reproductive aspects of their own bodies to the general curse of womankind, and silenced their fascination and desires for the wild and fun men. The men’s feelings of guilt and moral compassion with the kind and too hardworking women are the most forceful emotional link identified in this generation’s life choices. The men wanted their wives to stay at home so that they would not have as hard a life as their mothers, and the economic and political situation in this period made this possible. The men themselves were prepared to work hard to make it happen and at the same time to prove themselves as good and successful men. In this way they also indirectly kept up the invisible care they had received from their mothers during their childhood, including demarcating their own identities even more sharply from the female world. The price they paid was distance to their own children and a wife who complied with the arrangement with emotional reservation, indolence or silent discontent. Together they cooperated in their married life to refine the complementary gender order of nice women and responsible men. However, the emotional upgrading of femininity by the men from invisible mothers to caring wives ran opposite to the women’s emotional downgrading of masculinity from fun fathers to boring providers.
The refined gender complementarity created by their parents contributed to a destabilising of the very same gender order in the next generation. The absent father and the available but often discontent mother frame the childhood of the middle generation in the middle of the century. The move from a rural to an urban setting took out the immediate meaningfulness of the mother’s work in the home seen from the child’s perspective, while (real) work and money became connected to men. This family arrangement created a rift in the social bond between sons and fathers and daughters and mothers. The fathers’ work became more abstract as it was done outside the reach of the children, and the mothers did not need much help in their small, modern city departments. Children were sent out to play with each other instead, and both girls and boys were urged to prioritise their homework in the new co-ed school from this period. ‘The policy for daughters’ of the 1950s and 1960s accentuated the rift between mothers and daughters in spite of being backed up by the mothers themselves. The relatively gender-neutral upbringing in post-war Scandinavia seems to have played a crucial role in the processes of change because it could connect to many other societal trends pointing in the same direction. The positive feelings connected to family and family obligations, duty and hard work lost their material and structural basis. The disidentifications and cross-identifications with parents in this generation of children lead to the psychological challenge of redefining the meaning of one’s own gender through an identification with the other. Heterosexuality became a way for the men to confirm the masculine side of their identification once they came of age, which meant that the now-blurrier gender border became important to safeguard. The women put the heterosexual relationship in the service of liberation from their parents. This put them in a paradoxical situation where they exaggerated traditional femininity in order to become free. As young adults they recognised the futility of this strategy and instead headed for becoming individuals themselves.
The tension between women and men in this generation concerns how to interpret the gender border. The women tended to see it as a source of power and inequality and wanted to degender work and care, whereas the men could identify with care work only if the gender border was upheld with regard to money and sexuality. In the narratives of this generation the most forceful emotional link identified in their life choices is represented by the women who wanted to be different from their mothers and more like their fathers, and who had the expansion of the educational system and the increasing demand of female labour on their side. The men complied passively as they had a drive towards becoming better fathers than their own fathers had been, but they did not identify to the same degree with housework and joint responsibility for the home. They felt attacked by the connection the women made between gender and inequality, and feared that the women would disappear as attractive sexual objects. The women’s project of becoming individuals could eventually draw on the arguments from the Women’s Movement and the emerging gender-equality politics. The way forward was less clear for the men in this generation. What is a man if the sexual gender border disappears or he embodies more and more feminine psychological capacities? And what happened to the attendance he was accustomed to from his mother? The result was the dual-earner family, where the norm was to share work and care, but where the men’s engagement was often more in principle than in practice, which ignited the many private and public gender battles in this generation. What complicated the situation for the women was also that their emotional ambivalence, sometimes even contempt, for traditional femininity as represented by their mothers and their attraction to male liberators sometimes interfered with their relationships with other women and also could make them unclear in their relationships with men.
In spite of the gender battles and divorces experienced in their childhood, the idea of family regained a positive emotional content in the youngest generation. They saw their family as a relational universe, a place for care and communication and sometimes even fun. The busy parents and the basically good terms that existed between children and parents moved the relationship towards partnership and mutual dependency rather than a relationship of authority. The children helped out more than in the previous generation as both parents worked outside the home, and they saw their parents as fallible and vulnerable human beings, sometimes with unfulfilled life dreams, burnouts and divorces. The gradual degendering of work and care made their emotional images of the parents and their own gender identities and gendered subjectivities more open. The mixture of individualism and gender was seen when this generation came of age: girls felt less obliged to fit into norms of passivity and femininity when it came to sexual encounters. However, in practice an active approach to sexuality risked being interpreted within a conventional gender framework and positioned them as either dependent or monstrous women.
The dominant emotional link identified in this generation's life choices, found both in the women and the men, is the trust in the parents and the basic feeling of being first and foremost an individual with all rights and possibilities at hand. They wanted to continue the family form of their parents, but with more fairness, fewer quarrels, less stress and fewer divorces. For the young women the choice of education was not made with regard to future family obligation as in the previous generation, and from an early age they were aware of the importance of sharing work in the family. For the men the division of work in their childhood families had more emotional impact on their expectations of family life. None of them questioned the norm of sharing, but handled it differently depending on their family experiences. The partnership this generation had experienced in their childhood families moved the gender battles towards a more principal norm of fairness where doing what one is best at or likes the best seems more important than sharing everything completely evenly. The tension between women and men in this generation is the concealed re-emergence of gendered structures within the framework of a partnership. The arrival of children was also a challenge in this generation, in addition to tougher conditions in the labour market in the new millennium. The problems were mostly interpreted in terms of their own ambivalences—wanting a career, to be a good parent, to keep fit and spend time with friends—rather than formulated as a critique of their partner. The general picture among the informants we meet at 40 is that men and women negotiate the outer demands as well as their inner splits in a more peaceful atmosphere with each other than was the case in the previous generation. They either divorce or try to find a way together where gender is not relevant as an argument for different contributions, but sometimes seen as a fact of their current life or even as an attractive difference when it comes to personal relations.
The emotional links had a different gender profile in different generations and they also led to new dilemmas of gender. The choice of the male provider/female carer family made most emotional sense for the men, and the gender dilemma that emerged in its wake raised the following question: what is a woman when she is not participating in the economy anymore? The choice of the dual-earner family made most emotional sense for the women and the dilemmas that now arose were: what is a man when he is doing domestic work and care work? What is a woman if she is not caring and kind? These new dilemmas established emotional tensions not only between women and men in these generations, but, as we saw, also within the individuals. In the youngest generation the choice of the dual-earner/dual-carer family seems to make emotional sense for both women and men, but not in exactly the same way, since their psychological point of departure and the cultural interpretation of their behaviours are different. The dilemmas that arose now are: what does individuality mean for personal gender and for gender structures? Can you be equal, yet different? Also here, life choices introduced new problems: old gender structures seemed to re-emerge behind the strong belief in individualised gender. The generational view shows that when old problems are solved, new and different sets of problems enter the stage. This represents the dynamic of change where gender is continuously reconfigured in the intersections of structural, political and emotional processes.
Looking for the emotional links is a way to grasp the prereflexive dimensions of agency (Adkins 2004b; McNay 2004; Silva 2005—see Chap. 1). The emotional link has both dynamic and adaptive sides. What it highlights is that the emotional drives have a historical/socialised form and are not lagging behind structural and political change. The emotional link is not only connected with the past, it also represents the sense of things in the present, and it anticipates the future to the extent that it resonates with new discourses and new structural life conditions (Aarseth 2009a). This reflects Raymond Williams’ claim that no societal structures ‘come first’ in generating social change: ‘New forms can flow from [a] particular form and extend in the whole organisation, which is in any case being constantly renewed and changed as unique individuals inherit and continue it’ (Williams 2011: 125).